The death of a care in the community patient who died this week after attempting to swallow a horse has been described by mental health experts as a tragedy that should have been averted.
The old lady, Mrs Teasdale from Lewisham in South East London, was adjudged ‘not to be a danger to herself or others’, even after she had swallowed a series of sizeable farm animals. Defending Lewisham Social Services, Councillor Bryan Clarkson said ‘When this case first came to our attention, all we knew was that there was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. It was suggested that perhaps she’ll die, though at that stage it seemed unlikely.’
However subsequent warnings that the old lady had swallowed a spider to catch the fly, and then swallowed a bird to catch the spider, should have set off alarm bells according to the department’s critics. Yet their only reaction to the news that the old lady had swallowed a cat to catch the bird was ‘Fancy that, she swallowed a cat!’ when in fact she should have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983. Further bizarre feats of compulsive swallowing were blithely accepted as normal behaviour – Mrs Teasdale swallowed a goat, which wouldn’t catch a dog in any case, and then a cow; obviously a herbivore and useless at catching a goat at the best of times. By the time she swallowed a horse it was simply too late and the coroner declared the old lady dead; ‘Of course.’
‘This litany of neglect is a damning indictment of Lewisham’s Social Services Department,’ he added. ‘At each stage, Mrs Teasdale should have been given appropriate mental and medical attention, instead she was just left to continue swallowing these animals under the tragic misapprehension that each would somehow catch the last one – when it is clear that her plan was seriously flawed on several fronts. Who knows how many other old ladies there are swallowing large domesticated animals?’
The real tragedy, according to medical experts, is that the original fly would have been killed by Mrs Teasdale’s stomach acid, thereby rendering any further swallowing completely pointless.