It’s been a difficult month. As those who’ve been following the story will know, it began with dad back in hospital with a heart scare. [In a nutshell, for those who might not have subsequently followed updates in the Comments under the previous Flickr image: in hospital for nearly two weeks, essentially awaiting continually cancelled angiogram; procedure eventually confirmed atrial fibrillation; probably the best outcome given the admission; more meds and back home on the recovery path.]
But momentum has been lost. One notable unwelcome side-effect of the hospital admission: the daily physio visits stopped and weren’t resumed when he returned home. When you have people visiting and encouraging you on a daily basis, only to suddenly have that disappear, it’s understandable to see that motivation can all too easily ebb, too.
Tiredness is certainly a factor, but potential negative feelings and associated frustrations will bring with them the next challenge in dad’s recovery. The other day his brother was helping him replace a handrail, but by refusing to acknowledge the creeping tiredness – as it was something he felt he should be able to do – it simply resulted in exhaustion and fractiousness. It’s a fine line.
And that will be the next challenge in dad’s rehabilitation. To defeat old habits, expectations and gnawing negative feelings and refocus on the momentum achieved prior to his hospital admission; all the while accepting that tiredness will be a likely running mate, but not necessarily the governing force.
Recovery isn’t just survival. Recovery isn’t just the good fortune of avoiding significant, lingering disability. Recovery is focussing on the achievable, then taking the next step.
I get messages most days asking about my dad. I generally reply saying things are progressing well, but slowly, and had intended to make this generalised update over the weekend – exactly two months after suffering his stroke [19th December].
But, suddenly, in a moment, everything changes…
Last week one of dad’s physio sessions decamped to the local golf driving range; a new experience for both girls supporting him, whose first job, after placing the basket under the wrong delivery chute, was to roll around scrabbling to pick up the 50 balls now randomly bouncing around the hard-stone-floor corridor. Considerable hilarity ensued. I wish I’d witnessed that. And to highlight my dad’s often twisted perspective, he later bemoaned his apparent loss of form without a shred of irony!
Other than that, the last few weeks have mainly been characterised by the inching forward in hand mobility and walking distance; the sheer tiredness associated with the mental and physical effort; and the small tremor in his hand, which the support staff believe is likely to be a combination of working it so hard, coupled with his own sense of anxiety and frustration.
Early yesterday afternoon my step-mum was set to go to the supermarket and dad happily decides he’s fit and well enough to go, too. His first return to routine mundanity; now a genuine challenge.
Apparently he tired quite quickly. My step-mum told him to go and sit down. He wouldn’t. Eventually, at the checkout, he admitted to feeling quite unwell. They got back to the car with him ‘wobbling all over the place’. Now a little concerned, my step-mum returned to the shop and asked if there were any first-aiders present. No less than four of them swiftly descended on the car and immediately called the emergency services.
The rapid-response paramedic arrived. ‘He was the strangest colour. His lips looked almost blue and he said he couldn’t see anything.’ The problem wasn’t obvious, but she wasn’t happy with the ECG trace, so an ambulance was called and off they went to A&E.
Time dragged on. Five hours later, amidst a hectic A&E with people on beds in corridors, and the ECG monitoring had revealed nothing. Dad was feeling better – though exhausted – and asked to go home. He was disconnected from all the wires and traces, slowly got dressed, and was pulling on his coat as the doctor approached, “I’m sorry. You’re not going anywhere…” The blood tests showed some abnormal results which suggest a problem with his heart.
24 hours later and the cardiologist still isn’t entirely sure what the problem is. Three men are next to each other in beds at the end of the ward, currently grouped together as ‘Mystery’. He’ll definitely be there all weekend now, with little further investigation likely before Monday.
I think he’s beginning to crave much less drama and mystery and considerably more mundanity. We all are.
Dad found himself back in A&E earlier this week.
I believe it’s called Münchhausen’s syndrome; when someone enjoys the medical attention so much, they seek out a little more. So, seemingly not content with the daily physio visits, dad now has an occasional district nurse visiting, too. Maybe it’s the uniforms?
He was out in the garden and went to come up the two steps into the house by placing the walking stick just inside the back door onto the small mat. As he transferred all his weight onto the stick, the mat suddenly slipped and he crashed to the ground, bashing his shin into the concrete step.
Normally that would hopefully be nothing more than damned painful in a fleeting moment, which it was. But when you’re on blood thinners, the smallest gash can now become the Trevi Fountain – minus the beautiful location and Italian accents.
So, with my step mum left hosing down the kitchen to avoid it looking like a crime scene, dad sets off to the local A&E with a helpful neighbour. Simple. Uh, no…
First A&E has 4+ hour wait, so it’s suggested they drive to another. Eventually get seen at the second one and is told the skin is too thin [on his shin] to stitch. They use paper stitches and tell him to come back if the blood seeps through. An hour later he’s back! More paper stitches and pressure pads and told to keep his leg raised for two days.
Up to that point, it had been a good week, though: walked nearly half a mile with physio; werewolf scar healing well; neat [expected] rainbow bruising down his chest; and one notable small victory… using some pipe insulation to make the fork easier to hold means he’s virtually back to eating a meal the conventional way.
Note: The above is an ingenious little device which works a little bit like a trumpet, er, without the trumpet! Current load setting: crush a grape! : )
“I’ve never been so pleased to see a ceiling,” he said.
Virtually the first words out of his mouth when my step-mum and I went in to see him after his operation late on Thursday evening.
After the relative high of leaving hospital and getting home for his birthday last week, this week was all about the build up to his carotid endarterectomy. And as the week drifted by, dad drifted a little further within himself; the risks and understandable fears of what was quickly galloping towards him looming large.
The morning of the operation began early, the hospital taxi duly arrived. My step-mum apparently offered to carry his bag. He politely declined, picked it up himself, strode off down the path, into the waiting car and away. My step-mum, slightly shocked, waved at the back of his head. He didn’t say goodbye. He didn’t look back. It’s astonishing to think that could’ve been their last moment together.
Later he shrugged the moment off, “I don’t like goodbyes. Besides, I was being positive. I had every intention of coming back.” He’s an unusual character all right, my dad.
The scar and associated bruising, as you can see, make him look the victim of a particularly brutal werewolf attack. However, given the relative invasiveness and delicacy of the operation, his recovery, again, is quietly remarkable; also a wonderful testament to the skills of the surgeon, Mr Neary. [Who, the day before, was so calm before the operation, he sat on the edge of the desk talking to my parents swinging his legs back and forth like a small boy.] You’ve got a special place in the hearts of this family, Mr Neary. Now, pull your socks up, tuck your shirt in and go tidy your room!