My blog has been silent again. Just as my schedule was letting up a bit, my father fell ill. In Jane Austen’s time, extended families lived in one village and often under the same roof. Healthy family members or friends took care of the sick, elderly, and very young. In this age, when sons and daughters and siblings live far apart, taking care of a loved one is not as convenient. I took time off from work, more to help my 88 year-old mother than my father, who was in the hospital, and to take some stress off my brother, who was starting a challenging and demanding new assignment. We thought Dad had suffered a stroke. In the 18th century, his condition would have been described as apoplexy, or “paralysis caused by stroke. Sudden deprivation of all the internal and external sensation and of all motion unless of the heart and thorax.” ( Glossary of Old Medical Terms Used in the 18th and 19th Centuries)
As he came out of a restaurant bathroom, my dad forgot to walk. I happened to be there, worried that he was taking so long. He began to slur his words and hallucinated that his father, who has been dead for 40 years, was joining us for dinner. We rushed him to the emergency room, where he wound up in good hands, receiving excellent diagnostic care. After four days of tests, he was transferred to a rehab hospital for the elderly to receive 10 days of speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
Back in the old days, those who suffered apoplexy or stroke were not so lucky. Many died within hours of the event, if not a few weeks later. Blood letting was one cure that was thought to be effective, although in most cases the practice was harmful and weakened the patient.
Some of those who survived successive attacks, especially the young, were mistaken for being mad. Romance author, Laura Kinsale, has written a remarkable book entitled Flowers From the Storm, in which a hedonistic and haughty duke is placed by his family into a mental institution after a major stroke. His sudden inability to communicate and lack of physical control is described in detail by this talented author in a story that, 15 years after I first read it, still stands out in my mind. I imagine the fate that this fictional Duke suffered was shared by many actual people of that era.
In our case, Dad benefited from modern medicine. An MRI showed previous minor strokes, but a CAT scan proved that this was not the reason for his illness. Dad’s illness was a “neurological event” that has been attributed to the progression of his Parkinson’s disease, once known as shaking palsy; the effects of a new medication, which made him hallucinate; the poisonous interaction among the 16 some medications he was taking per day; the slow advancement of his dementia; lack of exercise; and simply old age.
Two hundred years ago, I would have lived close enough to my parents to help on a daily basis. These days, Dad will be depending on home visits from medical personnel and the loving attentions of his wife.
My, how times have changed.
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