I had begun to learn throughout this process that Mondays are really no big deal. Unlike what people say, Mondays in this hospital didn’t feel like a fresh start. They are no more important than any other day of the week.
When you’re confronted with the very thought that today could be your last, you don’t really care which day of the week it is and think more about what you can achieve in the next hour.
On this particular day, a Monday, all I could think about was how Dad was still with us. That too, in remarkably better shape than he had been on Friday when his specialist had more or less read him his last rights.
I once again associated that to his body ridding itself of all of the toxic medications he had been on, and that his failing heart and kidneys finally got the chance to cleanse themselves. It was wishful thinking on my behalf, but as each day went past, I grew more and more determined that I wasn’t going to lose my father.
Monday mornings at the hospital were like any other workplace. Staff sharing their weekend activities - who got drunk, which sports teams won or lost - all things which would be considered normal at any other time in my life.
I hadn’t been living a ‘normal’ existence for quite a while and this roller coaster of a ride with Dad was making me tired, short-tempered, and bitter. I was frustrated that Dad and I couldn’t make amends to our distant relationship. In all my life, this is the closest I’ve been to my Dad.
We had never spoken to each other like we had been over the last two weeks, mostly because we just never spent this much time together. To think that it had to come to this for my father and I to develop some sort of normalcy.
You’ve heard the adage: you don’t appreciate something until it is gone. I felt as though I was just starting to break down some of Dad’s walls, enough for us to at least communicate, and for me to feel as though as his son. I wanted to hear that he appreciated my presence, yet he never said it. Never.
I often wondered at night when he would drift off to sleep, with the only noise in the room being his snoring while the hospital staff scurried outside - if other fathers and sons had the same type of relationships across the world.
I wondered how many grown men felt isolated and disconnected from their old men. When I was younger, I used to feel jealous of those who had great relationships with their fathers; going on holidays together, hanging out, going to the pub, to sports games, or even fishing.
My life had been void of that kind of interaction. After the age of about ten, I didn’t go on any family holidays with my parents anymore. I had never stepped foot inside a pub with my father to have a drink or a chat, and we had never been fishing together, not once.
As I now sat beside his bed, the anger that I used to hold onto had dissipated. Instead, it had been replaced with forgiveness. I started to feel for my father in a different way. Understanding his upbringing and what challenges he had in his generation with his parents made me far more sympathetic, recognising that my father was just human, too.
I had spent years going around the world initiating all kinds of charitable and philanthropic endeavours yet I had not been compassionate toward my parents in any way. All these things were now starting to be obvious to me as I looked for answers.
My thoughts were interrupted as Dad asked me:
“What time do you think the doctors will be around this morning?”
“Hmm, I guess the same as usual? About 10ish? Is something wrong?” I asked, slightly worried about his impatience. Although deep down I hoped he would say nothing was wrong, that everything was okay.
I clearly don’t like bad news.
“No, I’m ok. Just getting bored with this place.”
I understood Dad’s frustration. His mind was still as sharp as a tack. His failing body was the only thing that had been letting him down for a few years now. It had been hard for me to watch the fit man I knew turn into a frail man who needed a mobility walker to get around.
“Would you like to go outside today?” I blurted out.
I suddenly wanted to wheel Dad out to the garden where I went and to let him sit in the sun for a bit. I would need the doctor’s permission, but persuasion is one of my strengths, so I considered it as good as in the bag.
“Yeah that would be good,” Dad replied.
Again, no swinging from the rafters, but a positive response that I was sure would make him feel a little better.
“Alright. I’ll let the doctors know you’re going out on an excursion today when they come around and we will make it happen then,” I said.
Dad smiled and nodded his head. I knew somewhere inside there was a confident father who knew all about his son’s powers of persuasion. I figured Dad was quietly looking forward to seeing how I was going to pull this one off.
Just as we had finished our little chat, Natalie, our favourite nurse, bounded in with a huge smile on her face.
