Archive for the 'Dad' Category

The impossible dream

I have this dream that I get sometimes.

Dad is alive after his surgery, back in the good period when he could cut the lawn and paddle a bit in the canoe.

And it’s all great.

And then I realise in the dream that it’s about 3 or 4 years from his diagnosis and he’s still alive and he’s doing great and you know what – he’s going to be alright, he’s cured.

Then I remember it in the morning and I know it’s not true.

Sucks.

Worst at the best of times

Most of you who know me will know that today is a year down the line from Da dying. Odd how these arbitrary dates and timings acquire some kind of significance. They do. Whether I want them to or not. You see them coming over the horizon, like a great big box waiting to be ticked.

I was on call overnight and slept poorly and just as I did get over I got rang by work anyhow. Leaves me an excuse for being tetchy and grumpy.

Me and Simy had both booked the day off and we took wee Liz to Castlewellan for the day. With ever present puppy of course. No trip these days is complete without the pup.

We have too many good memories (yes I know that’s a stupid thing, it’s like saying you’ve too much money – oh I’m so sorry for you, it must be so hard…) everywhere you go you remember how happy you were. Not always in a bad way but still it seems tough some how. I suppose you need to be a certain kind of person to get annoyed by happy memories.

Castlewellan is like that. Me and Simy would both (well really just Simy, but if he went I’d keep him company) gladly go back to the late eighties and cycle down from the caravan to feed the ducks in the lake at Castlewellan. We both do the pleasant nostalgia thing.

We did the boundary walk. two and a half hours and saw two people. Great stuff. Found our view point looking over Newcastle and Donard and cracked open a tin of Magners and toasted Ronaldo from plastic cups. Good moment. Good as such a thing can be anyhow.

When we got home Simy produced a DVD from his wedding of Dad’s wedding speech at Simy’s wedding that none of us had seen before.

Weird watching it and have the memories come back.

Number 1 – growing the hair has been such a good move for both me and Simon. I know we may look like prats these days but seriously you should have seen us with the shaved heads.

Number 2 – Dad makes a bloody good speech. Managing foul humour, insults, grace and emotion all in one move. Special kind of gift.

To Ron.

Gilead

I started reading this on zoomtard‘s (with all the Karl Barth I can see why he liked it. Really you should keep the Zoommatics thing going. Otherwise I’ll have to read Barth myself and that’s just not on)  and Transfarmer‘s recommendation.

[That in itself is worth discussion – very few things in my life I have discovered on my own. Simy introduced me to almost every cool thing I ever got involved in, Da introduced me to sarcasm and writing (and so much more), Liz to Anne of green Gables… Not so much Liz. (You introduced me to much more than that I just thought I’d take the piss while I could.)

I listen to Pedro the lion because someone I knew listened to it, Skeeno introduces me virtually all my new music, Spuddy pulls his weight in that department too, Phil has bought me more books than hot dinners. I know these people because of people.

I enjoy what I enjoy not because I discovered it in a vacuum but because other people did before me. These things I enjoy have had quite remarkable influences on my life (fight club changed my life I tell you) and I let them because these other people introduced them to me.

Books are dangerous things. You open a book or listen to a song and a few years later you’re not the same.

I’ll stop there.]

Back to Gilead. A letter (a really long book length letter) written by an elderly dying preacher to his still young son. So that the son will know the father as he gets older.

It is nearly a year since Dad died. And this is what I think about. Gilead. The thoughts of a dying man. And I miss him.

To quote:

There have been so many fine days this summer that I’ve begun to hear talk of a drought. Whatever is coming I’d be sorry to miss it…

Dad died with a coming financial crisis that at least gave him an ironic laugh. Before swine flu, before Obama, before Spotify, before Transfarmer, before sitting here in a pub in Ballyconnell with me wishing i could give him a ring and laugh about it all.

Worth an extra non-dad related quote

He could knock me down the stairs and I’d have worked out the theology for forgiving him before  I reached the bottom. But if he harmed you in the slightest way, I’m afraid theology would fail me.

Last days of my bitter heart

I have big issues with happiness. Not that I object to it in principle. Enjoyment is pretty much what Christianity is all about for me, joy is a moral good and all that.

What i mean is that i find myself uncomfortable with it. I am suspicious of it. I listen to too much miserable music, i read too many miserable books, i love miserable movies. But never mind this, i have eyes to see that life is a long (though occasionally brief) stream of pain and suffering interrupted by periods of peace and joy.

Perhaps i jest. Perhaps.

Not that i am describing my life. My life is a long stream of privilege and blessing interrupted by the odd major life event but mainly lots of melancholic wallowing.

But when I am joyful i always have one eye on the pain. You can’t have the sweet without the sour (baby) as i learnt from Vanilla Sky. Or rather, Vanilla Sky articulated what i already supposed.

This has become more of an issue in the past year. Since Da dying and all that.

I struggle to remember him without bitterness – not in the sense of anger or regret, more in the sense of sadness. I cannot have the joy and the thankfulness without the pain of remembering.

Yes i rant about this a lot. About memory and its effect on me. That the older I get the more memories i accumulate and the slightly more unhinged i become.

Lewis wrote in the great divorce about how people wanted to bring hell with them to heaven. That hell wanted a veto on heaven. That because there was pain, there could be no joy.

So why does my memory of pain (not only Da, but all the horrible things that happen to people i love every day) get to veto joy?

Surely it’s not a question of veto? That something or someone should be able to shout down the whole affair. Yes there is truth that it’s rare to find the sweet without the sour but they do at least get to co-exist, not one eliminating the other.

Anyhow.

I took a long walk here in the sun and i think i had my first purely joyful and thankful memories of dad. Toes in the ocean and all that.

When it feels like you are losing

Distinct lack of blogging over past week. Mainly cause I’ve been too depressed to even get out of bed. It has not been a good week. So it goes.

Nearly 6 months have gone by since Da went. And i haven’t the slightest clue what to make of it all. Too many memories. So it goes.

Life is not easy. This is probably elementary to most of you. It is likely as plain as the life before you.  I’m only beginning to get used to the idea.

Anyhow. Wrote a song. If you’re gonna feel miserable you may as well get something out of it.

The cost

Blogging while sleep deprived and a bit pissed off makes for good reading I expect but perhaps you say more than you meant to. I imagine this is the type of thing I’ll re tell on a comfy leather couch in about 20 years (or months depending on how it goes…)

The problem with medicine (says he, with finger pointed and all eyes watching the figure with the air of authority as he gets ready to put the world to rights…) is not neccessairily the medico-legal responsibilty.

Say that I cock up and kill someone, or miss something big or whatever – then there is a certain medico-legal responsibility that I have been negligent or incompetent and should (though not always and occasionally too often) face some kind of disciplinary action.

