Friday, 31 October 2008

Written almost a year ago...verbatim.

Alone, with hushed tones, dim light, the man I love and a dying woman who always represented life in its fullest.
Just us 3.
And only one of us would find release tonight.
That's it. Pure and simple.
It's what I've been doing of late.
Helping the ones I love on their journey onwards.
I'll put that on my hobby list, then.
I've had no sleep for 2 days and this is day 3.

Hang in there, Ma. David is coming. He's found a flight from Bombay and he's coming to see you. Only 12 hours and David will be here. Hold on if you can.
I squeeze her hand and compliment her on her lovely nails.
She can't respond.
Part of the dying process is the loss of the ability to swallow and therefore speak.

We sleep in shifts, Andrew and I.
They give us a Zed Bed so one of us can lay beside her, while the other watches. And watches. It's our duty to watch for changes. They come fast....way, too fast. The nurses simply can't keep up.
And yet one of us sleeps through the moans of anguish and pain from a brave woman so that the other may stay awake and help guide her, regardless.

Me again, Margaret.
Just 10 more hours and David will be here. Not long now. Hang on if you can. He's a silly Sod to come back ain't he? But he misses you so don't be angry with him.

She's in too much pain, I know.
Her circulation has slowed down far too much for the drugs to work as they should. And she is crippled with pain. But she squeezes my hand to tell me she ain't done yet.

My turn to 'sleep'. The fan whirrs away and my sleep deprived mind hears Mozart's requiem.
Andrew told me later, that the fan sung black metal to him.

How are you doing, Missus? I'm going to give your face a good old wipe and put some lovely lip gloss (vaseline really) on you, to keep you looking glam. Would you like a nice, cold sponge swab in your mouth? You must be a bit dry by now?
We can't give her fluids. She can't swallow and her body can no longer process liquids. But they do get very dry with all that gasping and you know if they don't want the sponge with water droplets on, because they clamp down on it. Just one of the millions of things you pick up, doing this sort of thing.
8 more hours and David will be here! See how time is whizzing by? Can you hold on for him?

1.30 AM.
I fetch the nurse while A sleeps.
Nothing you give her is working. She's spasming and moaning and in a lot of distress. We need to up the ante.

Nurse gives her more muscle relaxants...they calm down the frowns and spasms...but not the deep throated moaning that continues with every breath.
She is still in pain, but can no longer express it with her muscles.
It looks nicer...but it has simply masked the truth.

Andrew's shift.
I drift off to Mozart, courtesy of the fan, while nurses come and go and Andrew chats quietly to his Mum. He is so brave and gentle with her. It was us two that saw his Dad through this in January and it is us two that have been left to do the same again for his Mum. If we were not here for her, she would be dying alone. After all, it's not the most pleasant of things to have to commit to.

My shift.
6 hours and David will be here....but I know you are tired. He'll understand if you need to put your feet up before then. If you need to put your feet up, we understand. You've had a long old journey and we know you need to sleep now. But hey, your hair still looks great and those muscle relaxants are stronger than Botox! You look 20 years younger.
She squeezes my hand and lets out another tremendous moan.
The nurses have sorted out the spasms at last...but she is still groaning with every laboured breath and each breath is taking longer to squeeze out now.
More fast changes and more calls for the nurses to adapt to yet another change in needs.

I talk to her about everything I can think of. hearing is one of the last senses to go, so it makes sense.
And I know this is the last conversation I will ever have with her. So I have to be garallous.
She hates sentimentality. Likes to keep things light hearted. Which is why I tell her, her nails look great and there are no Tory nurses touching her!

Andrew's shift.
Again, I can't sleep, so we do the watch together.
She's slowing down...growing paler, mouth gaping ever wider, for that elusive breath.
Her pulse is as strong as that of an Ox. But the Nurses assure us both that this is irrelevant. It's her breathing that we must watch.
I know this of course...her husband went the same way less than a year ago...and we were there to learn the signs off by heart.
So we gaze at her chest, her mouth....that mouth that used to spew forth acerbic wit and dry wisdom less than a week ago. Now the mouth is dry as cinders and a vessel for stolen air, fought for by pure bloody minded will alone.

Nobody's shift. we are too busy watching the nurses frantically keeping up with her medication needs.
At last they succeed and for the first time this evening, she seems more settled.

3 More hours until David gets here. He'll understand if you simply can't wait. You see him all the time anyway and have had plenty of opportunities to say good bye. I bet he knows more than we do about your funeral plans, the creep! Sleep if you want to, sweetheart.

Andrew is exhausted and I'm too wired to he takes the Zed bed.
Her breaths are almost 15 seconds apart but not shallow yet. She may still hold out.

