I arrived on the ward at the usual time on the Friday, dad had been an inpatient since Tuesday. He was independent, took himself off to the shower, got himself washed and in clean PJs each day. His appetite was a bit better, his colour was better and he wasn’t in the least bit muddled. He’d been sitting out of bed and when tired would lie back on the bed and snooze. He wanted to get home. Each morning when I’d gone up Dad and I had really talked, I found out things about his childhood up in Inverness, things I’d never known. We talk about poverty and deprivation today but I don’t know of many 8 year olds who had to go to the port and pick up herring which had been dropped when the fishermen landed their catch in Inverness. I know fewer people still who lived in a nissen hut for months because their father abdicated responsibility for the family and there was no social services to pick up the slack. Dad told me all sorts about how he’d loved being with his grandfather who was a station master in the Black Isle, memories of his sisters, his first girlfriend, joining the Sea Cadets going to sea and visiting Vigo and then the Royal Marines. How he’d met my mum at a dance and told her he was a Ski Instructor, about how he gave his mother ten shillings out of his pay packet until he married. Most mornings he would just hold my hand and talk between drifting off or until one of his mates arrived.
On Friday morning, one of dad’s great friends had arrived. The doctors had asked if I would be able to tell dad about how there would be no more blood transfusions as they were ineffective and at the point of doing more damage than good. I said I would but I would need their help. I was dreading rounds as it would then that we would have the conversation. The time came….
The Spanish consultant sat on the bed and held dad’s hand as I held the other and she told him, in a very compassionate way, that she couldn’t give him a new heart, liver or kidneys and that all of his were failing. My father was so stoic saying “Doc I’ve had a good life”. Mum had paved the way the afternoon before and dad is nobody’s fool. She and the SHO left, I sat in her place and dad became teary saying he was worried about leaving mum. I reassured him that he was not to worry as Nick, Phoebe and I would look after her. It was heart wrenching. Dad said he just wanted to go home but the SHO had said he needed to stay in and have a top up of bloods and we needed time to get the palliative care team in place to help look after him when he was home. That was so hard to hear. No more active treatment, bloods to bouy dad up and buy him a little more quality time and then a decline. Nick brought mum up to the ward and then we retreated to the coffee shop to give them time to say the things they needed to say.
The next task was to get organised for dad to come home and to ensure that the entire family were home too. I saw the SHO and Consultant later, they praised us as a family and said we were all on the same page, that young man from Antrim had been back and spoken with dad – dad told him he’d “called the boys off” but he’d better behave.. that default humour had come back despite the bleakest of news. The HCAs and nurses were especially kind. We were all unremittingly sad – multiple co-morbidities a new phrase in our vocabulary.