Friday, January 24, 2014

My Dad Has Five Days Left To Live

My sister and I thought Dad was on the mend when he was sent home from hospital a couple of weeks ago, but somebody fucked up. In their desperation to free a bed, they discharged a seriously ill man as barely two days later, he was readmitted via ambulance. The breathlessness he'd been admitted for in the first place returned as he sat in his living room watching TV. Dad began to panic as he choked, and waved frantically at my stepmother as he struggled to take in air.

Dad will never go home again. He has a lung disease that'll finish him. For the last couple of weeks I've found myself sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of the night, then going to work and pretending nothing's wrong. I've also seen more of my sister and nieces than I ever have, and I've seen Dad virtually every night too so that's been lovely, apart from his daily decline.

When my stepmother first called me, tearfully, to say he'd been readmitted, I was petrified. I asked to leave work a little earlier and raced to the hospital where I found him sat up in bed wearing an oxygen mask. He was in good spirits despite the circumstances, through he struggled to speak as he told me about how breathless he'd been. I told him not to talk.
Dad slowly, clumsily pulled the mask up onto his forehead and asked me to hand him the cup of hot chocolate cooling on the table. In slow motion he leaned in with puckered lips and slurped on the drink he then began to choke on. Then he sat the cup back down and dropped back into the pillows, gasping.

'Don't get old,' he said. It's been the closest thing to an acknowledgement of how frail he's got.

I spent the rest of that night with my hand on his bare shoulder, rubbing his skin with my thumb as antibiotics were pumped into his arms. He was panting like a tired dog in the sun. I tried not to cry but I couldn't stop myself, and broke down, sobbing. Dad squeezed my hand and from behind the clear plastic mask, he looked over at me and gave me a cheeky grin.

The next day my sister and I visited him after work. Dad had me calling AmEx's automated service so he could pay off his bill but his other card kept being declined. He insisted on me connecting him to an operator to get it sorted but his speech was slurred and lazy, so I got my card out and paid the £300 myself.

Within a couple of days, he was no longer talking in whole sentences and wound up in a horrible ward with uncaring night nurses. Apparently he asked one of them to hold the pee-bottle for him. She told him to do it himself, but Dad has carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand and has no grip.
'I can't,' he told her, and she simply walked off.
Dad wet himself.

He deteriorated in that ward, and was asleep most times we visited. Occasionally he'd wake up and slur hellos, and even give us toothless grins. But they were trying small doses of oral morphine and it was making him sleepy. Then last week his specialist asked to see us. My stepmum couldn't deal with it so my sister and I went. He told us that Dad has perhaps a few months left.

We continued to see my father every night after that, but the nurses were pissing us off. We'd tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but some gave us an attitude and withering looks if we dared ask for a blanket, or a new bottle for Dad to pee in as they weren't emptying the old ones. Then Dad was moved to an adjacent ward without anyone being notified - including the new ward - and he was found by my sister in a wheelchair shivering with cold next to a chart with another man's name and medical requirements on it. That was when we went medieval  and launched an all-out campaign of complaint that went right to the Chief Executive of the hospital, who is doing all he can to keep us sweet.

I took Tuesday and yesterday off work to see my Dad. I also spent last night with my stepmum going through Dad's papers which I couldn't do as it all felt "too soon." I did discover though that Dad has several bank accounts which are maxed out and hellishly overdrawn, explaining why he couldn't pay his AmEx card a few days earlier. This means I get the pleasure of telling a bunch of banks that they will never get back the money they're owed, although I also discovered that the reason my father worked well into his eightieth year was because he hadn't saved a bean; no life insurance, no will, just a metric fuckton of debt.

Having said that, he did have a pot to piss in. I know because I had to hold the fucking thing three times last week between his legs, scarred and slightly terrified at having seen the paternal penis in all its greying, octogenarian glory. Dad simply looked into my terrified eyes, and smiled.