I figure I get paid for that kind of responsibility. That seems to be the way things work in the world, the more responsibility and education and learning you have the more you get paid. Like a top class economy crippling banker – you bring the world as we know it to an end and you still get your golden handshake…

[Although that is probably a tad unfair on the old bankers – no doubt they were unscrupulous and greedy but they were merely in the position to be so. Yes they’re bastards but I’m pretty sure we all are. Anyhow the dodgy millions they made are what paid the taxes that fund the whole NHS and now that their incomes (and tax revenues) are falling then the NHS will suffer. Anyhow it’s all a tad more complicated than a quick “bastards are bankers” “bankers are bastards” joke allows…]

Legal responsibility is one thing. Moral responsibility is a whole other kettle of fish.

You see that’s were the problem lies. I don’t give too much of a stuff about whether I’m legally responsible for a patient – fine sue me, see if i care. What I do care about is my moral responsibilty to the patient in front of me. Yes I am that self-righteously pious. It has taken years of practice believe me…

They turn up with their woes and sicknesses and it is to me they come. And me with my mythical diagnostic and healing powers, foisted upon me by a legacy of TV shows, movies and dishonest doctors, is the one that that has to give them some kind of answer and dare i say it – final solution to the whole mess. (No nazi killing reference intended…)

Do not get me wrong. I am not grumpy and moaning. I am not saying “why can’t you blood sucking parasites leave me alone and sort your own lives out and crawl into a corner and die as you best see fit”.

I enjoy the job. I enjoy that position. It is one of the highest honour and priviledges to face and speak to these people who are part scared, part hopeful, part accepting of what may lie before them.

It is the moral responsibility that I carry around with me. The simple notion that these people need sorted and that in essence is my job.

It is also what keeps me up till 3am worrying about all these little broken, sickly creatures wandering around out there in the community. It is what makes me come home and be grumpy with my house mates and my family. When you see me staring into space and grumpy and  uncommunicative I’ll either be thinking about Da or about all the patients I carry around with me in my head.

Without a doubt this is part of what makes me (i think) good at my job. It is also a large part of what makes me walk across the car park each day swearing inwardly at myself, the patients and the way we serve them.

While trying not to be too melodramatic – oh why the hell not… –  they come to me like ghosts, or apparitions, their faces, their names, their x-rays their CT scans, their veins and arteries and wounds all their weeping, worried relatives.

I have this uncanny knack of remembering every patient I’ve ever seen. Well not everyone but a scarily high proportion. I go in the cubicle and ask have i met them before then i’ll remember – you were in cubicle 4 two and a half years ago and you’d hurt your wrist and there was no fracture on the x-ray. Which is all very impressive till the patient says “oh yes but i came back a week later and the consultant said it was broken…” Which always takes me down a peg or two but I could do with that.

But i remember them all, the things we got right, the things we got wrong. Each one tells me a story.

I’m not entirely sure if all this psychotic craziness is since Da died or not. Certainly watching one of your own go through it makes you painfully aware of how important all this is. But I think I was like this to start with. Only now more so.

I sometimes I think I have a shelf-life, a period of time that I can pull this off for before it all comes crashing down around me and I end up pulling an into the wild and doing private practice as a dermatologist (awww that’s unfair on dermatologists, sorry…). I hope not.

“a man who has no memory has nothing left to hide… nothing and i like it…”

Fix you

I hate my 4 to midnight shifts. Well not hate, but I’m certainly not a fan.

I get up and eat bacon and clean the house and by 11.30 I’m ready to sit in front of the fire and read and listen to music till it all gets dark and I fall asleep.

But I can’t do this because I know that as soon as I get comfy and settled and onto the fourth cup of coffee it’ll be time to go to work and deal with all the sickly, grumpy, moaning, demanding people in work, never mind all the patients.

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So I set aside little projects, little things to do. Like trying to finally fix my bike since the bastard let the tyres down outside work one day about 3 months ago.

Admittedly it is an old bike, possibly even older than me. I ask if it remembers the Falklands and the Iranian embassy siege or even when I was born but it just sits there and stares at me from under the blue tarpaulin.

You see it was never really my bike, it was always dads. This is why I like it. I like old broken things.

But just like most of the possessions and personality traits i have, i merely found it brought into my ownership by repeated “borrowings”.

I ask it if it remembers Dad, and where they used to go on it. And whether or not it was bought merely during the brief “keep fit” phase of his life when he bought that odd chest expander gym tool that neither me nor Simy could ever make any movement on.

I ask if it remembers the roads and hedges round Drumnacanvy, or the time I used to try it before my legs were long enough to touch the ground and i got scared.

Still it stares from under the tarp, its tyres bursting quicker than I can buy new ones from Halfords.

3 months since it has been in decent working order. All through winter, under the blue tarp, worrying bout where someone in the 21st century would get a 630-32 tyre to fit it.

In the end I didn’t. I got it a nice shiny continental brand 622-32 which despite messy hands and 2 hours effort I realised would not actually fit.

I was convinced it sniggered at me. Laughing at my greasy, swearing self.

I resorted to the old tyre but with a new inner. Only to find I couldn’t quite remember how to put the whole thing back together again.

I didn’t remember the gear mechanism being quite that complicated.

The bike stopped sniggering. I think it began to smell the fear. That maybe I couldn’t get it back together again. And I knew it was on the tip of its tongue, but too scared to ask. I could almost hear it whisper – why don’t you ask Dad?

All my… friends I… return to wish you a happy Christmas

I bragged – somewhat precipitously – in work the other day that despite the  huge surge of coughing, sneezing, vomiting, exploding, virulent and infectious patients we’ve had of late that I hadn’t a day off sick in 9 years. So today I broke that duck.

But my friends would have none of it. Just as one is looking forward to an evening feeling sorry for myself and indulging the twin pleasures of beer and theology – they tend to come in and spoil it all with gifts and grace and love beyond words.

They managed to give only books (such wisdom…)  and only one book twice – all very impressive. Both to the ones with the tenacity to show their faces and the ones with the sense and mercy not to bother – I thank you all. You all do what you do in my life exceptionally well and to each I am eternally grateful and will continue to show my love for you by locking myself in the house and ignoring all your acts of gracious kindness toward me. Forgive me.

I am better at preaching the gospel of love and community and fellowship than living it. But at least you give me some examples to learn from.

None of it changes that Dad is not here. Not that any of you expected it. I just don’t tend to do fun anymore. Joy maybe but not fun. Though I’d be willing to give it a go sometime.

The photo album

Found this photo of Da when he was 20 and kind of scared myself a bit. We used to joke that I was son of the milkman cause I didn’t look like either mum or da. Go figure.

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Good time, bad times

I wrote this a few weeks ago and I can’t help thinking it accurately describes the current situation:

i had 27 years of barely interrupted bliss and joy and then Da died and now everything’s shite

I don’t always feel like this, just for now. And what’s a blog for if not for the odd rant.

Grace under pressure

Eventually you have to get back in the boat and get on with life. Maybe that’s what happen when you grieve, you spend more and more time simply doing the business of life and then hopefully, after a while it doesn’t hurt so much. Not particularly profound but it seems to fit for now.

So I’ve moved back to my own house and spent a manic weak painting and cleaning and sorting. If in doubt clean. It’s what we do it seems.

