I woke up early last Wednesday morning to a totally silent world. It was strange and very disturbing. I couldn’t hear the light switch being turned on, the water running from the tap or my feet treading on the floor boards. I had been having trouble with my ears for a few days before, although this was mainly earache and a painful neck and face. I suspected a middle ear infection with the pain coming from a blocked Eustachian tube. Having a hot steamy shower seemed to bring some relief and my hearing partially returned in one ear with a pop – although this was a peculiar feeling, with ‘echoing’ and ‘buzzing’ interfering with my ability to hear fully.
I wasn’t unduly worried although both ears and my neck were very painful and sore. I knew the condition would either get better itself (with painkillers to help) or it would get worse and require medical attention. I was however, concerned about a few things that were impacted by the loss of hearing. One was the fact I had no way of knowing if I was shouting or mumbling when I spoke. Normally this wouldn’t have mattered either, but I was due at the Trust Board meeting and due to report on the work of the Quality and Safety Committee.
As it turned out, my colleagues patiently assisted me through the report and provided non-verbal cues over whether they could hear or not. The other concern I had was brought into sharp relief through the patient story agenda item. This month instead of having an actual patient’s story to focus on, we were asked to watch a short video commissioned by the Chief Nursing Officer (Jane Cummings) entitled The Last 1000 Days, which was a poem written by a nurse called Molly Case. It draws attention to the importance that time can have to older people.
Once you have survived childhood life expectancy rises, the longer you live the longer you can expect to live. In the western world, the average life expectancy is 79 years for men and 83 for women. Now imagine you are a 76 years old man or an 80 year old woman. What you have left is 1000 days – and how many of those would you want to spend in hospital. The Molly Case poem and film vividly brings this question home to the viewer. You can find it here.
Time spent in hospital for older people can be time lost from those 1000 days. 10 days in a hospital bed leads to 10 years of muscle wasting for those aged 80 years and over. This can have a detrimental impact on the persons mobility. Nearly 50% of people aged 85 and over will die in the year following their hospital admission. So getting people seen early, treated promptly and correctly and moved out of hospital, if not to their home, somewhere close to home is an imperative. Getting things right and getting things done in a timely way not only values and respects the importance of patient’s time, but brings value to the work of the nurses and other health care professionals. You can find out more about this approach here.
My temporary loss of hearing brought home to me not only the importance of recognising the gift of time and not wasting a single moment. It also made me think about the choices I make in making decisions. Last week I was fortunate in that I could ask a medical colleague to take a quick look at my ears and reassure me my temporary hearing loss was just that. Had I not been able to do so, trying to access such help through my GP or a Walking Centre would have been very difficult. Partly the difficulties arise from the demand pressures on such services and their capacity to respond to these demands. It was also partly through the choices I was making around prioritising my work demands over sorting out my health problems.
Currently, I have just 390 working days left between posting this blog and starting my retirement. In order to make the most of these and hopefully continue to make a difference I am going to have to remain healthy and able. Waking up last Wednesday and not being able to hear frightened me. I should have taken time to get sorted straightaway and not worry about my work diary commitments. So I am determined to change that approach.