Looking after family member with multiple somatic complaints

I’m not sure if it’s right to say “looking after”, because the son was never in the picture throughout the patient (mother)’s time of visiting our clinic. It was always patient’s friends who brought or drove her here for consultation. Sometimes we’d see some younger friends, some are friends of the patient’s age.

She’s one who had worked hard all her life, as a teacher, housewife, mother. Till the husband had a stroke, and she had to take care of the husband, and also take over the husband’s business. So in the day she taught in the school, after work she went to the shop, later in the evening she did housework, cooking, washing etc.

Then she had a breakdown, having tinnitus, pulling sensation at the back of head, stomach gas leading to poor appetite, consistently feeling anxious, and insomnia. Even when she managed to sleep, she would feel like she was dreaming whole night.

So she had to stop everything, and was recommended by a friend to see a psychiatrist. For the first few months she did get slightly better with medicine. But since April, she started to have more and more complaints all over her body, get weaker and weaker. Till last visit when she came, her friends had to carry her both arms to get her up and walk.

She wanted to admit herself into general hospital for a full checkup. That was also what the friends think she should have done. But the son wasn’t supportive, thought the mother was only attention seeking (according to the friends). He didn’t see the need to do so.

Few days after the visit, when I was calling the patient, the son picked up. This was the first time I heard the son’s voice after following up for almost a year. The patient passed away due to lung infection that very morning. It’s hard for me to believe that. I just saw her less than one week ago. She was weak, coughing and so, but …?!

It’s also hard for me to accept that the son was only into the picture on the day the patient died.

Back in the uni, we used to learn that some patients get themselves ill, or maintain their illness so that they continue to get attention and care from their family or loved ones (including some children who have Anorexia Nervosa maintained to keep the parents together or to get the attention from the carers; or some elderly parents who refuse to get better so that the children will look after them and come visit them).

But such theories, no, such assumptions, aren’t they very harmful? They can be lethal when you assume so and stop looking for the real cause behind those somatic and physical complaints. Was it really love and attention seeking? Or was it real physical illness, pain or injury?

So despite what he thought, if the son had brought patient to the hospital, the lung infection would probably have been detected and treated much earlier. The ending wouldn’t be the same. I wonder how the son feels.

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