So this last 4 weeks have been proper naff to be fair (not good English but explains how I feel)! So I receive a call to say my nan has taken a turn for the worse and her passing was imminent! She had signed a DNR and told there was nothing else that could be done for her. We knew my nan was working on borrowed time following severe complications with her heart and a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer but it was still a shock. One day went past, then the next. Tears fell as we all talked about good times we had experienced. My nan made the decision to stop all the meds she had been taking including insulin injections she had been administering twice daily for quite a number of years.
So it’s 20:48 on bonfire night and I’m sat on a blue wing backed chair in a private room, on a hospital ward listening to my Uncle Barry and Aunty Linda snoring away. Along with the snoring and the odd grunt from my Uncle there was a constant buzz of the air mattress on his bed, hospital staff pottering about outside the room, someone closing a spring bin and the loudest sound of fireworks going off outside……
I came to the hospital this evening for a purpose. In the earlier hours of the morning a week last Thursday my Uncle was rushed into hospital and found to be in multi organ failure. I just couldn’t believe it. I knew he was ill but had absolutely no idea how bad he was. So he collapsed and there he was in a hospital bed unable to properly communicate. He looked so poorly and it was so very sad to see him like that. It had been a while since I had seen him and I suddenly realised he had a beard which he kinda suited!! I visited a number of times and he was aware I was there and was able to smile, hug and utter the odd word. On this particular day he was more ‘with it’ if you like and was talking, albeit not full sentences. My mum and grandad both visited on that day along with me. My Uncle and I used to always do this crazy club singer style rendition of ‘strangers in the night’… I started to sing it and he joined in with the end bit which made me laugh and then want to cry at the same time….
I was sat having a chippy tea with my grandad as we do once a week and I just couldn’t settle. It was playing on my mind that my nan was breaking her heart at not being well enough to be with her son and have the chance to say goodbye. Any stress on her heart could finish her off and this had the risk of doing just that anyway. Uncle Barry no doubt also wanted his mum. It suddenly came to me that my nan could record a personal message for him on my phone and then I could take it to him.
So here I sat, watching him sleep and wanting to wake him up to show him the video message. Everytime he stirred I leant forward in the chair willing him to wake up. Watching him sleeping you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with him, but then he groans with pain. Holding his hand watching him sleep I was praying there would be a miracle. Not a hope of that happening when the hospital had withdrawn treatment except pain relief. He stirred again so I decided that I would place my phone on his pillow and let the video play. It was quite surreal because as soon as he heard his mum’s voice he half opened one eye and then closed it again. His mouth turned up into a little smile but then the next minute he looked like he was crying, scrunching his eyes. I was holding his hand and he squeezed it a little. He saw me (or a figure) Sat by his bed and im hoping he thought it was nanna. The video was put on repeat so all he could hear was his mum telling him she loved him, it was heart breaking. He settled down and I sat holding his hand a little while longer while the video played, aware also of the smooth hissing noise of the oxygen finding it’s way from the nasal tube into his body. I know it sounds strange but I sat staring at him trying to send him telepathic messages, knowing full well he wouldn’t get them but wishing with all my heart that he would. The beeping of the air bed bringing me back to reality and the fireworks just kept getting closer….
The next few days were so emotionally charged. Uncle Barry would be out of it one moment, then we would be singing together, hugging, gripping my arm. I showed him nans video again when he was a little more ‘with us’ and when my nan said “Hello Barry” he suddenly said “hello mum” and waved at the video screen. That completely blew me away, it was so sad but so touching at the same time.
I wondered on a number of occassions throughout the last nine days just what must it be like for him lying in that hospital bed. Being aware that his wife hadn’t left his side since the moment he went into hospital. To know both his daughters sat by his side daily, his dad and his sister crying and cuddling him. What must it be like to see us all there but not able to communicate with us all properly. Knowing that your passing away and being powerless to do anytjing about it. Itmust be so frightening.
Almost 24 hrs later (21:05) and im lying in bed emotionally exhausted. My heart is aching so much it hurts. Today was going to be a milestone doing a remembrance parade in London. Now it will be remembered for a very different reason. The hurt and pain I felt this time last year is so very different to the hurt and pain I feel this right now. Once I returned home and closed the door I took off my blazer and medals, put my trakkies on and flopped onto the sofa. I kept getting tearful but stopping myself. My uncle hadn’t come round at all today, such a difference from our sing song yesterday. They do say that people do ‘appear’ to improve just before they are due to breathe their last and I can certainly vouch for that being true!!
