My Dad’s a Goldfish – gallstones saga


This is a long post and is part one of a two-part post. This describes the events which I believe triggered the metamorphosis into the Goldfish.

Saturday, January 20, 2007. Around 9pm, the Step-monster (though the monster title had not yet been entirely conferred at this point) called to say dad had severe stomach pain. The DH went to see him, found him in agony and called NHS 24. A doctor arrived within a couple of hours, thought it might be pancreatitis, gave a morphine injection and agreed it would be quicker for the DH to drive to the hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.

Maybe he arrived at the hospital doors sooner, but the admission process was no quicker. DH phoned with an update about 1am to say junior doctor had been round, had bloods taken, a drip put in and a ‘nil by mouth’ rule in place. Next update was to say dad had vomited but was dozing as the morphine kicked in. DH arrived home sometime after 2am.

Sunday 21 January. No doctors around this afternoon. Wee-sis went in at night. Reported back that dad was very confused.

Monday 22 January. Ultrasound followed by diagnosis of gallstones. The doctor is treating the inflammation and infection with antibiotics and hopes surgery won’t be necessary. If he sticks to a low-fat diet future episodes may be avoided. I hope someone will convince Step-monster of the necessity to put the frying pan and deep fat fryer into retirement. He was dozy when I visited but as he’s had nothing to eat since his evening meal on Saturday, it’s not surprising. The god-like creature called a consultant has not been to see him following the ultrasound so no one would cancel the fasting order. I managed to speak to someone else’s consultant who said he could have a cup of tea. By then the trolley was on its way out of the ward. I chased after it, managing to procure a cup of tepid, stewed brew.

Tuesday 23 January. It’s difficult visiting dad – so hard to find anything to talk about. It’s as if he’s shutting down mentally, living in his own private world. They’re keeping him in until he’s sorted out including eating properly. It might help if they fed him. Still nil by mouth. Apparently they are still considering surgery once the inflammation has cleared.

Wednesday 24 January. Dad’s condition is so bad now that that when they decided to operate after all, the anaesthetist said it wasn’t possible. His kidney function is not good. He has not eaten since last Saturday’s evening meal – well, he’s had two cups of consommé and two bowls of jelly. Other than that it’s sips of water and a drip. Now they’ve inserted a catheter so he doesn’t even get out of bed to go to the loo. They say they don’t want to give him food as that will start the production of bile and possibly worsen the gallbladder condition.

Thursday 25 January. He now has the additional complication of a lung infection. They decide to drain the gallbladder. Excruciatingly painful procedure for him. We are at our wits’ end. Can’t ever find a doctor to talk us through what’s happening. Nurses know nothing – or aren’t allowed to discuss anything.

Friday 26 January. The drain came out during the night so the poor man suffered that painful process for nothing. Today he has swollen up like a balloon – stomach, arms, legs all bloated – kidneys not functioning well…. it’s like everything’s shutting down. He’s been moved to the High Dependency Unit. What a difference! Why can’t they be like that in other wards? Totally different attitude – nurses who introduce themselves to dad, talk to him, joke with him and listen to him. He was already a bit brighter tonight. The doctor even came in to see him after she went off duty.

Saturday 27 January. Spoke too soon. Went in this afternoon. Dad totally out of it – hallucinating, rambling, and with no idea where he was. This wasn’t the usual sense of confusion, which we’ve noticed sometimes when physically he is not well, like last year when he had pneumonia. This was weird. It’s hard to explain. If you heard him you would have thought he was perfectly lucid. He talked about the doctor taking him out in the car to a town not far from where we live, picking up a hitchhiker – a student – described the house where they went, talked about there being a special place inside the car door for the urine container, the noise from the student’s room – on and on he went.

This afternoon only one staff nurse was on duty. He was talking to another patient’s family and pointedly ignoring me. Finally, apologising for interrupting, I explained my concerns. He said: “Oh, they all get confused.” I said this kind of confusion was really not normal (is there a normal confusion?) but he shrugged off my worries. I left the ward, burst into tears and phoned the DH, crying hysterically that they were killing my father.

When DH phoned the ward the staff nurse downplayed our concerns. DH asked him to call a doctor and nurse got really shirty saying he didn’t have time to call for doctors every 5 minutes. DH went to the hospital and found a duty doctor who took a message to one of the doctors who is on dad’s team. She had been in surgery and it was after 10pm when she went to see dad. She had to sedate him because he was by then so agitated he was trying to remove the drip and his catheter so he could leave the hospital.

28 January 2007. Dad not so confused and temperature down so looks like infections are clearing. The doctor who finally saw him last night said she thought the mental side was taking a couple of days to catch up with the physical decline and so, although he was physically improving, mentally he was still when he was at his weakest. He was moved back to ward 6. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see a further improvement but he’s still to have the drain put into the gallbladder again. He’s still not allowed to eat although he won’t be having surgery.

