|Courtesy of samandale - |
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
The circle of life
In February of this year my only son, aged 23, left home. Two
My 83-year-old dad had been suffering abdominal pain for a few days. Typically a fit and active man who walks his boisterous golden retriever three times per day, when I called round on one of my weekly visits it was sobering to discover that his discomfort had rendered him almost incapable of leaving his bed. Why hadn’t you called me earlier, or (even better) rang for an ambulance, I asked. We didn’t want to make a fuss, my dad and mother replied.
I helped dad into my car and drove straight to the Urgent Care department of our local hospital. During the journey he insisted on telling me the whereabouts of his will and testament – apparently in the bottom drawer of his dining room cabinet, in a green cardboard folder – and asked if I could “keep an eye on” mum (his wife for the last 62 years) should anything happen to him. I smiled and urged him not to be so bloody morbid, while wondering whether the old fella had some sort of intuition that his demise was imminent.
I booked him into Urgent Care, asked the receptionist for a vomit bowl (dad was retching by this time), and emphasized that I believed my father’s condition to be a medical emergency. She instructed us to sit in the waiting area along with about two-dozen other patients, most of whom seemed to be suffering cuts and sprains. Two minutes later my father lost consciousness and slumped across me. Six nurses descended upon us from all directions, lifted my father onto a trolley and rushed him into the resuscitation area; there is nothing more effective than a dramatic collapse to propel one into pole position in a hospital waiting room.
Throughout the afternoon his condition oscillated between apparent improvement and episodes of mental confusion. Various tests and x-rays revealed an obstruction in his bowel; surgery for cancer several years earlier had left scars (“adhesions”) which had caused his intestine to twist like a balloon and cause a complete blockage.
By 8.30 pm, the medical specialists decided they would have to operate immediately. Although not explicitly stated, the indications were that we should prepare for his demise: the senior consultant surgeon was called to perform the operation; she insisted on speaking to me and mum beforehand to emphasize the seriousness of the situation; and we were led to the Faith Room to await the outcome of what they anticipated to be a three-hour procedure.
Alone in the Faith Room, mum and I sat in front of a broad bare window, allowing a view of both the lights of the nearby town on one side, and the sun sinking below the bleak Lancashire hills on the other. At first, we did not speak. I stared into the gloom outside, striving to comprehend the prospect of losing my dad, while (I suspect) mum quietly prayed to her God.
I remembered that I had not updated my only sibling about our father’s deterioration, so I rang him on my mobile and outlined the events of the day.
“I think we might lose him, Tony” I said at last, tears escaping for the first time at my explicit acknowledgment of the likely outcome.
When I returned to sit with my mum the quality of our togetherness seemed to have changed following my acceptance of the possibility of the big man’s death. We talked with a depth of familiarity only close family members can share. We laughed together as we reminded each other of family holidays, including the time he insisted on carrying both huge suitcases into the hotel only to become wedged in the swing- doors. We reflected on some of his foibles – how he doted on his dogs, his unintentional heavy-handedness with his grandchildren when wrestling with them on the carpet, and his habit of grasping stinging nettles with his bare hands to eject them from his garden – as we shared an unfamiliar intimacy, I wondered why mum and I didn’t make time to share this closeness more often.
My father survived. The bowel operation was a success and, after four weeks in hospital (two in intensive care) he was discharged home on the 12th May. Ten weeks later he continues to improve, although he remains 30-pounds lighter than his pre-operative weight and his mobility is currently restricted to short, tentative walks with his dog!
During the crisis I glimpsed the gut-wrenching prospect of losing my dad, the unique quality of love that binds family members, and the circle of life whereby our children mature into full adulthood while our parents edge ever nearer to oblivion. Intriguingly, my visits to mum and dad have now increased to twice per week.