I wake, though I cannot open my eyes. Everything seems so much effort. I draw breath. A butterfly hand takes mine.
“It won’t be long now,” a distant voice says
I draw another slow, painful, rattling breath. I don’t think I want to do that again, and as I let it out in one long, slow hiss, a voice says “Time of death, 09:36”.
I’m left thinking was that it?
I wake. But I thought I’d died? Maybe that was someone else. Still cannot open my eyes, still difficult to breath. I hear noises of a busy place around me.
“John?” A voice in my ear. “Can you open your eyes for me John?”
No, I bloody can’t, I think, but a finger insists on pulling up one eyelid, letting in painful light. I squirm from the finger and my eye closes.
“Don’t reckon it’ll be long now, do you?” another voice questions.
“No. Are you going on your break then? It’s almost 10:30.”
Made it past 09:36 then.
A hand takes mine. “Dad?” It feels comforting. The voice talks for a while about things I don’t know, then leans over me, the perfume pleasant in this otherwise sterile place. A kiss on the brow, and “See you tomorrow dad.”
Later another hand takes mine, this one larger, stronger. “Hello dad.” A kiss on the brow, a tie flaps in my face. Later, “Dad, we love you, you know that. But if you wanted to let go, if you feel it’s time to go to mum, then that’s okay.”
I wake up. Still here then. Another day like yesterday, pain, breathlessness. I spend most of the day with my eyes closed; too much effort to do otherwise. I listen to the chatter though.
“How was your week off, Jade?” asks one nurse.
“Ace,” says a voice. “Didn’t get home till 11:30 last night though. Then I had to be in here at 6 this morning. So much for a holiday.”
They prod, poke, open my eyes for me, not that I can see much when they do, too blurred, so I close them again. Hands come to hold mine later, both the small and the large, call me dad. I think I manage to squeeze them a little.
Strange, today someone asks for Jade, but is told that she’s on holiday until tomorrow. But didn’t she come back yesterday?
I’ve been in the hospital for almost two weeks now. I’m still ill, better than I was, though I’ve hardly eaten. I’d like to take myself to the bathroom, but have to suffer the indignity of pretty young nurses wiping my aged arse.
One of them is Jade, who is looking forward to a weeks holiday.
The two people who call me dad come each day, the woman in the afternoon, the man in the evening. Both are late middle-aged, both strangers to me, though I’m starting to look forward to their visits. It breaks up the day. I think the woman is called Lisa, the man Martin. At least that’s what I can make out from what they say to me. Sometimes they bring significant others with them, but whether they’re married or not, whether they have children or not, I can’t be sure, though they talk about other people.
I wake up in a strange place. I wake up in a house, in a bed. Where’s the hospital gone? Surely I’d remember if I’d been discharged. Not yet dawn, but I need the bathroom, so I try to get myself out of bed. Now that’s something I couldn’t do yesterday.
Except I can’t do it now, not very well.
Too late I see the Zimmer frame as I tumble to the floor. I find I cannot move, have to stay where I am on the floor. And there’s a chilling draft coming underneath the door. When I fell, I caught hold of the bedclothes which helped break my fall, but they’re now in a pile round my feet and I find I cannot reach them.
Eventually I hear a door open.
“Hello John. It’s only me.” I’m unable to answer and there’s more calls for ‘John’. Eventually she finds me. “John, can you hear me? It’s me John, Heather.” Like I know who Heather is.
Calls are made, and while we’re waiting for the ambulance, Lisa arrives. A now familiar face at least. She rides with me in the ambulance, and when we get to the hospital, Martin’s there too. They wait with me while doctors question me. Some answers I don’t know, though Lisa and Martin do. I’m 95 apparently. Who’d have thought.
Temperature and blood samples taken. I’ve got a chill, a result of lying on the floor in the draft. Not good at my age. I’m kept in, and Martin and Lisa leave.
I wake up in the house again. I look at the Zimmer frame, wonder if I should give it a go. Gingerly I sit on the side of the bed, grab onto the Zimmer and hoist myself to my feet. Slowly I shuffle out of the bedroom into an unfamiliar hallway, look in the other rooms until I find the bathroom. Oh, the joy of being able to take a pee in private.
All the places I need appear to be on the same level. Bungalow? Or flat? I shuffle further and find myself in the kitchen. I can see out into the garden. Bungalow then. There’s a kettle, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to use it. Better wait for – what was her name? Heather?
