Wednesday, July 17, 2002

What a week and a half that was. Where on earth do I begin and how to get it all down in words without it sounding too trite in places? Well, I shall just have to press on with it and see how it goes.

Sunday the whatever it was, I had it all planned for a nice quiet evening when Joan got home from work. We were going to try that new grill thing and just generally relax.

We got as far as Joan having a bath before the phone rang and blew everything to pieces. It was Joan's aunt Dahlia (Ernie's Sister) to tell us that she had been to see him in hospital and things had taken a turn for the worst. So basically we dropped everything, threw a few clothes in a case and hit the road along with Helen, Bhupen & Alexander in their car. We arrived at the hospital at about 0130 Monday morning and were immediately confronted with a doctor asking us to agree to a Do Not Ressucitate order. Not the best way to end a 6 hour journey.

It turned out he had actually had a small heart attack under the gas for the operation on thursday and then another, bigger one on Friday. Pity they didn't tell us that over the phone. Anyway, we had a bit of a chat with the doctor, nurses and Ern himself and then Bhupen & Alexander went off to the house to get a bit of rest while the three of us settled down to see what the morning would bring.

I think I caught a couple of hours sleep in a chair somewhere but can't really remember.

On Monday we had him moved to a side room as the rest of the ward was a bit noisy and he couldn't get any rest. Fair enough really as it was the High Dependency Unit and everyone was hooked up to at least three machines. The three of us who had stayed the night went home to get changed then back for more waiting and thinking.

We had a bit of an argument with the surgeon who had done the leg op (which was a success) and one of his juniors over what should be done next. They were adamant that we should do everything to keep Ernie going but we could see how pointless it all was. Basically the rest of his body was shutting down because the heart was too damaged by the attacks to do any real pumping of blood, and as there was no hope for a repair or transplant it just seemed cruel to us to keep him going with more drugs and machines.

The chaps went home again that night and then on Tuesday morning picked up Sheila from Newcastle airport and brought her in. None of us left again until it was over from that point. Monday night had been pretty awful for Ernie as he was begining to throw up blood - in quite large quantities and by Tuesday lunchtime we had all agreed that all the drugs were doing was prolonging the inevitable and the doctors agreed, so at exactly 12 midday they withdrew everything except the pain relief and all we could do then was watch and wait.

There were a couple more hours where he was drifting in and out of conciousness, and obviously getting more confused as the morphine kicked in. His last few sentences were about thinking two thoughts at the same time, dreaming different dreams in each side of his head and wanting to share a sandwich with Joan. It was very heartbreaking and in some ways a relief when around three pm he stopped waking up.

For us watching and waiting it got worse around 5ish when he started to stop breathing. He would go for 3 or 4 minutes with the breathing getting increasingly ragged and then stop for 30 to 40 seconds. We'd all lean forward to see if that was it and then he'd start off again. That went on for nearly 7 hours of stop-start worry for us until the end came at 1245 making his date of death officially the 10th.

The girls had spent a couple of hours debating about whether to get a priest in to help see him off, and finally made their minds up in time for him to arrive at 1230. He came in, laid his hand on Ernie's head and did some prayers etc (I can't remember what) before finally finishing with "...and tonight, Ernie, you will walk in paradise with the Lord" and at that exact moment he stopped breathing for the last time. Which was a bit spooky to say the least. We came to the conclusion that he must have been waiting for permission to die.

So, that was that. The first death I've witnessed and not a pleasant experience.

The staff on the ward were all absolutely marvellous while we were there. Never intrusive, always ready to help and explain things to us, willing to back us against the surgeons and so forth. They all thought Ernie was a great bloke from the time they had spent with him, and I shall certainly back them to the hilt if ever it came to a crisis with the NHS.

We hung around for a while before finally all going back to the house to sleep and see what happened next.

The sleeping arrangements were a bit awkward and the three girls ended up sharing the double bed their parents had used while us lads rotated between, sofa, single matress and floor in the lounge.

After making the arrangements we then divided our time between clearing out the house (over 100 black sacks and counting, not to mention innumerable trips to the charity shops), sorting out the paperwork (which mainly fell on my head although I then got shouted at for taking over - I'll forgive Helen for now, but if she ever tries to use it against me in the future there really will be hell to pay), making the necessary arrangements and just getting on with distracting ourselves to get through it all.

The funeral was on Monday and went very well. The vicar was a lovely bloke (even if he does look a lot like Ronnie Corbet) and got everything we wanted to say into his speech. He also nearly managed to kill himself tripping over a microphone cable at the crematorium (but resisted the "goodnight from me" gag we were all half expecting when the curtains closed on the coffin). We went back to the pub he used to visit afterwards and all went pretty well considering. Then yesterday we had a little ceremony in the church yard to inter the ashes along with those of Joan's Mum which she had kept for the last 10 years waiting for this moment. That was also a nice event in a way as it brought a lot of things to an end and reunited the pair of them. They have also been placed with the view he never wanted to leave, so that was kind of fitting.

As an aside, it scared me half to death when I first discovered Joan had kept her Mum's ashes. It was before I moved in with her int he flat - we were moving the furniture around and she suddenly yelled at me to be careful with the box I was about to pick up as her Mum was in it. Not what you expect on a lazy Sunday afternoon!

We also did a lot of shopping for bits and bobs (the girls all got new outfits and hired hats to make sure they gave their Dad a proper send-off) visiting the Metro Centre and Chester-Le-Street among other places. Ate a lot of takeaways (it was decided as soon as we woke up on Wednesday that this was no time for cooking and all the pans got thrown out first) and did some evening driving (trips up to the Angel of the North, into Newcastle to see the new bridge across the Tyne and also down to the coast at South Shields). There was also a lot of catching up with family up there, sitting around talking and laughing over memories and old photos and stuff like that. Also numerous visits to the Chapel of Rest to put flowers and photos in the coffin with him - my first encounter with a corpse too. He looked a lot better then than during the final hours and helped to put my mind at ease a bit.

In the end though, 82 years of Ernie and 72 of Jessie all distilled into two cars loaded with stuff and people that left the North East for probably the last time (although I hope we will be able to go back at some point, even if just passing through on the way to Scotland) and got back here at 1 this morning.

All in all an eventful series of days.

It was nice to sleep in our own bed last night!

I did manage to find a bit of time for myself during all the hubbub to read as I need that to calm my head at times. Rather than take the classic buses I instead read Distraction by Bruce Sterling which was actually just what I needed. It would be filed as Sci-Fi but is about 90% politics. Very good.

We didn't really watch any TV during the time we were there (and yesterday gave it to the hospital) and no music was consumed either.

So now we have a few more days to get back down to earth before returning to work on Monday. Sheila goes back to Canada on Friday (guess who's got the airport run...) and then we will have the weekend to ourselves.

I think that's about it for today. You can guess where the girls are (I'll give you a clue, starts with B and ends with INGO!) but I did the drop off so Bhupen will bring them home.

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