Friday, 20 June 2008

A series of Unfortunate Events

Today is actually 7th December 08 - go figure. Actually I'm just using up old space. But I want to tell you about my last year.
Below is an old post I deleted because it's not the most uplifting thing to read. However I wanted to provide some background. I came to France in 07 to visit my folks for Xmas. Unfortunately I brought the Flu with me, and we all began 08 with the Flu. Luckily we took turns soup-making and medicine-bringing, unluckily Dad's Flu turned to pneumonia and he had to go to hospital. I stayed to help, then one day Dad found out he had Prostate Cancer - he came home and promptly fainted. But as he felt alright later on the same day he and my mum went shopping. They didn't come back. At 8pm that night two Gendarmes (French policeman) knocked on the door and said 'Your parents have been in an accident'. Then they handed me a packet of very dirty chicken and said 'We are sorry about the ham' and proceeded to give me a lot of shopping. It took me some time and not a little confused French to find out if my folks were OK. Needless to say I wasn't too fussed about the chicken.

The car had skidded on the side of the road and hit a concrete post, gone up in the air, landed on the side with my mum in and slid in the bottom of a ditch for twenty yards. The car was written off. Dad was fine and climbed out through the sun roof, and mum apparently was just shaken and badly bruised. A week later mum is happily hoovering away despite our protests, remarking that one leg felt slightly longer than the other. We get her to stop hoovering and then she feels tired. While she's is resting the hospital phones and say they have a 'Facture' (invoice) for the Urgences (Emegerncy Services) or that mum has a 'Fracture' and needs to go to hospital right away. So I say to mum either she has a 'Facture' that needs paying or a 'Fracture'. She says don't be silly it must be an invoice for the ambulance. So I say to the desperate person on the end of the phone 'Is it an invoice or does my mum have a fractured leg that's an emergency'. It turns out mum had a fractured tibia.
So she goes to the hospital and comes home a few days later with a full leg cast. So I stay longer, because as well as Dad who is about to begin Radiotherapy for his cancer, and mum whose leg is in a cast, we also have two dogs, one of whom is a diabetic and blind and needs an insulin shot everyday.

Dad's cancer treatment begins. He's OK the first few weeks and we are quite hopeful because it seems to effect him a lot less than we thought. But then he starts getting really tired. He finishes the treatment but one day gets breathing problems. So he goes to hospital. For a couple of weeks he's treated and loses an incredible thirty pounds (that was due to water retention). Then he comes home. He's pleased with himself because he lost a lot of weight. He seems very tired though. But we think this is just due to the radiotherapy. we are hopeful he will get stronger.
Then on the 6th September Dad had a lovely day, he ate his favorite food, watched Hamilton win the Belgian Qualifying Motor racing, had his favourite giant mug of tea and then he went for his usual afternoon read/nap in the garden.

It wasn't long later, that mum came round the corner towards the office screaming like a banshee 'Come Dad's had a heart attck'. Of course I was already up and coming towards her with the phone in my hand before she finished the sentence. She had heard Dad's last breaths and known something was wrong. When she found him his colour was black, and he was doing what nurses call 'the croke' which is the sound your last breaths can make. Mum had given him breaths straight away. When I arrived he was dead, it was clear. Sat in his chair, totally relaxed but staring fixedly ahead with a somewhat surprised expression, as though someone he had known had just walked in to the garden. As mum gave him a breath, I put my hand on his cheek and said 'Oh Dad, what have you done?'.
I realised we had to get him onto the floor to properly do resuscitation. Dad had been a rugby player and weighed 17stone and was six foot tall. Between mum and I we broke the chair he sat on but we got him on the floor and began resuscitation. I had already begun to phone the ambulance. In French I had to explain that dad had had a heart attack - it's difficult to describe symptoms in another language. Incidentally heart attack is 'un infartuse'- who'd have thought. Somehow they understood. I then called the neighbour to help. We did resuscitation for about thirty five minutes until the ambulance arrived. I knew that if you have ten minutes heart massage and survive youre lucky, thirty minutes is normally the maximum. The ambulance proceeded to work on Dad for another hour and it took them at least twenty five to set up the equipment to restart his heart. Mum and I cried all the way through (we knew he'd gone), the neighbours also stood in a little group around us watching with shocked faces.
Dad's heart began again. He remained in a coma for two weeks. Each day was as shocking as the next. Every day had another-in-built stress. Either the communication between the French Doctors and ourselves was unclear - or we got different interpretations. It was a difficult situation for the medical staff to handle appropriately. You see when someone is on life support and their brain is functioning they can remain in a coma for a longtime. If they've gone through what my Dad did and don't wake after three days - they never wake up. The Doctors knew that by keeping him on the life support until his brain ceased to function and only then taking him off, that Dad would be able to pass away more painlessly and more quickly. They showed me that he could breath by himself without it, but I didn't like what I saw and I knew that while Dad's brain was active, or at least while his body functioned, that his awareness was also there somewhere. Of course at the time we knew none of this and had to work it out piecemeal, doctor by doctor until the 11th day when I finally collared a doctor and forced him to tell me the whole truth and nothing but the truth (which he did at risk of hospital regulations) and I will always be grateful for this (if only they had told us in the beginning). After his brain functin tests came back negative he was taken off the machine. He breathed by himself for about three days. Then he died. This is what I wrote back then before that day:-