Yesterday, I found an amazing hospice for him to move in to, although they called me this morning to say Dad didn't make today's admission as they had an emergency case. Hopefully he'll get in tomorrow, particularly as he's now an emergency himself. When I saw Dad tonight, he was almost perpetually asleep. He's been switched to intravenous morphine and when my sister spoke to a nurse a few hours ago to say we've found a hospice for him to see out his last few months, she took her aside to explain that Dad's got more like five days left. She knows what it looks like, she said, to see someone fall into death, and my father was exhibiting everything.

We tried talking to Dad tonight. Occasionally we roused him enough to get him to squeeze our hands. We also managed to get him to open his sleepy eyes to tell him how much we both loved him. My sister did this with surprising calm, but I couldn't suppress the utter devastation in my voice. Dad looked at us both in turn and slowly closed his eyes. The effort was immense.
'Love you,' he sighed.

Edit - Five days turned out to be optimistic. My Daddy died at 7:20am this morning, about ten minutes before I got there. If your parents are around, go say hello to them.


looby said...

I am very sorry to hear that, but you tell it so well, all the detail. It's so wrong that some people in that sort of job have lost the ability to show a basic degree of care. I'm glad he's found a place in the hospice now and that his final days might be calmer.

All the best to you fweng, sending you love from up here in Lancaster.

Exile on Pain Street said...

This is rough stuff. I'm sorry about your Dad. I work across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue. I'm not a church-y kind of guy but on my lunch hour I'll go light a candle for him.

You are a hell of a writer.

Jo said...

My heart goes out to you

Redbookish said...

So sad, and, as a friend of mine said when his father died too soon "The stretch marks will show for a long time." You were with him almost to the end, and he may have wanted to slide away when those dearest to him were not there. He loved you at the end.

Redbookish said...

And also, can you take the detail you wrote here (you can edit out some of the emotional/personal stuff) and go to the PALS people? The way your father was treated was inhumane. Maybe you could use the energy of your grief (and believe me, grief brings a weird kind of energy) to complain about the treatment. It was appalling.

You write extraordinarily. So directly, and so it's powerful.

daisyfae said...

i'm so very sorry. crying as i read this, because it took me back to the last days my father spent alive... touching his arm as he was semi-comatose in the intensive care unit, holding the urinal, while simultaneously holding a sheet in a feeble attempt to preserve some of his dignity, fighting with the nursing staff to achieve simple human kindness...

you did a beautiful job caring for him. he knew he was loved all the way through. there was absolutely nothing more you could have done.

thank you for your words. i know they were painful to write, but 5,000 miles away is someone sharing your grief - a grief i experienced 10 years ago, as if it were only yesterday.

Tired Dad said...


Cheryl said...

I am so sorry, Fweng. This was a really moving post which brought back a lot of memories for me. I envy you your chance to say goodbye. And I'm glad you went medieval on those (probably) sociopathic nurses. It sounds like you and your family did everything possible to make his passing as peaceful as possible. He must have really appreciated that.

Take good care of yourself. And I'm really looking forward to your upcoming autobiography!!!

nuttycow said...

I'm very sorry to hear your news Fweng. My love and thoughts to you and your family. x

digressica said...

I'm so, so sorry to hear about this. Once again your writing about your dad has brought tears to my eyes, as it usually does. You are really gifted and I'm sure your dad would have been moved to see the words you've written about him in this post and others - even the awkward stuff.

For him to be treated the way he was in that hospital is just dreadful. I'm so sorry that happened and I'm really sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

I am very sorry to hear your sad news. And the awfulness at the hospital.
Take care of, and be kind to yourself during this hard time.



Wall-O-Withnail said...

