Nurses didn't give a damn. But I wasn't going to let my gran die
Doctors told Hazel they could do nothing for her grandmother. But, as her shocking yet inspiring diary reveals, she nursed her back to health with love, tenacity… and a few dollops of custard
When doctors told Margaret Park’s family the 89-year-old was dying, her devoted granddaughter resolutely refused to accept the hospital’s prognosis. Hazel Carter, 41, stayed by her grandmother’s side for two weeks – determined to help her recover.
Meanwhile, she kept a moving diary, which gives a shocking insight into how easily old people can be ‘written-off’ by the NHS if they don’t have family to fight for them.
Earlier this week the Mail reported that four patients are dying hungry and thirsty on Britain’s hospital wards every day. Here Hazel, who runs a building company with her husband Andrew, 48, and lives in Scorton, Lancashire, with their son John, 20, tells the full, disturbing story of her grandmother Margaret’s stay at Blackpool Victoria Hospital …
Bond of love: Hazel Carter with her grandmother Margaret Park, who she refused to believe was beyond help when doctors said she was dying
SUNDAY, 13th MARCH, 2011
11pm: I am devastated. At 4pm I received a message to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Gran was admitted to hospital two days ago with a virus, but then I got the call to say she has just hours to live.
Mum was dreading telling me as she knew I would take it badly. Gran has always been an inspiration. She is the strongest, most determined and capable person I have ever met. I am a better person for having the privilege of knowing her and love her with every bone in my body.
When I arrived the whole family was gathered around her bed saying their goodbyes. I asked why the doctors couldn’t do anything to help. Mum said it was her time and her heart can’t take it any more.
I felt sick and helpless, but most of all I was angry nothing could be done and I couldn’t help asking: ‘Why not’ Nobody knows the answer.
Gran was tired and confused but thankfully she knew me. A little later we all left to await news, but I just wanted to be with her so I returned to the hospital.
She’s on a drip, and a heart monitor that fluctuates all the time, and has an oxygen mask that she constantly pulls off as it obviously feels uncomfortable. I began to hold it for her. I also started offering her a drink via a straw every ten minutes.
As time passed she became ever so slightly more lucid, then a nurse arrived and gave her an injection and Gran was asleep again.
I’ve rung my husband Andrew and he says I can stay as long as I like. My son John arrived about 8pm and has been helping me wash her face and massage her limbs. I can’t believe all this is happening.
MONDAY, 14th MARCH
John stayed all night — what a good lad. Like me, he believes Gran is going to be ok.
This morning I asked the nurses what’s in the injections she’s receiving — it’s morphine. When I asked if it was helping her get better they looked at me strangely and said it was purely to keep her comfortable.
But Gran isn’t uncomfortable and being knocked out, in my opinion, is not helping her recover.
When I asked why she wasn’t getting her normal medication before admission (she was being treated for an irregular heartbeat and thyroid problems) they just fobbed me off.
I asked my brother to bring in some custard as it’s easy to swallow and Gran ate a tub straight away. She was starving as she hasn’t eaten since Friday. I asked him to get more!
Young bride: Margaret Park and husband Jack on their wedding day
The specialist came about 8.30pm and took me and Mum into a room and again told us there was no hope.
I asked how they were so sure. After my endless questions the specialist said that only a miracle will keep my gran alive and even if this miracle happens she will never leave hospital or walk again. Apparently her heart is just too weak and she has pneumonia. But I’m not having any of it.
Mum gathered her brother and sisters and at 10pm they all went to see Granddad Jack, 89, to whom Gran’s been married for 65 years. The decision was made not to revive her if she goes downhill. I don’t agree but respect it’s their decision.
It’s now the early hours. I have just put my foot down and politely told the nurses not to give Gran any more morphine injections. It’s not helping her breathing.
In total she ate four tubs of custard today. She’s definitely improving.
11.30am: A specialist came again earlier and I asked why Gran isn’t being given her usual tablets. They told me she can’t have them because she is ‘nil by mouth’. It turned out someone had deemed her to be ‘nil by mouth’ previously because she wasn’t eating or drinking, and then no one had thought to challenge this decision. What a mess.