My room is no longer this horrible shade of orange – the previous tenants having daubed the walls like a painting indian elephant. It is now tastefully (and boringly) white. This is oddly satisfying.

But then we thought we should literally get back in the boat and so we did. Now most of you think that the Blackwater is just a dingy little bit of water (stained black from the cow poo…) separating Tyrone from Armagh and stopping them from beating us in football. This may be true, (even the bit about cow poo) but it’s also quite pretty none the less.

Canoeing is almost the perfect Northern Irish sport, requiring large amounts of rainfall and a sport where you’re gonna end up wet anyhow so it may as well be raining. Though I describe it as a sport, it’s certainly not how we approach it. More of a way to get one from one place to the other with nice scenery that takes much more time and effort than simply driving would do.

It has reasonable support in NI with a number of new steps and trails being opened. The one on the Blackwater describes it as being accessible canoeists of all levels.

And while it started well despite the rain, we were soon avoiding discarded fishing tackle and spinners strung over the first bridge – i’m still not sure if they were lost or intentional in their placement.

There was a fair degree of flow on the river, with what could only be described as minor rapids to anyone with any degree of experience. To us this was grade 5 death rapids. Or so it seemed.

Our major mistake was the wrong turn. Some would have thought that making a wrong turn on a river is particularly difficulty if not nigh on impossible, but they would be wrong. Probably most easily seen on this map is the little island created by the diverging paths of the river. All of this came as a bit of a shock and so we did what any sensible person would do and chose to follow the narrow, overgrown river that left at an acute angle as opposed to following that wide, open stretch that lay straight ahead. Err… yes.

I suppose we got a little carried away, used to speeds of up to 2mph on the Bann we were a little dizzy with the adrenaline of 10mph, thinking we were back in the flumes in Portadown pool or something.

Till Simon hit the tree anyhow.

The nose of the canoe wedged under a submerged trunk and the full flow of the river behind meant it wasn’t long till the boat was flipped and wedged under the trunk – with Simon still inside. I’d love to say i paddled swiftly to the rescue but was busy trying to limbo under my own tree somewhat further up the river.

Now when you’re in a canoe, the most important thing is the paddle. With no paddle you’re just an idiot in a skirt in a plastic bathtub with no control.

So of course Simon, now underwater, tries his best to hold true to this idea, despite the lack of oxygen and the entrapment. Thankfully he lets go of canoe, paddle and finally tree and floats down the river. I, at this point a little late to rescue the brother make a sterling job of saving the paddle as Simon drags the canoe to field at the side.

This is all a little dramatic for a wet Tuesday afternoon two weeks after your Dad’s died. We both imagined what would have happened if Simon had actually met an ignominious end under a tree – we could picture Da saying “what the *&^% are you doing here?…”

In the end it was all a little less dramatic than it seemed at the time. We ended up carrying both canoes through a field of cows (sometimes I wonder what the cows make of it all…) to the junction of the river, had a nice cup of coffee from the thermos and paddled onward without further problem.

We haven’t quite got round to telling Liz yet, though she’ll find out eventually no doubt. She worries. Understandably it seems. The next purchase is helmets. Which says more about how much we enjoyed the drama and not so much about regard for safety…

What happens when the heart just stops

30-09-08

So it goes.

I sit in the by window of the bedroom, listening to him breathe. Noisy, rattly breaths. He wakes only occasionally now. To pee. To take a few sips. He knows us. He knows what’s happening. He even makes the odd sarcastic one-worder (not having the energy for a full one liner).

But his voice is slurred and weak and he hasn’t even the energy to get the blankets off him on his own. This is what the sickness does to you. Leaves people the shell of what they used to be. I’ve seen it happen before. Just not to him.

So it goes.

Not like we didn’t know it was coming. Either from 4 months ago or even last year. We’ve thought about this. We’ve talked about this. We’ve planned for this. I don’t mean it makes it easier. I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure I have to.

Slowly (insidious as medics would say) he’s gone down hill. As the cancer grows and robs more of his energy and leaves him with more and more nausea and kinks and twists in his gut. As tiny blood clots lodge in the blood vessels in his lungs. As his poor starved liver stops making protein and all the fluid collects wherever gravity will draw it to. Week by week he could do a bit less.

There was of course the odd notable exception. Like the day they went to Newcastle and he ate a steak sandwich. Or the day the palliative care consultant came to see him and he was outside cleaning the drains. As mum said to the consultant: “this is gonna look bad…” I told dad they’d take his Graseby off him.

We’re grateful for what we had. He was glad to be here and we were glad to have him. I think that’s changed now.

I am remarkably calm. Though that’s not the right word. I’m not freaking out for some reason – I know I have done previously. The whole thing is a decidedly odd (and equisitely painful) experience.

4-10-08

And now he’s gone.

In the same way I’ve watched them all go before. We looked after him at home. We did everything. No nurse cared more than we did (and the nurses were great), rarely have I been so proud of my family, doing what they’ve had no training or experience to do before. I do this for a living in many ways, it is completely foreign to them.

I could watch all the signs that go with the event of dying. All the medicalised aspects of it. Knowing that there wasn’t enough blood and oxygen to his brain to deliver any kind of conscious awareness of what was going on. He was already gone. I knew this, but still… it’s my Da. He looked like all the other poor dying souls I’ve watched, but still… this was my Da.

Watching someone die is a strange and profound enough experience to start with, never mind watching it happen to someone you love dearly. I think this is part of why it has such a profound experience on people, and perhaps why it didn’t have such a big effect on me. His act of dying (the three or so hours form when he wouldn’t wake up until he was gone) wasn’t anything special. It was, as we’ve described it to people: “peaceful”. The bit that gets you is the sheer finality of it all. That the eyes won’t open again. That there’ll not be the sarcastic comments and the steely determination.

Amazing how quick something can go from being someone you have an intimate relationship to an odd looking body that bears little resemblance to the man you once knew.

I don’t understand emotion – I’m a man, none of us do apparently… But I mean on a physiological basis – the constriction at the back of your throat, such that you can’t even swallow, the pain, the sheer physical pain in your chest, the headaches, the inability to complete sentences, the way your face curls up like (to quote dear Ronnie…) “a bulldog chewing a wasp”. Why does loss affect us poor creatures so?

I wouldn’t want to have kept him here. At least not the last week or two, they’ve not been pretty. In some ways there’s this selfish desire just to keep them here, even if it’s only for a smile and a word. But you think about it and then you realise you wouldn’t want to keep them, not like this anyhow.

And then we were sitting there. With all that was left of Da. And what do you do. Where do you start? Simon phoned the doctor and all the important people, I sorted out Dad and all the medical stuff. Mum baked a pie. What else would you do? I was hungry. I don’t know why, but I was hungry. It was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

The undertaker asked us would the house be “open” or “private” – Though according to Ruth ,when it says “private” in the paper it actually means anyone can come to the house, but if it says “strictly private” then it’s private. That seems perverse. But it is Norn Iron I suppose.

