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Sunday, 26 June 2016

A VIEW OF THE TREES




The family is summoned by the Consultant dealing with my hospitalised mother. So we make our way across Devon and into the City for a mid-day meeting, armed with many pound coins for the extortionately priced car park and more concerned about finding a parking space than the meeting itself. We know what the meeting is about, you see. A ‘CT Scan’ has been the subject of some scrutiny amongst the medical professionals, and it’s time to decide how to move forward.

How exactly do you break bad news to an eighty-six year old person? In the case of my father, who was seventy two and suffering from extensive invasion of his body by this hideous disease cancer, we all failed miserably. This was more than 30 years ago, and things were different then, although no less clinical. No-one communicated what was going on. At one point my quiet, slightly vague darling father confided to me that he had been told that a ‘growth’ had been found, but that ‘they’ did not know whether it was ‘cancerous’. He then observed: “I think it is.” How could they possibly not have known? He died a short time later, riddled with tumours. But mine was the only conversation we held about it, despite visits to hospital, home and hospice from his brothers and friends, none of whom managed to broach the subject with him. I am convinced that he was well aware of what was happening, but couldn’t face it.

This terrible experience clouds the minds of my brother and me as we sit and wait for the Consultant to arrive. We are squeezed around my mother’s bed in a ward populated by elderly women, some of whom sleep as though dead, others rattling whatever they can find to try and get the attention of the woefully small number of staff. My husband sits further away, hating the place, thinking of his own mother who died in her early fifties of lung cancer.

My mother is desperate to go home. She keeps telling everyone that she wants to see ‘her trees’ – which is explained every time by my brother as: ‘she has a wonderful view through her window’. The Consultant is so late that someone appears with a tray of lunch. There is no space for anyone to help my mother, as she sits at a table far too high for her and attempts to enjoy a meal squeezed on to a tray. I try to make some room on the table, and notice that her left hand is completely purple from a botched attempt at obtaining a blood sample by an overworked, overtired nurse.

Eventually, into this madness, a young man appears. He is an assistant Registrar, not the Consultant. Curtains are pulled around us, but anyone who is slightly alert could so easily overhear us, particularly as communications are made more difficult by my mother’s inability to hear what anyone is saying. In a nutshell we are confronted with many and various problems, which include heart complications and – most sinister of all – a shadow on the lung, which is growing…

Perhaps we are not a conventional family, but the decision is, for all of us, influenced by our experience – not just of my father – but of so many loved family and friends who have died of this disease. She wants to ignore it, and above all she is desperate to go home. And that is what we decide: to do nothing, and to let her go back to her room at home, where through the window she will be able to see the trees…

7 comments:

  1. This was so moving that it has taken me some time to be able to comment, Prue
    I'm sorry for the news but I think you did exactly the right thing. I understand the need for that view and those trees at this point in her life. And yours, actually. Beautiful piece. If you have not yet read that wonderful book by Atul Gawande this would be a good time to do so. "Being Mortal, medicine and what matters in the end" is simply wonderful. (I borrowed it in audio format from the library.)

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    1. Such lovely words for which I am truly grateful Ellie. I almost didn't write this piece, but I'm glad now that I did.I'll try and get hold of the book you recommend, although I'm a little frightened of it.
      Our lives often link with others, and I found it moving that your latest piece, although nothing like mine, had glimpses of just such difficulties. Your earlier work, the Martha story, never fails to move me. http://elliekennard.ca/martha/

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    2. Please don't be afraid of the book, Prue as it is a wonderful and empowering one. This physician is an excellent writer. I won't say more, just that I think you can trust me on this.

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    3. Please don't be afraid of the book, Prue as it is a wonderful and empowering one. This physician is an excellent writer. I won't say more, just that I think you can trust me on this.

      Delete
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  3. Very moving piece Prue We have been touched by cancer but thankfully my wife has fully recovered now ( 3 years in remission) but other people haven't been so lucky and as a result they don't know how to approach us on the subject. I shall share this post with a few of my close friends if that's OK with you.Best wishes Steve

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    1. Thank you so much Steve. Please share the post! I always hope that my writing will help people, and if it simply brings a smile or an aknowledgement of a trouble shared, then I'm doubly rewarded.

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