Time has dominated this week, contorting the days as I try pathetically to wrestle a mass of conflicting responsibilities into the only time frame I can think of. Hating to let people down and unable to move the non-negotiables like exams and deadlines, I have let plates drop unintentionally in the day time and at night I have slept thinly as I berate myself that mum needs to be the priority and brace myself for bad news. Ironically, visiting her in hospital, I see that mum’s clock is in contrast to mine and has inched forward at a tedious pace, refusing her the sleep she so badly needs and fixating her agitated eyes on its face, dominating, as it insists, the wall of the ward she’s now in. Believing it’s taunting her, she sends her gold wrist watch home with my niece and starts turning her back to the wall. This is not like mum.
Mum is a doer – she was the feisty owner of that purple tracksuit, remember? Despite my father’s chagrin, when we daughters all started growing taller and towering above her, she purchased the highest pair of bright red platform shoes on the market to ensure she could still look us in the eye. That’s the mother we know. To be told that the only thing she can do to help herself now is absolutely nothing, is tautologous . She needs to wait for prayer and medicine to do their best, but none of our family are patient. Mum frets that she can’t seem to get things ‘right’, even though she’s done everything the doctors have told her to do since her operation. She feels she is failing and setting a bad example. She takes her hearing aids out because she’s tired of listening to false promises. When the Physio tells her that she’s kept herself in great shape and I quip that perhaps the bikini modelling contract might be back on the cards, she tells me she can’t laugh any more. Someone brings a walking frame in and she doesn’t even tell them to take it away. My eyes turn leaky, there’s been enough change this year.
I try to soothe her to sleep but her eyelids keep opening and she manages 10 minutes at most. She twists back to look at the clock as soon as she wakes. I ask for sleeping tablets but there will be an eight hour wait before she can have them; she keeps checking that clock to see how much longer she must last awake.
Earlier in the week my older sister had run the gauntlet with a ‘specialist’ at the local cottage hospital. He had dismissed our concerns about mum’s deteriorating health, with, ‘what can you expect at her age?’. My calm, caring big sis wanted to punch his lights out; only two months ago, it was believed that mum was so exceptional for her age that she should undergo heart surgery so she could continue pilates and swimming even though it was rare for a 92 year old to be offered such a life-line, now, this man couldn’t even be bothered to listen to our concerns about a myriad of ailments that all seem to have amassed since that op. He dismissed her because of her age. Thank goodness she couldn’t hear him. We christened him Dr. Git and under the heat of my sister’s tenacity he reluctantly offered another blood transfusion; a day later, though none of us wanted to be proved right, mum was, back in hospital because the transfusion had done nothing and she was fighting for breath again.
Caring for mum, we four siblings pass the baton between us in the clumsiest relay race every devised. One of us tries always to be at the bedside – any more than one sibling visiting exhausts the patience of the NHS and mum herself. Two siblings are out of the country and I end the week with the baton in my hand. I find mum on a new ward, and embarrass myself by bursting into tears with both the Doctor and then the Physio because – in contrast to Dr Git – they are so flipping lovely and because they actually listen and read mum’s notes properly and holistically. If I hadn’t been crying, I’d have probably embarrassed myself further by bear hugging either man (maybe both). Instead I decide to share mum’s unwanted biscuits with the equally lovely nurses. It passes the time.
I’m grateful that mum’s hearing aids are out when a new patient is admitted into the bed opposite. She spots mum’s biscuits and when the nurse reminds her that she is allowed nil by mouth, she starts a systematic rhetoric of, ‘why are you trying to kill me?’ and ‘Why do you hate me?’ through the afternoon, and then – apparently – throughout the night. Mum’s chances of sleep look even slimmer still.
I pass the baton on to Big Sis for the weekend; she exhausts herself by coming straight from work on the train, but tells me that I need to look after myself and should do everything I’d planned for this weekend, because she’s now on duty.
Realising this is the best of times and the worst of times, my special friend treats me to a theatrical matinee of ‘Great Expectations’ (stand down, I know I’m playing fast and loose with my Dickens here, what larks!). She insists on driving and lets me squeeze out a few more tears on the journey – again in a very unattractive way. When the curtain rises I see a giant clock behind Miss Havisham depicting the slow – virtually non-existent – passage of time. Mum’s life has been purple and lively; Miss Havisham’s life was yellow and bitter. I cry surreptitiously (again) when Miss Havisham dies – ridiculous as she didn’t want to live any way. I’m just tired. The afternoon has flown by in a good way and friend and I do some retail therapy after the show: I return grateful to have such a wonderful pal and that she has tracked me down some smudge free, bullet-proof eye-liner during our excursion.
Big sister valiantly holds onto the hospital baton for another day and sends me off to run in a 10k that I’d entered before Hospitalgate started. Again I get a case of leaky eye at the start – I remember running this race with my former husband in the past (how many flipping runs did I do with this man and how many starter pens are there yet to come in which I’ll cry? Keep reading), and feel guilty that I’m not at the hospital. I console myself, however, that my consumer testing verifies that the new eye liner is indeed smudge-proof. What larks! Dear B will be elated – she and me was ‘ever friends.
Going up the one killer hill on the 10K route, I remember that 10Ks are too fast for me, I’m a middle distance plodder. I find however that the organisers have spray painted motivational messages at regular intervals up the incline and I wonder if there is a market for such encouragement to be added to road signs and advertising hoardings to keep us all going through the next weeks. ‘Not much further now’, You’re acing this’, and ‘forget the people in front, we’re all winner’s’, could prove to be quite timely interventions. I might contact the airports for my brother and sister’s return flights. Slow though I believe I am, my lachrymose week seems to have oiled the hands of time and I discover later that I’m second fastest in my age category – a mixed blessing, but I think mum will be pleased.
So a new week begins. The baton is coming back my way again before fresh sibling troops land. I hope time goes quickly for mum but slowly for me over the next few days for there is a lot to do. I know mum dreams of wasting time by being able to sleep again and not having to watch the clock face but I dream of staying awake long enough to blitz my day job in a dry-eyed manner.