Monday, August 04, 2014


Astrid has everything to hand: a copy of The Times, two homemade jam tarts on a plate covered with cling-film, a box of tissues, her nursing file, a radio, telephone, notepad and pen, and on a trolley just to the side of the bed, a jug of squash and a glass with a bendy straw. Astrid is propped up on a generous cluster of pillows, and for extra support, the kind of velour neck-pillow people use on long flights.
All this elaborate comfort accentuates Astrid’s fragility. She’s like some priceless artefact in a museum, so fragile even the sunlight on her bedclothes looks too heavy.
After a great deal of talking and questioning and a full complement of observations, it appears that the only change today is that Astrid remembered something her doctor once said, something about not having to suffer in silence. So she pushed her red button, and the ambulance came. But actually there’s no change, no new pain or unusual symptoms. It was more that she had forgotten what her situation was, and needed the whole thing explaining again. The other precipitating factor might be that her daughter Stephanie has gone on an afternoon shopping trip, and Astrid was unsettled by the thought she couldn’t be reached. For whatever reason, we’re here now, kneeling either side of her bed, doing what we can to reassure her that everything will be okay.
‘Look – do have a seat’ she says, gesturing with her fleshless arms to an empty space over by the window.
‘This is fine’ I say. ‘ I quite like it, actually. Your bed makes the perfect desk.’
‘You’re sweet,’ she says. ‘But what about a drink? I believe there are some cold cans in the fridge...’
‘Thanks Astrid, but we’re fine. We’ve only just had a cup of tea.’
‘Well. If you’re sure.’
‘How are you feeling now?’
‘Oh...’ She rests her head back and closes her eyes. ‘The usual. Falling, falling...’
Suddenly the front door opens and someone calls hello.
Stephanie comes into the bedroom, drops her bag by the door, takes a big, steadying breath, then sits down carefully on the bed.
‘Well,’ she says, the flesh of her hand contrasting with the bones of her mother’s. ‘I didn’t get very far, did I?’


tpals said...

Kneeling is no small matter at my age! You're a comforting sort to your patients.

Spence Kennedy said...

I don't mind it in short bursts, tpals, but too long and I'd never walk again! I must admit the room was quite warm and I had to fight the urge to rest my head on the bed and sleep... :)

Cassandra said...

"so fragile even the sunlight on her bedclothes looks too heavy."

GREAT imagery on that one. I feel for the daughter, though. Her comment makes me think that the situation is kind of… binding? As in she must be available to her mother at all times, and that can be very stressful.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Cassandra.
A sad and prolonged decline for Astrid, but terribly stressful & difficult for the daughter (who wasn't young herself), plus her husband. I got the feeling it was taking over her life somewhat. I think they definitely needed to get some outside care to ease the burden a little. These situations are so stressful - and so open-ended.

jacksofbuxton said...

One not wanting to be a burden and the other fulfilling a family duty.

I wonder how common that is up and down the land.

How was your holiday Spence?

Spence Kennedy said...

I'm guessing it's pretty common, Jack. And as treatments improve for these chronic conditions, it'll become even more common - people living to extreme old age, but increasingly dependent.

The holiday was great, thanks Jack. Croatia - recommend it! Stunning coastline, wonderful swimming. Inexpensive restaurants. Heaven, really.

How was yours? (Or haven't you been yet?)

jacksofbuxton said...

Got back on Saturday Spence.
3 nights in Barcelona and a week in the South of France.

Lots of culture,fantastic beaches,hot sun and reasonably priced restaurants.

Only got ripped off once in Barcelona. 2 beers,1 lemonade,1 coke on Las Ramblas came to 37 euro.

Spence Kennedy said...

Las Ramblas? Los Bandidos. That's the best part of thirty quid...!
Still, beautiful city. And the south of France sounds like a place to go. Glad you had a good holiday.

Poor Jess (our 9yo) had a tonsillectomy a couple of days after we got back, so she's suffering now. At least it'll put paid to all those sore throats she used to get (that's the idea, anyway).

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

The daughter's sigh speaks volumes. We lost both my folks since Jan and our sister was doing tending-duty as she was the one in the same town. She never once complained but the tiredness wore on her too.

Croatia-a good friend is there now visiting her mama and loving up the home cooking; she adores her homeland too. My late younger sister visited and spoke quite highly of Croatian scenery and friendliness.

Hope Jess feels right as rain again soon. As a youngster they took my tonsils and I can well remember those sore throats prior to the op.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's such a difficult scenario, Lynda - and one that must be played out endlessly across the world. My wife's in a similar situation. Her sister lives in Hong Kong and can't be around for all the day-to-day stuff (there's plenty of that). It's ultra stressful, trying to balance family & work commitments, exacerbated by guilt for feeling resentful sometimes. All in all a heavy combination - and anyone who has to face it has my profound sympathy (the patient, the family - the whole package!)

Croatia is such a beautiful country. Spectacular scenery, the wonderful Adriatic, great people - we had a fantastic time! Would like to go back and explore some more...

Thanks for the good wishes - poor Jess is miserable post-op, but being very brave. Wants to eat but her throat's so painful. Lying on the sofa as I type watching Cartoon Network and cuddling her teddy. :/ The long view has to be good, though. She was so plagued with sore throats and had such a lot of time off school - it'll be great to have all that behind us. :)

Cassandra said...

You guys go on the COOLEST vacations! Croatia, France, Barcelona… I'm lucky if I get to San Diego, a beach town in southern California that's about 3.5 hours from my desert town. I'm envious. There are SO many places I want to travel to! But alas… young, poor, medical debts… doubt it'll happen anytime soon. But I'm holding out hope!

Spence Kennedy said...

I know! And I have to admit - I've been to San Diego, too! Really loved Southern California - and the drive up to San Fransisco. Just wonderful. I could totally live in America.

We're lucky here re. medical bills. Jessie (my 9yo) just had a tonsilectomy. I shudder to think what that would've cost (or even what the medical insurance would be every month). :/