At the weekend the old fella was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and we spent a tense couple of days not knowing whether he would pull through but when I rang the hospital ward that morning I knew when the nurse said he was sat up in bed asking for his breakfast that we had turned a corner. So later that day after my shift finished I drove to the hospital to check on him.
As is the case when I visit him of late, he dozes after a couple of minutes of conversation since his stroke so I sit there either reading, drinking or my other favourite occupation of people watching. I couldn’t help but notice an elderly lady sat by the bedside of a disabled man gently holding his hand and stroking his brow; the love and tenderness evident in every caress. This gentleman was unable to talk or control any of his limbs but it was evident that he knew his loved one was close by. A short while later, a nurse came in with a tray and demonstrated how to feed him through a tube. We caught each other’s eye as the elderly lady struggled to handle the feeding tube and smiled at each other in compassionate understanding.
As I got up to go and fetch a coffee from the vending machine as I knew that she wouldn’t want to desert her post, I asked if I could get her one. She fumbled around to find her purse and I assured her I had plenty of change from the car park ticket machine; frankly I was pleased to be able to do such a small thing for her as I have known the loneliness and sadness of a bedside vigil when sometimes just a kind word can make all the difference on a bleak day.
When I returned we started chatting; two strangers united in the responsibility of caring for a sick loved one and she explained to me that she had nursed her son at home for the fifty years of his life but said that sometimes he went to a day centre who were very good with him she assured me. She confided in me that after a fifteen week stay in hospital he would be returning home at the weekend which she said would save her two lengthy bus rides to the hospital each day.
“He’s my world” she said gently stroking his hair back from his forehead. Suddenly my burden no longer seemed all that heavy. This devoted mother’s plight had touched and humbled me in a million different ways.
I left the hospital that day a little lighter in heart feeling grateful knowing that there was still immense love in the world and that goodness does exist if you just know where to look for it.
I know it’s been a while but for those that don’t already know my darling Dad had a fall last week whilst the old dear was away on a Turkey & Tinsel weekend with the Women’s Institute. No doubt getting up to go to the little boys’ room without putting the light on he fell and shattered his hip waiting there from 5.30 am until much later when he was discovered. Regrettably, because he had had been sat there for so long his blood pressure dropped and he had another stroke in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
I can’t deny it’s been a tense week with Dad critically ill where he hasn’t known any of us. However, I am delighted to say that we have turned a corner and he’s back on the road to recovery. Whilst it’s a road we’ve taken before it’s one he won’t be walking alone and with Ayesha’s Passing Out Parade in June, I rather think his stubborn determination and heart will have him waltzing along rehabilitation street.
So on Christmas Day we will be heading off to Burrator Ward in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to bring some festive cheer to the old fella along with a trunk full of Tupperware boxes stuffed with Mum’s homemade seasonal buffet; that’s if he’s no longer a “Nil By Mouth” patient! Beverley Big Pants and I will be traditionally dressed in our Christmas Jumpers and rather splendid earrings bearing a strong resemblance to the the Ugly Sisters, the grande dames of pantomime; oh yes we will!
So I want to take this opportunity to wish all doctors and nurses a safe & happy Christmas and thank them for giving up their family holidays so that we can all still have time with ours.
I think as you grow older your Christmas list gets shorter because the things you want can’t be bought.
Decisions, decisions …
Remember those halcyon days of childhood when your mum bought your school uniform a few sizes too big knowing that you would eventually “grow into it”? The fact that you spent the next couple of years rolling up your sweater sleeves because the cuffs came down to your fingertips was completely irrelevant.
That was around the same time that you could play in the street in relative safety or accept sweets from well-intentioned neighbours, postman and family friends all of whom had achieved the benevolent uncle status without the fear of some sinister ulterior motive. Living in a small cosseted village community I doubt whether my parents ever worried about my safety back then as I played hopscotch and rounders at the local park all day rushing home just in time for tea.
Nowadays graphic pictures are broadcast into our homes daily by the media and it’s a knife-edge these days for parents wanting their children to develop confident social skills whilst insisting at the same time that they don’t talk to strangers. During my childhood the press was still heavily censored and adults talked about heinous acts in hushed tones. Times have changed along with the introduction of the internet age and it seems that no image is too explicit to be shared on social media along with sensational tabloid headlines.
