On the day that Sue and I met up with Philippa at Tortworth Court (7th), Nan had a couple of visitors. Ann and Susan Ashworth (nieces) from Yorkshire had decided to visit for the very first time. She took them to the Farm Shop for lunch and by all accounts they had a lovely time chatting and catching up with what Nan had been doing during the past couple of years.
On the Thursday Nan went to Farndon Fields School with a few of the Huntingdon Gardens wrinklies to see the Christmas production. She loved to watch the little children perform and chose to go there in preference to the funeral of the owner of the Londis local shop at which she did most of her shopping at and who had suddenly died. A bus had been arranged to take mourners to the crematorium and quite a few from Huntingon Gardens were going. She thoroughly enjoyed the school production and came away with one of the table decorations from the tea provided. When I visited the following day she had picked up a chesty cough, though blamed the new scent in her room deodoriser as irritating her chest.
The following morning I rang to see if she wanted some milk bringing for her breakfast and I was surprised to hear she was still in bed and sounding confused. When I offered to make her breakfast she said she just wanted to go to sleep as she was very tired and was planning on Christmas shopping that afternoon. I rang again after lunch and there was no answer and I assumed she was out shopping. Late in the afternoon I rang and she answered, I knew straight away that something was wrong. She couldn’t remember whether she had got up or not, eaten or been out and I could hear the noise of her chest. She kept repeating that she was ‘up-side-down’.
The nightmare began.
Sue and I immediately drove around to find her sitting on the bed, looking very confused with an awful sound of breathing. Helping her to lounge we tried to ascertain whether she had eaten, been out or had her tablets. She didn’t know. The lights were on in the lounge and toilet and there was her dinner on the table (uneaten) with an empty packet of her medication next to it. We later discovered some evidence that she must have sat in her chair and eaten some sweets some time during the day. I suspected that the empty packets of medication were from the previous day.
Ignoring Nan’s protestation we rang for the ambulance and despite that Saturday being the busiest on record for NHS call-outs they were there in less than 10 minutes. I went with Nan in the ambulance while Sue went home. She was immediately assessed and transferred to a ward where she was placed on a drip and made comfortable and fell asleep. Sue picked me up just after midnight to take me home. On the way back the news on the radio was full of the NHS crisis for that day with complaints that people with heart-attacks were having to wait 4 hours or more for an ambulance.
What happened over the next few weeks has since melted into a blur of highs and lows that has taken its toll on all members of the family and left us with memories that are hard to reconcile.
The following morning the family visited Nan. What a change, she was sitting up and chatting. The horrible rasping noise from her chest of the previous evening seemed slightly better, her colour was good and you could see obvious improvement. By the evening she had eaten and the noise from her chest was only slight. By the following day the antibiotics had really kicked in and though there was still some fluid on the lungs there no longer was any noise when she breathed. She had settled into the ward routine and was complaining that she wanted the cast off on her arm. I spoke to appropriate department and this duly happened, late the following day. Worryingly Nan began to lose interest in eating, and when she refused to fill in her menu plan with Charlotte during a visiting time, I came in to do it with her later that afternoon. Reluctantly we filled it in together, but when her tea arrived soon after she vehemently refused to eat it. From that moment things went downhill.
Up until then we had been with Nan throughout the days only leaving her late in the evening. I received a phone call from the hospital at 2am that the nurses were having difficulty with Nan and could I help. On arrival I found Nan shouting and moaning loudly. They had moved her bed to be near the Nurses Station so they could keep an eye on her. She was obviously keeping the other patients awake, though they must have realised the situation and didn’t complain. I held her hand and spoke to her, stroking her hair and after an hour or so she fell asleep. I left around 9am when Charlotte and Sarah arrived and Nan was still sleeping.
Nikki and Dawn came down to see Nan and it was after they had visited and Charlotte had arrived that I got a phone call from her telling me to come to the hospital straight away. Nan wasn’t looking right when she had arrived. She had a seizure and as we found out later she had suffered a massive stroke. A later CT scan confirmed this. Nan had lost the ability to move her right arm or leg or speak. But her mind was clear and she could communicate by squeezing our hand and she later could manage to say yes or no. The effect on the family was traumatic. Charlotte and Sarah began to sleep through the night with Nan and we ensured that somebody was at her bedside throughout.
