Right now, I’m camped out at my Dad’s house in the Northamptonshire countryside, mainly because he was rushed into hospital last Friday and is currently in the High Dependency Unit there. He’s a bit poorly but an awful lot better than he was when I first saw him in A&E on Friday afternoon. His problem is an oesophageal tear, which leaked blood into his gut and has grown steadily worse over a period of a couple of months. Of course, nobody – least of all my Dad – knew what it was that was ailing him, but he has had trouble with his ‘innards’ (as he calls them) for a while now and though he’d seen his local Doctor on several occasions, nothing he was prescribed had managed to sort the problem. Understandable, now that we know what the problem was/is.
Now, at least, he’s in the place where they are best able to offer help and is stable. However, my impression is that when you’re 87, any kind of medical procedure is fraught with risk and amongst my numerous concerns are how ‘diminished’ he may be assuming he emerges from this current crisis. Generally, his health is pretty good and people are always amazed when they are told his actual age. He looks a lot younger, though that might be something to do with superficial factors, such as the fact that he still has most of his hair, but he’s also still pretty sharp, mentally and that’s probably more of a factor.
The real issue is that he lives here alone and has done since my Mum died just over 7 years ago. I’ve blogged previously about his eating habits; his tendency to rely on microwaveable supermarket ready meals, his relentless sweet tooth and suchlike, but whatever the shortcomings of his diet, you have to say that as a ‘non-cook’, he has done pretty well in keeping body and soul together for the last 7 years. How much his dietary choices have contributed to the current situation is open to speculation, but assuming he recovers to the point where a return home seems imminent, I am hoping to arrange for the hospital nutritionist to sit down with him for half an hour and run through the kind of issues that should be governing his decisions when shopping for food. I think we are all aware of the virtues of ready meals; quick, cheap and convenient for a non-cook of advancing years, but – on the downside – also full of added salt, sugar and other chemicals that are not so user-friendly. The Partner, the Princess and myself have all had a go at my Dad about his over-reliance on this kind of food, but he has generally tended to laugh off such advice. He may be less dismissive of a professional opinion.
Anyway, we still have some way to go before we can start contemplating a return home. He may well be moved out of the HDU on to a general ward within the next 48 hours, which will be an important step forward, but I suspect any ideas about him being discharged can safely be shelved for a couple of weeks at least, depending on how quickly he progresses.
In the meantime, I am camped here, ostensibly close at hand, ‘just in case’ and travelling into the hospital every day to see him for half an hour or so – that’s normally as much visiting as he wants. For the rest of the time, I rattle around in a house that I never called home, wincing at the amount of ‘junk’ in my Dad’s fridge and trying – in vain I suspect – to get the bloodstains out of his bedroom carpet; vomiting a mixture of leaking blood and semi-digested food is one of the less appealing aspects of his ‘condition’.
Being marooned here is a weird experience on many levels; isolated from my real life but insulated by the rituals of daily visits to the hospital, buying food that I can eat from supermarkets in town whilst I dump the fruit flans and gone-over jam and other such ‘delicacies’ that have accumulated in his kitchen. There’s also the wartime hoarding mentality that was a characteristic of my late mother and which Dad now seems to have taken on. The most obvious manifestation of this is in the seemingly random piles of empty plastic and foil containers (from ready meals, naturally) dutifully washed out and set aside in odd corners of the kitchen, ‘just in case’……
When my Mum died, I filled at least four black sacks full of this stuff from ‘her’ kitchen and my Dad and I marvelled at her ability to squirrel away such rubbish. The chief exhibit would have to have been several large tupperware boxes, lodged at the back of a store cupboard and filled with those sachets of sugar that you get in motorway services and fast food outlets. I could understand this more if either of my parents took sugar in tea or coffee, but neither of them ever have or did. Part of my grieving for my Mum’s death was to spend an hour or so one evening systematically decanting these sachets into the house sugar-jar – I knew that it’s what she would have wanted me to do.
Otherwise, I now find myself contemplating the accumulated ‘junk’ of a lifetime contained in this house, knowing full well that one day in the not too distant future, it will be my unpleasant duty to sift through all this ‘stuff’ and make some pretty hard decisions about how much (or more to the point, how little) of it I will actually want to keep. Pictures, knick-knacks, encyclopaedic albums of photographs of people I never knew and places I’ve never been, dinner services that have never been unpacked from their boxes, bottles of wine that have long since turned to vinegar on the £7.99- from- Tesco wine rack in the hall…..it will be a Herculean task. What’s more, I’m willing to bet that at the back of some cupboard or other I will find another tupperware box full of sugar sachets…..