Have times changed that much or are we more informed these days. Is a little bit of knowledge a dangerous thing and has it made us less trusting but then again do we need to be? Is the world a sadder sicker place or has there always been less scrupulous souls whom we have been less aware of? Certainly, recent newspaper headlines in the UK would suggest so when formerly esteemed family entertainers have been charged with varying sex crimes which were largely overlooked for some years by people who frankly should have known better.
So I suppose my question is was the world a truly safer place back then or were we just less enlightened and a tad naive?
My Dad’s allotment has been part of our family folklore for as long as I can remember, inherited from my Grandad who had also lovingly tended the plot for his entire lifetime. My Dad would become so immersed in his labour of love that he’d frequently forget the time so as a youngster I used to cycle at breakneck speed down the lane at the back of our house to drop off a packed lunch for my Dad or remind him that it was time for tea. I’d done the journey so many times that I knew every single bump in the road and even now the scent of wild garlic transports me back to those hedgerows covered in Bluebells and Queen Anne’s Lace. Apart from the time I misjudged a pot-hole, tumbled across the handlebars and ended up in casualty; I still have a slight scar across my eyebrow. In recent years it’s been more of a stroll often accompanied by One Speed Hobo, our elderly rescue cat; who enjoys a good excursion.
I’d help the old fella tidy up but not before we’d have a quick waltz amongst his prize-winning flowers bathed in the rosy hues of the setting sun to Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra which would be blaring out from the old wind up gramophone or more recently a CD player. As a small child we’d do the father and daughter dance where I placed my little feet over the tops of his and he would mark out the steps for me. Then we’d both walk home arm in arm as we had always done, giggling together over some private joke.
During the winters we’d take refuge from a downpour in the shed where we’d lounge in the dusty old armchairs warming ourselves by the small camping stove nursing mugs of hot chocolate in our chilled fingers and in the hot summers we’d have home-made lemonade to quench our thirst. It’s provided us with somewhere to escape from the world and the rain and has been a haven for various wildlife over the years including a feral cat with her kittens and on occasion a traveller during harsher winters. My Dad’s caring endeavours are evident throughout; on the shelves which house his gardening books, the potting bench where he cultivates most of his seedlings and the boxes holding bottles of his home-made Blackberry and Elderflower wines.
It seems however, this golden chapter in our life has now come to an end and it’s time to hand the keys over to someone who’ll nurture our little horticultural paradise as we have done. Since Dad’s stroke we’ve struggled to maintain it but it’s tough watching your much-loved piece of heaven become overgrown and neglected. It’s going to be so hard saying goodbye to such an enchanting place and several lifetimes’ work. You see the thing is, it’s never been just an allotment to us; it’s been a magical kingdom sprinkled in pixie-dust. Somewhere dreams were dreamed and memories made in our fairy-tale castle where dragons were slain by white knights who wore flat caps and made Dandelion wine. I shared my first kiss there, had my first (and last) illicit cigarette and precious encounters with fey wildlife creatures. My journey from childhood into adulthood has been vividly measured there by the coming and going of the seasons; from the planting of the winter flowering bulbs, the shrubs laden with summer fruits to the tender preparation of the dahlias for the village show to re-starting the process all over again for the following year.
Inevitably its going to be harder for the old fella to lock up for the final time but we’ve come to realise that life is a dance which you learn as you go; sometimes you lead and sometimes you just have to follow the music.
For those of you finding yourself in the same situation as my lovely Dad, don’t struggle on alone contact the Stroke Association .