People started to turn up at the house. And then more people, and more people. And here’s the difficult bit…

I am glad that so many people turned up to wish us well and grieve and tell stories. I am truly grateful for the hundreds of cups of tea and buns and sandwhiches. But there were frequent points when I was very close to standing up in the middle of the room swearing loudly “would you *&^%$£$% all go home and just leave us in peace…”

I didn’t.

Instead I went out to the garage to stroke the dog. The dog is therapeutic. Safer and cheaper than drugs and booze. The dog helps us cope. The dog has been walked and stroked within an inch of its life in the past few weeks. The dog is the single most happy and contented thing/creature I have ever met. Like colin the robot in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy after Ford has rewired its pleasure circuits (for those who’ve read Hitchhiker’s then you’re with me, if not please read it…) Dog’s are good listeners. We could learn a thing or two…

I am sorry for thinking about such thoughts about such dear people who would come only to “pay respects” and encourage. In one of those odd ways I am both glad that you were there while at the same time I wished you weren’t. I think i’m allowed such confusion.

We bury them quick in Ireland. Two days later. I like to think it’s on the third day and all that… I don’t know why we bury them two days later. Makes the whole thing a bit more intense, but I think it’s a good idea none the less. Though how should I know, it’s not like I do this a lot…

We had a short service in the house before the trip to the church. 25 of us – pretty much the whole family, well those of us old enough to know what was going on – packed into the living room. An unbreakable and terrible tension in the room. Me and Simon waited outside for the minister to come. Both of us in our suits, white shirts and ties, greeting mourners as they arrived. I remember thinking we looked like bouncers. Like a skinny, more weedy version of Max and Paddy.

And then we followed the hearse.

To the church, along the road that Dad walked every sunday afternoon when he was a kid, turning just before we passed the house he grew up in, up roads where he walked every sunday morning with the aging BB old boys.

To the church he’d gone to since he was a baby, that both his and mum’s parents had gone to for all the generations we can trace. [And all of a sudden I realise why roots are so important. Da always said, as if stuck on repeat, “who you are, where you are from, to whom you belong…”]

Carried under the flags of the BB he’d been a founding member of, where he’d served for 40 years. Carried down the same aisle that he’d watched mum walk down on their wedding day so many years before. [Funny how funerals are so like, and unlike, weddings…]

To lie in his coffin at the front of the church filled with the 500 or so people who came to say that they knew and loved him.

To listen to the hymns that neither, me, Simy or Liz could even begin to sing without choking up on tears. We just stood as if the sheer volume and meaning from the crowd behind us could hold us up. [“From life’s first cry to final breath..” is always a killer – i have watched lots of “life’s first cry” waiting to resuscitate babies as they come out. I have watched my own Fathers “final breath” – this is a lyric with depth and meaning…]

To listen and watch as Dad’s best friend gave a eulogy where we all got reminded who he was – someone who loved well and was first class when it came to taking the piss out of people. People got insulted – Da would’ve been happy, he wouldn’t have had it any other way…

And then carried. By those who knew and loved him best, by those who were his family, as we walked behind, careful to look only at the coffin and not side to side, knowing that if we made eye contact we’d come to pieces. Odd that – on the one day designed for mourning, you spend the whole day trying to keep it together for the sake of those around you.

Then taken. Out into the pissing rain (good day for a funeral…) And me and Simy take the coffin, down the path to where we’ve buried the rest of his family. And I just repeat over and over in my head “thank you for the life you gave me, thank you for the happiness, thank you for the discipline, thank you for what you made me, thank you for everything… I’m gonna miss you.”

This and the horrible practicality that if I have to walk much further on a slippy path in these shoes then I’m gonna drop the coffin.

I remember my Granda’s funeral, the same grave, 15 years before. When, as they lowered the coffin they struggled to fit the coffin into the hole and I remember it being remarked that it was just “Billy (Da’s Dad) – stubborn to the last…”

Dust to dust, just like every funeral.

[Liz is for being cremated- she says she’s scared of enclosed spaces and scared of being buried alive. I’m being cremated to save space. Or possibly cut up into tiny pieces by inept medical students with my stolen fingers being used in tasteless pranks… I fugure if GOD raises the dead, then the spread of my individual molecules, atoms, protons, electrons and Higgs Bosons throughout the diaspora shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge…]

As we walk away, the BB old boys gather round the grave to do what they always do, to do what I’ve done before, and “bury their own”.

In the hall, there is tea. Cups of tea like you’ve never seen before. Trolleys of buns and huge vats of tea, all arranged and moving with military precision. There is nothing quite like dear church folk doing catering at a funeral.

We took up a position in the corner and waited for the onslaught. Two hours of handshakes, embraces and tears we were still there as the queue slowly diminshed. Most of it was a bit of a blur. People I had never met, hugged me, good country men shook my hand till the bones cracked. Almost everyone called me Simon. I developed a layer of foundation on my shoulder from all the embraces. It was, in the strangest way, enjoyable. Listening to people tell me stories about Da, from long before I was born.

You see, this is what I didn’t get. I considere myself an authority on my own Da. I had reason to think so. But I forgot that Dad had this whole other life before I turned up. He had 20 years before he even met Liz. This life where he met and loved people and did all kinds of stuff that I knew nothing about. People knew Da in all kinds of ways that I didn’t even think were possible. I am humbled.

For most of the time I was OK. I smiled and laughed and joked and practised our “funeral soundbytes” – it is impossible to say something original every time someone asks you a question about it so you come up with a few choice truths which somehow lose their depth of meaning with repitition.

But every now and again someone would appear in the queue who I hadn’t quite expected or someone who didn’t even know Da and had come solely for my benefit – and then I’d begin to wobble a bit. It goes down as one of the strangest experiences yet.

Your wedding day is cool cause you know and love everyone there, your funeral is the same, except you don’t get to be there. Da would’ve enjoyed it. Just shame he wasn’t there.

We only seem to get this many together if someone gets born, married or dies. Odd that. Odd, the traditions we have.

That night we all got letters from him. We knew we were getting letters. And that wasn’t the easiest. To read his handwriting, with all the nice things and him taking the piss (“Andrew, you knew you were always meant to be a girl…” Cheers Da) and at the end he’s signed it and I can’t go downstairs and say thanks. That’s the tricky bit…

Cheers Da.

Ronnie Neill

Born 29-3-48

Died 2-10-08

Bad diary days

[Following is some of the stuff I’d been writing over the past 6 weeks or so, leading up to the surgery and finding out the cancer was back. At one point it was titled “the curious incident of the chinese seaweed in the anastamosis” but that was back when I was a bit more optimistic.

This does not make for pretty reading. So it goes. I tend to write only on the bad days. And they are not all bad. GOD is good. I have no doubt. How and why he does this I’m still working out. I will be for a while.]

I don’t seem to have either the grace, strength or understanding to deal with all this. Be it life in general or life in the specifics. I used to think when I was 16 that there was only so much my little mind could take and life continued on as crazy as it seemed then, then my head would explode with overload. I suppose that’s just universal teenage angst and paranoia. But maybe I still think the same. “Life is funny but not ha ha funny, peculiar I guess.”