“Barrie Philpott, how are you this fine morning?” she asked at the top of her chirpy voice.
“I’m still here,” replied Dad in a less than enthusiastic manner.
“They told me I wasn’t gonna be,” Dad threw the statement in for good measure.
“I never doubted you!” Natalie volleyed back as if she was hitting a direct cross-court winner in a tennis match.
“So let’s get your blood pressure done, and I will need to take some blood again as well,” Natalie announced and went about her usual routine.
I wasn’t sure why they were taking Dad’s blood. He had been tapped more than the Hoover Dam over the past weeks, and as a result, he had needle marks all over his arms.
Keeping up with Natalie’s buzzing momentum, I asked her if she had a good weekend. I assumed she did - she was almost floating around the room.
I was right. She spent the weekend hanging out with some friends and had ended up at a party. Some juicy details of her night out followed.
“Well, he must have been good then,” Dad cracked me up when he said.
“Barrie Philpott, you naughty man you,” Natalie played along with Dad’s somewhat innocent comment.
As Natalie was about to extract some blood, the doctors and their entourage arrived. With each passing day, there appeared to be more of them as though the student to doctor ratio had been tripled within a month.
Dad’s cardiologist led the pack with a wry smile on his face. He seemed certain that he was about to receive some lip from a patient named Barrie Philpott.
“Hi, Doc! As you can see, I’m still here. I told you so,” Dad started even before the entourage reached the foot of his bed.
The doctor smiled.
“Yes, I can see that and it is great news. How do you feel Barrie?” he asked.
“Pretty good actually. The last couple of days have been okay,” Dad replied.
I’m sure if Dad had been a passenger on board the Titanic, he would have told everyone that they just hit a small iceberg and that everything was going to be ok. He might even add that everyone should go inside and get out of the cold.
Unfortunately, there was no sidestepping this iceberg, and the doctor and his team had come not bearing good news.
“Well, we have been studying your markers from the weekend and your kidneys are not in good shape. Since we have taken you off the medications, the kidneys are losing ground.
Also, your heart is not keeping up to help get rid of the excess water.”
“I see,” was all that Dad could manage.
It seemed that every time the doctors came, positive energy would be sucked out of the room. Even if I tried to pump it back, wham, they pulled the rug from under our feet again.
“I heard you enjoyed some fish and chips and a beer over the weekend,” the doctor said, possibly having read my mind about being such a killjoy.
“Sure did,” Dad replied.
“I should have gotten you to shout them eh?” Dad added somewhat cheekily.
The doctor smiled and then took it upon himself to shift gears again.
“Well Barrie, we should start to discuss the next steps and what we are going to do.”
Nobody said anything. It was one of those very uncomfortable doctor-patient pauses.
The doctor continued anyway.
“We are getting to the stage where we need your bed in this hospital and because we are not treating you anymore, we may look at moving you over to the ‘other’ hospital.”
Hang on, I thought.
What’s going on here?
Were they pulling the rug from under Dad’s feet?
Not on my watch!
“What do you mean by that Doc?”
I demanded, looking at the doctor right in his eyes.
The doctor seemed annoyed that I had spoken.
“Well, there is not much more we can do for your Dad. We should now look at Palliative Care,” he answered.
My head started spinning. I didn’t think Dad really got the jest of what was going down.
“So you are saying you can’t do anything to help my father?”
My question changed the atmosphere in the room. The young doctors probably got a taste of how an upset family member would confront a doctor.
The doctor, on the other hand, took my persistence as a challenge, and an opportunity to show his young team how to deal with such a situation.
“Your Dad’s kidneys are near failure and because he has taken the decision not to accept the dialysis treatment, then it is only a matter of time before we see a major issue,” he calmly replied.
I disliked it when doctors talked as if my father wasn’t even laying there listening too.
But “I see,” was all that could come out of my mouth.
I folded and didn’t want to cause a scene, but I was planning my attack.
