Like many people of my age, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with ageing and infirm relatives and in particular with my Uncle (93) and my Dad, who’s 85 and not at his best right now. About 14 years ago, Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer, something that announced itself with an outpouring of blood from his back passage. (Thankfully he is unaware of this blog and the fact that I am posting details of his health problems for the world to read.)
Anyway, he had a couple of recent re-occurrences of this bleeding and has had zillions of tests, cameras shoved up and down his digestive tract with no definite outcome. All his ‘readings’ are fine…heart, BP and so on. No-one in the medical profession can understand why he is bleeding, nor where the blood is coming from. Burst haemorrhoids seems to be the best guess, but my Dad confesses to feeling under the weather for the past month and when I arrived at his place yesterday, I would have to say he looked very pale and very 85.
To make matters worse, he has suffered a couple of recurrences of the malaria he picked up in Sri Lanka during World War 2. He gets, hot, he gets cold, he gets the shakes….. Normally, he only suffers this once a year, but now he’s had these episodes twice in a week; a sure sign that he is run down. Today, he was going to see his doctor to try and gain some understanding of what is happening to him, which will probably mean another round of tests…..not a popular outcome as far as Dad is concerned.
The annual recurrence of his malaria is something I can remember from my childhood….once a year, for no apparent reason, Dad would be in bed for about 24 hours, alternately shaking with cold or sweating buckets. It was accepted as ‘just one of those things’, but the reality is that Dad and his shipmates were sent out to a malarial zone with absolutely no prophylaxis against malaria….no quinine, no nothing…. makes me laugh when I hear British servicemen in Iraq or Afghanistan complaining about their lack of equipment; 70 years on and nothing has changed.
Ironically, about 4 years ago, Dad & I revisited the area of Central Sri Lanka (Minneriya) where he almost certainly picked up the disease. We stayed at nearby Dambullah and went out to dinner that night with our shirts buttoned at neck and wrist and any visible flesh absolutely slathered in mosquito repellent. This was a hotel adjacent to one of the numerous ‘tanks’ (artificial reservoirs) that the ancient Kings of Sri Lanka built in that area. The one at Dambullah was huge…about three-quarters of a mile across and 5 or 6 miles long – a sure haven for mosquitos, we thought. So, we sat there all night, buttoned up and sweating and never saw one mosquito; beautiful fireflies, yes and giant flying beetles the size of satsumas, but no mosquitos. I wish I could tell you why….perhaps they’ve cleared them or perhaps it was just the wrong time of year, but the only place we saw any mosquitoes – and then only a few – was at Unawatuna, near Galle in the far southwest of the island.
My Dad’s ship, HMS ‘Victorious’ on fire off Okinawa in 1945 following a ‘kamikaze’ raid. This wasn’t the only flying peril he had to face…..
During the War, Dad wasn’t so lucky; the malaria was, as is its nature, episodic and although he was a regular visitor to Sick Bay, he was just about able to keep going through the kamikaze raids until the very end of hostilities. In fact, on VJ Day in 1945, he was on board his ship (HMS Victorious) in Sydney harbour, but was too ill to go ashore and enjoy the uniquely Aussie hospitality that was no doubt on offer. Subsequently, he was shipped home and lodged in a military hospital at RNAS Culham, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire.
My Mother used to like to tell the story of how when she first met Dad at a St Valentine’s Day dance in 1946, he was still yellow from his illness. He must have had a powerful line in chat to persuade her that he was actually not infectious and that the malaria was on its way out…which it was, apart from the annual ‘flashbacks’ such as the ones he has suffered this week.
On Sunday, Dad read out the names of the Fallen in Two World Wars at a service at the small War Memorial in his village. He would have had his medals on, of course, but there are other souvenirs of the War that are less obvious but far more debilitating. The malaria will be with him for as long as he’s around, of course, but with his other health problems he could really have done without it right now. Let’s hope modern medicine is able to offer him some relief.