The Old Fella’s prize winning dahlias
As we celebrated the old fella’s birthday this weekend I can vividly recall the morning, one year ago when my Dad woke up complaining that he’d pulled a muscle in his arm but it was obvious to us all that something was seriously wrong. After a visit to the local doctor’s surgery he was despatched to the bus stop to make the thirty mile roundtrip to the hospital on a very stormy day lashed by gale force winds and torrential rain. When I returned from work I found my Dad soaked right through explaining that he’d had to ask the bus driver to retrieve his bus pass from his pocket as he was unable to and that was the first time of many that I was to cry tears of frustration that year. It’s hard not to when your old Dad who has always been so strong and self-sufficient struggles to even feed himself. Other times you laugh at your own incompetence such as when I accidentally locked him in the house with a lunch of bananas and sausage rolls completely forgetting that he would be unable to open them. I am forever trying to find ways to shave minutes off my day often falling into bed exhausted and I discovered pretty quickly that I’m not superwoman or a juggler so some things have had to change. Inevitably, it’s the things you enjoy doing the most that get sacrificed when you are under pressure.
It’s been a real journey of discovery and I have learned the hard way who my real friends are. Whilst many of my contemporaries are wrapped up in weddings, new houses and new families my life starts at five am when I’m awake for work and the rest revolves around hospital appointments, shopping, cleaning and repeating the whole process again the next day. You no longer have shared interests because you have very different priorities. They struggle to identify with your commitments as a carer and you constantly explain why you can’t just jet off with them on a much-needed holiday. Concerned friends soon stop asking when they realise you can’t fix a stroke with a couple of aspirins. Your hopes and dreams are parked and the life you imagined yourself having fades into the distance; this situation quickly becomes the new normal. Do I ever get resentful? Well of course, I’m only human after all and sometimes it’s hard surrendering your independence for dreary routine. There are no quick fixes here, no magic wands to restore mobility and recovery has been painstakingly slow but this is a marathon not a sprint.
There is help out there for those that are prepared to fight the system or are fortunate enough to have someone who is able to do that for them; for those that don’t no doubt they fall under the radar of our social services and struggle on alone unaided. In addition, gadgets enabling an easier life for those afflicted are ridiculously overpriced again taking advantage of the most vulnerable.
For those finding themselves in a similar situation if I could I’d gently take your hand and assure you that you’re not alone and that there is life after a debilitating family illness. Is it going to be harder than you imagined? Most probably! Will you have some really bleak days? Without a doubt you’ll feel incredibly overwhelmed, bone-tired and isolated but your sense of always finding the funny will get you all through. Will it get better? Definitely. It’ll be a big learning curve for everyone with both uplifting positive and desolate negative moments. You’ll lose friends but you’ll meet better ones worth keeping. For every hard-hearted dismissive jobsworth you encounter you will stumble across people who are like bottled sunshine. The old fella has made tremendous progress but we’ve learned to celebrate the little simple triumphs like seeing him pick up a knife. So why then don’t I just quit my job, buy a ticket and run away to Turkey? Because quite simply, he’s my Dad.
H.O.P.E. = Hold On Pain Ends
Not the best picture but this little one-footed fella dodges all the bigger birds every day to sneak a crumb when I’m feeding the rest and he reminds me that you can overcome anything.
For those facing the same struggles as our family if you haven’t already please try contacting the Stroke Association who are just amazing and helped us when no one else would.
My dear old Dad suffered a stroke last week and subsequently has paralysis in his right arm. For such an independent and active soul this has been devastating but my Dad has borne it like a real trooper albeit a very weary one. We realise, of course, that we are so very lucky in comparison to others who have not been so fortunate. With the availability of various treatments, in some cases through rehabilitation full recovery is possible so we remain optimistic.
It’s ironic but it’s the little things that you overlook when you’re in this situation such as forgetting that because my Dad’s right handed, he struggles now to wield a knife, peel a banana and open packets. It’s a big learning curve for us all but a challenge that we’re all up for.
Whilst my Dad’s allotment and garden remains idle, on the upside I am chauffeuring him everywhere; although I’m not entirely sure he’s quite as thrilled about it! In fact, he’s remarked that whilst he escaped incontinence as a symptom, he may not be so blessed as a frequent passenger in my car.
So if you’re reading this Dad, I want you to know that I’m proud of you and that I know you can overcome anything you put your mind to.
I hope you understand that my posts maybe a little erratic and I’m not able to catch up with you as frequently as I would like but rest assured I will be thinking of you all. For those that find themselves in a similar situation I can thoroughly recommend the Stroke Association Website
My Dad & his youngest grandaughter Titch