Saturday, 7 March 2009

A bit of sad news..

NB Ophelia

We had a bit of sad news this week; one of our co-owners in Ophelia, the narrowboat, has suffered a stroke and died suddenly. He was one of the friendliest, most cheerful people I knew and it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that he’s gone. The co-owners are a group of people who all bought a share of the same boat without knowing each other and, though it might have turned out differently, have become a group of friends.

Ophelia's owners at her anointing
Stroke is a major fear of mine, ever since my father had his first stroke, a fairly minor one, and was taken into hospital where the stroke specialist nurse had just left. After some treatment, he was eventually sent home, but began hallucinating. At that time, he knew that the visions weren’t real; he used to say “Just tell me the people in that photograph aren’t moving…” (What do the people in the Harry Potter books do?). Later, he had more major strokes and was admitted, wired up, catheterized and sedated.

Later on, as he seemed to be making a partial recovery we had difficulties with one locum doctor when we visited and found him unconscious and dehydrated. When we demanded help, the on duty nurse could not get a line in to help him rehydrate because his veins were impossible to find. Eventually, we got a line in and then we checked his notes and found that he had been heavily sedated to prevent him wandering around the ward. We threatened all sorts of actions, but when the consultant came back from vacation, he managed to reassure us that ‘chemical coshing’ was not his policy (his words).

My dad and me (about 1956/7)

During this time, I could not speak to my father; could not understand anything he said and felt overwhelmed with guilt because I knew there were things he wanted to say. On one occasion, the nurse said; “Your father has been rather distressed today. He cried a lot this morning.” I replied; “Wouldn’t you be distressed in his condition, unable to make yourself understood?” This, of all things, is my greatest fear, not being able to communicate. I’ve made Marea promised the best speech therapy if it happens to me.

Eventually, dad’s health stabilized and he was admitted to a psychogeriatric ward. I still couldn’t understand anything he said, but one old man I spoke to said; “Your dad’s been telling me all bout how he ran the staff football club at Metal Box (the factory where my father was a master machine tool fitter) and how he competed in the archery contests.” I didn’t know whether to be angry that this man could do what I couldn’t (understand my father) or pleased that my dad had finally found someone he could communicate with.

Later, as we were looking for a nursing home for dad to move into, and finding nothing suitable, or even bearable, dad had a massive stroke and was moved to an acute ward. When we assembled around his bed, the nurse said they were going to move him to a side ward; a sure sign that things were coming to an end. As we sat with him, over a period of about an hour or more he regularly stopped breathing for minutes at a time, until his body rebelled and he drew a deep, desperate breath before lapsing into unconsciousness again. He kept trying to get rid of his oxygen mask, I thought because it was uncomfortable, but now I realize it was because he wanted to bring things to an end.

After a lengthy period of this torture, the nurse said “We CAN make him more comfortable, you know…” (a euphemism for we can give him a large dose of sedative which will probably bring about the end, but he won’t continue to suffer like this for hours, possible days). We all agreed and the drug was administered. After a short while, dad’s breathing eased and he was comfortable. Before very long, the end came. Would we do the same again? Of course. Would I want someone to do the same for me in the same circumstances? You bet!

I was led into all this by our friend’s death. Strange how your fears jump out at you when you least expect.

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