The older I get the more perplexed and bewildered I seem to become and find myself in frequent awe of the chaos and bitter-sweet experience of life. I cannot handle this, I cannot handle the ups and downs and the continual pressure of a mere 27 years of memories. I’ll never make 50. Unless I get a jacket without sleeves and some valium.

Maybe it’s only today I feel like that. Sitting on a bench on the edge of Craigavon lakes, which on a day like today could be lake Garda it’s that pretty. Post-night shift, of a week where I’ve worried as much as I have done in a long time.

Dad is not well. The past month has not been good. Pain, sickness, loss of appetite, loss of energy. He remains a textbook of cancer diagnosis. This is like watching a tortoise approach you from a mile away through binoculars. Slow, inevitable.

We were never given any guarantees. And seeing as he was so well I took the optimistic side of every piece of clinical info. Not that it matters a jot. Not that there’s a single thing we can do about it. The sheer helplessness and impotence of the situation. Of waiting to be told that this will not end well.

Every day has been a fight to trust that GOD knows what he is doing. To trust that his love is more important and has more of a call on my heart than anything I can cling to. Every day I lose that fight many times over.

My head floods with a hundred images of people I have known or treated. The slow inevitable decay of time as things get worse. I know (as much as one can) what this will be like. Anticipation of the needle is the worst bit I think. When the needle’s in it’s never that bad. Maybe that’s optimistic.

Everyday life goes out the window. I could care less for what happens in anyone else’s life. All I care about is what will happen to our little family unit. Everything changes. Everyone goes eventually.

——

I find myself continually angry. At who or what I do not know. At friends when they ask, at friends when they don’t ask. At mum and dad, at GOD, fate, karma, at whatever I latch onto.

All of life is so desperately fragile. That we live and love, grow attached to each other and learn how to love each other and then we do not know what to do when they are no longer there. We love each other desperately, though I doubt that this is how we’re meant to.

The older we get the more entrenched we get in our own personalities and lives and loves and tendencies. And we do not like change.

All there is left is emptiness and bitterness and long grey silent afternoons staring at the walls with a heavy heart.

All that I devoted and gave myself to goes out the window. The books, the music, living here, working in the hospital, holidays, relationships, commitments. Everything is off the table.

You make plans and say GOD willing, and then he wills otherwise.

Vonnegut said that the reason everyone was so lonely and unhappy was that we had forgotten about extended families and our families were shrinking and becoming more and more separated and independent and all of a sudden when part of family goes then there’s nothing left to fill the gap, and that everyone would be happier if we just had bigger families.

Mum and dad are there to look after me and Simon. And then Simon and Ruth are there to look after each other and when Dad’s not there then me and Mum will look after each other and Simon and Ruth. And Si and Ruth will look after us. Families are there to stop people being alone.

All this gives me a dismal view of love and relationships. If any of us gets sick and dies then we are all affected. We have no choice to be dispassionate about each other’s fate. We are all in this (life that is) together.

Which makes me want to avoid loving anyone. As soon as you love someone you end up in the same shit together. So that whatever happens to them affects you and whatever happens to you affects them. The fact that loving someone hurts so damn much makes me want to sever all ties to anyone who may possibly care for me or who I might possibly care for. Cause that way I can’t hurt them (however unintentionally) and they can’t hurt me.

This is a miserable lonely view of life. As much as it appeals I will have no part of it – though it is a fight to run from it.

——
I don’t plan too far ahead. I say no to every request for appointment, commitment or meeting. Thinking I’m too fed up of letting people down at the last minute. I’ve applied for a job I’m not sure I want any longer and living in a house I’m not sure I’m gonna want to keep and going on trips I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to go on.

I’ve committed myself to a life of bitterness and sadness and holding onto all my grief and resentment as I neglect every opportunity and gift that GOD leads me too.

I’m OK alone. It’s just everyone else I worry about.

——

I’m sitting here in the house with Dad’s medical notes (shh don’t tell anyone) and my computer searching journals, pinning together all the scan results, all the info, putting it altogether to form a “probability judgement”, or in essence an educated guess as to how worried I should be.

I have spent all day fluctuating between optimism and pessimism (always ending up pessimistic of course…) over what might lie ahead. I am no oncologist, indeed I’m not much of anything but I am at least obsessive. There are 6 cases per million people of ampullary cancer. It is not top of our list of differential diagnoses. People say “glad you told me what that was” when I give my little Ronnie spiel. The ampulla of vater is a long forgotten piece of anatomical trivia lost in the memory banks of medical info.

I am somewhat of an (relative) expert. When it comes to Dad then I am the expert. I know all his scan results, all his blood tests, what his scans look like (little pictures in my head), all the procedures he’s had done. I know whose opinion to trust and I know whose to consider lightly (or simply ignore). This is only partly arrogance on my part. Though it may be largely denial.

——

A few days down the line and I “woke up feeling hungover and old” though I am neither. Two weeks of near constant fretting and anxiety, fluctuating between thinking dad is going to die horribly like all the other cancer patients (though they do not all die horribly, that is just how I remember it)- and thinking that he’s gonna be OK (well it’s a relative term). Not that there are ever any guarantees. “Medicine is not nearly as scientific as you think” as I tell all my patients. It’s “complicated, multi factorial and varies from patient to patient” as one of my old registrars told all his.

I had somewhat of a revelation on Friday, when dad told me he’d been vomiting up 2 day old food. All of a sudden light bulb’s pinged on above my head – a gastric outlet obstruction. A narrowing at where the stomach enters the bowel – possibly a complication of all the surgery (and all the associated complications) dad had 10 months ago. And so I descend into a frantic search of medical journals, books and google trying to find reasons to believe he can still be fixed. He went to hospital and they put a tube in his nose into his stomach and drained over 2 litres of green fluid that hadn’t been going anywhere, along with recognisable green Chinese seaweed that he’d eaten almost 3 weeks ago.

One of my Paeds colleagues was chatting the other day about the relation of personalities to doctors choice of profession. That paediatricians choose paeds cause they generally had stable childhoods and find themselves empathetic to kids. Though that got us thinking towards all the screwed up specialities (like EM and ICU) and what that made us. I think I had a pretty stable childhood, yet how come I ended up in the screwed up specialities, lying awake thinking about the continual tragedy and pain of all the people I deal with everyday.

I think I can fix everyone, I think that just given the time and the space and “let me do everything” then I can save everyone. Again and again (and again) I have been proved wrong. Yet the megalomania continues.

and after 10 months we’re back where we started. Waiting on decisions about surgery. Hoping above else that it’s fixable, hoping that this surgery will be the last, that this one will be a bit more straightforward. We try to joke and quip but this is harder. Or at least it seems that way.

——

I’m not sure I’m entirely well. All this thinking has done me no favours, the perpetual worry has changed nothing. I always find myself thinking is it worse or better to know what I know. Tonight it’s worse.

Is this what an “anxiety disorder” feels like? Is this what “not coping” feels like? I am too used to being invincible, I am too used to taking responsibility and bearing burdens and looking out for people. I know how to do that. I think.