29 January 2007. After eight days of starvation they finally gave dad some food.

To be continued…



39 thoughts on “My Dad’s a Goldfish – gallstones saga

  1. That sounds like very poor care, lack of information, slackness of attitude, and no-one taking responsibility and leading the ‘case’. How frustrating, worrying, concerning, and downright unacceptable!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right, Janette. And do you know what? I did nothing about it. I was determined to put in a complaint about the staff nurse and when a friend who was nursing on another ward tried to go in and see dad the staff nurse tried to stop her – looked at her like she was something nasty on his shoe. When dad survived the ordeal and we got him home somehow the fight went out of me. I suspect that often happens – people are so relieved to get their family member home they put off embarking on the complaints procedure.


  2. Oh, it makes me so angry. I’ve noticed how much nicer they are in High Dependency or Intensive Care (are they one and the same? I’ve never been sure as they seem to call them different things in different hospitals.) When my ex was in Intensive Care at Guy’s, they were sublime to patients and visitors alike but when he was transferred to a ward at Chelsea & Westminster, they were a nightmare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think High Dependency Unit is the new name for Intensive Care. Probably the powers that be decreed High Dependency was a better term. We don’t have chiropodists now either; they are all podiatrists. I did ask if the better care (other than with the staff nurse) was because of a higher patient/nurse ratio but was told that wasn’t the case. I saw it when a friend with cancer was moved from a general ward to the Alexandra unit, which is an oncology ward. In the general ward he was treated appallingly. He couldn’t turn in the bed and had to ring for help, making the nurses roll their eyes at each other as they turned him. He said he felt like ‘a cowped yow’ meaning an overturned sheep. In the oncology ward the staff were so different. Why should it take being at death’s door to elicit proper nursing care?

      Liked by 1 person

      • They shouldn’t all be called podiatrists because there are chiropodists who don’t have the skills to treat my feet, for instance. Podiatrists are the ones whose training includes surgery and detailed knowledge of how the foot works. Now I’m even angrier! Heaven knows why, in answer to your last question. It’s appalling that it should be so.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for explaining. I knew there must be a difference but didn’t know what. Here, our local podiatry service discontinued the service to cut elderly people’s toenails. After telling us for years it was dangerous for anyone untrained to do it, suddenly it was fine for carers to do it! I think we should all be angry. But, I don’t know what we can do to make things right.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. It is hard to ‘like’ these posts, Mary, when I know all too well the panic/fear/anger that sets in when no-one will tell you anything other than its ‘normal’. I grew to hate the word ‘stable’ and ended up rocking every boat I could find when Nick’s care, in one hospital, was so appalling I had an official enquiry launched. Empathy, I believe, for both patient and family, makes all the difference, both to emotions and the level of care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, yes, that word ‘stable’ along with the phrase ‘comfortable night’. I salute you for going ahead with launching an official enquiry. You’ll see from my response to Janette above, I didn’t follow through. I do regret it because I believe if we don’t complain officially nothing will change. You are right about the need for empathy – unfortunately, I came to understand it’s not something which can be taught.


    • Thanks, Lucinda. See above for my reply to Sue on the empathy topic. Some members of the medical profession just don’t have it and it can’t be learned in class. Often, nurses are short staffed and drowning in paperwork but those who have empathy still find a way to connect with patient and family. When you find a good one you want to take them home and clone them!


    • Oh, Hilary, that’s so right about seeing a different person every time. During this particular time with dad, we could never find a doctor when we went in during the official visiting hours. It was only when we were advised by a consultant friend that we had a right to see one that we dug our heels in. It was ten years ago but I fear little has changed.


      • Health management varies round the country and depends on your illness(es). My father-in-law had a rotten time all the way to dying in hospital (ten years ago). I still feel guilty for not managing to get him better, more joined-up care. My father had excellent support in every way with brief hospital visits in a new ward (cancer gets good facilities) and died in his bed at home (seven years ago) and I could access help with a single phone call.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The appalling thing is that you have to BE the medical expert, figure out what’s going in, and then tell the professionals before they will act.

    The thing we didn’t realise with my own parents is that older people are balancing atop a narrow wall. As long as the weather is good and nothing blows or knocks them off their familiar patch of wall, they are the same wonderful people we’ve always known. But one slip and their fragile shells are cracked. And all the kings horses and all the NHS docs are going to have a very tough time putting them back together again.