The doctor went on to say that he would organise a Palliative Care nurse to give us the rundown on the next course of action.
Cold, callous, and non-compassionate. That’s how I felt about the whole scenario. Just a few kilometres away, people were laying on the beach having a great time, and hear we were being read the last stanza.
With that, the entourage left the room but I was not satisfied. I told Dad that I would be back in a flash. I raced to catch up to Dr. Goodnews, as I had now labelled him.
“Doc, excuse me. Would you mind? Can we have a quick chat?” I asked when I reached him.
I just wanted to speak to him, I hinted, with no tickets sold to the entourage to attend this exchange.
We stepped off into the head nurse’s office just off the main ward area. The doctor closed the door and gestured to me to take a seat.
“How can I help?” he started.
“I am at a loss. Last week you stopped Dad’s medication, then over the weekend, he appeared better than he has been in weeks. Obviously, his body is regaining strength - anybody can see it!”
For the first time in this whole scenario, I felt myself clutching at short straws. I wanted so desperately for my Dad to get well and to at least be able to go home.
“Yes, we sometimes see this kind of reaction when a patient comes off their meds. It is short-lived and, as I mentioned in the room, we have been following your father’s blood markers and they are all going in the wrong direction,” the doctor explained.
“I would do something if we could, but unfortunately we have reached that stage in the road. Your father is a fortunate man that he got to spend this much time here after his episodes a few years before.”
I knew the doctor was referring to Dad’s previous heart attack and how very fortunate he had been to survive that. It was a knock on the door at that time, but it appeared that the knock on the door to heaven was answered.
“So, there is nothing you can do?” I was almost pleading.
“No, I am sorry. There is nothing. We will make sure he doesn’t have any pain at the end,” the doctor replied categorically, without taking his eyes off mine.
The word ‘end’ hadn’t come up before, but there it was. As though the door had been opened, and the evilest thing you could imagine ever had entered. The ‘end’.
You couldn’t see the end, you couldn’t feel the end, you couldn’t smell the end, but here it was - all three letters to form one word - ‘end’.
I felt tears forming in my eyes as this whole experience was once again going to another level.
I reached out across the small table that separated the doctor and I and shook his hand. I am not sure until this day why I did that; maybe out of respect of the faith that my father had in him.
“Thank you,” I added and proceeded to return to Dad.
On the way, I ducked into the men’s room and washed my face. I didn’t want Dad to see any form of weakness, sadness, or negativity from me.
By the time I returned to the room, Dad and Natalie were in full flight about cricket, and all seemed well. I sat down and let them continue. All I could think of was the nasty three-letter word - ‘end’.
It was about 1 pm by the time I got Dad into a wheelchair and started to push him towards the elevator for our big excursion outside. If you’re wondering, no, I didn’t end up asking anyone for permission. As we passed Natalie in the corridor, I simply announced that I was taking Dad out into the garden for fifteen minutes.
There was no push back. Obviously, news had got around about Dad’s fate. I could’ve even gotten away with taking him to the local gold club for a late lunch if I wanted to.
As I wheeled him outside, I pondered over the thoughts swirling around in my head. Would I even try to have a conversation with Dad about this next stage or would I do what we always did, let the hard stuff take a back seat?
It was a glorious day outside. The sun was hot but under the shade of my favourite tree in the garden, Dad seemed to be happy. He was covered in a blanket as felt cold, a symptom of failing kidneys.
I wheeled him on an angle so he could see the passers-by. The garden was used as a thoroughfare for hospital staff to walk to the staff car park, so there were always people coming and going. Dad sat quietly and watched them.
I had no idea what was going on inside his head; as always he was keeping his cards close to his chest. I decided I would try to find out. I sat on a concrete bench next to the tree and started.
“How are you feeling dad?”
“Pretty good, it’s good to be out here.”
The ‘pretty good’ part was the stock answer; I hadn’t expected anything else.
“How do you feel about what the doctor said today?” I pushed on.
I knew I was on dicey ground, but something was compelling me to go there.
