Monday, November 23, 2009


Saturday saw my mother, me and my two sisters descend upon my grandfather’s bedside like priests come to hear the final confession. We had been summoned, all of us, by the ward sister the day before, whose urgings had persuaded my mother that her original planned visit on Monday was simply (and I quote) “too far away”. We had to come now. ASAP.

This coupled with the news that my grandfather had been prescribed morphine on Friday had us fearing the worst. I mean, what else are you to think? Morphine is a pretty hefty painkiller. They don’t administer it without good reason. Or rather, bad.

So we were all there. Awaiting the arrival of the nursing sister of the day to speak to us. Apparently (according to another communiqué from the hospital) she wanted to speak to my mother in person to explain the situation more fully.

My grandfather lay before us. White, thin, skeletal. His skin now so transparent as to be almost non-existent – it looked as if a mad calligrapher had drawn veins and arteries in bold ink on parchment. His outline was a folded clothes’ horse of stick bones and rounded corners under the bed sheets. Piteous really when I think of how he used to be: always slim and wiry but always, always so vital.

The nursing sister eventually graced us with her presence, mystified by our request to see her. It seems she had no further information to give us. My grandfather was certainly very poorly but he was comfortable and stable. No real change from how he’d been over the last 2 weeks. It seems our urgent attendance was not really required. The priest need not be called away from his lunch. The morphine too was something of a red herring. Yes, he’s been prescribed it but he has not so far been given it – because he is in no pain whatsoever and does not need it. It is there merely “in case”.

Cue wry looks from us all. It is of course nice to know that although my grandfather is still at death’s door he is not yet, as we feared, ringing the doorbell. But it is irritating in the extreme to have lived with such a black picture of his condition for the last few days when the paint, barely dry, was only as grey as it has always been.

What havoc a little misinformation can cause! If the hospital can’t get their story straight between themselves my family and I stand little chance of ever staying well informed.

The only information that we received that could be deemed in any way useful was the sister’s expert opinion that it is highly unlikely that my grandfather will ever return home again. He needs 24 hour care. If he leaves the hospital it’ll be to go to a nursing home. The thing he most wanted not to happen. Alas, he is now so far gone that I doubt he’ll even notice let alone care where he is.

So, for the first time in my life, the house of my grandparents – the home of so many happy memories for me – will be completely empty and lifeless.

This seems another small death in a long line of small deaths that are inevitably leading to a bigger.

The dominoes are toppling but at least the game is not yet over.


French Fancy... said...

Oh Steve, this brought tears to my eyes (yes, I could see my father in front of me again, wasting away in a hospital bed). I feel so sorry for you all and understand completely how helpless and miserable you all must be feeling.

The bike shed said...

Not a lot to be said. The waiting is terrible and yet the outcome is even worse.

I want to go out like the proverbial light, but then who doesn't - most of us flicker and fade.

ArtSparker said...

How hard for all of you. The wry looks seem very familiar, and these plateaus in an accelerating fall. Also familiar, the dealing with the Authorities on the Situation, who seem to be floundering despite their theoretical superior knowledge.

Steve said...

FF: thank you.

Mark: me too!

ArtSparker: I guess there's an unfortunate commonality to all such experiences... all sadly familiar.

Valerie said...

I fail to understand the workings of the hospital your grandfather is in. I hope when the time is right you get that letter sent to the one at the top. In the meantime, my prayers are with your grandfather and you at this unhappy time.

Steve said...

Valerie: thank you... though I can't see beyond this particular tunnel at the moment!

Selina Kingston said...

Oh Steve, I'm so sorry. Your grandparents' house so full of memories now to stand empty was a hard line to read and so I imagine it must have been hard to write. I am thinking of you and sending you warm hugs xx

Steve said...

Selina: thank you - it's amazing just how we get attached to houses. The time of year is playing its part too - we'd always spend Christmas and Boxing Day at my grandparents and it was so lively, bright and colourful... it's in a sorry state now.

