2018 and how life has changed forever
2018 didn't start as planned. All that anticipation of starting fresh with new projects and how you want to define the rest of the year disappeared into a mist of hospitals, consultant ward rounds and being at the mercy of someone else’s judgement and care. This winter I was not the doctor - I was the relative. A relative to not just one patient but both my parents. It’s the end of January and it’s my first time of thinking and reflecting on where we are now.
I’m not who I was in 2017 and maybe I’ll never be that person again. I’ve come to my part of life where it’s not all about me. I’ve lived life on the fringe of family - always part of it but not directing my life by it. But it’s now my turn to address this and reconsider.
It’s like when you go through your first break up - nobody tells you how it will actually feel, how painful it will be. But it happens all the time to everyone. Or maybe like when you’ve become a parent - the feelings, the massive unquestioning love for another being who becomes your world. I’ve not experienced this for myself yet but have heard friends who say this as they pass through this process. Again, another practise that’s been going on since time began and still you hear from those experiencing it’s wonder for the first time, like it’s never happened to anyone else before. So here’s my moment. In a world with a growing ageing population how do people cope with the transition of parents becoming the care ‘needers’ and not the care givers? That moment where they look to you for support - physically and emotionally. Where their every need demands your attention. Where you worry for them and can’t imagine them coping alone. Yes it happens to everyone but now it’s happening to me and I had no idea how engulfing it would be. I am not my own person right now. The parents that worried for me, that patiently let me make my way and with whom I had life’s tussles with have moved into a new period of their life. Roles have been reversed. And frankly I’m not sure I’m doing it great. Even when I’m not at home with them, I am worried. A hundred phone calls to check, to arrange. To make sure the district nurses are coming that the carers are there and that a sibling is close at hand or me.
Today is better than last week and last week was better than the week before. Back in December I stood for 16 hours in A&E with my father as he struggled with his asthma and my other siblings stayed with my mum going through a prolonged delirium following an angiogram. She’d had a heart attack at the end of last year and it was planned that she’d have the relatively straightforward procedure. She’d never had delirium before. I was there when she went in for the angio - waved her off, promising it would be ok. She came back as someone else - biting, scratching, fighting, demanding to have her ‘injection’ trying to eat plastic bowels. I remember this and recall all this still in a state of shock. She became that patient I have had myself many times - the one that needs to be sedated to go through a CT scanner to see if a brain injury is the reason for this. Thankfully it wasn’t. The days trying to find my mum again, in this altered cognitive state have made me remember other things too - like sitting in Ninewells Hospital, in the medical school over 12 years ago, listening to the delirium lecture by our care of the elderly lecturer. How far away and removed it felt from me personally at that time.
During our introduction to 2018, I went between hospitals - safeguarding my dad’s bed from a senior sister in A&E wanting to move him into a chair. She didn’t know I was an A&E doctor and hearing how she argued her case for thinking my father was suitable to be moved onto a chair when any movement was causing shortness of breath and dropping sats to the 80s was worrying. Her rationale was dangerous and her manner towards me, as what she presumed as a non-medical relative was condescending. I fought it. I spoke to the doctor and he intervened. But imagine if I wasn't there. That was how the next few weeks followed. Having to be there every step of the way - as the advocate. Demanding insulin be given before meals and not 45 minutes after for my mother. For chasing discharge scripts that were incomplete even after discharge. It’s been long, fully involved and everything else has been suspended in mid air. The rest of my life, frozen almost until I find a way to thaw it out a little as we re-route our lives to fit where we find ourselves now.
And now, I’m trying to find the project manager in me, the person who organises film shoots, who planned logistics for expeditions and adventures, who worked alone in conflict zones - that same calm, systematic approach to problem solving. To help us move into a new way of family life. It seems to fall onto me to organise - no-one else is doing it. Transferable skills that none of my other siblings seem to have. I've never ever wanted to be wealthy - never felt the need. What I had was enough but now for the first time ever when it’s your mum and dad - all you wish was that you were able to stop everything else because you could and just be there for them, they way they were for you.