Picture the scene. It’s the last Sunday in Covid May. Warm and sunny. Three people are laughing over coffee in our wildlife meadow. Suddenly my wife (C) leaps up with a cry and collapses. She is two months into a “weeks or months” prognosis for untreatable secondary lung cancer.
She is gasping and her fingers are blue. 999 ! Send twins (14) to catch arrivals at gate.
In 7 minutes there are people running up the field. Briefing. Oxygen, Morphine.
“We could take her to hospital, drain lungs, give two more weeks”.
In hospital? Masks, tubes, no visitors? NO. Wave ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitation’ and ‘Treatment Escalation Plan’ papers. Check signatures, OK. Thank goodness we had her wishes properly recorded.
Into house, shrink dining table, bring big rocking chair, blankets. Stabilised. Son arrives.
Someone is making phone calls, don’t know to whom. Somewhere, things are happening.
I call the priest, who ended his tenure in Easter but locked down is still here. He comes and gives communion. C is conscious but can only grunt appropriately.
We move a bed downstairs. Nurses transfer her. Lots of pillows. Morphine pump.
C slides down bed continually. Need a hospital bed, to raise both ends.
Son-in-law arrives to remove twins.
Hospital bed arrives, is assembled, transfer. Better. Electric bed, air mattress, pump, radio, light - more sockets! More! Commode arrives, cleaning materials, little sponges on sticks to moisten lips. Very biblical. Catheterised.
Need more oxygen - these cylinders are “mine” and running out - Air Liquide need a doctor’s prescription to replace. Call out of hours doctor, he comes, convinces AL over the phone.
Children and I do 4 hour watches overnight. Now two teams of two are deployed - Medical care twice a day, checking, and adjusting recipe and flow of morphine pump. Personal care twice a day. Washing, changing clothes, and, a nice touch, carefully combing tangled hair.
All this over a Bank Holiday Monday in Covid lockdown!
Tuesday evening, breathing changes, call OoHDoc. Right at the end of his shift, but he comes in minutes. “End of life is top priority”. 10 minutes later, two last slow breaths. Peacefully, in no pain, at home, family by the bedside. What we wanted. What most of us would want.
Doctor stays with us for an hour, we talk quietly. Then call pre-arranged undertaker to collect her at 7, so son can go to work afterwards. We mark the occasion with a stiff brandy, and retire for a few hours, leaving my wife with flowers and a candle.
Wednesday, the medical team arrive to collect kit and remaining drugs.
I ask how they cope. They reply “It’s a privilege”.
Over the next couple of days, everything disappears, bed, kit, materials for incineration.
I have no idea what different organisations were involved, who coordinated them, whose budget it was on, nothing. To me, it simply happened. A stream of skilled, caring, loving people did exactly what was needed. Other than individually, I don’t know who to thank.
GE. Cornwall. 2020.