In September
It's difficult to smile and find the positive place within when terrible events happen to you or those around you. I am writing this because last week my Dad had a heart attack and is presently in intensive care in a deep medically induced coma. We had to give him heart massage etc and it was a shocking event with all the stresses that accompany such a situation. What can you call positive with something like this? Well, what I have come to realise is that sometimes the most tragic events hold the keys to the places within you that contain the most compassion, love and bravery. It is at times like this that you can find your kindest you, your most loving you and your bravest you. Of course your ogres are still there; anger, fear and feelings of being overwhelmned also raise their heads - but it's what you do with them that counts.

Every day we visit my Dad, we'd stay all the time if the hospital allowed it -they don't because the family needs to look after itself as well - to keep going. At first there was the shock, the adrenalin and the dismay. Slowly confusion gives way to clarity and understanding. All you want is for your loved one not to suffer. It must be one of the hardest situations to know what is the right thing to do. The dying process is the natural end to all life, but what about the staying process? My Dad is on a respirator, it breathes for him - he wouldn't be here without it. People consider this an unnatural intervention, but it is another experience. We are still in the first week - the Doctors are very pessimistic and don't hold much hope for him, for his heart is weak and his brain has damage. To me though my Dad's heart is the strongest I ever encountered full of warmth and kindness and the wish to relieve suffering.

I speak to him and tell him what's happening as though he can hear every word. In this natural unnatural process, an experience that for some reason he must go through - I feel like I stepped through the walls of my Dad's heart and mine is there beating with his and for his, as is my mum's and my brother's and all the friends, family and well-wishers. If it comes to the point where they remove the form of treatment that is the respirator perhaps he will manage by himself, perhaps he won't. In that moment our hearts will keep beating or stop with his. They will pause, they will register that we are changing, that things may never be the same or perhaps for a little while they will. Such is life. Such is life in every moment. It is precious; the ability to be, to speak, to move, our manner, our words, our actions - these are like gold. They can either fall upon people like warm summer rain, softly and gently or they can hammer down like the falling of storms.

Our own joy comes from the joy of others.

My Dad had his perfect day before his heart attack, he watched the motor racing, he had Mince and Mash that my mum made him - his favorite food, and he had a cup of PG Tips his favourite tea that I made him (hard to find in rural France). I saw him and I said 'You're really enjoying that aren't you?' and he looked at me and beaming the biggest smile full of the most dissproportionate happiness said 'I am'. The day my Dad had a heart attack was the day Lewis Hamilton qualified for the Belgian Grand Prix, and my Dad avidly watched the race and loved it. He didn't get to see him win it - the next day he was having his own race; but we told him and we think he knows.
Such is life, every moment, precious. Never is this more obvious than when you are in the midst of tragedy. Never are you more aware of the purpose of a person's life and the meaning of yours, than when theirs is in question.

If you read this please pray for my Dad.

My Dad died four days after I wrote this - it is now the day after. I love him dearly and he is loved by many. You learn the true meaning of a person's existence at the end of their life. You are already missed Dad, but don't let that stop you - keep going, towards the lovely light that you are.

Ronald Frederick Brookes 26/10/34-18/09/08 Aged 73 years

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