Quiet crises

Throughout this year, I have gained a new appreciation for those among us who soldier on: the health care workers, supermarket supervisors and the staff stacking shelves, the cohorts of recyclers, cleaners and organisers. It has been too easy, while we were taking our previously “normal” lives in our stride, to overlook the crucial parts taken by so many players in keeping our erstwhile expectations on track. I feel a sincere gratitude to those of us who get on with things, because they have little choice: a semblance of normal life has to continue.

Which has always been my mother’s rationale for keeping going, despite her increasing frailty. Recently, she was taken into hospital. On the advice of a GP, an ambulance was summoned, and asked to ferry my mother to one of the Edinburgh hospitals, where her arrival was expected. Ten hours later, an ambulance finally came to the door because my husband, coming to the scene fresh, and alarmed at my mother’s pallor, called the emergency services again; so that my mother’s case was re-prioritised; and thus, two paramedics arrived.

For our pains, and those of my mother, we received a small peroration from the lead paramedic on the use of the emergency services to summon help and a comment that he disliked the emergency ambulance being used as a taxi service.

It’s only now, after an exhausting weekend in recovery from a series of eight-, ten- and twelve-hour days in attendance on my mother, while seeing to a dozen things at once and keeping abreast of my own household’s needs, that I sense the illogicality of much of what he said: I was not at all offended that he felt the need to speak his mind; I am, however, rather puzzled by the implications.

If the ambulance service is not there to ferry sick persons about, what is it for? At what point does a sick person, unable to move, feed or toilet themselves, become an emergency? And why is it only noisy emergencies that get priority? Without re-prioritisation, would my mother still be waiting to reach her bed in the hospital as other calls were constantly prioritised above her? Must we both be in a state of collapse before someone notices our lives crumbling under the weight of accumulated impossibility? For we had no carers on hand no help manage our own quiet crises, nor hope of any. (I had had to tell my mother’s carers not to come to the house, since by then she had been expecting admission to hospital.)

In the last two weeks, I have begun to appreciate some of the complexities that underpin our public services and their organisation. I’m grateful for these insights, and can only hope that I have learned enough to carry me through the next phase of my mother’s rehabilitation. No hospital visits allowed, but phonecalls are always a route through the maze.

In this season of love and goodwill, in the midst of a million quiet crises, I wish you all well, and hope that the New Year brings us peace and joy.

Merry Christmas.

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