I'm sitting in a hospital side room as I write this. Next to me is my 89 year old dad, who was not supposed to make it through the night on Thursday - it's now Sunday afternoon. He has been gone from us for some time now with his Alzheimer's - the past month especially has seen a rapid deterioration, where he has shown little recognition of his nearest and dearest, lost his ability to walk by himself and gradually given up eating.
A week ago he was moved into a care home and five days later was coughing up blood - hence the move to hospital on Thursday. I drove down at midnight - an hours drive - after speaking to the doctor, who thought his chances of seeing the morning were slim. I couldn't bear the thought of him deparating on his own. I spent that night watching him suffer - he was getting plenty painkillers but was very agitated and was calling out for my mother and brother, who lives with my parents and has helped enormously with his care since he became ill. A nurse sat on the other side of his bed all night - covering him up as he kept pulling off his covers and stopping him from pulling out his catheter and other lines, which were attached to him from every corner - we gave up trying to keep the oxygen mask on, as he was adamant that it was not staying. When I realised he was in no hurry to leave us I decided to go home for a shower and some sleep as I knew my brother was going in to see him and that he would stay with him for a while.
They examined him on Friday and discovered that he had two stomach ulcers which had burst. They tried to stop the bleeding and make him as comfortable as possible. Saturday they gave him a blood transfusion. I took mum into see him on Saturday and he was a lot less agitated and more at peace, but still with various lines going into him. I was amazed at the efforts being made to keep my dad alive, all the while wondering - why? He had no quality of life in the weeks preceding this episode and certainly would not have for the rest of his days - or weeks/months. The doctors and nurses didn't know that of course, so he was another patient to them and their job was to keep him alive. I just wanted him to stop breathing and find peace. I think the staff were relieved, however, that we were accepting of the fact that his chances were small.
I took my mum home again and returned to my husband feeling empty and sad - I wasn't sure how much dad was suffering at this point but I did know he was in a terrible state and wanted out. Another phone call came later that evening, advising that he was deteriorating and was unlikely to make it through the night, so I jumped in the car and drove back to the hospital with a detour to pick up my brother. A lovely doctor explained the situation to us - he was still losing blood and there was nothing more they could do, so it was now a matter of time. They were keeping him as comfortable as possible but that was all they could do. I just hoped his misery was to be at an end soon. He was now free of the lines, oxygen and blood transfusion and looking more peaceful. My brother and I spent the night with him, talking about favourite holidays and fun times - wondering if he could hear us or understand what we were saying. Dad was one of the good ones - a real family man whose children came first and he really did make sure our childhood was as perfect as could be. We didn't have holidays abroad or meals out or lots of new clothes etc, but what we did have was amazing holidays on the west coast of Scotland - we learned to love the mountains the way dad did, we learned how to ski on the cold, icy slopes of the Cairngorms, we learned how amazing it was to sail round the beautiful islands of Scotland's west coast, to rock hop, to catch mackerel with a line and lots of other outdoor experiences, which were his gifts to us. Dad loved his golf and my brothers followed him in this passion while I veered off in the direction of horses, which came from mum. Dad didn't comprehend this one, but he let me get on with it and paid for it unknowingly - mum was very clever at hiding the real cost of keeping a pony!
Dad was a clever man - he worked extremely hard as an engineer up until his retirement and then worked extremely hard at perfecting his golf swing - or trying to. He played right up until he was 85, when he had an unfortunate fall in the house and broke a vertebrae in his back and that was the start of the slippery slope downhill both physically and mentally.
He was an active participant in community matters, a very active captain of the golf club and a friend to many. He was a positive, cheery man with a good sense of humour. He was old fashioned in many ways - very private, always well dressed and courteous to everyone. He was never angry, never shouted or sweared but was firm and reasonable.
So we are now at Sunday afternoon and his body is refusing to give up. If his mind was active it would have already given up but I don't think that choice was his. Dementia is a cruel disease - and the lack of euthanasia in this country is equally cruel. I have found myself thinking a lot about how I can possibly avoid this horrific end - and avoid my daughter witnessing such scenes. I'm not sure how normal my memory loss as a 55 year old is - but I do worry about it. I want to put something in place so that if my quality of life is such that I don't know my own child, then I can be put to sleep. I'm not afraid of death - I've often wished for it since losing my son aged 17 - but would not wish any more grief on our daughter or husband or indeed my parents, who buried their own son, my brother, a year after we buried ours. However they will not be around when my time comes, my husband will have had enough of me and our daughter will understand. She will hopefully have her own family by then and they will support her as she does for me - albeit from the other side of the world. She is travelling just now - thankfully away from all of this and enjoying life as she should be at her age.
I don't have a plan as yet but will continue to find one. I hope I can finish this blog tomorrow with “dad passed away peacefully last night”. It's a long time to watch someone you love dying and listen to their laboured breathing and wishing it would stop.
Dad passed away at 11.15 on the Sunday night.