“Yeah. Not good news, eh?” came Dad’s reply.
He had thrown it back at me. I was caught between a rock and a hard place on how to deal with this.
“No. Not so good, but at least you get to go away from this place,” I attempted.
Oops, not the line I was looking for. It just filled the moment.
Dad just nodded, and frankly, that’s all my answer deserved.
“How do you feel, Dad? About moving to the other place?”
I didn’t dare say the words Palliative Care.
“I guess if they say I have to go, then I need to go.”
Always the conformist, my Dad. If the Doctor had said he should jump off the top storey of the hospital, he would’ve probably considered that too.
“You understand that there will be no more treatment over there though? The doctor told me they will make sure you don’t have any pain.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Dad muttered.
I could tell it was starting to hit a nerve so I stopped. I changed the subject to all things weather-related.
We stayed outside for an hour. There was no search party sent for us. In fact, when we returned to the ward, Natalie had finished her shift and Rosie, who had started hers, was surprised to see us back.
I told Rosie that I was taking Dad out tomorrow for a round of golf, a swim at the beach, and would be back in time for dinner. Everyone had a bit of a chuckle over that one.
Just before dinner arrived, we received a new visitor. Someone we hadn’t seen before. Her name was Linda. Linda was the Palliative Care nurse.
Things were moving way too fast for me. It had only been a few hours since Dr. Grim Reaper (another name I bestowed upon him) had given us the news, and here was Linda with yes, you guessed it, another ring binder and presentation.
Dad wasn’t impressed. It was going to take a lot of my diplomacy to keep the lid on things.
Linda was very nice. The poor lady was just trying to do her job to the best of her capabilities. Telling people what they can expect in God’s Waiting Room - as Dad would later call the Palliative Care - wasn’t easy for Linda, the patient, or the patient’s family.
Linda went through what Dad could expect in his room: access to a garden straight off his bedroom and to be wheeled around - no need to move on his own. There would be 24x7 coverage and I was able to stay in Dad’s room the whole time. There would even be a real bed for me there. A promotion of sorts, I thought.
Linda was going to arrange an ambulance to take Dad between the hospitals sometime the next day. I could see in Dad’s eyes that the walls were closing in. He was just starting to get comfortable in this hospital.
Dad knew the nurses and staff and had his banter worked out for each of them. I’m sure it kept his mind off how sick he was a lot of the time. Hospital staff are amazing people and truly deserve ten times what they get paid.
It was, in all sense and purposes, the beginning of the last chapter. Dad had been in this hospital for nineteen days. There had been sixteen cricket matches, eight fish and chip meals, and countless other things that were not hospital prescribed.
Our motto had become, ‘never restrict a dying person the things they love, no matter how bad it may be for them’.
Linda finished telling us everything about the Palliative Care unit. Armed with this information, I knew I would dislike it immensely even before I set foot in the place.
Dad didn’t eat much of his dinner that night. Energy had been sapped out of him. It had been a difficult day emotionally, even for a man who doesn’t show his emotions. Dad wasn’t interested in watching cricket that night, and neither was I bothered about it.
We said goodnight to each other at about 9 pm but neither of us went to sleep. When the night nurse came in around midnight, I was still wide awake and so was Dad.
“How are you, Dad?” I asked after the nurse left.
“Okay,” was all I got.
I felt so sad for my father. I rested my head on my pillow with my eyes awash in tears and my arms embracing an extra pillow - the comfort I needed to ease the pain.
I was not looking forward to tomorrow. I was not looking forward to any day from then. I had no idea how long Dad would be with me, and I still had so much I wanted to get out.
I questioned myself all the time if I was even handling things the right way. Was I helpful, or a burden? Dad never asked me to leave, and something told me he didn’t want me to.
Once I head Dad snoring, I let myself drift off to the place that softened all the blows we received that day. It was a short sleep though.
Soon, I would be confronted with another reality I wasn’t ready for in any way.