I moved in with my father three years after my parents decided to split up. They were not easy years. I was busy with school and work. He was busy with a new job at a new clinic. They were hectic years, but we spent many hours together. I never came home to an empty house.
That got old fast.
But eventually I became used to it. Then I was comfortable with it. Finally I required it. I think that’s how things go sometimes. Adaption is a funny thing.
We’d talk about everything from how to bowl a proper flipper to the nature of greed and reasons for why people do things. I learned so much from him, but most of it just left more questions after the fact. Like all good conversations should.
My father was in the wars. He had a hernia, which would plop out whenever he stood up. He had a steel pin in one hip ever since he was 14, his other hip developed osteo-arthritis, which made a funny clicking sound when he walked, but the pain it put him in was not funny. His left leg had no ligament, after it snapped when he was 30 years old and never went to get it fixed. This and sausage rolls led him to become obese. His obesity led to leg ulcers as large as a thumb, which would weep constantly.
After a while I became his Carer. This put massive strain on my school work, social life and my own health. I’d wake up most mornings by 6am, and spend an hour dressing his legs and helping him put his shoes and socks on. Gradually he got worse. His hip became so bad that some days he couldn’t even get out of bed, for any reason. I even bought special phones so that he could page it and wake me up at night. It rang about as often as Shane Warne’s phone. For those of you who don’t know the King of Spin, his phone rang a lot.
My father had a lot of legitimate medical whinges, but his hips and legs and hernia were never mentioned by him. The things he did complain about made him seem like a hypochondriac. Every cough was pneumonia, every sneeze the flu, every headache a brain tumour. He was never serious about it, but it was enough to blur the lines. To get through life without having to take anyone’s advice.
The doctors wouldn’t operate on his hips because of his weight, fearing he would die on the table. He couldn’t drastically reduce his weight because of his hips. He tried, desperately, but he couldn’t shift enough weight.
I resented the hold he had on my life through his vulnerability. I resented having to wake up every 2 hours to make sure he had some water, or had fallen asleep properly, or to re-dress his wounds. I resented a lot of things but I never resented him for it. How could it be his fault? He would get so upset about me having to hang around all the time to make sure he was alright. It was a vicious cycle that we couldn’t escape.
One week was particularly bad. He spent nearly all of it in bed. I was constantly getting him stuff. He was talking about a bad headache the whole time, and he couldn’t sleep. We tried more water, paracetamol, codeine, vallium, air-con on 24 hours a day. Anything we could think of. By the end of the week he was feeling much, much better. He was still getting cold sweats, but he could sleep. He even managed to stay awake for his favourite TV shows, something he hadn’t been able to accomplish for weeks. I kept the phone by my bed, so that he could use the intercom. Just in case.
It stayed mercifully silent.
I remember waking up, fresh as a daisy for the first time in months. I must have gotten at least 4 or 5 hours straight of sleep. It was about 10am. I popped out of bed, stretching and yawning. I found a pair of clean shorts and went to the bathroom, as one does after a good sleep.
I knocked on his door as I went past, to see if he was up. When he didn’t answer I just shrugged and went to put the kettle on. I’m a massive coffee addict. Priority one mission for the first 15 minutes out of bed.
I went back to his bedroom and opened the door a crack, to see if he really was asleep. The sunlight streamed right through his window at this time of the morning and I had to squint a little bit. He was lying on his side, so I watched him for a few seconds, looking for the steady rise and fall of his chest.
He wasn’t moving.
My hands were shaking terribly as I went over to him, heart thudding in my ears. I felt his forehead and it was sticky and cold. His eyes were glued shut and his arms were sticking out at odd angles. I tried to roll him over but the bed skidded across the floor instead. I felt for his pulse, his hands were clammy.
The top half of him was white as his sheets, but the underside which he was sleeping on was purple. I raced to the phone and dialled 000 (emergency). I tucked the phone in my shoulder and I tried to heave him over again so I could start CPR, trying furiously to remember the steps. I was speaking autonomously to the robot on the end of the phone, asking which service I required. I remember thinking, “Well, which one do you think?” pretty unfairly. I finally managed to push him over. I heard a groan escape his lips and my heart leaped, thinking I might have a shot. But the way his arms moved, and the blueness of his limbs stopped me cold.
When the operator on the phone asked me where I was and what the problem is I answered as calmly as I could. The phone must have not been on the receiver for a while, so the batteries were low. They said not to worry and that help was on the way, and asking me for any signs of life at all. There weren’t. That lovely lady on the other end of the phone advised me to wait outside for the ambos. I didn’t need to be in there for the time being.