Hey. I lost my dad too, back in 2008. There isn't anything I can say to make you feel better, just that I know what it feels like to go through that door. And it sucks. Thinking of you, hoping you find your way to the point where you can remember him the way he was when he was healthy, instead of remembering the end. It takes as long as it takes, and we all have to figure out how to get through it in our own way. There isn't a "right" way to grieve. Take it as it comes - we're out here pulling for you.

luna said...

im sorry about your loss.

i wrote a comment which of course disappeared

the nhs is scary.i don't trust any of them.they're not real doctors.

i hope you and your family are holding up as best you can.don't feel obliged to work if going to work is not helpful.
Take good care of yourself first and foremost, before anyone else.

agree here with redbookish that you've got your pen as a weapon to get some kind of redress if you are able psychologycally that is.
but don't limit it to pals, where it will get buried in the machine,get it out there.

And to everyone: always seek a second opinion.

Huw said...

I cannot even imagine. All the best to you, old pal.

emma said...

I don't quite know what to say so I'll just leave a heart full of warmth and strength right here.

black women white men dating said...

I am sorry to hear about your sad news. But this is reality and we can't avoid. I hope you and your family are holding up as best you can.

Karl said...

Hello. You don't know me. I don’t know you. I saw the title of this blog post on another person's blog and was drawn to it.

My mum was in hospital recently and I thought she was going to die, but she was lucky and got better.

Reading your experience here was heartbreaking and beautiful and I thank you for sharing it. My mum is in the bathroom draining her bag as I type and I have wiped all the tears off my face because I don't want to tell her that I'm crying because everyone dies and it's rarely the peaceful acceptable passing it really ought to be, because she's not really into that kind of thing. I will give her a hug though, when she comes out.

Sorry you had to experience some bad nursing too. I had some of that last year and the rage it gives rise to is difficult to cope with.

I hope the aftermath has been bearable and that you've managed to find some positives in it all.

Thanks again for writing about this, and especially for managing to make it funny as well as beautiful and tragic.

Love to you and yours.

fwengebola said...

As usual I want to reply to everyone but if I can add before I do so that I read them at the time and they were all a great source of comfort. Thank you.

Looby ~ Thanks for that. And in the events that followed, we spoke to the hospital and assurances were given that they'd change. Hopefully that will be the case.
Exile ~ Thank you too. I did tell my stepmother what you were doing, and she burst into tears. It meant a hell of a lot to us.
Jo ~ Thanks Jo. Just one of those things.
RB ~ Thank you. I'd heard that said a lot, that they go when no-one's around. I've no idea. I missed him by a matter of minutes, just like I did with my grandma. I'm quite good at that. And we managed to bypass PALS and go thermonuclear. Dad was on telly. It was all rather surreal.
Daisy ~ Sorry to bring it all back. And thank you too. In a weird way it helped knowing that every single one of us goes through this emotional wrench and it strangely helped. It's a great shame, but perfectly natural.
TD ~ No probs. Thanks.
Cheryl ~ Thank you. I wish I could prevent everyone from going through this but I can't. Care on the other hand we're hoping to change.
NC ~ Thank you. Very appreciated.
Dig ~ Thanks. That means a lot to me.
Nina ~ Thanks, doing my usual best. Appreciated.
Withnail ~ Thank you very much for this. You're right that you're left with the last few days/ weeks but they're a horrible blip of an otherwise happy life. Barring all that debt. But thank you again.
Luna ~ Thank you Luna. You've got me worried with an earnest comment. Good turnaround right at the end. Nice!
Huw ~ Thanks Huw, I appreciate that.
Emma ~ That's very kind, thank you.
BWWMD ~ Thank you for your kind words, Black Women White Men Dating.
Karl ~ Thank you Karl, like everyone else that's very kind and I appreciate your leaving a comment. To be honest, the best thing I can say in retrospect is the obvious 'seeing as much of them as possible', but even that can become trying after a while, particularly if they're sad and down. If you can swing it, may I suggest some kind of surprise for your Mum? For my Dad's 79th, I knew time was running out even though he wasn't ill then, just really frail. We hijacked the meal he was taking with his wife, and got to the restaurant beforehand, my sister and nieces, even my Mum and stepdad. The look on his face when he walked in was priceless and he grinned all evening. You need to create those memories while you still can. I wish you and your family all the best in the meantime, and thank you again.