    I really admire you for sharing this story, which must be so difficult at times. I really do think it could help so many people who are going through similar issues while feeling so very alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Barb. I don’t know if it’s the same in America as here but our generation of parents were brought up to believe doctors were god-like creatures so they wouldn’t ever question what they were doing or not doing. Dad trusted them 100% to make him better. He cringed if he heard me asking questions – or pointing out he hadn’t been given any food for a week and might that affect his health condition. I remember taking him to the GP once when he wasn’t well and feeling my jaw hit the floor when I heard him telling the doctor he was fine, thank you.

      I like your Humpty Dumpty analogy. It’s very apt.


  5. I agree with Sue, it was hard to hit the like button when all I wanted to do was hug you. I can’t imagine the fear, worry, and anguish you must have felt, and to be overlooked so many times is heart breaking. A little empathy goes a long way in these situations. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you, Shelley. I’ll take a virtual hug. I think it was the most totally helpless and useless I ever felt. The doctor who came to see dad after she’d been in surgery for hours was great – then, because she sedated him, changed his antibiotics and started the improvement in his condition, he was moved to a general ward and no longer under care! It was like we’d gone down a weird rabbit hole.

      Liked by 1 person

    • But, at least I can Like your comment, Ruth. I really do feel this was the start of the downward slide towards dementia. Dad never fully recovered from this episode. To put it in what some might consider a politically incorrect way it was as if his jar of marbles was emptied out on the floor but when they were gathered up again some were missing and never found.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What traumatic and frustrating experiences, Mary. We felt like this many times, too. Lack of information, worries and doubts,
    shouldn’t dad be woken up, rather than be left asleep at a meal time? Shouldn’t someone (should we) – try to help him to the garden for a change of view?…
    So glad that your Dad had his two lionesses guarding his bedside!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Julie. I know you understand what it was like. So, so frustrating. It would be wonderful to think things are improving but I fear they aren’t. Recently, my sister asked me to talk to a friend who was beside herself with worry because her father, who has dementia, was in hospital and for some reason not being discharged. There was nothing they were doing for him, he wanted home and was becoming increasingly confused, the family wanted him home but somehow everything had just stuck. I suggested she get in touch with a social worker who could tell the hospital that the family were happy for him to come home. It just seemed no-one was talking to anyone else.


  7. Christ almighty Mary! I actually hesitated hitting the like button, not because it’s not well written: it is! (Like the use of the double negative there?) I hesitated because it felt ghoulish to like something so traumatic for your father and for the whole family too. I think you are right such a severe unrelated medical issue can kick off conditions waiting to happen… your dad may have had more years of good lucidity if this debacle had never occurred. It must have been a horrible thing to go through plus you are mow left wondering… what if?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Paul. I do think the dementia would have been delayed had dad not had to undergo this nightmare. Starvation is not good for the brain, which needs good nourishment as much (probably more) as the physical body. Further down the line when we could see he was starting with what he were sure was dementia it took two years to get a diagnosis. I remember talking to his GP once and playing the ‘what if?’ scenario. She told to try to focus on what was happening in the present and not dwell on the past which can’t be chnaged. I know she was right but still…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. How awful! I’m embarrassed to say I’m a nurse albeit retired. Unfortunately the system here in AUstralia is not that different to what you describe. Even though I’ve worked in the system I find it difficult to navigate the obstacle course. God knows how those who have no little understanding or experience of it manage

    Liked by 1 person

    • We met some wonderful nurses and doctors along the way – the ones we wanted to clone for the sake of all patients! They were the ones with empathy. I’m surprised to hear the system is not so different in Australia. I thought it was so much better than here and lots of British doctors head your way after training because a doctor’s life in Australia is so much better than here. Or, maybe they are just paid more and work fewer hours than in the UK?


  9. Oh, what appalling treatment. I have to say that I have also met nurses that are how you describe, and that makes me even more determined NOT to become one of them!
    I am sorry that your father had such an awful experience and it must have been traumatic for the family too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. what a grim set of events; it is very frustrating to be treated as simple minded which drives me nuts with professionals of any hue; when it’s medical so the person is in distress it is worse. I’m not surprised you didn’t complain; they don’t make it easy and given it’s monolithic nature it’s unlikely to make a jot of difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right that our complaints are not likely to make any difference – as Sue Vincent found out (see above for her comments and wonderful letter of complaint). An elderly friend of mine once wrote to the hospital after visiting her sister who at the age of 90 had broken her arm. When Amy visited, her sister was left to sit on a commode for almost an hour, cold and confused. She wrote her letter of complaint, not to get anyone into trouble but in the hopes it wouldn’t happen to some other poor soul. The letter she received in return made it sound like legal action was going to be involved if she continued with her complaint. She was so worried about this propect she didn’t reply. I’m sure the NHS was not really suggesting a court case but thw wording of the letter was enough. NHS 1 Patients 0

      Liked by 1 person

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