Virginia Barton

15 September 2017: The Hornbeam

15 September 2017


BH is down again, felled like his favourite tree, the hornbeam (at right). Down, yes, but not out. With the steady drip drip of antibiotics (the wonder drug, I would remind you, that was first discovered in my hospital) and skilful diagnostics, I pray we may yet get him safely home and look after him ourselves.

Our local hospital, rated one of the best in the country, hadn’t a single spare bed on Sunday night. The place was heaving, and it isn’t even the ‘flu season. At a rough guess I’d say that 90% of the patients in the Emergency Dept were aged between 80 and 90.


According to estimates produced by the Nuffield Trust for the Guardian newspaper, more than two fifths of national health spending in the UK is devoted to people over the age of 65. An 85-year-old man costs the NHS about seven times more than a chap in his late thirties.

In short, we live too long and the longer we live, the more we cost. This was very obvious to me as I surveyed my very ill husband last Sunday surrounded by his contemporaries in a similar state of collapse.


Some time ago we decided that we didn’t want resuscitation in the case of life-threatening illness. No ICU, no machinery, or interventions. Family members, our doctors and lawyer are aware of this decision. The signed instruction is kept in a small plastic box in the door of the fridge – the paramedics always look there first, I was told.

Somehow you never think this will come up but it did shortly after BH was admitted. A doctor asked me what I wanted for him. It was hard to say “No Resuscitation”; it sounded bald, condemning and final. Happily it didn’t come to that. But I think all responsible oldies should think carefully about my little box in the fridge. If you haven’t already done so.


To finish on a more cheery topic, the staff in this very busy hospital maintained a combo of calm conscientious control, polite and helpful. I’m biased, of course, but as much as I admire the docs, it’s the nurses who come out tops.

BH, to judge by his attitude, thinks exactly the same!






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