'The specialist is still convinced Gran is dying — I am sick of telling them there is improvement and being ignored'
But nobody told me she couldn’t eat or drink, so I explained she had been eating and drinking through a straw and that’s what’s making her stronger. But now they have said I can’t give her anything at all and are going to send a different specialist to assess her further.
12.30pm: Gran’s saline drip bag, which is now the only thing keeping her hydrated, was taken away to be changed about an hour ago and still hasn’t come back.
9pm: I don’t believe what is happening — the nurses have changed shift and so we will have to wait until the morning for a new saline prescription! So she’s getting no food or liquid!
10pm: I have just sneaked her a bit of custard and her whole face lit up. You wouldn’t treat your worst enemy like this. It’s not the nurses’ fault. The doctors have clearly written Gran off, and they are short-staffed and just following instructions. The longer I am here, the more I know I can’t leave!
10am: Hurrah! We have the saline drip back up, so after nearly 24 hours she is getting fluids again. Still no sign of the specialist to assess her eating and I am sick of asking. Not convinced her heart monitor is working properly either. I know Gran has an irregular heartbeat but it’s up and down all the time.
Also, her catheter bag is full and there’s no one to change it — I have just drained it off into a sick bowl.
9pm: This afternoon they decided the heart monitor has malfunctioned and took it away. So her heart rate can’t be as bad as we have been led to believe. Gran’s still very weak but definitely getting better — she has been chatting about her mum to me. She would do even better if she was allowed to eat. It’s soul-destroying watching her starve.
8am: The eating specialists have just been and Gran has been diagnosed with dysphagia — difficulties with swallowing that mean fluid easily ends up in her lungs. But it means we can feed her again, as long as everything is thickened.
Happy together: Margaret and Jack recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary
I’m tired today — I’ve been sleeping on three hard chairs in Gran’s room. I couldn’t cope without John coming to help me every night. He’s been sleeping on the floor.
The specialist is still convinced Gran is dying — I am sick of telling them there is improvement and being ignored.
10am: Really disgruntled. Gran needs her normal medications or this virus really will finish her. Why won’t they listen — she is not dying!
Today we aim to have her sitting in the chair at visiting time — Granddad will be so pleased.
2pm: We made it. Granddad’s face was a picture when he walked in. She was in the chair with her hair done, teeth in and glasses on. Fab.
The improvements over the last couple of days have been incredible. Granddad keeps thanking me, but there’s no need. I feel a bit embarrassed.
Gran has just asked if I work for the hospital now. When I said no, she asked who was paying me — she’s still so sharp. She can’t get her head round the fact that I am here simply because I love her.
11am: Gran had some porridge this morning and custard. She must feel better.
2am: Well, that’s it. The battle’s over — we are losing Gran just when I was sure she was going to be ok. I went home at 1pm but when I came back at 7pm Gran was hallucinating. I noticed pools of fluid under her skin on her shoulders, arms and legs.
'I just want to take Gran home; she will mend so much quicker if she is with Granddad'
Uncle Andrew and (his wife) Aunty Elaine came and the staff nurse told us that her heart was not pumping properly and her liver had stopped functioning. Basically her internal organs have shut down. An hour ago a doctor confirmed it all.
It’s horrific. Uncle Andrew — Gran’s only son — has been crying, his head in his hands on the windowsill.
I just can’t believe I was so wrong. We have to tell the family again tomorrow. At least Granddad spent the day with her. My heart is breaking.
3pm: I can’t believe this place! Mum just overheard two nurses talking about Gran in the corridor.
Apparently the cannula in her hand (a tube inserted into a vein to administer the saline drip) came loose, so the fluid was being pumped under her skin instead of into her system. Cannulas are meant to be changed every couple of days but it hadn’t been done — because they expected her to die I suppose.
So nothing is wrong with Gran’s organs. She was hallucinating because the fluid was not going into her and she was dehydrated.
A stupid mistake has caused all this heartache and pain. Unbelievable … Lost for words.
