I’m an insomniac. I am rarely asleep before 3am. I have a friend ‘Colin’, who occasionally drunk dials me late at night. He’s never managed to wake me. Once I was actually about to go to bed. It was 4.30am. Lately, when the phone rings, I would like it very much to be Colin posing a difficult philosophical question with that complex, sozzled mind of his, because recently, it’s Dad.
Dad hasn’t been well. It’s not life-threatening, but what he has (and it’s his business, no one else’s) has put him out of action for the last couple of months. He is in his 70s and up until this year, quite active and healthy.
Dad is only semi-ambulatory right now. He can make it from room to room, but isn’t on his feet very long. And because he is our mother’s carer this has meant my brother and I have been running errands, doing chores and transporting both parents to the shops, doctors’ appointments and the like.
All of which is ordinary stuff . Many of you have done the same and more, over years of your lives. I’m writing this just to flag this shift in our lives. It’s a Post-It note to myself saying, “Here it comes, get ready”
A call after midnight means that Dad needs to go to Emergency. This is what happened tonight. I took the call and my brother – whom I share a house with – said, “Do you want me to go, too?” I said no. And he asked why not, and I realised that I had no compelling reason. I thought it was my turn. But driving to our folks’ place it turned out that he thought that I had done the last one. Whatever. I was glad of the company. Interestingly, he chose to bring a copy of VANITY FAIR with him. The Thackeray novel, not the Condé Nast magazine of pop culture, fashion and politics (Thanks Wikipedia).
Mum was going, too, it turned out. Suddenly I felt as if we were overly-personelled for this mission, but what the hell, the more the merrier. But Dad wasn’t merry or too talkative. He was doing his 1950s-male-holding-it-all-together thing. I could tell by the amount he was concentrating and not taking the piss, that he was in pain. The men in our family are stoics. (Okay, not me.) I remember the last time we were in Emergency, a guy about Dad’s age had been really screaming out in pain. I thought about that as I drove to Sir Charles Gairdiner Hospital.
Emergency at Charlie Gairdner’s was quiet. Even though today is a public holiday in Western Australia, it felt like the Sunday night it was. Dad got put through straight away. My brother and I were relieved. Mum went through his medical history for the nurse.
As you know, what you do in Emergency is wait. It was such a quiet night the only other people there were two groups of youngsters. A trio of girls who looked around 18 and who were dressed for a night out. One of them, Miss Redhead in a Green Dress had injured her foot which another of them had bandaged. As the night wore on, it sounded as if she had fallen down a flight of stairs and put that foot through a plate glass window. My eavesdropping skills were insufficient to tell whether this was the actual story or the tale she was going to tell other people. The other group was three guys and a girl, all in their early twenties and it seemed as if the guy they were waiting to see, had been in some kind of fight. One of the fellas, Mr Sandy Hair in a Maroon Sweater, enacted a scenario that involved a turn and swinging punch.
Actually, the two groups were so youthful and attractive that they looked like the background extras from the diner at Summer Bay. Later on, when I mentioned this to my brother he said, “There was an Asian guy and girl in there, when would you see that on HOME AND AWAY?”
We went in to see Dad and he was only halfway through what he needed to do. There was an ultra-sounding and some blood tests that still hadn’t happened. He had the same annoyed expression that I have inherited and would be wearing had I been in his place. It masks the fear. Annoyance seems more active somehow.
Back in the waiting area, an old episode of SKIPPY was playing on the telly. Chuck Faulkner was the special guest star. I couldn’t hear the soundtrack because some generic Kenny G style audio was playing over the P.A. system.
It was getting late. Mum suggested that I sleep. I scoffed at this, then spent the next half hour dozing in my chair. I woke to hear her explaining to my brother how good fish oil tablets are.
Around 4am we were able to take Dad home. He felt better. They staff had been able to help him. They had relieved his pain and eased his mind. He had a prescription. It seemed he might have got an infection from his trip stay in hospital a week ago. That was the working theory.
As I said, my 70-something father doesn’t have a life-threatening condition. He has these ridiculous genes. He is only a bit grey. Until recently he never looked his age. It fooled other people and it certainly fooled me. He’s never been frail, but I can see it coming. He is walking like he’s been mugged. And he’s not that sick. I worry about his having the energy to deal with whatever is coming next. Last week, he said to me, “I’ve never thought of myself as old, but the last few weeks. I’m really starting to feel it.”
Everything is okay. I know that. Everyone is home and asleep in their beds. I’m writing this and listening to Hall and Oates sing “I Can’t Go For That” on my iTunes. Maybe I’ll ring my mate Colin. I’ll sober-dial him and we can discuss the question of an Afterlife.