The Sagittarian said...

Steve, you will be able to recreate that liveliness and love through your own family now, thats one of the greatest gifts your grnadparents have given you - and I am sure they would want you to use that gift. Family tradition is just another way to keep all those treasured family members and memories with us.
In the meantime, how you handle this journey will not only be a learning curve for you, but also be teaching your boys about life and death.
Hugs to you and yours.

Joe Bloggs said...

Glad to see you're able to cope with all the hassle (to put it very, very mildly) and not going nuclear on the NHS (nobody's fault, can't be helped, doing their best, mustn't complain, could be worse, etc.)

I'm also pleased you took the intentioned smile as a smile :)

"Joe Bloggs: thank you for the smile... glad you got the all clear."

...what I hadn't made clear, was there was no all clear... apart from my own (there never really is, is there?...or for that matter, all opaque - thank goodness!)

Instead of going off my rocker in impotent rage about the latest free-gratis-bonus infection I recieved via a routine blood-test, I just decided not turn up for the most recent invitation for a routine check-up; or for that matter, the remaining three years of blood-tests, proding, probing, scanning, cancellations of, lack of communication, lack of hospital hygine, etc. Plus all the fudging gross incompetance that kept tagging along non-stop with all the aforementioned.

And never enter a hospital again if possible.

I know that sounds insane.

The lad's gone nut!

And I also remember agreeing 100% with the nurses and doctors, when we discussed the whole treatment thingeymajig 2½ years ago: That the (not so few) chaps who just up-sticks and quit the program after having been cured are reckless fools.

Reckless fools.

I cannot express what a relief it is to be a reckless fool.

And with the added bonus of not having to wreck the hospital in a unintentional re-make of "Falling Down" - you know, a-frenzy/orgy of justified, that's-it-that's-enough-that-takes-the biscuit....

Oh well, at least it saves them a bit of time not having to deal with all us reckless fools.

Still haven't heard a word from the hospital... the letter could have gone missing... surely they'd send a new one? I didn't tell them I was quiting - I just didn't show up. Maybe they've just forgotten me. I hope so....sniff,sniff, how could they forget me? ;) ...but I really don't give a hoot.

I'm sure... very sure ;)
...that they would never dream of not reporting how many of their patients stop turning up for treatment/check-ups and thereby lose valuable funding for more fudging around and looking busy - still, that's just my sordid opinion.

Sorry about the long rant. I'm a fool, but having had years of practice I'm getting cool with it.

I stand in awe of your ability to remain calm and collected with all the botheration you and yours have had recently.

Steve said...

Amanda: you're right and that is a comfort. Old memories are great but making new ones is better.

Joe Bloggs: you are a brave man. I'm not sure my own paranoia would let me walk away without making me pay for it daily... but it sounds like you've had a real gutful. It takes courage to do what you have done and I salute you!

Clippy Mat said...

a lovely post. in spite of the miscommunication from the hospital - are the staff in those places ever on the same page? it must be so frustrating.
chin up.

Rol said...

A terrible time, but I think you'll appreciate these posts in years to come even more than you do now. That's the wonderful thing about a blog, when it's used to chronicle the important events in a life, because it's just as important to remember the sad times as it is the happy.

Steve said...

Rol: I agree... even as I was composing this post I was thinking back to when my gran died 5 years ago and in a weird way regretting that I didn't have this blog up and running at the time to commemorate her passing in some way.

Clippy Matt: thank you. It's hard not to despair that, in a world overflowing with communication technology, people still can't get a simple story straight!

Nota Bene said...

A very moving post. It's hard to see a relative slowly ebb away, but there is an inevitability for all of us

Steve said...

Nota Bene: it does indeed come to us all sooner or later and in one form or another...

The Crow said...

as Nota Bene said, a very moving post. So clearly written, it made me feel almost in the room with you. It is good you have family to lean on, to comfort and support one another in your dealings with the hospital.

