If you were with us in August, you'll know that my Father suffered from inoperable and aggressive bowel cancer, which, after stealing a look at his notes this morning, had metastasised, or spread, to other parts of his body. He was given between three and twelve months to live, and he lasted for five.
He'd had a couple of falls recently that had taken it out of him a bit, one particularly nasty one earlier this week that had grazed his arms quite badly. But as was his style, and the style of many ex-servicemen, he refused to go to the Doctor and get them checked out - on the basis that he "had had worse". My wife and I took it in turns to go and see him, her one day and I the next, after I finished work.
Last night I let myself into his house to find that he had fallen after answering the door to someone and had lain in an unheated room, with his front door ajar for a number of hours. The paramedic, who arrived within minutes of me calling 999 declared him Hypothermic, with a temperature so low that it didn't even show as a number on his electronic thermometer.
You know what I did between calling the emergency services and their arrival? Remembering all the time that I'm a qualified first aider?
I did nothing, I froze, I could not think what I should be doing... Luckily the guy on the end of the phone kept reminding me to breathe, otherwise I would have probably forgotten to do even that simple task.
The ambulance crew asked me all sorts of questions as we drove to the hospital, and every one of my answers were suffixed with 'I think' or 'But I'm not sure'
I sat in the waiting room for about three hours whilst they tried to bring his body temperature up to something approaching normal, going no faster than one degree per hour, so that they didn't introduce any extra strain onto his heart. When they finally let me in to see him, we didn't recognise each other, there was just a frail old man swaddled in blankets, staring into the distance. I sat with him for a while longer, watching tears forming in the corners of his unblinking, unmoving eyes.
When the nurses came, they asked me if I could leave the cubicle so that they could put him on a 'comfier bed' ready to take him up to the ward later, when his tests had come back.
I left the Cubicle,
then I left Resus,
then I left Accident & Emergency
then I left the Hospital and got a taxi home.
I felt so completely useless, almost in the way.
When the phone rang this morning at 05:30, I already knew why, the Ward Sister said that his status had declined, or some-such bland phrase and that I should probably come in as soon as I could.
He was in a side-room when I got there, which dissolved any last real threads of hope I had. The Sister led me in and explained that all they were doing was making sure that he was comfortable, she asked how I took my coffee and left us alone. I looked down at the shell of the man who had single-handedly raised me since I was eleven years old. I asked him if he could hear me, I asked him if he knew how much I loved him.
Then I got angry and asked him if he knew what he was doing to everyone that he was leaving behind.
Then I watched as the shallow up and down movement of his chest slowed and stopped.
I thanked the Doctor, who explained that he hadn't suffered - That's the done thing I guess.
I thanked the Sister, who had given me the coffee and the 'Dealing with bereavement' booklet.
I walked the length of the ward, towards the exit with what I imagined to be the stoic, dignified stride of a gunslinger walking away from his last fight, determined to make it outside before I broke into a million pieces, I almost made it too.