My fear, or maybe resigned acceptance, is that maybe this is just life, maybe this is just what loving someone means. That this is just the way it works when you love someone.

I am back to fearing hearing the phone ring. Though he’s so much better now than he was 10 months ago. This is supposed to be easier. It just seems like it isn’t. Or maybe my memory is just that bad that i don’t remember what it was like.

GOD says trust me. I say I’m not so sure I do. Medicine is a losing battle.

——

It is hard to sit there everyday and watch him slowly come to pieces, losing weight, losing energy, losing hope. Or maybe that’s just me. My heart breaks to watch him. Yet I can’t do anything else. It hurts more not to be there. Tonight I’m not hopeful, tonight I’m not optimistic. Tonight I worry. I doubt anyone else’s ability to look after him properly, that each night I leave him, some muppet might screw up or miss something. I want to go on the ward and scream at someone that why don’t you fix him. Though this is all nonsense I know.

I’d be shouting at the wrong person. I was thinking how this would all be so different if he hadn’t got pancreatitis following the surgery. How he’d be so well and have none of the complications. But then I slowly realised the stupidity of the question. It shouldn’t be “why did he have to get pancreatitis?” but “why did he get cancer?” We ask the dumbest questions when it comes to fate and providence.

——

I find myself often as the appointed representative of the medical profession, of health care in general. I find myself standing in defence of all the idiots and all the mistakes that get made when you’re in hospital. I’m not sure quite why I feel the need to defend these people, and above all to defend “the system”. The system sucks. I know that.

I don’t find myself stuck in the middle, I put myself in the middle, defending an inefficient system, defending assholes who don’t seem to have the grace or wit to give patients the dignity they deserve. Maybe I’m just too much of a part of the system to criticize it, that somehow I’d be criticizing myself.

——

when anything happens to Dad, I withdraw. I give up on all the commitments in my life, all the relationships, everything goes on hold, down to all the little random jobs like buying loo roll. Yes of course I want the time and effort to dedicate to those I love the most, but do I occasionally use it as an excuse to simply withdraw into my little isolationist world? Yes I do.

——

Everyday we fail our patients. We get stuff wrong, we forget the dignity and respect that they deserve. We communicate badly, we ignore (instead of respectfully lay aside) their concerns. We blame this on a system which neglects the health of its citizens in pursuit of efficiency and budgets. And we are partly right to do so. But then we fail patients merely because we’re lazy, inconsiderate bastards. There are certain ways that we can’t avoid failing our patients and there are certain ways that we can. I have given up being the appointed representative of the medical profession. Shower of bastards the lot of them…

And so he’s back in the Mater. I’m reminded of John McClane‘s immortal line “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” I try to reassure him that things can’t go as badly wrong as last time. Comforting, encouraging things like “sure you can’t get pancreatitis again, you don’t have a pancreas.” He’d be lost without my words of encouragement.

——

It’s the waiting that’s getting to him. He’s a smart guy. He knows that everything they’ve tried to get him feeding isn’t working. He knows that nothing is getting out of his stomach. He knows he needs an operation – and all that that entails. He just wishes they’d get on with it. I’m talking about Dad but then I think I could just be talking about myself in the third person.

This is unimaginably hard for him. I don’t consider that often enough. I don’t consider how long  day is in hospital. When you’re well enough to cut the lawn (as he is) but tied to a hospital bed by a central line and a tube in your nose. How long a day is when you’re woke at 5.30 from a sleep you only got to at 1am and were woken from once at 3am to check your blood sugar level. How long a day is when all you have to do is think about what lies ahead.

I like working in hospitals. This changes my mind about them.

——

Dad calls it Mater Mk II. I try to make it seem less than that. Though maybe it feels the same. Waiting. So much waiting. Dad has his operation tomorrow. And we’re not sure what that will bring. The fear remains – cancer. The dirty “C” word. If it’s there then we know we’re not going to win this battle. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to take that. I know I feel like I’ll not be able to handle it. Though I also know GOD gives and provides such for situations. Fear is desperately uncomfortable.

What I worry about tonight is that maybe this is the last day that I can think that he doesn’t have cancer, that he isn’t going to die (I mean sooner rather than later), that he’s still “fixable”. That I’m going to have to think seriously about when he’s not there. I just don’t want to have to think about that.

——

and so now I have to think about it. The word inescapable comes to mind. Today Dad his third major operation in 10 months and with the resounding clang of inevitability it appears the cancer has returned. Not that it returned today. The malignant (never a better word was uttered…) cells were there in the mesentery from the time of the first operation if not before. This was always a losing battle. We just didn’t know it was.

And so with one phone call from the surgeon, in the most wonderful and matter of fact medical language I find this out – I would choose no other way. I can no longer pretend that this is not happening. He said that statistically, recurrence of the cancer was what he was likely to find. And I think that maybe I was telling everyone the wrong thing. Maybe it was pure delusion to think that it was a complication of surgery and not the cancer returning.It’s just that living without hope isn’t much of a life. It’s hard to fight when you know you’re not going to win.

Everything changes but nothing changes. We get him home, we get him well. Life is left to be lived and lived well. And our lives on this earth are not to be so precious to us to be dragged out indefinitely, it is more about quality than quantity. “Living well is the best revenge…”

I phoned Simon and told him over the phone, feeling bad that he’s on his own in work. We went into the hospital at visiting time, trying to keep it together but knowing that he can read our faces like an open book. He was doped on morphine and still full of the anaesthetic. He asked had anyone spoken to the surgeon and I told him that the operation went well but that it was cancer that had caused the obstruction. Just like that. I told him. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do (though I have many ahead..) and he just smiles and says that he kind of hoped that it wasn’t going to be cancer.

——

Today he was more awake. To be honest he’d remembered little of yesterday, barely remembered me talking about cancer, lying there in a daze hoping it wasn’t so. But he knows. And he knows what it means. And I haven’t the slightest idea what that must feel like.

Today I am strangely calm. I know how this ends. I have an idea what lies ahead but we deal with that as it comes. None of us doubt that GOD is good. As odd as that sounds. None of us think that GOD has not been paying attention, or worse, that he wasn’t able to do anything about this. There will be anger and bitterness and resentment and questions (there has been already in my own heart), but it is possible to feel two ways at once and hold only one as true.

The nurse in charge of his morphine asking him questions about pain and was he too sore to cough and was he a smoker and he replied no, but he might start soon.

——

first of July and the oddest of days. We went up to visit dad and have a meeting with the surgeon regarding all that’s happened. And it’s not that we didn’t already know that time was short but to have someone, professional explain it to you makes it seem all the more like it’s happening. Lots of answers we knew were coming but still so hard to take all the same. Maybe we hoped someone would tell us that we had a good chance of having a reasonable amount of time. Maybe that was me just deluding myself.

Today was tough. All our eyes are puffy from too many tears and our heads are sore from too much crying. People write sad songs about their girlfriends leaving them or their seventh album only went silver instead of platinum. Maybe that’s only playing at sadness. Maybe that’s why people write far less songs about people dying, cause it hurts so much more.

