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Every Second Counts

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Nearly twenty years ago a couple were out on a date.  They had been seeing each other for a while – both divorced and with children – they had both been through the mill a bit as is the same for most people who have lived even a little bit of life.  The man was nervous.  He was going to tell the woman that he couldn’t see her anymore. Not an easy thing to do. He wasn’t sure how to tactfully bring it up.  Telling someone that that you can’t see them anymore is not nice for anyone to say or for anyone to hear.  Can’t, rather than won’t.  Won’t is the reason why most people stop seeing each other, and also not nice to hear.  Can’t is a different ball game.

After fussing his pint for a bit he decided to just blurt it out.  Get it over and done with.  That had to be for the best.  At least it would be said then. So he did.  He told her that he couldn’t see her anymore.  He wanted to, but he couldn’t.  He had been diagnosed with cancer, and he was going to die.  So it really wasn’t fair that they kept on seeing each other.  And then he waited.

The woman took this news in with remarkable calm.  And responded in the only way that she knew how, which was to be entirely tactless.  She dismissed him as talking nonsense.  This was not the reaction he was expecting.  He enquired, with some considerable interest, as to why a terminal diagnosis was, in her non-medical opinion, nonsense.  He considered it to very serious and was coping with it as well as could be expected in the circumstances.  The woman advised that it was nonsense because she also had a blood cancer.  She had been diagnosed in her early thirties and her diagnosis was not promising at the time.  It was not particularly promising now but her doctors continually did their best.  A number of years had passed with her future being knowingly and medically uncertain, so she had learnt to live with it.  And so would he.

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A man is rushed into A&E in an ambulance.  He had collapsed at home. The consultant on duty has no information about the patient other than there is a man with leukaemia lying dying in A&E.  The patient’s file would be coming over from the hospital treating him so the doctors could see the detail.  But that wouldn’t be quick enough for the consultant faced with a person dying right then and there.  So he did what he could with what he knew in that moment to save his life.

He couldn’t have known at that point that the man had undergone six years of chemotherapy.  He couldn’t have known that he knew the name of all of the nurses and doctors in the haematology department, and they him, because he had spent so much time there.  He didn’t know that his wife had sat there each and every day, holding his hand.  He didn’t know that he had got up at four o’clock every morning for the last six years to see the birds when the sun came up, because he knew he was dying and he couldn’t face it lying down.  And he didn’t know that the man had got on his motorbike less than forty eight hours earlier, because that was what he loved to do, and bugger it, he was going to do it.  Just one last time.

The doctors were trying to buy time whilst the file came and then they would be able to work out what best to do.  Time that could not be bought because the man now had sepsis.  They probably knew that but they tried anyway because that is their nature.  The (grown up) children were summoned by his wife to his bedside.  They watched the monitors and talked to him, hoping that he could hear them and that they could make sense of the bleeps and the numbers and that they meant something positive.  They knew.  They all knew. But they didn’t want to. Always the medical team worked quietly away.

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It is said that love comes quietly. One minute you don’t think or don’t know that you love someone and the next you know that you do. And then you know you’re stuffed because love takes some undoing. After being completely and utterly abandoned by my own father, I never expected anyone to come into my life that could even begin to fill the gaping hole in your heart that you just have to live with.  Not that they didn’t or even don’t love you.  Just not enough. 

My stepdad wasn’t perfect.  He was grumpy, he was miserable and you could never give him enough damned tea to drink.  He was on so many drugs at one point that he shook.  If he got his hands to stop shaking long enough to get his fork to his mouth, his head started shaking so he couldn’t get the fork in his mouth.  We did the only thing you could do in such circumstances, which was to mercilessly take the piss.  When he died I felt completely and utterly broken.  I cried every morning in the shower for two years so that no one would know.  I don’t know when I stopped doing it everyday.  Such is grief. 

When he was first diagnosed the doctors said that they hoped to give him five years; he lived for six.  That was two thousand one hundred and ninety days in total.  Fifty two thousand five hundred and sixty hours.  Three million one hundred and fifty three thousand six hundred minutes. I shall be grateful to the NHS for the rest of my life for every single last one of them.

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