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Open Features: Bernard

Brian Lockett brings us a matter-of-fact tale about end days.

It all started when I went into hospital for a hernia operation.

Well, that’s not quite true. It all started the day I was born. That’s when the dying process starts, isn’t it?

I’d not been feeling completely well for some time. Indeed, I’d already had my prostate removed, which was when they decided to do something about the hernia. At least, that’s how I remember things were. But I do get confused from time to time. That’s what comes of being eighty years old.

The doctor at the hospital used the phrase ‘inoperable cancer of the pancreas’. I didn’t react violently - after all, I wasn’t in pain. Well, only intermittently. I just said: “So I’m going to die pretty soon, am I?” The doctor and I had got to know each other quite well over a few weeks.

“Well,” he said, “shall we say sooner rather than later? Can’t be precise about these things, you know.”

“Talk me through what’s likely to happen.”

He did.

I’d be sent home. A couple of carers would visit three or four times a day.

“What sort of care will I need?” I asked.

“They’ll look after your basic needs. Give you morphine injections. See you have an adequate supply of liquid morphine for self-medication.”

“But not enough for me to make the biggest decision of my life, I suppose?”

He smiled, grimaced and fluttered his hands before continuing.

“We will arrange for you to be admitted to a hospice … ”

“At a time no doubt when I’m not longer capable of contributing to any decisions at all.”

He cocked his head to one side and looked at me.

“I must say, Bernard, you’re taking this very well.”

“You can’t hurry things along?” I asked.

“You know I can’t, but the people who run hospices will reduce your suffering to a minimum, if you get my drift.”

I did get his drift and thanked him.

“Can I rely on you to tell my wife and children? Lord knows how Maria will take it.”

My wife is Italian and had never really appreciated the English way of dealing with bad news.

I sighed. Like all Englishmen I hate a fuss. I didn’t want her clucking on about getting a second opinion, scouring the internet for miracle cures, contacting psychics, mystics and similar amoral exploiters of other people’s misery.

A few days later I was introduced to a couple of buxom, cheerful, middle-aged ladies who accompanied me home in the ambulance and busied themselves arranging for my bed to be brought downstairs . They also had a long whispered chat with Maria behind my back.

My son and daughter started to visit me more frequently. I can’t say how frequently because the morphine, essential and welcome though it was, had an effect on my memory. In fact Isobel corrected me once when I called her Angela.

“Did I?” I asked. “Who’s Angela?”

“You had a sister called Angela, Dad,” she said, “but she died eight years ago.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Not to worry,” said Isobel. “It’s not important.”

The phone was placed on a little table alongside the armchair where I started to spend most daylight hours and, until things got really bad, I was able to chat with quite a number of people I’d lost touch with.

They didn’t know what to say, of course, so I had to help them out.

“I’m being cared for superbly well, “I’d say. “Everyone’s doing a splendid job. I’m only sorry I’m upsetting so many people. The professionals make my life as comfortable as possible - but it’s the amateurs who seem to take things badly. There ought to be compulsory courses for them to go on, don’t you think?“ And I’d laugh, though it usually ended up in a coughing fit.

An old friend from the office travelled a considerable distance to see me and we talked until I got very tired and lost the thread. Still, I was touched.

Maria cried a lot and I did what I could to comfort her, but the time came when I could no longer stand up to put my arm round her.

Just now I feel very tired and I suspect I’m - what’s the phrase? - drifting in and out of consciousness.

**

For more of Brian's varied and highly-readable stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Brian+Lockett

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