Last week I got a late evening email from a friend who was waiting to board a plane. Her father, who had been ill for a while had developed complications following treatment for metastatic kidney cancer and the chemotherapy that he was being treated with was not treating him any more kindly than it was treating the cancer it was charged with targeting.
She was miles away from home. She had been back a month beforehand to visit when it seemed as if treatment options had begun to run out and his body was not coping well with the effects of the drugs they were giving him to try and extend his life. Suddenly – and both unexpectedly and expectedly at the sane time – the fragile pack of cards that had been stacked up carefully into a house, started to reel from the brunt of the onslaught. One event led very quickly to another and she got the call that no one ever wants to get: that she needed to board a plane and get back home.
Her mum was sleeping at the hospital on a fold out bed, and there were family members doing shifts at the bedside. He had fallen unconscious and was being kept out of pain with morphine. They had ceased all other medication as it was just making him sicker.
I lay awake for some time after her flight was called to board and we had finished chatting on messenger. I could not help but think of her, sitting in that plane seat, unable to make the plane go any faster as she travelled towards a goodbye she never hoped to have, but still wanted. Time was literally flowing out in front of her as she crossed international date lines on a 16 hour flight, not knowing at the end – and still facing a two and a half hour drive to get to the hospital – whether death, who by all accounts likes to work locally, had beaten her to his bedside.
I was also thinking of her father, a man I was lucky enough to know for a few years before he retired from the organisation I deal a lot with. He was a gentleman and a thoroughly decent one. He was kind enough to seek me out when I visited the national office and sit down to ensure that I understood how the funding system worked. I was completely new in the job and had no idea what I was doing but he took the time to introduce himself and help. He always had time for questions. He was a deeply honest man, with a sense of dry humour and I enjoyed his company immensely.
Over the weekend I thought a number of times about my friend and her father. By all accounts, it had been touch and go whether she would make it to the hospital in time and yet I had not heard any news. Like the patient man he was, though, he had clearly decided to make her visit worth it. Statistically, I know that similar events to the ones in the hospital room where he was staying were being played out around the country. People die every day and for the most part, we are in complete ignorance of it, until it affects someone you know.
I got a message today and called her. He had died this morning. Although he never regained consciousness, he had beaten all expectations and lasted almost a week from the time that medical intervention had been discontinued. It was difficult to know what to say, knowing that I was was somewhere on a long list of people who had liked him and were being called with the bad news, but not wanting to say anything too trite.
The world is one man down tonight, and I am sad because of it. Vale, Mr H, one of this world’s gentlemen.