Andrew! Andrew! Sorry to wake you, but you need to get over here. her breathing has changed.
We talk to her and hold her hand. We tell her David won't mind if she needs to rest now.

6.30 AM
We are watching her like a television. It's my turn to hold her hand. Every breath is a universe of significance. It is our world. There is nothing else.

6.35 AM
She takes another gasp...but no other follows. her hand clasps tightly around tight that is is difficult to transfer her hand from mine to her first born son's.
I fetch the nurse and tell her...but you don't ever have to question it.
The tightrope between life and death is so profound. One minute, the person there before you, has a name and a soul...the next...just an empty shell of rotting flesh. It's that simple.

David arrived late (darn planes) His ETA was 9AM....just 2 and a half hours after she died.
But he arrived at 11AM and went to see her. The hospice had cleaned her up, put her in an air conditioned room, with flowers on her pillow. It was a ridiculous sight and she would have thought so too.
But this sort of thing comforts the majority of people.
I went back to see her purely because it seemed to comfort the people at the Hospice! I was being nice for them.
But once you are dead, there is nothing left of you in that body.

Now, a couple of days later, we are being bombarded with people who need to assume she died peacefully at every turn.

Well she didn't.
She struggled and fought the enemy within to her very last breath.
Despite the wonderful, valiant efforts of the excellent Hospice staff, she was in pain and distress for the majority of the dying process.
And that's quite common if you are dying from cancer. I've seen it 4 times now. Always the same.

Andrew and I want the world to know that if you aren't allowed to euthanise those you love, who are in pain...than you should NEVER be allowed to euthanise the facts that come with the denial of it.

However, the tradition of guiding your loved ones through death has been lost these days. It shouldn't be taboo and I know that Margaret would feel the same way.
Seeing someone through their death is a lot like helping someone through labour.

And I sincerely hope that I will never have to do it again.


This was one of a long line of straws that broke my back this year.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Midlife crisis?

I was sitting astride a rather spirited pony in the middle of the Brecon Beacons with a good friend, having just been thrown at gallop to the point that sparks had flown from my eyes, lighting the horizon.

I had not ridden a horse in 20 years, yet here we were, with nothing but a compass and an ordnance survey map and lady luck to mark our paths from A to B.
Alone. In the mountains.
On horseback.
Fresh from London city.

That was the moment.

That was it...indelibly etched into my Kodak Moment List.
It was the moment that realisation unfurled, sprung up and bit me.

I asked my friend, "Why are we doing this?!"

"Midlife crisis." came his effortless reply.

Cue that famous camera angle in the film 'Jaws' where Roy Schneider is treated to the zoom effect.
Dear Lord! I am actually having a midlife crisis!
And I am.

I have basically spent my Summer hurling myself into, under and over all manner of madcap situations.
It is like my off switch has broken and my inside voice has nipped off to Barbados leaving no note as to when it might return.

How the Hell did that happen?!

I remember my parents having their own form of midlife crisis back in the eighties.
It involved my Mum having a torrid affair with the only straight Sous Chef in Staines and my dad buying a motorbike and falling off.
My Mum fell off the chef eventually...I presume, to nurse my dad's broken back. But that was how it went in those days.
You hit forty. You had an affair or you bought a stupid machine that you didn't know how to work properly.

It should be mooted at this point, that I don't even qualify to take up ownership of 'midlife' yet.
I am still clinging to the tail end of my mid thirties and regularly become victim of the Chablis Police when attempting to procure Waitrose contraband.
And herein lie the problem. When my parents had their 'midlife' they shared a tendency for balding, greying, wrinkling and love handles.
I am from that generation of thirty-somethings that have kept their figures, have perfect skin and still look hawt in a mini.
I think this is where the problem stems from.
How long can I keep this up?
How long can I go clubbing and dance like a loon to hardcore drum and bass and not feel slightly ashamed?
I am aware that I shall be forty sooner rather than later. I still haven't settled down. I have no children, nor do I have any desire to procreate. I still mess around with my band and go to parties to discuss the finer qualities of bosons...and who is shagging who.

How on Earth can I be having a midlife crisis when I am still barely out of my teens?!
I think the mirror deceives. My generation were taught to stay out of the sun and keep fit and healthy while snorting all manner of substances in all manner of toilets... we were taught the art of getting away with it.

Am I having a midlife crisis or am I simply getting away with it until old age hits and makes me pay for my sins?
Whichever way you look at it, people in my position are having fun by the barrel.
I still feel 19. I don't look too far off 19 if you are short sighted and have left your glasses at home. I frequently out-party 19 year olds and can do all the things I did when I was 19...with no ill effects.

In conclusion, I bring to you the term synthetic midlife. This is a a term I use to describe the right of passage I should be undergoing. But actually, it is simply an excuse I imagined from the ether to justify my ongoing hedonism...