I look in the living room, see a well-used chair facing a TV. I manage to sit there, find the remote and press buttons until I get a picture. Not sure how to change the channel, but this will do for now.
The kitchen door opens.
“Hello John. It’s only me.”
“No, it’s Julia today, John.” Another stranger then. “Haven’t you had a cuppa yet? You’ve usually had one by now. Let’s get you washed and dressed and then we’ll get you some breakfast.”
It’s good to know that I can make myself a cup of tea, though not so good to know that I again have to put up with a young women getting an eyeful of my shrivelled body as I take a shower. At least I’m given a soapy sponge to wash between my legs.
She dries and dresses me, while I eat breakfast. It’s only cereal, but I savour it so much more than hospital food. She chats as she fills in a sheet in a folder. “I’ve taken your lunch out the freezer,” she says. “It’s already in the microwave, so you only need to heat it up.”
Once she has left, I take a look at the folder. It says the date 16th April 2017 and she’s filled in that I hadn’t made myself a cup of tea today. But I didn’t know I was allowed. I can see that someone called Lucy came yesterday morning, but I remember that was Heather, and there’s no mention of my fall. I watch TV, doze, look at the birds in the garden. At lunchtime I heat the meal in the microwave. For tea, I find bread and some ham for a sandwich. In the evening, the phone rings. It’s Lisa asking if I’m okay. I let her talk, glad to hear her now familiar voice.
I get up, go for a pee and then get myself a cuppa. I watch TV while waiting for Heather to come.
The door opens. “Hi John.”
“No, it’s Lucy today. How are you feeling this morning?”
I’m cleaned, dried and sat back in my chair, breakfast given. Once Lucy has gone, I look at the book again.
There’s Lucy’s entry, the one she’s been writing today. But that was the one I saw yesterday, when Julia was here. And whatever Julia wrote yesterday, that’s gone.
I look at the sheet. W/B 13th April 2017. It says Julia Monday, Lucy Tuesday & Wednesday, Julia Thursday, Heather Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Yesterday Julia filled in the line Thursday, saying I hadn’t made a cup of tea. Today Lucy filled in for Wednesday.
I looked hard at what Lucy had written for both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tuesday. Today’s Tuesday, though I know that yesterday was Wednesday. Lucy came today, and once she’d left, I checked the book. There was no entry for Wednesday, only for Tuesday.
Sunday. When Angela, yes we’re on the previous week, yet another rota of carers, when she comes and gets me ready, she asks, “Which shirt do you want to wear to Lisa’s today?” I just point vaguely, not sure what she’s on about.
Later in the morning, two men come round. I’m not sure who they are, though the older one might have been someone standing in the background behind Lisa when I was in hospital. “Hi grandad,” says the younger of the two.
“Are you ready then?” asks the older.
Angela indicated I would be going to my Lisa’s today. Are these men taking me there? Or somewhere else? So, not knowing who these men are, I allow them to take me out and bundle me in a car.
No, that’s not quite right, they don’t bundle me, they make sure I have a stick with me, help me into the car. Nice car, Mercedes. Always wanted one of them.
At least I think I did.
The younger man asks me if I watched the match last night. I’ve no idea if I did or not, because it’s not happened to me yet, so I say I fell asleep in front of the telly, which I know I will do tomorrow.
“Oh grandad, that’s not like you. It was epic.” And he went on to describe all the moves, all the goals.
We arrive at a nice house, a strange house to me, and I’m helped out of the car, into the house. There’s Lisa. I don’t love her as much as I should a daughter, I hardly know her, but at least it’s a familiar kindly face. I dare say the rest will come with time.
I listen and make note of the names of these people. David is her husband, William her eldest grandson. Then there’s Greg and Carrie, William’s parents. Not quite sure which is my grandchild, Greg or Carrie. They also talk about Richard and Debs, whoever they are.
I’d make a note of all these names, make a family tree. But I suspect that by tomorrow, it won’t be there anymore.
Over the coming weeks – or is it the previous weeks? – I learn more about my family. I learn the days when I can expect family members, though sometimes they just turn up, saying they phoned the previous day. Sure enough, the following day they ring and say they’re coming the next day, which they already have.
One morning Lisa rings up, wishes me Happy New Year. I wish her the same, asking if she had a good New Years Eve. She asks if I’ve recovered from Christmas yet. I say just about, though I’m not sure what she’s referring to.
