You still think and feel, even when you're old

It is not often that I write a blog out of pure passion, or that I feel I have to write a piece before I do anything else, but I have just spent the last 30 minutes or so listening to discussions on Radio 4's Today on the Ann Abraham's report on the treatment of the elderly in the NHS.  None of it makes remotely comfortable listening.  Various of the great and the good have been trotted on to give their opinion; less bureaucracy, more humanity appears to be the general consensus.  Professor Raymond Tallis asked:

"What enables a nurse to walk past somebody dying of dehydration?"

Well, I think I can answer that from what I have seen in my own village over the past week or so.  It is a complete and utter inability to recognise that the elderly exist as human beings; that they are the same as you are. That they think, breathe, and feel.

I have an elderly friend who was the first person to arrive on my doorstep when we arrived in the village.  I love her dearly, and she has been a wonderful friend to me.  Now her memory is rapidly failing, and she is finding it more and more difficult to get about the village.  Last week I walked round our local Co-op with her.  Our Co-op is not the largest shop in the world, and the aisles aren't stupendously wide.  In the same aisle as us was a young mother with her baby in a buggy.  My friend realised the young mother was there, and moved out of her way.  This takes her a little while, as she can't move fast, and needs a stick.  She turned round to smile at the young mother and say something to her.

She was completely and utterly blanked.  And the thing that gets me, the thing that really really upsets me, is that I was watching this young mother, as I was holding my friend's basket and waiting for her, and not even for one second did it occur to this her to wait for my friend to finish what she was doing.  It didn't occur to her to smile at my friend; or talk to her, it didn't even occur to her to look at her.  She was inconvenient and should get out of the way.  It was an utterly chilling example of cold indifference to someone else's existence, and I could have wept when I saw the look on my friend's face.

I was so furious I could have slapped this unfeeling, unsympathetic witch, concerned only with the great god Baby and herself, but I made some flip remark to my friend and tried to inject a little humour.  And you know what really makes me want to weep, wail and hit the wall?  The self same thing happened round the corner.  Different mother; different baby, but the self same thing.

One day, they'll be old.  I'm rather older than either of these mothers and therefore closer to my friend's state, so perhaps it's easier for me to sympathise.  The better bit of me hopes that something; anything makes this attitude change; makes people recognise people's humanity and look past their decay.  The worst bit of me hopes that one day when both those girls are old, that some last dinosaur example of what is then an utterly unacceptable prejudice treats them the same way, just so they know what it's like, and I hope it makes them think back to  how they behaved when they were young and I hope it makes them sorry.  And I should add that I should keep any eye on my own behaviour too, and never think that what I do is good enough.


I hear you. I see it all the time around my supposedly ultra-polite metropolitan area in the NW USA. I have to force myself to take stock of the examples of kind behavior I see in order not to totally give up on my species.

I wonder sometimes what hope there is for any respect and concern for the elderly when I see how cruel the humor about the aged is on the TV shows for kids that proliferate on the Disney channel and Nickelodeon over here in the states. Stereotypes galore, with laughter aimed at dementia victims and the killing pains of arthritis. I mean really unkind, cruel humor, as if old people are just leftover laughingstocks--not the "we're all in this together" sort. It's shameful.
Jane Badger said…
I hadn't thought about where this started - my daughter has been addicted to endless re-runs of Friends for years, so I haven't seen Disney or Nickelodeon for quite some time. If the anti-old attitude is so prevalent in kids' tv, is it any wonder that it carries on into adulthood if it's never challenged?

It makes me want to weep.
Sarah said…
I think a lot of it comes from a similar mindless lizard reaction as the astonishing cruelty and indifference often shown to the ill and the disabled - it's a self-protecting fantasy, ie, "If I don't notice/care about that old woman or that sick man, those things will never happen to me or mine. Probably, that person didn't live right and that's why they're ill or old." Nurses and doctors are not immune to this, either. Medical professionals can be quite terrifyingly certain that they'd never want to live like *that* an attitude that can't help but create patient neglect unless the patient has a pushy, loud family saying definite things like "Yes, we really look forward to having Dad home for Christmas. We like him alive. We don't want him dead. Why yes, we will be here all day every day, watching you; no offense, but you might want to rethink the 'old man's friend' line of thinking." All patients need advocates, but none more than the elderly.

Sorry to go on and on, I'm the youngest in my family so there was a stretch there when I was visiting hospitals a lot for various older people, and it could be scary to see how badly they were treated. Sometimes just sheer stupidity, like the dietician sending up tough meat to a patient with no teeth.
Jane Badger said…
Sarah, I absolutely think you SHOULD go on and on. I think we all should. Unless there's a huge groundswell of opinion saying this behaviour is inhuman and cruel and just plain wrong, it will go on. The more people that protest, and the more passionately, the better.

My father in law had a hideous time in hospital a couple of years ago simply because he was old and no one listened to him.
Anonymous said…
We managed to keep one of my grandmothers out of hospital and the other was the daughter of a doctor, which is, of course, like a free pass to good treatment. The stories you hear make you shudder though.
I've just finished re-reading (for the umpteenth time) Monica Dickens' novel about her training as a nurse in WW2, and though many aspects of the treatment of the nurses themselves are awful, it's also impossible to imagine any of them neglecting a patient.
All of us can do a lot more though, I think. There's an old man across town who needs visits, and I should stop making excuses.
Anonymous said…
What happened to your friend in the Co-op could easily have happened to anyone of us no matter what age it really boils down to bad manners. I was always taught that manners cost nothing but these days it would seem that certain sections of the community aren't taught any manners at all.
Jane Badger said…
Susanna, I often think of that Monica Dickens book as well, and I entirely agree with you. You are right too when you say that we can all do more - I am uneasily aware that I can all too often sweep along deep in thought with just a cursory smile at those I pass, whereas actually smiling properly might not be a bad idea, for a start.

