Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Caring for old people

The lady who lives with and looks after my father as a permanent home help suggested to me this Sunday morning that I write that "Jamaica still has a soft spot for old people". I have wanted to write about my father for a long time, so with this inspiration, here is a brief account of how his life has changed.

My father is 78 and suffered a stroke 9 months ago. Fortunately, those around him at the time were alert enough to realise what had happened and managed to get him to a local hospital. He was then transferred quickly to the university hospital. He had to spend several weeks in hospital. He lost the ability to eat and drink, as well as the movement on the left side of his body. He had to be fed by drip initially, then his throat had to relearn gradually how to control fluids and solids, while he was being fed by others. He could not perform his toilet functions himself and needed a bed pan and bed baths. He underwent tests to try to determine the cause of the stroke, and determine if an operation was needed to deal with some blockage of blood circulation. The tests did not indicate any clear immediate cause of the stroke, so no more operations. He began physiotherapy to try to regain use of the right side of his body. After two weeks in hospital, he was allowed to return home.

Hospital treatment had been at the university hospital in Kingston, and was facilitated by a good team of cardiologists and other doctors, including a cousin, who is a neurosurgeon at that hospital. Home is in the parish of Manchester. Facilities there are not as sophisticated as in Kingston. But, my father is now back in familiar surroundings, including the loving care of people living with him and his neighbours.

He is now on the long, slow road to recovery. What does that mean? His life over the past 8 months has regained some of its essential elements. For years, he had been going to exercise classes regularly with many other seniors. He had been doing yoga for about 20 years, and also aerobics. He walked every day, going to market taking the route across a golf course. All of that has stopped. Instead, he has a physiotherapist visit him three times a week for an hour and they do battle as he tries to regain strength and movement. His left leg has some limited movement, but is very weak. After many months with little use, the legs are relearning the art of walking. So, with his 4-pronged stick, he makes a slow trek from him bedroom to the dining room, or to the bathroom. He can feed himself, and his once very good appetite is again in evidence. He can get himself into a shower, and get bathed. He can use a toilet. When I make one of my periodic visits to Jamaica, I try to increase the regularity of his exercises. So, with his willingness, we get back to some of his yoga stretches, and use small weights to get back some strength in his arms and legs. Those of us who are in good health or have never suffered injury find it hard to fathom how we lose the ability to do physical things very quickly and how hard is the process of retraining the body.

Most of his support comes from those living with my father and family and friends who visit or talk with him on a regular basis. His mind is still quite sharp. Confusion sets in occasionally, but that's not a surprise at his age. But he likes the stimulus of visitors and the chats he has. I also think that he likes to be "difficult" sometime so that he can engage in arguments, falling back tired when it looks like he has lost a point! For sure, he's no fool! He loves to hear the voices of his granddaughters. My three year old daughter came with me to Jamaica and spent Easter with her Grandpa, and her concern about his "sore knees and fingers" was very touching as she massaged his legs and hands.

His physiotherapist is one of the gentlest, and most patient young ladies I have ever met. If every person who needs her type of assistance can find someone so willing and kind, then they are blessed.

What all of this shows is that those who fall ill and begin a process of recovery, especially the old, depend more on others than ever before. We have some systems that help too. Stroke and heart conditions are on the increase, and in the Caribbean as across majority black populations there appears to be a startlingly higher prevalence than amongst the white population. In the US, the facilities available are really overwhelming. Here in the Caribbean, we are more limited. We have no special rehab units for stroke victims, for example. In Barbados, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados is making efforts to educate the general population and support those with heart conditions and stroke suffers. Their offices are worth a visit (including to see people using the facilities to exercise and rehabilitate) and they deserve more financial and volunteer support. The Heart Foundation of Jamaica is making similar efforts. Both have to rely heavily on fund raising efforts, and it's surprising how hard it can be to raise funds!

After his monthly check up in Kingston this week, the day after I arrived in Jamaica, my father and I went to a local restaurant, with his driver and home help. He walked slowly into the restaurant (it took about 10 minutes), and we waited patiently to get and eat our steamed fish. He needed the bathroom, so he took the slow walk there, with help. Then we were ready to leave and get back in the car. A young girl, working at the restaurant, put her face into his and said: "I wish my grand father was alive, even if he was as sick as you, sir, so that I could help him." She was almost in tears as she spoke. We were all struck by her words and the importance of what she was saying. It does not need elaboration.

1 comment:

Jamaican Girl said...

Trying to figure if you are Jamaican or Bajan:) Sorry to hear about your dad!