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Helen's Story

In January 2014, I was admitted for a total hip replacement. The surgery was very successful. A few months before the surgery I had visited my GP because of nausea and vomiting, and the situation had not been resolved. A day after the surgery, I became very ill, with severe nausea, diarrhea and a high fever. An ultrasound showed that I had a severely infected gallbladder. A drain was installed, resulting in some improvement.

After a 3 1/2 week hospital stay, I was discharged, only to be readmitted 36 hours later with more vomiting, diarrhea and an extremely high fever. The diagnosis was septicemia. More antibiotics followed, along with many X-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs, as stones were suspected “somewhere.” None were found.

I was discharged again after 4 weeks. I was home for 3 1/2 weeks then readmitted with the same symptoms. Septicemia was diagnosed once again. The drain, which had been removed four weeks earlier, was once again brought in and I slowly recovered. However, I had no appetite and had severe weight loss (50 pounds). Eventually a dye inserted into the drain showed that three stones were blocking the common biliary duct. The stones were removed and I quickly recovered.

I was discharged after 12 days. In total I’d spent nine weeks in the hospital and was discharged in an extremely weak condition. On the day of discharge I had a fall, not surprisingly. I was fortunate not to be hurt by the fall; however, I required the help of two paramedics to put me back on my feet, as my muscles had become very weak because of illness and bed rest.

Except for a nurse who rinsed the drain daily, applied dressings, and so on, no other help was available for me, in spite of the fact that I was 87 at the time and live alone. I was fortunate that I have family and good friends nearby. Not everyone has this advantage and it is very worrying when seniors are discharged with virtually no help after a very serious illness.

Before discharging patients, should we not ensure that sufficient home care is available? In the Netherlands, home care for infirm seniors is available four times per day: seniors can get help with their morning bath, getting up into a chair, preparing breakfast, preparing lunch, other tasks as needed, preparing supper, and preparing for bed and lights out. The Netherlands no longer has long-term care facilities! Patients can stay in their own homes, where they can be comfortable and well looked after, rather than spending their last months or years in an institution. Almost any senior would much prefer that.

In the end, the health care system in the Netherlands is saving money by providing good home care and closing all those nursing homes, which in my estimation are the most depressing places to be, in spite of all the good care by employees. Should we perhaps follow this example?