These posts are also a wonderful tribute to your beloved grandfather, Steve, and the influence he has had on you all.

Hang tough, friend.

Steve said...

The Crow: I must admit my overriding memory of the day is of us all being together as a family - that seems to be a rare occurrence these days. A shame that is takes such sad circumstances to bring it about.

CiCi said...

I so like the description of your grandfather as he lay in the hospital bed with transparent skin. And that while he is at death's door the doorbell isn't ringing yet. I know this is actually happening in your family right now, but I can see that your writing about it and describing what things looks like with your flair has got to be a blessing for you.

Gina said...

I too found it really hard when my grandparents' house was empty. Like you, we had spent Christmasses there and my grandparents were a big part of my childhood. I remember standing there with my sister, knowing it would be the last time we'd be there and listening to all my grandfather's clocks chiming out of synch at different times. So sad.

But yes, what Saggy says. The new generations have to take over and provide the memories.

I hope this does not prove as difficult a week as the last one, Steve and that the hospital shapes up a bit better on the communication front.

Big hugs.

Steve said...

TechnoBabe: it certainly helps to order things in my head to write it all down and, as Rol says, it is also a good way to document these momentous family occasions.

Gina: isn't it funny how our grandparents all have / had so many ticking clocks - mine were exactly the same. I shall also miss the smells of the house and the views from the windows... thank you for your good wishes. Touch wood, this week so far is a lot less fraught (though it's early days yet)!

Annie G said...

So sorry for what you are going through Steve. I don't know if you know this poem called 'A Special Bridge' by Emily Mathews, but it felt appropriate....

"Our memories build a special bridge
When loved ones have to part
To help us feel we're with them still
And soothe a grieving heart
They span the years and warm our lives
Preserving ties that bind
Our memories build a special bridge
And bring us peace of mind"

Steve said...

Annie: that's lovely - thank you.

Savannah said...

Is it terrible of me to hope that Grandad goes to a better place before he has to go to the inevitable Nursing Home, the place he was so determined NOT to go to?

As for the hospital...sigh...I felt so incredibly frustrated just reading about the ineptness in the way of communicating or should I say the lack of.

Sending good thoughts your way Steve in this very difficult time.

skatey katie said...

my cousin was here the other night. she asked me does it feel weird that my gran isn't here anymore, cos her gran passed a year ago.
and yeah, it does.
my mum is really nonchalant about death, but i hate the whole idea.
jeez, sorry, not very comforting.
but thinking of you all X

Steve said...

Katie: no, it is comforting in a way. A universal experience I guess. It's always good not to be alone. Thank you.

Owen said...

Steve, thinking of you, wishing you well in this time of trouble... and yes, the dominoes are falling all around us. But the survivors carry on... for as long as we can...

Steve said...

Owen: that we do and with no choice about it. But maybe that's a good thing sometimes?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I'm sure he appreciated your being there whether as a result of a hospital cock-up or no. Even unconscious many patients who recover say that the one thing they were aware of was the presence of their loved ones.

-eve- said...

I see. Not much to be said... can only wait and see...

Steve said...

Eve: still doing that I'm afraid!

Laura: that's true and it was nice being there with my mum and my sisters too - we get together so rarely these days, it was kind of a treat.

The Joined up Cook said...

One of the problems with our small nuclear families is that we don't deal with death much.

A great big extended family is going to see a lot more of it and therefore learn how to handle it a little more easily.

I have to say that as I get older I fear it less.

I do fear the manner of going.

And strangely I'd like some warning. It's the last big event of our lives and I'd want to know it was happening and have my family around me to help me through it.

Your Grandfather has his family at hand. He is lucky in respect to that, or should I say as lucky as anyone can be at such a time.

Take care Steve. He'll know that you care and are there and that will be a comfort.

I won't comment on the hospital as it has been said.

Steve said...

AWB: cheers... things seems to have stabilized for the time being. The red alert has been downgraded to amber. There's some comfort in that.