L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

21 December 2008 Blog Home : December 2008 : Permalink

Excess Winter Mortality - An Anecdote

At WattsUpWithThat there are a couple of posts about how people tend to die of cold weather. The first linked post discusses how the UK seems to kill more of its population in winter than most European nations in terms of Excess Winter Mortality (i.e. the difference in death rate between winter and summer).

Since my mother died yesterday perhaps I can add some anecodotal evidence about how this happens.

My mother died, essentially, from stomach flu causing diarrhea. No doubt I will find out more but from what I've learned so far she died because she caught a not particularly deadly stomach bug which dehydrated and weakened her so much that she died. Her main "caregiver" was my father, a gentleman who, while remarkably fit for his age, is in his 80s. There was help from a neighbour or two but little from the glorious NHS. That body limited itself to sporadic care from the "out of hours" doctor, various hotlines who seemed more interested in taking details of names, addresses, dates of birth etc. than medical symptoms and, at one point an ambulance crew.

The ambulance crew showed up because at o'dark thirty on Thursday my mother tried to go to the toilet and fell somehow next to it instead of on it. Father was unable to extricate her and called 999. When they showed up (quite promptly I believe) they quickly got her up from where she had fallen and gave a little first aid. They (and their superiors via radio) advised against taking her to hospital because they said she'd be no better off. Father says they predicted she would be dumped on a trolley in a corner and ignored for 8 hours before being sent home if she was taken to hospital. Hence she was put back in her own bed despite being seriously weak, cold and without a fit caregiver on call. I have absolutely no reason to doubt this prediction and that is surely one main reason why old people die excessively in the UK in winter.

Oh it doesn't help that my parents are of the self-effacing generation that doesn't want to bother the doctor. Theodore Dalrymple describes my parents perfectly in this bit of a recent essay:

I remember working for a short time in a general practice in a small country town where an old man called me to his house. I found him very weak from chronic blood loss, unable to rise from his bed, and asked him why he had not called me earlier. “I didn’t like to disturb you, Doctor,” he said. “I know you are a very busy man.”

My mother died partly because she and my father followed the rules about out of hours GPs and not "bothering" people who they assumed were busy on more deserving cases. She also died because Britain's hospitals can't be trusted to look after slightly ill people.

In France I'm sure she would have been taken to hospital and put in a bed, given a drip with sugar and electrolytes and basically looked after, ditto most other countries in Europe. If she were here she'd be alive. If she were in the US she'd probably be alive because medicare would have covered the basics of the admission and the same applies. In the UK where healthcare is "free" she was advised not to try and get some "free" healthcare because she wouldn't have got any.

Dying of the complications from a stomach bug is soemthing people do in third world countries, a group which now apparently includes the third world nation of Great Britain.