I started screaming at him to wake up. Typical stubborn dad refused. Neighbours were calling down, asking what was wrong and I burst out of the flat into the garden. My immediate neighbours rushed outside the house. A mother and son. They were extraordinarily nice people, most of the time. She came over to me while he ran into the house to check on dad.
The sirens were only a few minutes behind that. The ambulance pushed around the back of the car park, trying to get as close as they could to my flat. They jumped out and raced over with their gear. I stood up automatically and took them through the flat, wishing I’d cleaned up the day before like I said I was going to.
“Not a lot to do here,” the evil, gnarled old hag of an ambo whispered to her partner.
“Sorry we ruined your morning,” I said acidly.
Then the police arrived. A lot of police, now that I think about it. 3 patrols turned up. 3 patrols, one ambulance and 1 fire truck that didn’t hang around too long. I laughed a bit to myself as they tried, unsuccessfully to turn around so the coppers could get on my street.
The constable asked me if I needed to ring anyone. I tried my mother first, with no answer. Then my brother, same again. I finally reached my sister.
“Dad’s dead,” I said, trying not to burst into tears. The first time I’d wanted to cry all morning. I remember also thinking at that moment that I would have to come up with a more tactful way of informing people in the future. It was rather abrupt.
“Ok,” she choked, “I’m on my way. We’ll be there soon. I love you.”
“I am rather grand aren’t I?” I said gloomily.
I went outside. Someone had made me a coffee, and gone to get cigarettes for me from the shops. That was my neighbour who lived on the top floor. She’d brought down a chair for me to sit on, so I slumped against the wall and fell backwards, as one does in these situations. I spilled my coffee on my clean shorts while I tried to light my smoke. I didn’t want to leave my dad, so I just kept sitting there for a long time, the smoke burning down to the filter without me taking a single drag.
My mind was crystal clear. I knew I was in shock, and when it came it would destroy me. And it did, but that wasn’t for a few days after. Another story for another time.
My mum rang and said she was on her way. She’d been out sailing with her then boyfriend, now husband. He’s a good bloke, I like him. She asked me if I was alright, and I said I was doing pretty good, considering.
My brother appeared from around the corner, with my sister in toe. I got up and ran over to him. There was a loud slap of our chests as we hugged tightly and he was tearing up.
“Don’t go in there,” I said to my sister when I hugged her, even closer than my brother.
She nodded silently.
My top floor neighbour offered her house for us to sit and wait for my mother in. I agreed after some cajoling from her, my brother, my sister, and one of my mother’s best friends. The constable asked me not to go anywhere, as I would need to give a statement after the coroners had shown up. That made me feel sick.
Had I somehow missed something that was tantamount to criminal negligence?
I went upstairs and slumped outside on their balcony. My brother lit me another smoke and my sister sat down next to me, putting her head on my shoulder. We sat there for about an hour without saying anything.
Outside the apartment I could hear the soft clip-clop of little piggy feet, and when I looked up I saw the constable, hat in hand and a form letter in his hand.
“We could wait for your mother if you want?” he said.
“No. It’s alright. The sooner we do this the better.” I replied.
My brother went downstairs to see my dad for one last time, and my sister went with him, leaving me alone with the copper.
He asked about the last week, and I told him dad had been feeling very weak, and had a bad headache. He asked me what the last thing he’d had to eat, which was a steak and kidney pie.
“Oh yum,” the constable said, obviously without thinking judging by the look on his face.
We talked about his past medical history and other important details. He seemed satisfied.
“Your dad seems like he was a tough old bastard, mate. Two buggered hips, a buggered leg, and he still kept going. Bloody nurses, think they’re superhuman eh? Not a lot anyone could have done to help him, but you know that don’t you?”
I nodded and smiled at the constable.
My mother appeared at the door to the flat. I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to see anyone in my entire life. She snapped at the constable for not waiting for her to show up but I told her it was my decision and that it was over and we could go now. I went out on the concrete parapet of the flats and looked down. A gigantic red bag on a gurney being hauled over the grass of the garden below. I almost vomited for the second time that morning.
I quickly took my hands off the rails and went back out to the balcony. My mother said she would go collect some of my things, then come and get me when they were done.
I’ve read, heard, and seen a lot about how those kinds of events get fuzzy after a day or so. It hasn’t happened for me. The rest of the day was a blur.
But I remember that morning.