Joseph’s Story

It was about autumn 2001.  I was working as a support worker with adults with a learning disability and I was a key worker for a gentleman I will call Sidney.

Sidney had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.  His lungs periodically filled up with fluid, so it was difficult for him to breathe.  I am not sure if Sid new what was wrong with him, I’m not sure if he knew that he was ill.  He was partially sighted and hard of hearing, and in his mid 60’s.  He would get out of breath easily, although he still wanted his ration of cigarettes each day.  Sid was rationed as otherwise he would chain smoke all day if left to his own devices.

Sidney had lived all his life in institutional care.  He occasionally had a visit from an elderly cousin; I think he was the only family who ever visited Sid.  He had lived nearly all his life in rambling institutional buildings, the last Victorian edifice he lived in was build in 1862 by Cardiff poor law union, and was waiting to be demolished to make way for a new development of private houses and a supermarket.  He was therefore re-settled into a house in the community with two other men.  They didn’t take much notice of each other.

One of the doctors we would go and see at Fairwater health centre at one time didn’t even look up from his desk when pronouncing a diagnosis, it was as if he thought elderly and learning disabled adults really weren’t worth the bother, at least that’s how his attitude came over, and it did make me angry, that he had such a poor attitude.  I believe that we were told that Sidney’s cancer wasn’t treatable, because it had spread to other parts of his body, and he was to have morphine.  To make his breathing easier, he had his lungs drained of fluid periodically.  This entailed a trip to Llandough hospital.

Llandough hospital is a sprawling building with different entrances for different things.  As I had never been there before, we went though the main entrance.  I think I asked for directions to the clinic we needed to visit, it seemed to be a long way to walk, and was right at the other end of the hospital.  We had to walk down a long corridor, which had a shiny buffed floor that squeaked when walked on, and you felt sure that everyone would stare at you.  However, we encountered very few people along the corridors with their shiny brown hued floors, and many doors, an antiseptic smell and tubular steel trolleys left abandoned at the side of the walkway.   We eventually arrived at our particular clinic and sat on the uncomfortable bendy plastic chairs, which were set out in rows.

We were called into a sparsely furnished room.  I believe there was a kidney shaped stainless steel dish, swabs, needle and a jug on a steel trolley.  Sid had to sit still while the nurse pushed a long needle through his rib cage and the fluid was sucked out of his lung by the syringe and ejected into the jug.  Sidney didn’t complain much about this.  Maybe the discomfort was less than the pain he was feeling from the cancer.  We were told that he couldn’t have this procedure done too often, as his lungs would keep filling up more quickly with fluid each time they were drained, so it was not a good idea.  I don’t think that Sid had the procedure performed again, and I think that he deteriorated in the next three weeks or so.

He was buried in Cathays cemetery.  I don’t think that the grave was marked because there was no money available as Sid had lived all his life in institutional care and had no savings, just his cigarette case and the clothes he stood in.