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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
'I want to die in my own home'
George Fullwood
Mr Fullwood says hospital staff can be too busy to care for old people
According to the charity Help The Aged, older people are not receiving the same level of care in their dying days as younger people in similar situations.

But what type of care do elderly people need as life draws to an end?

George Fullwood, 70, is still very much alive despite a lifetime of heart problems and other illnesses.

The former engineer and disability campaigner lives alone at his Sheffield home, supported by assistants who help with housework.

He says he would never willingly enter a care home.

But after having several operations himself and losing his wife following a long battle with multiple sclerosis, he has plenty of experience of how older people are treated in hospitals.

She died where she wanted to die - at home with me, which was most important to her
George Fullwood

He told BBC News Website he was full of admiration for the NHS, particularly hospital staff in his local A&E and cardiac care departments.

But he said he had been disconcerted to be asked by his doctor before an operation in 2002 whether he would mind not being resuscitated should anything go wrong.

He said: "That was the bit that scared me. It made me realise I'm mortal.

"The doctor told me: 'We could resuscitate you but you could be on a life support machine. You could be a cabbage and life wouldn't be worth living.'

"He was trying to be kind but it made me feel vulnerable."

In the weeks before his wife's death in 2001, Mr Fullwood was in hospital himself so unable to care for her at home as usual.

Instead, she went to hospital and then temporarily into a care home.

He said: "My wife was very unhappy because she liked to be at home with me. She actually became more ill because of the stress of being away.

"She was looked after pretty well but there was a shortage of nursing staff.

"It gets to the point when it's lunch or supper time and they would just put food in front of them, then come and taken it away and they hadn't eaten because they needed help to eat.

It's the personal things, like feeding and cleaning teeth, making sure they are comfortable and clean all the time
George Fullwood

"Then they get to the point where they just don't want to eat and that's when deterioration sets in. I think that's what happened with Audrey.

"They need more staff on the older people's wards, even if it's just at meal times."

As soon as he was well enough, he took his wife home and nursed her there until her death, with some support from a local nursing team.

"She died where she wanted to die - at home with me, which was most important to her."

Crossword

In care homes, too, he says staff are simply overstretched.

"It's the little things that don't happen. They are very stretched and I wouldn't say the staff have much time to be with someone who's on their last legs and dying.

"It's not their fault, it's the fault of the system."

By contrast, he says the care given in hospices, which the Help The Aged report claims is often denied to older people, is "second to none".

"It's the personal things, like feeding and cleaning teeth, making sure they are comfortable and clean all the time."

The thought of death doesn't frighten me. I think it's just a continuation of what's gone before
George Fullwood

He says his wife received a similar level of care in the early days of her illness, when she was occasionally taken into a charity hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy nuns for respite care.

"She loved it there because she got so much care and attention from the nuns and I got a break. But it doesn't exist anymore."

The perfect way to spend his own last days would be "in my own home, with the telephone beside me and the television, a good book and a crossword.

Choices

"There's no way I would go into a home. They'd have to section me first or prove I was incapable of looking after myself. You hear so many stories about care homes and I just don't think people there are encouraged.

"You need to keep your brain working. My body might be useless but my brain isn't and neither is my gob.

"In an ideal world, everybody would have choices and make their own decisions about what happens."

Thoughts of his own death have crossed his mind.

He says: "In the morning my blood pressure is very low and I feel really yucky.

"That's OK but the odd time it's happened in the afternoon I've sat in my chair and thought: 'Now it's time to shut my eyes and go and that would be nice.'

"The thought of death doesn't frighten me. I think it's just a continuation of what's gone before.

"But I wonder if there will be anybody there. The only person I would want is my wife. She's got to be there and she will be, I know that."


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