Dear Readers, you might remember that on Monday, my Dad was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. He was on a Covid-19 ward, waiting for his test results to come back to see if he had the virus. We were all pretty confident that the test would come back clear – Dad’s nursing home has been in lockdown for weeks – but he was very distressed at being in a strange environment. He was being given intravenous antibiotics but overnight he pulled out his canula, his catheter and anything else attaching him to a machine. As he is on blood-thinning tablets, the amount of blood was apparently impressive.
Yesterday my brother got a call that Dad was very poorly, and was now on palliative care only. This was a shock as he seemed to have been holding up pretty well. I spoke to the nurse, and asked if I needed to come now.
‘I wouldn’t leave it too long’, she said.
So, I headed down on the empty tube train to an empty Waterloo and took the three hour journey to the hospital. It wasn’t difficult to Social Distance as there was barely anyone about. In W.H. Smiths there were more staff trying to make sure that people kept six feet away from one another than there were customers. I had a carriage on the South Western Railways train to Dorchester all to my self. When I got to Dorchester it was a ghost town.
The hospital, usually so bustling, was eerily empty. I got the lift to the second floor (the ward is familiar from frequent hospital stays by Mum and Dad in the past). When I opened the lift doors, a nice young man asked me to wait because someone was being brought in by ambulance, and so we waited until a grey-faced elderly gentleman in an oxygen mask was brought in.
I went to the ward. One of the nurses intercepted me.
‘You’re aware that this is a Covid-19 ward’?
‘Yes’, I said, ‘But I think my father is dying’.
She nodded and sent me into the ‘quiet room’ to await a nurse to help me to gown up to go in to see Dad. The palliative care nurse popped in, and told me that they’d stopped all invasive procedures, were giving Dad his antibiotics when he’d take them, and were giving him small doses of Fentanyl if he seemed particularly distressed, but that he wasn’t on a morphine driver at the moment. I told her that my one big wish would be to get Dad back to his nursing home if he tested negative for the virus – I know that he would be less distressed and more relaxed in a familiar environment. She said that she would do what she could, but I wasn’t sure if she was just trying to make me feel better.
Then the nurse came to fit me with an apron, gloves and a face mask. I had no idea that the face masks were only good for about twenty minutes before you need a new one. She took me through the procedures when I was leaving the room – gloves and apron off on the ward, hands washed, come out, mask off once I was out of the room. She showed me how to pinch the mask so that it fits the face better.
And then I went in to see Dad who was, of course, out for the count, as usual.
I held his hand and told him all the things that I’d want him to know if, as seemed likely, I might never see him again. I cried into my mask which is a most unpleasant experience. His breathing was bad, but I remembered how Mum’s breathing had been in the days before she died, and his didn’t seem the same somehow. I couldn’t bear to leave him, but I had to.
Walking out of the six-bed ward, empty except for Dad, was such a hard thing to do.
One of the nurses, a strapping chap from Hull, made me a cup of tea, and asked me about Dad. It transpired that Dad had gotten very angry about being contained and had punched him in the stomach.
‘He’s still strong, your Dad. I wouldn’t write him off just yet’, said the long-suffering nurse. And when I apologised for Dad, and said it wasn’t normal for him to be violent, he just laughed.
‘All part of the job’, he said.
And that is one reason why our NHS staff deserve so much more than they currently get, in every single way.
I wondered if I could stay over in Dorchester so that I could see Dad again but, quite rightly, all the hotels and B&B’s are either closed or, like the one that I normally stay at, being used for NHS frontline staff. It seemed that it might be the last time that I ever saw Dad alive.
I caught the train back home, crying all the way, so just as well the carriage was empty.
When I looked back along the platform at Waterloo, I saw that exactly five people had gotten off the ten coach train.
And then, this morning, I heard that:
a) The Covid-19 test had come back negative
b) Dad had taken his medication
c) Dad was sitting up in bed eating his breakfast
d) The hospital were going to release him back to his nursing home today.
So, it will still be pretty much impossible to go and visit Dad until the restrictions are lifted, and he is still a very sick man, but at least he will back in familiar surroundings, with people who know him, and who have excellent palliative care skills. It is such a relief to know that he is back where he belongs. But kudos to the staff at the hospital, who have done an amazing job with someone who can be a difficult patient, and who have managed to keep him well enough to go home. I am more grateful than I can express for this reprieve, however temporary.