My, how we siphon down our patents’ Pain into our own lives! Distilling, condensing and concentrating it. We don’t take their real pain which was mingled with joy, peace, despair, success, failure, happy and sad. No, we just take the undiluted pain and claim it as our own.
You see, it’s my head, my bloody head. Sore as hell on the right-hand side. Like someone belted me with the side of an axe-head. The pain comes and goes and, sometimes, I realise I haven’t felt it for whole minutes at a time. Five minutes, even! Then it kicks in again.
I try to stand and need to do it slowly lest I lose my balance. It wakes me from sleep and, no matter which way I lie, it gets me. Bang! In the side of the head. Roll over. Bang! Again the axe-head. Roll back. Bang! Another thwump. I lie on my back with eyes closed, with them open and, unrepentant, it continues to thwump my scull.
And my parents?
My father had a brain tumour. It started with headaches. On the right-hand side. Then there was unsteadiness. Then he lost the ability to place his left foot accurately, which was dangerous on stairs. The tangled web of nerves and cancer threads made it difficult for the surgeons to isolate one Nerve from another, bad tissue from good tissue. In the process, his thirteenth nerve was severed and that incapacitated his voice box, rendering him silent for nearly a year after the operation.
Because he couldn’t speak – could hardly move – after the operation, he could not communicate that he’d had no food or water for several days. We found him emaciated, dehydrated and, because of throat damage, unable to ingest anything. It took a lot of asking around the many people who said it wasn’t their fault or their job, to find someone who would listen or act. The intravenous fluid saw him as a desert flower after rain – his eyes opened, he could finally nod and gesture with one hand and he could, eventually, smile.
He was never quite the same dynamic, striding, strident, omnipresent man we had known before. He couldn’t answer the phone or the door without a voice and, with confidence gone, chose to hide at home like a shy boy clinging to his mother’s skirt.
Eighteen months later, Alzheimer’s claimed him. I wondered if he lost the will to live for he died a year or so later, an emaciated, paralysed parody of the man he was.
And that, my friend, is what my fearful mind is handing me on a platter, every time I feel a twinge. A hammer. A jolt. A pain. Every single time I Relive those dreadful hospital visits, the frustrating bargaining with doctors and nurses who would not look us in the eye, apologise or make amends. We could see him fading before our eyes and no one cared.
That is the scene, the feeling and the outcome that comes to me as I change sleeping positions, stand up, turn around and am reminded of the axe-head against my scull.
I cannot get those final years with my father out of my mind … which is right where the thumping pain is.
I want to leave this life striding off into the sunset, hale of mind and sprite of body, and just suddenly stop. A surprise to me and all. None of this lingering, creeping death – this slow decline into reliance on others; this creeping paralysis of limb and memory; this slobber I cannot wipe up for myself; this inability to dress, wash and toilet myself. That is the opposite of what I want but this bloody headache – now five days young – tells me it will be the slowly lingering dependence … and that I fear more than fear itself.
It’s like a sadly potent army marching across the swampland of a dismal ending. I’m David, facing Goliath without my sling. He will do with me what he will and I must meekly, compliantly allow myself to be achingly crushed to death beneath his uncaring boot; one nerve at a time, one sinew at a time, one muscle at a time, one memory at a time.
This bloody unmoving headache is a pain. No doubt about that. However, the greater pain is the spectre of squalid that it drags along with it the spectre of my father’s decline and the suffering I allow to be pulled along with it.
Of course there are those who will say I’m choosing the dismal, demented images. That I can change my mind. That I can focus on gratitude and life’s positivity. I know that’s possible for I can do it for moments at a time. Seconds. Even a minute, sometimes.
But then my father reappears in his helpless, wasting state and I strap that to my possible future.
I’m trying to change my mind about this. I really am. But, like my father’s end, I can feel no easing of the pain or the images.
So, here I am trying not to think it away but to write it away. I hope it helps. I really do.