The fireworks are still going on a few days later than they should but I just feel numb to them. Last night was quite bizarre, fireworks and bangers going off, some very loud and I didn’t really hear them. I was looking down holding the hand of a man who I cared about who’s life was seeping out of him. For days I was lying in bed willing myself to sleep knowing how tired I am, yet thinking of the dread of my phone ringing in the middle of the night. My mind just feels like a spinning Jenny, gaining pace as it spirals down yet surprisingly maintaining control…..just!
I was beginning to get angry about the situation. My Uncle is lying in a hospital bed, not being treated, no food or water being passed on, just left to die. Everyone around him was also suffering and whilst we didn’t want him to die, we didn’t want him to suffer. The hospital staff did everything they could to make sure he was comfortable and looked after my Aunty and Cousins really well. I was angry because they wouldn’t treat a a sufferring animal like this. Animals are put to sleep to end their sufferring yet everyone was sat watching a very dear persons life slipping away in front of them and it wasn’t right.
I visited him again because I had been told he was getting worse. Before I went in I sat in my car for a little while trying to escape the reality for a short time. For a minute or 2 I would escape into the music but then I would remember again. My head was just so busy and numb. I finally got out of the car and back into reality. I walked into his room and for a second I just stood there in shock. I just didn’t recognise him. He was lying there with his mouth open like he had already gone. I heard him breathing and then realised I had to take a breath myself. I suddenly noticed the nurses had shaved him and as I bent down to kiss him I noticed how cold he had become and his skin was so waxy. He did react to me kissing him though which was heartwarming. On Saturday I received a message that his breathing had changed. I knew from my paramedic training that this was a sign his passing wasn’t far off. I drove to the hospital to be with my aunty & cousins. There was not a movement nor a moan or grown coming from him. Just shiny cold skin, dark eye sockets and the intermittent, slow, shallow sound of breathing. His inhalations are strained as he takes in air. I can still remember the coldness as I stroked his hair and kissed his cheek, this time with no response. I remember being told that a pesons hearing was the last sense to go so I bent close to his ear and told him I loved him. I knew he wasn’t really there but it didn’t stop me speaking to him in the hope he can take it in. As i sat holding his hands I found myself counting the seconds inbetween the breaths he was taking, I’m not sure why because I knew he didn’t have long. Throughout all the visits there was always a smell which stuck with me but I couldn’t quite place it. Bizarrely I was reminded of the smell when I pressed the windscreen washer button and the screenwash pepperred the window. That took me straight back to his hospital room….
At 23:04 that same evening the moment that had been keeping me from sleeping soundly for days happened. My phone rang and I can still remember my cousins words through her tears “Michelle he’s gone”. After I’d put the phone down I found myself stumbling around my bedroom chanting “shit, shit, shit”. I couldn’t find anything to put on despite my wardrobe being full but I shoved on my trakkies and left the house to go and tell my mum. We then had to break the news to nan and grandad which should never happen. It was so upsetting to see the heartache they felt at being told. One huge concern was how my nan was going to cope with the tragic news. As the days went by following cessation of all her meds except water tablets, she started to look a little less gray and colour started to return to her cheeks. Four weeks on she is climbing out of bed and sitting up into a chair. Her insulin has remained balanced without having administered any and she is not doing too bad. She has had a few nights of angina pain but up to now she’s doing ok. The hardest day will be when the funeral takes place….
For me, the last few days have been a haze. I am walking around with a heavy heart which feels like it’s been dragged down by a lead weight and my head is just a fuzzy mess! Everytime my mind wanders back to my Uncle all I can see is his waxy, shiny face, mouth open and his sunken dark eyes below his huge eyebrows, and they were seriously huge brows!! I still can’t quite believe all this has happened; it hasn’t hit me yet.
My way of handling it all was to stay strong for everyone else. I made sure I kept busy by helping and being there for my family when they needed me. When I eventually shut my door after arriving home I would just switch the TV on and just stare at the screen, not really hearing anything. I didn’t want to answer my phone, clean the house and it only occurred to me the other day that I hadn’t had a shower for 4 days!!! I was just exhausted but I needed to keep walking through the treacle. It’s bizarre because after a lot of years I had started to manage without sleeping with a night light. Now I have one on again…. I know it will hit me soon but it just hasn’t yet.
Sleep well Uncle Barry knowing I am looking after them.