Seven days later I find out. They all descend on me, Lisa and her family, Martin and his family. Together with their children, their grandchildren, and yes, there’s even a great grandchild. And another on the way by the looks of it.
Fortunately they’d brought dinner with them, because I can’t see that I shopped, and they all come together to prepare it. I must say it’s lovely to see them all, but I’m glad when they leave, it was so noisy with everyone at once.
And of course, the previous day Heather wishes me Merry Christmas before she leaves.
I adjust to my topsy-turvey life.
I’ve a small whiteboard, and I take to checking that each morning. If someone rings up and says they’re coming round, I make a note. If there’s a football match on that I think William might watch, I make a note of the score, the scorers. Then if I wake up and there’s something on the board, I’ll be prepared.
In late September, both Lisa and Martin come to get me. “Are you ready dad?”
Not sure what they’re on about, I allow myself to be taken out for a ride in Martin’s Mercedes.
They take me to the cemetery. There I let them lead me to a grave. Rose Bardill, my wife. While Lisa arranges the flowers, I look at the headstone.
She’s been dead ten years.
Afterwards we go to a pub and have some lunch, raise a glass to my wife, a woman I don’t know, their mother.
As the months slip by, my hip started to ache, I got slower. If time was rolling back, wasn’t I supposed to be getting stronger? I mentioned it to Heather.
“Well, what do you expect. That was a pretty nasty fall you had. Your hip’s still healing. Have you taken a painkiller today?”
And she fished through the plethora of tablets I have to take each day and fished one out, and as I swallowed it, I was thinking, oh bugger, another fall to look forward to, another stay in hospital.
A few days later – or sooner depending on your point of view – it wasn’t Heather or Julia or any of the others who came to see me. It was someone called Linda. Different uniform. She said this would be the last day she would check me out, as my new carers would start the next day, and all the best for the future. I was feeling quite fragile by that time, and spent most of the day in my chair. Lisa and Martin came round to fuss over me as well.
I had a sense that the time of the broken hip was near, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Linda came the next couple of days, and on the third day, Lisa came and sat with me while I had another visitor, Tamsin, who was there to assess my needs and arrange for permanent visits to help me get up every morning.
The following morning, I woke in hospital. “I’m going home today,” I said to a nurse.
“Don’t think so,” she said. “I think they want to keep you in a few more days yet.”
Except I was blocking a bed, and they had to get rid of someone. I smiled smugly at the nurse as Martin wheeled me out of the ward.
The following couple of weeks I spent in hospital, recovering from an operation I hadn’t had yet. Then came the day when I had an operation on the hip I hadn’t broken yet. A couple of days later, I woke in my own bed.
So, todays the day, I thought. I looked round for my Zimmer frame, but of course I hadn’t been given it.
Very gingerly I got out of bed, made my way to the bathroom. My hip feels better today, but I know that’s about to change. In readiness, I unlocked the back door. I made myself a cup of tea before sitting to watch the TV and wait for the carers. By 9:30, I was wondering where they were, and realised there was no blue folder, no carers. I had to get my own breakfast, get my own shower.
It happens as I’m getting out the shower. There’s a sharp knock on the back door and I slip. It’s the postman delivering a parcel for the neighbours.
An ambulance is called and I’m taken in, diagnosed with a broken hip. At least it’s done now, I know I had my op a couple of days ago, and tomorrow when I wake up in my own bed again, that episode in my life will be over and done with.
Now some years have gone. I know that in the coming months I will need to mourn my wife, watch her die, care for her as she becomes less ill.
Lisa took some stuff away today, the last, well almost the last, of Rose’s stuff. I’ve kept her wedding ring. And photos of course. Some of the stuff Lisa will keep, some will go to charity. I’ve already given Martin my good watch, at least I will do in a few days time. In the coming days and weeks, as I wake up to be surrounded by more and more of Rose’s things, I hope I’ll start to get a sense of her, the sort of person she was, the sort of wife she’ll be. The sort of husband she’ll expect me to be. The sort of life we’ll have together.
But who is this Rose Bardill. We were married over sixty years, but were we happy, or have we just tolerated each other? We made two lovely children together, but am I a virgin? I’ve no experience of sex that I can remember, but I know that as she gets younger, there’ll come a time when I’ll be expected to be proficient at sex, as a husband should be with his wife.
And if the times are bad, then at least they’ll get better as we get younger. And if they’re good? Then as I lost my wife to death going forward, I will have to face losing her to her not knowing me as I continue to go back.