Sunday, March 01, 2009

Elderly relatives

One country tradition I remember well from my childhood is having neighbors that look in on each other, and in typical small-town fashion, knowing almost everything there is to know about everyone else on the "block" or in the square-miles-wide local farm community. As a teenager I thought this was stifling, but now in my mature old age I see the wisdom of this tradition.

In our fast-paced, high-tech virtual world it seems that we don't have as much time for just sitting down and chatting with each other as we did back then (gosh, folks, I'm only talking 40 years ago!)

These last two weeks my father has been in the hospital fighting for his life with so many problems it was fortunate the doctors knew where to begin. He thought he had a minor infection and fever, went to the emergency room, and had a heart attack there. The initial diagnosis that got him admitted to intensive care was pneumonia, which turned into sepsis. Treatment with strong new antibiotics cleared up the infection, but he didn't improve. After almost 10 days in the hospital intensive care unit they finally realized it was an uncommon reaction to a drug he was taking for his heart arrythmia and had been taking for almost a year.

My dad had been following up with his family physician, but had decided to change from the cardiologist he had been seeing an hour away, to a more local cardiologist. Except he hadn't visited the local cardiologist yet. We are still trying to understand how the information got lost in the shuffle - that patients on this drug, Amiodarone, are supposed to be monitored by both a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. As it states on the link, "since many patients taking amiodarone have a history of heart problems, their symptons are easy to mistake for heart disease (or sometimes, the effects of aging).

This is not the only drug he is taking that has a list of side effects a mile long. At my last visit I noticed how "puffy" he was, but he had a scheduled visit to the family doctor the next day, so I wasn't too concerned. Next thing I knew he was on his way to the hospital in the ambulance.

Please look in on your elderly neighbors. If you don't know who they are, get to know them. Take them a casserole sometime if you have too much (but remember that many elderly are on restricted diets or are diabetic.) Don't be afraid to be nosy.

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