This time last week I was having a chat to my dad on the phone. It was our third call for the morning, even though it was only 10.35. Sometimes that happened. I’d hang up and remember something I’d forgotten to tell him, or he’d ring back to tell me something I mustn’t forget to do. Such was the nature of our relationship.
This time last week, as we made arrangements to meet at the Belrose Supa Centa, the call was different.
“I’ve done all my ironing, read the paper and had my brekkie,” he announced. “So, we’ll get some boxes from Bunnings and start clearing out all that junk in your cupboards.”
I knew better not to argue. A heatwave was forecast for the day, and dad, sensibly, had decided not to play his usual Saturday golf. Rather than lounging around on a hot day like a normal person, he was programming a day with his daughter to eliminate her junk. And apparently, according to this neat freak, I had a lot.
“Ok, so what time are we meeting at the Supa Centa?” I asked. “Hellooooooo? What time? What have you done, have you pressed the wrong button again!”
You see dad had recently inherited Micky’s old iPhone and his theory when ‘the bloody thing’ wouldn’t work was to stab random buttons. I figured he’d randomly stabbed and disconnected our call. I rang him back. In fact, I rang back three times and texted once, before I stopped, thinking he was probably trying to ring me, as I was ringing him. That’s happened before.
But this time Dad wasn’t ringing me back.
He was lying immobilised on the floor, struck violently by a massive stroke. I imagine him trying to reach his phone, to answer my calls. But I don’t like to think too much about that.
After no response I called Dad’s neighbour, Betty, asking her to check on dad, and from that moment on my world changed.
Looking back over this whole scenario, this time last week, I marvel at the astonishing series of events which led to getting my stricken dad to hospital so quickly, within an hour. More often than not stroke victims aren’t found until hours, or even days, after the attack.
The fact I was on the phone to dad when he collapsed. The fact I rang his neighbour Betty. The fact Betty was home. The fact the neighbour Tim, trained in first aid, was home upstairs. The fact Tim yelled out to his wife to immediately call an ambulance. The fact the ambos arrived within about 20 minutes. No amount of planning could have got dad to hospital more quickly, which is why I get angry to think I am sitting by his bed six days later watching him die, regardless.
Despite the fact all the doctors at Royal North Shore thought it amazing to see a stroke victim admitted to hospital so quickly, despite the fact he was given a clot buster to dissipate the blood clot which whacked him in the brain, all positives for recovery, this bloody monster stroke hit my dad like a Mac truck, right out of the blue, destroying a large area of his brain instantly.
In that split second after I asked what time he wanted to meet at Bunnings, my dad, Micky’s 87-year-old beloved grandpa, disappeared. He was replaced by a Leonard. That’s what the specialists and the doctors call him. No one I knew called him that. No one who loved him called him that. Len was gone, replaced by a very ill mumbling and incoherent man called Leonard.
The stroke had hit on the right side of his brain, completely paralysing the left side of his body. When I was finally allowed to seem him that Saturday afternoon, he was talking in garbled sentences. He was worried about his phone, where it was, because he was holding it when he collapsed to the floor. He was adamant he was in Hornsby Hospital, not Royal North Shore, that he hadn’t had a stroke, and was only on the floor because he was looking for his phone. He wanted to go home to his ‘own little bed’, telling Micky and I to just ‘drop’ him off. But he wasn’t going home. After that savage split second, dad would never walk into his unit again, he wasn’t going back to his own little bed.
My brain grasped this quickly, my heart tore in two when I instructed the doctors there was to be no intervention. Micky, however, refused to give up, begging that everything be done to save her Grandpa. He called her Micky Doodah when she walked into ICU, which meant he was fine, didn’t it? He knew her, he would be all right. And this was her grandpa, her most fierce protector. Her best mate. He was always there for her and she was going to fight to save him.
Dad survived the first crucial 24 hours, and as the hours dragged on he became more and more coherent. On Sunday, while still adamant he was at Hornsby Hospital, he accepted he’d ‘apparently’ had a stroke. Drawing from the most used part of his brain, which was to care for his girls, he kept looking after us. He told me to water the new hedge he’d help plant the year before, to make sure we got Micky’s passport sorted, to find all the golf club numbers in his Pymble Golf Club diary. When Micky left him on Sunday afternoon, he warned her to ‘watch those speed zones’.
He told the young male nurse he shouldn’t have to ‘look after an old geezer like him’ and flirted with the young female nurse, only to tell her that the most beautiful nurse in the world had been Meggie, his wife. The nurse, intrigued by this very funny, stubborn, kind man, indulged him with some mathematical calculations after he told her he could add up faster in his head. He passed them all.
Oblivious to the fact he couldn’t move his left leg, nor his left arm, he made several determined efforts to bolt, pulling out his cannula and sticking his good leg defiantly on the ground. He didn’t understand he’d never go home, nor drive his car, nor walk the dog again. He didn’t comprehend he’d never pop into my house again to fix something, plant something, or give the cat a cuddle. Crueller still, he had no clue, he’d never play golf again, just days after his last game when he’d proudly won the day.
By Monday, he had accepted he was at North Shore, and was making more sense. I started dangerously veering off course, as optimism began to emerge in the emotional part of my brain. The doctors, while insisting I’d never be able to care for him at home, talked about rehab. Perhaps, I thought, he would be okay in a nursing home, even if it meant being confined to a chair. If we could communicate …..
Right on cue, as hope began to cloud my brain, Dad had a seizure. Clearly, he didn’t agree, and as he fitted and struggled, the emotional part of my brain died as quickly as it had materialised. I was dragged back into Len mode. If he wasn’t having any of it, then neither was I. As the medics prepared to wheel him down to have a scan, I asked them to wait.
I told my father it was okay to go. I told him Micky and I, his girls, would be fine. I told him that Meggie was waiting for him, that my brother Nigel was also there with his big broad grin. I told him his work was done. I told him this was the one thing he couldn’t fix. I told him it was okay to let go. I basically told my dad, my best mate, to die.
He hasn’t regained consciousness since that Monday afternoon and I sit here by his bed, just a week after our last hilarious and cheery conversations, waiting. I have moved into his room and I won’t leave until he goes. I can’t be anywhere else. I hold his hand and chat to him. He grasps it strong and hard when my love ocasionally connects through to the faulty wiring of his brain. He knows I’m here. I have no doubt.
Ironically, it’s the huge, huge heart of this kind, loving and generous man, beating so strongly, which won’t free him. So fitting, but I wish it would just stop and rest.
This time last week I was planning to spend the day with my dad, having a blue or two over our vastly different definitions of junk, admiring the agapanthus he’d planted the day before, chatting about the heat and how he was missing his game of golf.
This time last week my dad was my rock, my best mate, my protector.
It’s time for me to be his.