94: A long old night

When there is a trauma that is when the importance of family comes to the fore.  Our trauma is seeing dad die by degrees, literally fading away.  Last night I stayed with mum and dad.  We have a sort of routine going – either Andrew or I sit with mum and dad, Phoebe fills in so that everyone gets a bit of down time.  Mum is stoic and mainly stays at home as she doesn’t want to be far from dad..  We all have supper together in the sitting room, eating on our laps and then Nick takes the plates, etc home.

The GP had been in touch earlier in the day and had said if dad was breathless then don’t use the oramorph but phone for the district nurses via the out of hours doctor to get an additional injection of some of the drugs in the syringe driver.   Mum and I had just finished watching the news and were starting to get ready for bed and we felt that dad’s breathing was laboured, fast, he was hot and coughing.  I’d been promised by the St Luke’s nurse that there would be no struggling but he was and it was terrible to see and hear.   Mum held his hands and stood over the bed, without her crutch.  He tried to tell her about all the fun they’d had and not to cry.  It is terrible to see your mum cry.

I phoned and within the hour the district nurses arrived.  They administered more drugs by injection in dad’s thigh and he seemed to settle. One nurse was from New Zealand and very bright and breezy, the other a local girl and a third generation nurse.  Both were efficient, friendly and they managed to find the flat once I went out in the road and waved them down  as the flat is a bit difficult to find.  They were reassuring and said we were to phone if we had any worries, we could phone as often as we wished to get advice.  The amazing thing is that these two women had a huge geographical area to cover – all of Plymouth, north to Tavistock, east to Kingsbridge and west to Liskeard.   They left about midnight and mum went to bed.  I dismantled the sofa and took the big cushions into the hall.  I made myself a nest with my daughter’s sleeping bag and tried to lie still so I could listen to both mum and dad.   Both were fairly settled and I lay in the hall between the sitting and bedrooms – both had very different breathing.  About 2pm dad was breathless and restless so I sat with him for a while and then mum woke.  This was the pattern of my night shift.  About 6am mum was up and we gave dad a few sips of tea and a banana.  He is so polite, says thank you for looking after me, it is all lovely. Talking is now a huge effort.

My brother arrived at 7am so I could go home and sleep for a couple of hours.  We reassembled the sofa, made everyone a cup of tea and then I drove home in the dark wearing my pyjamas and dressing gown (I had my boots on not my slippers).  I parked up on our drive, dodged the showers and crawled into bed.

I think I slept for a couple of hours and then got up.  Mum had sent a text and Nick I went shopping to M&S – supper tonight will be a curry.

It feels strange to do normal things during this abnormal time.  Walking around M&S all I noticed was the number of old people who did their shopping there.  From M&S Nick dropped me at Derriford Hospital to go to the Primrose Foundation.  The clinic had an open day and Maddy, the fundraiser had organised for different companies to come and display their wares.  As I walked to the Primrose Centre I bumped into an acquaintance from Stoke who’d been dad’s consultant when on Birch Ward as a day patient.  He asked how he was and the conversation took a bit longer than he expected – he is a thoroughly decent chap and explained about how he’d looked after his elderly mother.  He sent everyone his best.

At the Primrose Centre I met Joy, we had worked together 20 odd years ago and remained firm friends. Her dad had died many years ago and she is a  kind soul.  She now works at the Primrose and is welcome sight for all the women who pass through the doors as she is compassionate and caring (as well as being really good fun and a laugh when you need her to be). The stalls included some Bora Beads in the Primrose colours of yellow and grey, a scarf or hat stand, a wig stand, an opportunity to sign up to a fitness suite, a tattooist – was I interested in having a nipple done… not at the moment but who knows maybe in the future, a hospital pharmacist had a stand as with her chemical knowledge she made fragrance free natural lotions and a stand called “Nicola Jane” which sold mastectomy bras and swimsuits.  They also had prosthetics and stick on nipples.  Sally, one of the Dare 2 ladies and I were interested in these as we both had DIEP reconstructions.  We took the selection box of nipples – different widths, projections and colours, off to the ladies and tried them on.   Another surreal moment in a surreal week.. two women, two reconstructions, two “normal boobs”, one loo – admiring which silicon nipple looked the best and most natural.  We fell about laughing at the incongruity of the situation.  We both purchased some.  My 4.5cm, medium colour, mid projection nipples will be coming in the post for a princely sum of £17.  I expect the postie will enjoy delivering them.

From Derriford I walked to the flat and joined Phoebe, mum and one of her friends from singing.  We all sat around and chatted quietly whilst dad snoozed in the hospital bed.

Later Andrew, Teresa, Bonnie the dog and Nick came up.  We cooked up the M&S curry and ate on our laps.  We all looked absolutely done in.  The new routine included Nick bringing up plates and us taking home everything to put through the dishwasher.  As we ate we watched a programme about the Tower of London it included the Band of the Royal Marines and a ship’s company carrying the “tax” or dues into the Tower in a rum fanny.  This is a pertinent point as a few days ago – possibly last week, I’m not sure as time has blurred we had an “O” group meeting to discuss the funeral plans with Dad as chair and his friend Trevor as chief organiser.  After the funeral we are to go to the New Continental hotel for tea and sandwiches and there has to be a rum fanny so that those who want can have a tot to toast Alexander Hendry Geddes Macleod BEM, MSM.

A Marie Curee nurse was booked for the night shift, she phoned at 9pm and arrived at 10.  Before she arrived Andrew and Teresa called the district nurses again as dad’s breathing was very laboured and he was administered with another injection which made him more comfortable. We’d headed home as Miles, my youngest and his fiancee, Corey were coming home for a night.

Once they were home safe and sound, we all slept – we all have our phones next to the bed for the call to come back.  It didn’t come.


Author: fionaosmaston

I live in Plymouth, Devon with my husband Nick and near my parents Sandy and Sheena. Our three children, Marcus, Phoebe and Miles are grown up. I am a geographer and love teaching Geography. My current role is as an Assistant Vice Principal in an inner city comprehensive school where I lead on coaching and initial teacher training. In August 2017 I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma and following a skin sparing mastectomy and endrocrine/hormone treatment I am now awaiting a final reconstruction. These views are my own and writing this story has helped me come to terms with where I am in this interlude of life which has been dominated by breast cancer.

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