It was very difficult for us all when I was taken aside by the doctor and give an ‘end of life’ talk. I had to discuss this with Nan and in true stubborn form, though she understood what I was saying she refused to answer any questions. We weren’t sure whether the epiglottis was paralysed so Nan had to have a feeding tube through her nose into her stomach. This started to show an obvious physical improvement. It was very concerning that Nan hadn’t slept for over 2 days and it eventually dawned on me why. She was frightened to fall asleep in case she died. With Charlotte I reassured her that she was now stable and that if she went to sleep, she would wake up. She slept for over 18 hours.
Just before Christmas (23rd), David, Nikki and Dawn came down to see Nan. David Had booked a flight in from Bulgaria in and out on the same day as he had a hospital appointment the following day in Dryanovo and needed to be back. I picked him up from Kettering Station during the morning and then dropped him off their late that afternoon. Nan seemed pleased that they were there, but she appeared to be asleep for a lot of the time. Early one morning a was a few days later I suspected she had gone blind. She was telling me shouldn’t see and though her eyes were dilating she wasn’t registering movement. When I called the doctor he wasn’t sure. It was around the same time that she appeared not to remember us, where she was or who she was. Sometimes she would, sometimes she wouldn’t (very upsetting).
We had decided to carry on with Christmas as planned. Nan had seen the Bullet point presentation to the family on what we had planned and we felt that she would like the grandchildren not to be affected. On Christmas Eve I stayed with Nan until midnight before returning home. In the morning, after opening presents we all travelled to see Nan and opened her presents with her though it was difficult to gauge her thoughts as she showed little reaction. We returned later that evening. On Boxing Day we travelled to Peterborough for Greyhound Racing and though all the tables were booked out we managed to get good seats near the restaurant (Sarah was in Nottingham with Lee as it was his birthday). Charlotte and I went to visit Nan late that evening. The next day began with a visit to Nan and during the evening we saw Snow White at the Cube in Corby. The day after we caught an early train to London. We spent the morning at a crowded British Museum and after lunch at a Weatherspoons we watched an excellent light and movement show performed by a touring Japanese group called Shiro-A. After returning by train in the evening, Charlotte and I went to visit Nan.
The following Day (29th) Nan’s sister Josie came down to see her. One of her grandchildren’s husbands drove her. It was quite an emotional visit but she was glad that she had been and Nan did seem pleased too. The following day we had arranged for Nan’s manicurist to come and do her nails as a treat, and she did so.
It was a little time after, I became concerned that I could smell an infection in Nan’s mouth and queried it with the nurses and doctor. Both we and the nurses had been regularly cleaning out her mouth prior to this. I eventually was made aware that it was ‘t an infection but the smell of the internal organs giving up. A further, awful, discussion took place with the doctor informing me that there was no hope and that we were to prepare our selves for the worst. The conversation took place next to Nan’s bed and I don’t know whether she understood. We were told it would be just a few days.
Sarah and Charlotte had been staying through the night with Nan and I came during the morning and stayed with various combinations of the family throughout the day until late. It was an awful time. Many tears had been shed with many hugs. The hospital and nurses were brilliantly understanding and many of them showed great kindness to us as we were always there. By now Nan had been moved on to the Stroke Ward and this did give us some false hope. There was even talk of rehabilitation plans at one time. However the failure of the internal organs snatched any last hope away.
Though expected, the withdrawal of medication (other than injections of morphine), including feeding and drip was still a shock to us all. Agonising, stressful days passed as we sat with Nan and held her hand and she responded with weakening squeezes. Occasionally she would become very alert and take note of what was going on around her, even once showing her displeasure at a conversation about the evils of sugar we were having. We all said our goodbyes during this time in our own private ways, though I firmly believe that until the very end she had no intention of departing this world and leaving us.
It wasn’t a few days, it was nine terrible days watching someone you love wind down to the last breath. Our consolation is that we were all there at the very end , holding her hands and hugging her closely.
There is a current debate on the radio concerning the termination of life when all hope is gone. I say, those who object to the kindness and gentleness of humanely permitting the passage of death to loved ones, have not been through what our family have suffered this last month in saying goodbye to our Nan. If they had been, I am in no doubt they would look differently on the subject.
Nan passed away at 6.30pm on Friday 9th January 2015 at the grand and spectacular age of 86 years.