Paul Brown’s Gym for Geriatrics by George Evans
Several years ago I started falling down. Perhaps the most spectacular fall was when I fell backwards on The Wrekin and knocked myself out. As I came round I wondered what the buzzing sound was; it turned out to be the Air Ambulance.
There was also a land ambulance which took me to A & E at the PRH. My skull was dented but it healed, given time and a lot of Paracetamol. The Consultant said,” It will be better in six weeks”. I replied, “You mean ‘Insha’Allah’?” We agreed it was either God willing or with a bit of luck.
The next event was when I slipped in the shower and broke a couple of ribs on the taps. That too healed itself. Then came a broken collar bone. I had already started to suggest to my GP that I was having too many falls, so would they please refer me to someone who could discover the cause of these falls before one of them one did more than hurt me and bother the A&E department. By the time I had been pestering GPs for about five years the big one came – I fell at home and broke my hip. That resulted in a hospital admission for a hip replacement, followed by being looked after well at home by Phoenix Care who are still doing an excellent job.
After that I had another fall, which didn’t hurt much and I was rescued by 999. I began to nag my GP and eventually I was sent to the Falls Unit. This is so good that I thought it was well worth telling Wrekin News readers about it. It’s a delightful little unit which seems much calmer and less stressful than most of the NHS. By the way, a geriatric, I’ve learned, is a patient over 65 years old; I’ll soon be the father of a geriatric, which seems daft. Meantime visiting the gym every Thursday and practising between sessions seems to be doing me a lot of good.
On first sight the exercises may seem silly – stretching a foot here and there and I had been warned that it would be all a waste of time but obviously my informants hadn’t met Karen Sharpe, who instructs the groups. She has a bit of magic; her sense of humour turns the sessions into fun. The exercises, I’m told, were pioneered in Otago, New Zealand and were proved to extend the active life of older people and lessen the chance of falling. They have been used in many other countries. Of course they’re no use if you don’t do them but Karen encourages enthusiastic participation in her classes. I have been ordered by my fellow group members to include a special ‘thank you’ to her, which I am happy to do. Not knowing her name I originally nicknamed her Boss, so it’s “Thank-you Boss for the fun.” Of course we all know she’s not in supreme charge of the whole unit.
Gradually over the weeks I have been going to the gym and with the help of several of the staff, especially Karen I have been able to piece together an idea of the organisation of the Paul Brown unit. It’s on the right hand end of the Princess Royal Hospital with a separate entrance. Dr. Paul Brown was the first medical director and a much respected consultant on the PRH staff; he had a lot to do with the setting up of this unit before he died some years ago. Consequently the whole unit, including wards 15 &16, was given his name.
All the team members take part in the primary assessment to ensure that the course will benefit the patients. Apart from Karen the team consists of her partner, Gail, Trish, the sister in charge, Gina the Staff Nurse, with Louise and Debbie on reception. Karen and Gail’s titles are Postural Stability Instructors. Dr Capps, a hospital doctor, is with them two days a week. Her title is Associate Specialist in charge of the elderly and rehabilitation. I found her charming and both very knowledgeable and approachable. Between themselves the whole team decides if each patient is going to benefit from the course, with Dr Capps providing the medical knowledge and opinion. Like the others she agreed readily when asked what she thought of the idea of this article.
The whole place seems to proceed at an adult pace, which is how we patients like it. It’s a rare pleasure these days to find a civilised environment without the whole place buzzing with stress. I have rarely spotted signs of impatience and found almost everyone having time to think before they speak. Everyone is treated as a sensible human rather than a problem to be dealt with, or a box to be ticked. Recently, with the NHS mostly overloaded and underfunded this unit seems a small haven of calm, an island or oasis of peace. On asking my family and friends of widely different ages I find that this is not just an old man’s opinion. I heard a friend the other day complaining that when he was in hospital recently he actually heard two nurses chatting. This, so he said, proved that the whole NHS was overstaffed and wasting time! I’ve a feeling he doesn’t like human beings much.
For many years I have been hoping that the whole medical profession and service would spend more time, energy, thought and resources on preventing illness rather than waiting for it to happen before taking action. The exercises I have been doing have certainly improved my ancient muscles quite a bit and I am a lot fitter than before doing them, though as Karen told us, old muscles don’t regenerate like young ones. What I struggle with most is balance, though even that is better for the Falls Clinic.
If you’re getting old and want to prolong your active life I can highly recommend this clinic.