Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Parent nursemaids and the middle-aged patient.

When I was told I needed knee surgery, my biggest concern was what I was going to do afterwards. Who was going to look after me, where was I going to go? I had had similar surgery before and knowing this operation wasn’t going to be quite so invasive, I thought I may be able to simply hobble out of hospital and manage by myself at home, with supermarket deliveries and visits from friends. My surgeon had other ideas, however, and made it very clear that they would not allow me home on my own, and for at least the first week I should preferably be looked after. Of course, my parents were horrified when I suggested anything other than coming to stay with them and so arrangements were duly made. Some people said how sweet it was, that my parents were going to look after me… others gave me a look of horror and a further few offered sympathy, though wether that was intended for me or my parents, I will never be sure.

On the day of surgery, at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, my parents were going to drive up from Hampshire, visit an old friend for lunch and then make their way to the hospital. One never knows in what order you’ll be operated on, so the staff nurse had taken my Father’s mobile number and said she would phone them as soon as I was in the second stage of recovery. Luckily, I was second in the operating theatre and was out 2 hours later. Amazing. I remember, groggily, hearing the nurse make the phone call and heard her say, ‘Hello this is the staff nurse at Chelsea and Westminster hospital. Juliet’s surgery went very well and she will be ready to leave as soon as you get here’. There was then a long pause and the nurse said, ‘Oh ok, that’s fine… I’ll let her know’. She came over and told me that my parents would be a bit late as they were just in the middle of lunch and the traffic was rather bad. Not one to ever get in the way of people’s social plans, I waited patiently. My Father was rather frazzled when they turned up… traffic was hell apparently, but on the plus side, they’d had a lovely lunch.

We made our way through Fulham and Wandsworth at absolute snail’s pace. Due to one of the main bridges across the Thames being closed, every car, bike, van and lorry in London was heading down the same single lane road. Nightmare. I was sideways on the back seat… leg up, swollen to the size of a big balloon, very drowsy, in pain and just wanting to get flat, knowing there was at least a 2-hour drive ahead of us. I must have drifted off with the heat and car fumes because I woke up, half an hour later, to a furious dispute between my Mother and Father in the front seat. My Father had, inexplicably, taken the wrong turning off the A3 and was going round in circles outside Guildford. Being a man, he refused to stop and ask someone where we were, and relied instead on his internal Sat Nav. His Sat Nav must have been a little faulty that day because we began heading into a small village, miles from the motorway. He decided to finally stop and look at the map. As he was trying to figure out where we were, I pulled out my iphone and in nanoseconds, had looked us up on google maps (how to annoy your Father, example 1). Dad reluctantly conceded that relying on my iphone was possibly better, at this stage, than guessing where we were, and we finally got back on track!!

Just as we were about to join the main road, I realised that I had temporarily lost control of my bladder and desperately needed the loo (how to annoy your Father, example 2). I said I was happy to go in the bushes but not being able to walk was a slight obstacle to going off-road, so Dad had to find a petrol station instead. Thank God, we found one half a mile down the road and pulled in. My Father decided he might as well fill up the car while we were there, but there were no free pumps on the side of his petrol tank, so he reversed impatiently, then drove the car to the other side, hoping the hose would reach. He had forgotten, however, that I needed to go to the loo and he had pulled up so close to the petrol pump that I couldn’t get out. He backed the car up, muttering under his breath, and suddenly there was a loud crunch. Oh dear. The look on my Mother’s face as she surveyed the damage, said it all really. He’d accidentally hit the raised pavement and split the hubcap. At this point my pelvic floor was about to give way, but I managed to get out of the car and hobble on crutches to the loo. And guess what? It was out of order! Nooooo. My Mother pleaded with the garage attendant to let me use it and they said ok, as long as I could pee in the dark, as the electrics had gone. I limped into the darkness with my Mother standing guard outside the door, leaving it open an inch to let in a shard of light. My anaesthetic was making parts of me a little numb but I still think I managed to hover and aim correctly!

We finally got back on the motorway and were greeted with a 2-mile long traffic jam. Stop start stop start for the next half an hour. Every single time my Father accelerated, some idiot would cut in front of him and he would slam on the brakes, resulting in me sliding forward on the leather seat and crashing into the back of my Mother. This was the ensuing conversation (on a continuous loop):

Father: Oh bloody hell!
Mother: Darling!
Father: Well honestly! Stupid _____! (Slamming on brakes)
Me (slide, crash): Owwwww!
Mother: Darling be careful, poor Juliet.
Father: It’s not my fault, stupid _____!
Mother: Darling!
Me: Daddy!

When we eventually reached home we were all mentally and physically exhausted and pretty much zonked out for the rest of the day. The following 2 days were a slight blur but went something like this… breakfast, painkillers, ice pack, physio, hot water bottle, sleep, lunch, painkillers, physio, read, pass out, ice pack, hot water bottle, try to poo, radio, supper, painkillers, ice pack, hot water bottle, read, painkillers, sleep. All this time, I was waited on hand and foot by my wonderful parents but by about day 3, I was starting to realise that my life was turning into groundhog day and put it down to the codeine-based painkillers. Yes, they did help with the pain but they were also turning me into a brainless zombie. I could hardly form a sentence let alone write one and was getting more and more frustrated that I couldn’t concentrate for more than two minutes at a time. So I went cold turkey and stopped the painkillers. I decided pain was preferable to cotton-wool head. By day 4, I was writing and reading, doing puzzles, having conversations and getting outside for some fresh air. All this, of course, was on a silent time schedule.