I think I said before that we’ve in no way been unlucky in our “share” of suffering. But how do people deal and cope with even more than this. I suppose no one “copes” they just keep waking up each day and getting on with life and eventually maybe it doesn’t hurt so bad.

We (I keep writing “we” though it’s not as if anyone but Dad is sick. Though we all feel it. We all hurt.) do not know how much time we have left together. This breaks my heart even to type. But it’s to be spent as well as we can possibly spend it. “Dying well” is something to strive for, as horrible as it sounds.

We brought him home. Not that he’s perhaps medically quite ready for it but nothing we can’t deal with at home. And home has such a powerful pull, a word that seems to have become so much more full of meaning than simply where we lay our heads at night.

I don’t just mean the house and the family, I mean home where/when things will be put right. When all that is wrong is put right, when all will be changed, transformed, renewed, when life in all its fullness really gets going. The way to look at it is not “I’m gonna miss all this” but “I’m looking forward to finally enjoying it”.

So now he’s home I keep saying that we work it out from here. I have no idea what that means.

Cancer for the cure

So. Cancer it is then.

But he’s back home with us. We work it out from here.

Fixing a hole

Dad is having another operation in the morning. (what’s left of ) his stomach isn’t emptying because of a narrowing at the bottom of the stomach. He’s been in hospital for about 2 weeks losing weight. We’re back to drips and tubes and scans and tests. This is hopefully a complication of all his surgery last year but it could also be (as the surgeon put it today) “return of the disease”. So it goes.

Life is never straightforward. I’m not sure we’ve been any more “unlucky” than any other family. I know plenty who’ve had much worse. Not that that makes it any easier.

I’ve moved back home for a bit to stay with wee Liz and sleep with the phone beside me and try and take all the phone calls. I’m glad I’m here.

I have written much more over the past few weeks, I’m just not sure I’m ready to put it up yet.

[PS I love the blog titles, even if no one else does… I have this fantasy that somebody somewhere is googling them all. Sigh…]

Puncture Repair

Too much time of late thinking about death and tragedy – though more thinking than actually experiencing (by GOD’s mercy). I have become an even less pleasant and cheery person than usual to be around (who’d have thought it…). Now to be fair I’ve tended to think of death in the light of eternity – that maybe death isn’t quite so bad after all – each day one step closer to glory and all that. This is not to trivialise death in any way, and yes it only applies to the deluded and easily deceived who believe in all this Christianity malarkey, but if we’re fighting a bit of a losing battle down here then at least we’ve won the war so one in the eye for the Devil on our way out the door.

I was thinking about all the important things people cling to when they’re sick, all the happy memories of past experiences – hence the canoe obsession – and how important it is to get back there again and thinking about how much you might miss the experiences when they’re gone. And then I got thinking the other way round that as good as enjoying the wonders of the Irish countryside is then the thought shouldn’t be “I’m gonna miss all this when I go” but “I’m gonna really enjoy this when I get there”. If the river Bann on a sunny day is something special then what are we to expect of the redeemed creation in our freshly renewed and redeemed bodies? If I’m gonna be bitter-sweet then let that be about what lies ahead rather than what lies behind.

And perhaps one thing to be thankful is that if Dad wasn’t in hospital waiting for some plumbing repairs then I’d be in a canoe in the middle of Lough Neagh, repeating last years trip in the cold and pissing rain. Small mercies and all that.

Finish your collapse and stay for breakfast

I suppose it’s been an eventful week, a confusing, often bewildering one. Just when you think you’ve got things sorted…

Da got sick again, collapsing in a shopping centre (and not at the checkout at the size of the bill either as he keeps saying to people) and subsequently had a rigor without obvious source. And so it was back to hospitals and needles and blood tests and scans and antibiotics and all the usual that we’ve come to be so scared of. And so it’s been a rough few days in a way, having to realise that maybe we’ll not “get away with it” the way we thought.

It was odd cause there were all these thoughts of sickness and pain and there he was as fit as he’d been the day before. All our hospital memories were in the Mater when he was proper sick, and struggled to do a lap round the ward. Funny how quickly me and Liz fit back into hospital visiting and little routines. The really odd bit is Dad being in the same hospital as where I work, so I can call in to see him every hour or so, and bring him a coffee and the paper, only heading back when I get paged.

I suppose I’d stopped thinking of the idea of the cancer returning, of all that that might entail. I’d filed that in the compartment at the back of my head of things I can avoid and don’t want to think about it. But this week I had no choice. There’s not the slightest thing we can do to stop it coming back (if it ever does), we are at the mercies of the gods. But when he’s so well, when he’s canoeing, and cutting grass and doing everything he ever used to do then it’s easier to avoid thinking about the possibility.

And then in the midst of this I find a house. I mean I find a house to rent, somewhere to live, the wait being the biggest bug bear in my so called life over the past few months, and of course I find it the very week I could care less for it.

But I have the keys to an end terrace house, that smells of month old cigarettes and has piles of mobile phone bills addressed to various Eastern European names in the hallway. With a slightly disconcerting dent in the bathroom door, looking distinctly like it’s been punched in. Maybe they were just impatient for the toilet in the mornings.

I move in next week all being well, to spend a week scrubbing sinks and vacuuming – if not a neat freak then I could easily be a clean freak. It’s stocked with wonderful charity shop furniture and even a fantastic 80’s TV with one of those crazy convex screens and individual buttons down the right side for each station. I love the place. I am excited.

And just back this evening from my first (well the other one I mostly missed) barbecue of the year at Rab’s, sitting squat on the ground in front of a charcoal fire, making African tea as the daylight disappears, pretending we’re all back in Africa and life is much more straightforward. My hands and clothes stink of smoke, my throat like after a cigar, my eyes tired and sore from the carbon, my heart warmed from the bant and the graceful conversation.

Reports from the brown river

Summer has been, as mentioned earlier, officially declared. I’m down to one t-shirt and a fleece as opposed to the extra “thermals” I’ve been wearing for what seems like the last 6 gibillion years or so. I’ve taken to walking round the house with no socks, cycling to work is now up to more than half of the days I go to work. Blue skies have appeared over Portadown. The Rapture may be imminent.

And so finally we’ve dusted off old Pudge and made a trip down the Bann. The last time we did this was three weeks before Da turned yellow and everything changed. To have him in the back of the canoe steering as badly as ever is kind of a big deal. To be honest we thought it may well have been proper summer (the one week of dry weather we’ll get between June and August) before getting him back in the canoe but GOD is good.

So instead of the usual Saturday morning lie in while listening to Fi Glover on Saturday Live on Radio 4, Dad was in like a kid on Christmas day, kicking me out of bed to look at the blue sky and the snow on the tops of the mournes out the window.

One poached egg and a few slices of bacon and a cup of coffee later we were down at Simon’s house trying to contain Lily’s excitement that we were going on a trip. Not that Lily was gong on the trip, she jut gets excited about everything “wow, look at you, you’ve got a stick, wow, what a totally amazingly awesome stick, I’m so excited, wow, I’ve just wet myself…” Ah it’s a dog’s life eh…

So with the usual stares from “the old and the bored” and the fishermen in camo gear (one day I’ll ask “you know what’s the deal with the camo gear? who exactly are you disguising yourself for? the fish?”), we paddled through town beaming from ear to ear on the best day of the year so far.

