Monday, 16 December 2013

Sentimental Sunday - Polio and the Journey Ahead

Poliovirus by Jason Roberts
Image courtesy of
Back in 1953, so 60 years ago, my Mum then aged four and a half contracted Polio. All through my childhood I was aware of the impact that the disease had, had on Mum, although she never used a calliper or a stick.

Fast forward to 1997 and Mum was diagnosed with Post Polio Syndrome, a condition which affects those who suffered from Polio back in the 1950's. There is no cure and year on year I see Mum battling to remain independent and strong. Mum is Fiercely independent and stubborn.

As I type this Mum is in hospital, and has been for about 5 days. She looks vulnerable and older than her years. The NHS here in the United Kingdom, envied across parts of the globe is feeling the pinch in the global recession. Wards, with 20 or so patients looked after by a team of six, three nurse and three auxiliary nurses. I am frustrated beyond belief with the care Mum is receiving, almost as much as Mum is frustrated because her body can not do what her brain believes it can.

The situation is woeful and I could seriously sit down and weep. How do people with no family, much less those who do not spot the medical issues because those family members are not equipped to spot such things deal with the inefficiency or concerns?

Through the whole of my professional career, I have cared for the patient in front of me, as if they were my relative. That I learned as a newly qualified professional and I always stuck to that belief and passed it along to newly qualified or trainees working alongside me. 

I recall in my post qualified days those who worked within the hospital sector sneering at those who had opted for the retail sector, as if we were a poor relative. I did my stint in the hospital sector too, both within the NHS and private, within the Prison Service medical teams and industrial settings. I always returned to retail settings because of the interaction with the patients and health professionals, but one thing that has always been consistent  across all those different settings is the frustration I feel when the organisation puts profit or money before people, patients and their needs. 

The road ahead for Mum is going to be rocky, frustrating and I suspect a battle. As I told the staff today."I have one Mum, and she is in your care. She is a patient not a piece on a chess board. Please treat her with dignity and respect" I wish I could say that this is a one off, but sadly no, the same applied to yesterday too.

By coincidence, Sky News ran an article yesterday about the NHS virtually grinding to a halt because some departments and staff do not work weekend. Excuse me? My personal views are this. The NHS is run by the department of Health and funded from the Government by the taxes and insurances that are paid by those who work and/or pay such taxes. 

The NHS is a multi tiered organisation. Each of those levels has a management structure that is perhaps too manager heavy. With each level of manager, those who have a professional qualification - nurse or medical background, are removed from the ground level objectives, which is fundamentally the patients. As policy and bureaucracy are introduced, so is a new manager level, so as to cope with the endless spreadsheets, policies and alike.

As I looked around the ward today at the staff the average age was probably 30, which is half of the time that Mum had Polio. In fact when I was talking to one of auxiliaries, she told me that she thought polio had been eradicated and what was post polio syndrome?   Through no fault of their own there is a generation or two that has no idea of the legacy Polio has left behind. These are though the health professionals of the future.


  1. I can certainly relate. My husband also has PPS and we continually have to educate the local medical professionals about his condition. That part is the same here in the U S. I wish you the best. Stay strong so you can help you mother.

  2. I'm keeping you and your mother in my thoughts and prayers. My father had polio as a child in the late 1930's. He didn't walk until he was six or seven years of age. He passed away in 1975 from heart attack. He never fully stood erect and his toes were crippled from it. Dad was just 41 when he died...I wonder if he would have had complications as your mom has.
    I have learned being an autism mom, that you are an advocate for your loved one when they can't be for themselves. Continue to stand up for your mum by any means you can. So often the professionals just see the patient and not the human being. Wishing you both well!

  3. I know it's small consolation Julie but your mother is educating those health professionals of the future. My boss always told his medical students that they would learn more from the patient + journals than just hitting the books. I do hope things start to look better for all of you soon.


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