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Health Hell in a handcart

Paracetamol and a hot water bottle: the cure for everything

I’d love to panic about Wi-Fi and mobile masts, but this is the stuff that really scares me.

The elderly mother of a woman I know hasn’t been well for some time, and her GP has prescribed a few things – water tablets to help her kidneys remove fluid, warfarin to keep her blood thin. Recently, though, she’s been complaining of shortness of breath, and of quite severe pains, so her daughter has called out the GP a few times.

Incidentally, the woman has dementia, so her short-term memory doesn’t really work. On one visit she asked the GP, “Why are you here?” and he boomed, “Mrs X, you have human rights! If you don’t want me to be here, I will leave!” Her appalled daughter made it very clear to him what would happen if he left without first checking her mother.

The verdict? Nothing to worry about. The pains are muscular. Take two paracetamol, hold a hot water bottle where it’s sore and it’ll sort itself out.

Her daughter wasn’t convinced but hey, doctors know what they’re doing. But when the shortness of breath got worse and the pain got worse, and the GP once again said paracetamol would solve the problem, the daughter took her mother to hospital.

It turns out that there’s a real cause for the shortness of breath: her lungs are so full of fluid that they’re barely functioning. One lung is down to 10% of its normal capacity and the other one isn’t so far behind. That’s treatable, though, and all you need to do is drain the lungs.

One wee problem with that. It turns out that the warfarin she’s on has been massively overprescribed, and her blood is so thin that any attempt to drain the lung would almost certainly kill her. So she needs to stay in hospital for a bit while they thicken her blood.

The good news keeps coming. Thanks to the water tablets – which the hospital doctor says should not have been prescribed for her at all – her kidneys are utterly fucked, and could be days away from outright collapse. Go home and prepare yourself, he tells the daughter. Your mum might not live through the weekend.

But she does, and her blood thickens up, and (eventually – the procedure was cancelled several times before going ahead) they drain the lung (which, I’m told, was extremely painful for her. It’s certainly not a barrel of laughs when you’re otherwise fit and healthy). One lung collapsed and couldn’t be re-inflated, which isn’t fantastic news. But the good news doesn’t stop there. There’s a reason for the fluid in the lungs: cancer. She has three different, very advanced and therefore untreatable, cancers: in her chest, in her gut, in her reproductive system.

You know someone’s situation is bad when you’re glad they suffer from dementia and aren’t entirely sure what’s happening or where they are.

Still, two paracetamol and a hot water bottle will sort her out.