I’m not sure how many of you have spent a lot of time with your parents as they get older, but you might notice your Mother and Father being a little more set in their ways as the years progress. They might get in the habit of doing things at a certain time, a certain way, to a stricter timetable, as part of their daily routine. Instead of battling against these domestic consistencies, you find that in order to have an easy life, it’s better to just go with the flow. In the past week, I have formed a fairly accurate picture of how my parents operate and have fitted in accordingly, well, tried to. Have no doubt, I adore my parents and their oddities and I know I use them (with humour and affection), as brilliant blog fodder on a fairly regular basis, but to spend 2 weeks with your parents, as a 46-year-old, is the severest test of tolerance, patience, submission and humour.

Breakfast is between 8:00 and 8:30am on weekdays and Saturdays in the Sellars household. On Sundays, breakfast may be later, at say, 9am. Ooh, tardy. On the one day that I accidentally slept until 8:37am (as I had had a particularly painful night and not slept well), there was a loud rap on the door and my Father’s voice woke me up, saying, ‘Darling, it’s past 8:30. We weren’t sure if we should wake you. Did you not want breakfast?’ From then until lunch, it’s newspaper reading, doctors appointments, errands, village-y things, coffee mornings, yoga and pilates classes, flower arranging, shopping and library visits. With me here, the routine is interspersed with hot water bottle filling, frozen pea bags distribution and drink requests. Lunch is at 1:00 o’clock. Usually two courses, usually something deliciously substantial (I could get used to this). After lunch, my Father clears up and stacks the dishwasher. Woe betide you if you dare to help, try and wash up, or go near the sacred dishwasher! My Father has a system and no one, NO ONE, knows how to stack it correctly apart from him, therefore we aren’t allowed near it. Fine by us Pops! My Father then spends time in his study, doing ‘office’ stuff (solitaire?), whilst my Mother goes for a walk. Perhaps a cup of tea around 3:30pm? There also might be some activity in the garden during the day, or perhaps some DIY. Lovely. At some point in the late afternoon/early evening, the dulcet tones of Midsomer Murders or Australian Masterchef (obsessed!) might be heard through the thin wall between the spare room (me), and sitting room (them). This has caused slight angst on my part due to the volume and wall thickness.

My Father has a hearing aid, my Mother’s hearing is perfect. My Father only wears his hearing aid, after he has had his shower in the morning, which follows breakfast. So it’s, ‘Hmm, what?’ and very loud speaking in the mornings, followed by, ‘You don’t have to shout, I can hear you perfectly well!!’ once the hearing aid is in. Despite the hearing aid, the TV can sometimes sound like it’s turned up to concert volume and my head feels like it might implode. Cannot sleep, read, let a lone write. I need quiet, I don’t need to hear violent screams from the other side of the wall as someone else in murdered in Somerset!! Therefore, I sometimes decamp to another room, hobbling down the hallway with hot water bottle stuffed down the back of my pyjamas, book dangling between clenched teeth, heading for the peace of Dad’s study or outside. Sometimes this causes a momentary fright when my Mother spots my empty bed and can’t find me. I’m not sure where she thinks I will go… until yesterday I was only able to limp 20 metres on my crutches so my crazy escape plan would take me to the end of the drive and no further!!

Luckily, the last few days have given us the most glorious weather and I have been able to sit in the garden, listening to amorous pigeons cooing, birdsong, an occasional dog bark, clip-clop of horses and the hum of lawnmowers. My parents’ village is small and rural and everyone knows everyone. The postman doesn’t bother posting mail through the letterbox, he just opens the front door and puts the letters on the sideboard. There is a wonderful trust here that you don’t find many places. Villagers don’t phone or email, they just pop round. And if anyone is ill or needs help, there is an immediate posse of people available to drive, fetch, deliver, and help. It’s very appealing and it’s what I adore about village life and community. I suppose growing up in a village has made me want that same familiarity where I live in London. I have tried to get to know all my neighbours and know their names, I also support my local independent shops rather than the bigger chains. I guess I love, and am, a complete gossip and no one can give you the gossip like your neighbours, or the owners of your local corner shop, coffee shop, cafĂ© and laundrette. The guy that owns the key cutting and heel bar in Balham tube station, is such an unbelievable gossip that I have to give myself at least half an hour when I visit! So recuperating in a village is brilliant! You have your very own soap opera… a slightly elderly soap opera (the average age here is most probably 68), but soap opera, nonetheless. And also, wonderfully, the gossip is always accompanied by tea and cake! At 7pm, it’s a light supper - soup and sandwich or a salad - and then the daily discussion over what to watch. Never in my life have I had to think about television as much as I have in the last few days. The TV Times comes out, as does the TV guide on sky… it has different listings apparently. I always say the same thing: I honestly don’t mind, you choose, but still get the rundown of everything on between 8 and 10:30pm, just in case. Of course, I'm contrary (no!) and have no opinion until something is put on that I don’t like and then I complain (how to annoy your Father, example 3). 10:30pm is bedtime, usually after watching the news. 

I think you get into a rhythm after a few days, you start to adapt to your new home and things start to become easy. I have been looked after by my parents without one complaint or moan and I cannot thank them enough. In return, I have tried to fit into their routine without a complaint or a moan. I hope I have been successful… I hope I’m invited back, haha.

But look, it’s 10:37pm. Way past my bedtime!

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