We are sinking

Here is a story, not as yet featured in a newspaper – but from a frontline journalist regardless.

A woman walks in – correction, hobbles in – to see her practitioner.

She is at least 20kg overweight and exhausted from the sheer effort of moving herself on her burdened and unwilling legs.

The skin of her legs is bare. They are scalded red; not from an external burn but from a mysterious systemic disease set in train by a major surgery that went awry.

The ‘burnt’ skin is a sign of breakdown of vascular/immune/lymphatic systems.

Her toes, not yet rotten as we hear about with diabetes, are failing appendages – stiff, and blotched purplish red, with scaling skin, and clotted looking, infected nails.

She has not been able to wear shoes for months. Her feet are so swollen and the skin so painful that thongs are the only possible foot attire, even in the depths of winter.

She cannot see her toes, not just because she is almost blind, her girth is too great to peer over. Her eyes are filmy, pouring tears because they have just received an excruciating injection to try to restore some sight.

She is regularly undergoing dialysis to keep her laboured kidneys functioning... just. Her diabetes is off the scale; injections and tablets cannot control it.

She is sad and angry in equal measure with the doctors who tried to save her life... did save her life in fact. The problem is that her life has been reduced to a shrinking round of suffering, misery and medical intervention. She insists that she was well before that operation...

Her breath has a rancid smell, not just from tooth rot, but the deep rot of a body that is diseased from tip of toe to top of flaking scalp.

Am I making you sick? Apologies, but I hope so if that is what it takes to wake us up to the scale of human suffering in this world.

Do you think this is a story I have lifted from a charity pamphlet seeking donations for a developing nation? Do you imagine this has been taken from the case study of an impoverished nation on the WHO website? It is neither of these.

This is Australia, 2016. The journalist is a suburban dentist working in a large city. This is one of a hundred tales I could tell you from the coalface of illness and disease

We are spending billions of dollars keeping people alive, yet investing nothing in the thing that we must invest in, and that which each of us must take ownership of – responsible self care.

The lady I have described did not arrive at this point randomly.

There are no coincidences.

It is neglect, chronic, sustained ongoing neglect that delivers us to such an untenable point.

This woman is as close to ‘too late’ as you ever want to get. For her, self-care is almost a ridiculous concept when getting out of bed, getting dressed and getting to the shops is pushing her to the absolute limit of her ability.

The woman’s story is far from isolated. Diabetes and obesity come with an appalling toll, and bring levels of suffering few of us consider. They are bankrupting our national coffers and bankrupting people’s lives, reducing them to bare, miserable survival.

It is a fact that we are out of time, and in the matter of healthcare we are sinking.

Filed under

DiseaseHumanityIll health Diabetes

  • Photography: Matt Paul