Anonymous: the thing is, the girl in question did acknowledge me, albeit only by a quick look, and I wasn't in her sight line. I do agree with you though about bad manners.
Fiona said…
The obsession with children above all else is becoming prevalent everywhere. Everyone else is invisible what ever their age. I was on the bus & a middle class man sat next to me on the top front seat so that his child could see out of the big window (there were plenty of other seats on the bus for two). He was completely oblivious to the fact I was there & the child kicked & squirmed & knocked me constantly with a hummous sandwich his Father had given him to eat. They sang "Wheels of the Bus" for 20 minutes; I was too embarrassed to say anything to the parent, I just suffered in silence. Tonight in our local Co-Op
a child was riding around the aisles fast on a scooter, parent buying cigs at the check out.
It's bad manners.
fiona: I agree with you totally. Today I took a rather packed bus ride. A 4 year old girl occupied a seat, and the father was letting her do it. Nothing wrong with that, but when you have a man in his early 70s standing up (and stood up for at least 20 mins), it is not fair. Not only that - she squealed every 5 mins and he made no attempt at shutting her up or attempting to teach respect for other passengers, which of course, is easier taught when they are young.

I don't know if is my area, but the single mums around here are selfish. Some buses here only have a single buggy bay (which doubles up as a disabled bay), a buggy bay and a disabled bay, or two which could be either a buggy bay or a disabled bay. There is a notice saying that should a wheelchair user board, then buggy users should vacate the area. Today, the mother bad mouthed the driver because he (quite rightly) would not let the buggy unfolded, as the two bays were already full of buggies. Which apart from being incredibly annoying trying to weave through an buggy which is in the aisle (and they wont move either or get out of the way, and those things are getting bigger and bigger these days. It's something you would find in the Crystal Maze!), it must also be an health and safety breach, as should anyone need to evacuate the bus in an emergency you simply cant. A lot have a fit and backchat the driver because they simply think that they should have the space.

Also, half the time the only space where an elderly person can comfortably fit their shopping trolley is a buggy bay: very often the poor old elderly person has to move because they INSIST on having that space. The elderly person has to either put up with a very cramped space (because the rows behind dont have enough space for an elderly person to sit comfortably with their trolley) or struggle to put their (full) shopping trolley into the luggage rack. No "it's ok, you need the space more, I'll fold the buggy" or "I'll put the trolley in the luggage rack for you and if I am still here when you want to get off I'll get it down for you". No they just glare.
(Part 2, I had a lot to say it wouldnt fit into one post.)

On the last bank holiday there was a Sunday service, which is a bus every 2 hours. The seats which a priority "for the disabled and elderly" happened to be on this bus the buggy/disabled bay also. The bus was packed - 25 people were standing up (no elderly people may I add) - and I happened to get the last seat, which was one of the "priority" seats. I am classified as disabled occuring to the government's definition, so I think I was entitled to sit there.

I was on the bus for 10 mins, and a single mother come along. She wanted me to move: I was not (as the size of the buggies these days means only the mother can sit down) going to, as she should have consideration being as she knew it was a Sunday service. Neither did the other 2 people who were sitting there. We saw no reason why we should move - it was squished all the way and there wasnt exactly like somewhere to move (let alone seats). She tutted a lot and gave us dirty looks all the way.

I do agree about how children are taught very little respect for passengers - last Friday a child (and this was 8 am!) kicked all the way through the whole journey. Quite a few people gave dirty looks, as I am sure nobody was in the mood for it at that time of day. I have also had to put up with squealing kids at that time of the morning (why are they there at this time of the morning?).

Also (finally) when I last did charity street collecting in the middle of town on a Saturday morning, a rather large kiddie (he looked too big for the buggy, so I suspect he was far too old for one, and certainly needed one) was swinging a plastic hockey stick rather violently and nearly hit me. Had I not had been collecting for charity I would have given the mother a piece of mind: namely on how dangerous and bad manners it is to let a hockey stick being waved in the air. It could have easily hit someone on the face. The mother was more interested in talking to her friend about getting intoxicated later that afternoon than the discipline of her child.
I meant before that the kiddie was definitely too big for the buggy, and definitely did not need one.

I must say that I have moved for elderly persons even though I suffer (amongst other things) from stiff muscles. Stiff muscles makes walking sometimes hard, but the thing that definitely makes it worse, is standing in one spot for a long while. So standing for 20 mins means that when I have to move, means I take ages and it is incredibly painful. This of course can be alleviated with one of two things: either keep myself moving at a steady pace or by sitting down for a short while. (On my very bad days I could probably do with a walking stick, but I refuse to give in and use one of them). However, despite that, I do wherever possible, do offer my seat.
Fiona said…
& her English was poor. She was very frightened & confused & I felt very sorry for her in this instance.

The other thing that annoys me are the pavement cyclists. Sometimes you get a full Guardian reading family with helmets going along the pavement as if it was the place to cycle. This week walking to work I was nearly hit by a man on his bike with a small child on an additional seat. I shouted at him & he said "I've got a kiddie". I really think a law should be passed to stop people having "kiddies" on bikes. I live on an A road & people cycle along it with small babies in a kind of soft sided buggy attached to the bike. It makes my heart turn over to see them weaving in & out of traffic. A terrible tragedy just waiting to happen.
Fiona said…
For some reason the first part of my post was missing.
I was referring to a mum forced off the bus with her child & buggy on a dark Winter evening by a bus driver because a wheelchair user was boarding the bus.

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