My father appears to have discovered the secret of one hand clapping.
I stared at him quizzically. He knew I was there, but he was somewhere in his own world, flickering his hand back and forth, sometimes slowly, sometimes faster, for no apparent purpose yet extremely focussed in his conspicuous task. ‘What are you doing?’ I eventually asked. He laughed his newly lopsided laugh, “I’m clapping.” Meanwhile, his left hand remained entirely motionless, steadfastly refusing to join in the applause. It would seem that in his head he was indeed clapping, but his eyes revealed something entirely different. I say ‘eyes’, but his left, of course, currently another casualty of muscular dysfunction. “Sounds good to me, ” he said, and laughed again.
After yesterday’s lurching sideways shock, it was good to have an important part of him back; lucid again, much brighter in the eyes, yet no longer in hospital: “I’m at the Upton Inn.” A dry sense of humour makes for a strange bedfellow at times like these, but it was genuinely him. And I think he’s going to need the sense of humour in the weeks and months ahead.
My dad. Alan. Now rapidly approaching his 79th birthday. And yet, even with his two hip replacements, an already dodgy arm and a chronic neck problem that was meant to see him attend the pain management clinic early in the New Year… this time last week, he played 8 holes of golf! Moaned about the pain, the freezing weather and his current form, roughly in that order.
They say the sun always shines on the righteous. One way or another, of late, I’m beginning to feel increasingly like the Chilean miner they accidentally left behind! And now, I’ve fumbled around in my pockets, lit a match, and blinking into its shadowy light, there’s my dad slumped in the corner.
Today was a bit of a shock; even after yesterday. When I got to the hospital, my step-mother had made it in a few minutes before me. I’d last seen her after leaving him yesterday and was relatively upbeat, in terms of reassuring her that he was still in there. But now, we both sat in front of this man neither of us barely recognised; he still had moments of apparent lucidity, but it was a curious mix of references that seemed to be combining leaking memories, displacement and gallows humour. And on the outside, this shell of a man, now inescapably etched with the remnants of that uncontrollable fire. A man, quite literally, cut in two: the right side trying desperately to hold onto our memory of him; the left side taking on the appearance of a once much loved, but long since abandoned, home.
The stroke team have been excellent. And, Jo, exceptional. She gently took our slightly shell-shocked selves into a quiet room and sat patiently with us, explaining and fielding our scatter-gun questions as they randomly crowded out the tiny room. At the end, though, we were no longer under any illusions. He has suffered a ‘really big stroke’. And, protracted recovery notwithstanding, for a while, even with the medication on board, he remains at significant risk for another event and also the threat of pneumonia and other infections.
The recovery – if, when and how much of it comes – will be measured in weeks and months.
Today was their wedding anniversary. Are you still going out tonight? “Of course. We’re going out to the Upton Inn.” Are you going to drive? “Why not?”
It began some time around 4am on Monday [19 December] morning. “It was really weird, ” he later told me, “… everything seemed to happen in slow motion.”
My step-mother heard the fall, and found my father, a contortion of awkward limbs on the bathroom floor. Naked, initially he seemed more concerned by the preservation of his dignity than being aware of the relative urgency of dealing with the fire that had been stealthily ignited in his brain.
I received a call a few hours later, still not entirely sure what the situation was. However, when I arrived at A&E that situation was suddenly snapped into sharper focus; clearly no longer the possible issues associated with his chronic neck and arm problems. The fire had been raging deep within the very essence of him. The diagnosis now confirmed as an ischaemic/infarct stroke: a blood clot on the brain.
Although clearly exhausted, I was heartened by his relative lucidity; recalling the moment he’d got out of bed to go to the bathroom and various things that had happened since his admission and in the days before. But now here we were, together, alone, for a seemingly endless few hours, awaiting a bed for admission. He drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally complaining of the pain in his head, and his hip – he has two hip replacements. A man, in his later years, of complex health.
Time crawled, a degree of surreality as the A&E whirled around outside my bubble. Eventually, though, he was admitted to a ward and the dust began to settle on the day. Finally, now more relaxed and comfortable, self-deprecating and dry sense of humour in tact – briefly naked again, surrounded by three nurses, he remarked on the apparent vulnerability regarding their disconcerting use of the word ‘stroke’ – I kissed the soft white hair of his head, he thanked me for everything and I headed home; I was told the next day or two would reveal more.