I spent last week hospital hopping between my parents. I may have had the family home to myself but I cooked and cleaned instead of throwing a party. My parents are in two very different hospitals. Dad remains in the local NHS one whilst Mum is in a private one a few miles down the road. It was decided that with her disabilities a stay in a private hospital was preferable (something I'm very aware that many disabled people cannot afford). Dashing between the two provided an opportunity for me to observe, compare and contemplate the differences between private and public healthcare. Some differences are obvious. Mum was presented with a smart, comprehensive food menu immediately after her arrival. I noted that her bright and quiet room with a TV resembled a room in a hotel more than a hospital. Dad also has his own room, but one complete with the dingy decor and peculiar smell unique to hospital wards. Yet strikingly, the staff at both hospitals are hindered by similar constraints. They're overworked and under resourced. The biggest similarly of all, however, is a heartwarming one. The love and kindness being shown to my parents is overwhelming. I have the greatest admiration for the doctors and nurses who refuse to allow a lack of time and resources to impinge on their dedication to caring.
Two such doctors sat down with my father on Friday to discuss his condition. The message they delivered was stark but they conveyed it gently and in a way for which I will forever be grateful. I know this from Dad's calm tone when he phoned to tell me the hospital can do no more and that he will soon be discharged to live his final days at home. I sense that phone call will be one I look back on fondly in years to come. Wandering around the City amidst the bankers scowling at their phones, I listened to my father's weak, husky voice reflecting philosophically on the past and speculating about his future. We frankly discussed his desire "not to become a complete vegetable" and his wish not be resuscitated. We've had similar chats numerous times since his initial heart attacks last summer but the confirmation that his heart is now too weak to respond to any treatment added a definite sense of urgency to this conversation. Nobody wants to have to discuss what could be termed the practicalities of their father's impending death, but in these circumstances I would feel far worse if wishes and feelings were left unspoken.
Much has been written about how we, as a society, do not 'do' death very well. People fear being intrusive, of seeming insensitive and making a painful situation worse. The aversion to openly discussing death is magnified amidst people my age. It is easy to presume that the lives of many twenty-somethings simply haven't been touched by the deaths of several loved ones. Yet the lives of a considerable number of those under thirty have been, or are soon to be, affected by the loss of someone dear. This could be due to a sudden tragedy or following an extended period of ill health. I urge people from every generation to write and speak about their encounters with the dying process and not only of how to deal with the subsequent grieving process. I write at the point in this process which often feels like I'm already mourning the man I called my father. I've stopped counting how many times I've walked out of his hospital ward, pushing my mother in her wheelchair, whilst thinking that a life confined to a hospital bed is not one I want for my father. If dying was the only release from his suffering then I wished that upon him. I've caught countless trains from Newport station convinced I've said goodbye for the last time, something which always prompts an appreciation of my own health and a renewed determination to put it to good use.
People have repeatedly told me over the last few months that they "don't know how you're coping with everything". They should've listened in to that phone call I had with Dad on Friday. After concluding that he is content with the life he's led, Dad asked me to ensure I always make the best of my life. He never asks anything of me and I long ago resolved not to make any deathbed promises. However, on Friday I promised him (and myself) to always retain an overwhelming desire to help others. I could have no greater example than my father of someone who dedicated their life to doing just that.