We canoed as far as we could upstream (about 3 miles) where the river hits a shallow area of “rapids” where the only way on up is to get out and walk and tow the canoe behind us. Maybe some day, not today. Me and Simon have great plans for a wee descent from Katesbridge to Portadown though we’ll have to get over a few weirs, which I’m sure is fine really… We’ll wear helmets Mum honestly…

So instead we abandoned the Bann and headed up the horses leap, which apparently is an old diversion of the river Bann built by the army back in the first half of the last century. I have no idea why they were diverting the Bann, probably something to fill the time between world wars. My (now dead) Grandad talked about how they camped down where Tescos is now. Different age, different world.

Here we stopped and sat on the bank and watched the herons and the microlites overhead (kernan aviation were having a busy morning), Dad popping pills and crisps to keep the blood sugars up till we got back. I get all cynical about the limitations of medicine and how little we can do yet here stands my Dad, doing what he was doing 9 months ago yet if he stopped his medication he’d be dead in a week or so. Gratitude springs eternal.

Incidentally the girl on the right is just Simon with long hair. The girl on the left is Lily.

Come on pilgrim

So… thinking about a wee snack before bed. Wander downstairs to find Ma and Da toasting hunks of bread over an open fire, apparently a regular thing these days. I should leave my room more often, dear knows what those two get up too. Not that I’ll complain, Da has managed to put on a stone in weight, which is pretty damn impressive, considering he hasn’t got a pancreas. In fact he’s only 3kg behind me in weight, next thing we’ll have him on a diet. To think what was happening 6 months ago… Another story entirely…

Anyhoo. To compliment my freshly toasted… toast (I’m hoping for a pig on a spit with an apple in it’s mouth tomorrow night) I pop into the fridge for a bit of cheese, to find we appear to have swapped from good old fashioned Tesco mature cheddar to “Pilgrim’s Choice”.

I picture some guy on the Mayflower unwrapping a vacuum packed bit of “Pilgrim’s Choice” to go with his freshly caught seagull before the scurvy kicks in. I tried but just couldn’t picture Bunyan’s Christian with anything vacuum packed.

Well, seeing as 9 out of 10 pilgrims prefer it I’ll not say no.

Ronniewatch – day hundred and something…

I suppose you’re all due a quick update for Ronniewatch. I have perhaps been neglecting him on the writing front. Though I think he probably appreciates that.

He’s been home for about a month now and seems to have managed to stop losing weight, if not put any on quite yet. He reminds me less of a concentration camp escapee now that he’s recovering from his Nelly inflicted hair do.

Food is such an issue he’s taken up cooking, sparking a series of Ronnie’s kitchen nightmares jokes and generating yet more dishes for wee Liz to clean up. It has meant a hugely increased amount of fried-chinese style food is being consumed by yours truly – it wouldn’t do to see the left overs go to waste now would it?

He now has a clot in his leg. Or more accurately he’s probably had it for a month or two, but it’s only becoming apparent now. Note the photo below shows a DVT. Not twins.
dvt.jpg On a medical note, it’s one of those things that we’re probably discovering more often cause we scan more often for them now. Which brings up the whole question of is it or is it not worth treating? Large parts of medicine are made up of what is know as plausible theory. For example if someone is a bit short on oxygen then giving them oxygen must be good for them. Right? [Hint: if anyone ever asks you such a question then the answer is “not necessarily”, though if you’re in Sunday school at the time then it’s probably GOD, JESUS or Moses…]

To complicate the example (and I will try to keep it simple), if someone dies from Pneumonia (pronounced of course “p-new-monia”, all that silent “p” stuff is just what we use to make lay-people look stupid. Next time a doctor uses the silent “p” be sure to correct him. What, do you think I’m trying to make you look stoopid or something…?), then generally what’s done it will be the lack of oxygen to the tissues (particularly heart, brain, kidneys etc…) of the body.

The plausible theory would be that providing supplementary oxygen should help prevent them dying. Surely we have lots of evidence to confirm this? [See “Hint” above]

There’s a guy (admittedly I paraphrase to the point of invention. This is the type of thing I picked up on the morning ward round in NZ, along with how you can use coconuts as IV fluids if you need to, so I’m dubious if it actually happened) in South Africa trying to conduct a study comparing the treatment of kids with pneumonia, where the only difference in treatment is the availability of supplementary oxygen (in many parts of SA this is common). In the less well-equipped areas, where no oxygen is available the kids who run low on oxygen either get better or die.

The interesting question is that whether giving oxygen actually makes any difference to survival. Does giving oxygen simply make the numbers on the monitor look better? In other words if your pneumonia is bad enough for you to need oxygen then giving you oxygen isn’t gonna make a difference.

I feel I may have lost even some of the early readers with that little foray, even the enthusiastic ones who started off with appropriate footwear and a flask of warm lemon drink.

Anyway

The problems with clots in the leg is that they fire off and travel round the body and get stuck in the lungs and stop the blood flow from the heart – which is unsurprisingly kind of bad. Sort of like sticking your finger in the end of a running hose.

The treatment to stop that happening is good old fashioned rat poison (minus the crushed glass of course). Of all the nasty drugs patients come in on, I hate that more that all the others.

Incidentally I’m doing well on my list of things I never wanted to see happen to my family:

“The biopsy tells us it’s cancer” – Check

The “sit down in the relatives room and wait for the surgeon” chat – Check

Relative on a ventilator – Check

Relative on warfarin – Check

But I suppose it does work despite all the complications so maybe I shouldn’t diss it quite so much…

Consider it added to Dad’s ever growing list of “every complication possible” (though no matter what he says, he’s got all kinds of options left to explore!).

It does give him a busy week, 4 hospital appointments in 5 days, 3 sets of blood tests. I tend to underestimate the effect of all these diagnoses on people. To me a clot in the leg is “not a big deal”, just cause it won’t kill him. Again confirming that I have a lot to learn about quality of life.

We were also back for an appointment in the Belfast hospital where Dad had the surgery. Walking along the corridors was not a pleasant experience. I went down the wee spiral stairs in the atrium to get a cup of coffee and it all hit me again, the waiting, the phone calls, the fear.

On a positive note we did get to meet some of the staff who’d looked after him, and that was cool. For them and us I think.

To end on a positive note, he got behind the wheel of a car again (the mighty volvo of course) and we drove down to the shop for some milk. Winner.

Hidden in the back of my mind, somewhere under all the blogs and the books and the new Broken Social Scene album is the likelihood of the odd bad day ahead.

Not that I expect them, not that I’m being negative. Just that the road to recovery has lots of chances for wrong turns along the way.

[Note: I admit that last one is a tad clicheed, hope it doesn’t leave you sick as a parrot… Just take me away from the keyboard before I hurt myself…]


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August 2022
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