This has been one of the worst weeks of my life ever, and to write this particular post is extremely difficult. Trouble is where do I start!
The family tradition on a Sunday morning for over 25 yrs has been for my brother, sister-in-law and myself to meet up at my dads bungalow and spend a few hours with him chatting, laughing, drinking tea, coffee and just generally catching up on the week’s news and goings on.
Instead of going to the bungalow this Sunday for that tradition we have gone there for the first time without Dad being there today, or ever again.
Just a little over a week ago on the Friday, my father had to be rushed into hospital with severe chest pains. This was a similar episode to what he had experienced just prior to Christmas. Unfortunately, this time the problems were far more severe and far more complicated than any of us could imagine, including the teams of doctors who have been looking after my Dad this past week.
The most difficult thing to comprehend was that even up to a few days before he was admitted to hospital last week, he was still a very proud and very independent man, apart from recently having a cold which had gone to his chest, he was still going out on his mobility scooter, going down his local shops, attending the local club to see his many friends every Monday and so on. My father had experienced severe arthritis in his feet and ankles for many years, suffered a heart problem which caused very low blood pressure, was blind in his one eye due to Macular Degeneration and was starting to lose the sight in his other eye, he had other arthritic joints including in his hands, and over the last 5 to 6 years his hearing was not very good. But despite all this he was determined to remain independent for as long as he possibly could, and refused point-blank to have carers to look after him. For an 84-year-old man he had a lot of health problems and disabilities, but was very determined not to let it beat him.
When he was admitted to the hospital a little over a week ago, it was obvious he was quite poorly, but until 3 or 4 days later we were not sure how poorly. To begin with he had developed ‘borderline pneumonia’ which despite aggressive treatment with high doses of iv antibiotics to try to bring it under control, just didn’t work, it basically turned into full pneumonia, which in a matter of hours developed even more complications. I don’t want to go into all the details, but suffice to say one problem lead to another then another, and by Wednesday morning we received a phone call that required us to attend the hospital out of visiting times due to have having now been moved onto one of the High Dependency Unit (HDU) for Cardiac Care (CCU)
When my brother, sister-in-law and I arrived there we were shocked to see Dad all wired up to tubes, leads and connected to several different monitors and numerous drips. Following a meeting with the HDU team and the consultant we had a clearer picture of what was happening. The news was not good, but despite that they were hopeful that having identified yet another bug in his system, that by bombarding it with more antibiotics in the next 12 or so hours they could deal with the problem and hopefully bring it under control. However, we were also told that if this did not happen then it would be the worse case scenario, due to his main organs now starting to go into failure.
The three of us sat with dad at his bedside all through the afternoon, evening into the night, early hours of the morning hoping and praying for some improvement, some sign that the antibiotics were killing the bugs and sepsis in his now very old and frail body. Throughout all this time the HDU nurse constantly monitored him, took blood gas samples and made sure he was comfortable and never in any pain or distress. The HCA’s kept us going with copious amounts of tea, coffee, water, biscuits and toast. This was not the first time I had found myself in this position, I was there for my Mom, and a few months before that I was there for a very dear friend Pat, but even having been down this road before it does not make it any easier when it happens again.
Just before 8.30 am Thursday morning the doctors did their ward rounds and came and took us aside to tell us that the blood tests throughout the night had shown no sign of improvement, and that his main organs were now in failure and the septicemia had gone past the point of being reversed. They were very sorry but there was nothing more they could do for Dad. It was the words every family never wants to hear.
We had to make the agonizing decision of agreeing to unhook him from the all the monitors and discontinue his medications except sedation and pain relief, all this however was to be held off until we had managed to have a think, then go home get freshened up and be back at the hospital by 11.00 am. Once we were back in the unit the much dreaded process of taking away dads medications and tubes was started. We knew all that was left for us to do was sit with Dad, talk to him and place him in Gods hands. He was very peaceful lying there, and we could see that his pain was well under control. We sat with him throughout the rest of Thursday, into the night and into the early hours of Friday morning. It was just before 6.30 am on Friday the 8th April, the day of my 51st birthday that whilst we were holding his hands, dad slipped peacefully away.
It is still very hard to believe he has left us, but knowing he is now at peace and with Mom is very important to me.
I cannot thank the NHS medical staff of Solihull Hospital Ward 17 and the brilliant team on CCU who did everything that was within their power to try to help save Dads life. They never gave up on him until they knew there was a point of no return, and that there was nothing else they could try to do to save him.
In one way we look at it as being a blessing, had he survived all of these complications of liver, kidney damage along with his other health problems we have come to realise this means he would have lost the one thing that had remained very important to him, his independence.
My Father was very kind, loving, considerate man. He had been a wonderful Father, Husband, Grandfather, Uncle and a friend to many who knew him.
Dad was born Francis Henry Westwood (known as Frank) on 6th November 1931, and in the early 1950s he was conscripted to do National Service. He trained as a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer or REME for short, and he was based out in Egypt during the Suez Canal Zone Crisis. It was not until 2003 that our government finally recognized those in the National Service who were involved in that conflict, and agreed to finally allow them their rightly deserved medals, dad being one of those.
I have some wonderful memories of my Dad. My brother and I have a lot of stories that he has told us over the years. we owe our love of gardening, angling and knowledge of country life to Dad. His passions in life were his family, they always came first, his gardening and fishing.
Death Is Nothing At All – Henry Scott Holland
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.
Rest in peace Dad, now reunited with Mom and all the other family members who had gone before you.