Recovered: Margaret is now back at home, proving Hazel was right to believe she still had a chance of a good life
5.45am: Andrew and Elaine were here tonight. We have not had a wink of sleep. Gran woke at 2am saying she couldn’t breathe and panicking like mad. Clearly she was given something yesterday that wasn’t thickened properly so has liquid on her lungs.
The nurse was going to sedate her, but I managed to calm her down. The last thing she needs is sedation!
I just want to take Gran home; she will mend so much quicker if she is with Granddad.
Andrew brought me an electric blow-up bed yesterday and it’s so comfy I just want to curl up and go to sleep.
9.30pm: The Tesco at Poulton ran out of custard yesterday — Gran has eaten it all …
At last everyone is realising Gran’s not going to die, and people are starting to talk about what happens next.
Some of the family don’t think we can manage at home and are talking about a rehabilitation place. But if she goes there she’ll never come home.
If she’s home I can dedicate more time than any hospital. Everyone’s tempers are becoming frayed with frustration, emotion and tiredness. I feel awful because I got angry today. We all want what’s best, and the hospital’s attitude has not helped.
Gran is fast asleep now. I have got my bed blown up and will be joining her soon.
11am: Doctor Adam Yates has just been. He’s one of the junior doctors here and saw Gran at her worst, but has been away since. He’s the first one to speak to her, not just to us, and he was genuinely overwhelmed by how far she has come.
3pm: Physio has just been and Gran walked two strides — they are now happy that we can manage on our own. Just the rest of the family and Occupational Therapy to convince now!
Been talking about my house renovations with Gran. I said: ‘I don’t think I will ever get it finished.’ And she said: ‘Just remember, when you’ve finished it, you’re finished with it.’
Her practicality and wisdom are why I love her so much. She could be discharged as soon as tomorrow.
3pm: The ward has been isolated due to an outbreak of vomiting and diarrhoea — we are going nowhere. Gran is disappointed and I should never have built up her hopes. We had a bit of a moment today — she was being all negative and I bluntly told her if she didn’t buck up she would not be allowed home. I even said I would leave her if that was what she wanted — very fed up and emotionally drained.
8pm: Just sorted Gran for bed. She seems to be all positive again so maybe a bit of a straight talk wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
I won’t let any of the nurses or cleaners into our room. So glad we are in a side room — the bays either side have the bug and if Gran gets it I don’t want to think what it could do.
8.45am: I was so tired, I’ve only just woken up. Nurse came in and said they gave Gran her meds and a drink in the night. It’s the first time since she arrived.
9am: We are going home! We’ve done it, Gran. An occupational therapist has been and got her to sit on the bed, then stand and shuffle to a chair. She did it all, so they say we are ok with one carer.
2pm: She’s home! We didn’t wait for an ambulance and set off after lunch in Mum’s car. I will never forget Granddad’s face when she came through their door. It’s the longest they’ve ever been apart. Just brilliant.
While Gran broke her leg in early July and had to return to hospital for an operation, she recovered well enough to celebrate her 65th wedding anniversary with a party in September and she and Granddad are still living at home together. She has a rich life and I will never, ever regret fighting so hard for her.
THE HOSPITAL'S RESPONSE
Marie Thompson, Director of Nursing
and Quality, said:
‘I was very concerned to hear that Hazel Carter was
unhappy with some aspects of her grandmother’s care. After speaking with Mrs Park’s next
of kin and other members of her family, including Hazel Carter, it is my
understanding that they were all very satisfied with the standard of
nursing care provided.
'I have offered the family an invitation to meet with myself to discuss their experiences within the Trust. The episode of care that Hazel
Carter refers to dates back to March 2011. The Trust did not receive any
formal complaint either at the time or subsequently from any member of
Mrs Park’s family.
'All complaints received are thoroughly investigated and where there are lessons to be learnt we will take these on board. Mrs Park was admitted to hospital
severely ill with pneumonia, thankfully she has made a steady recovery
and we wish Mrs Park and her family all the best for the future.’