Before He Was Sick

He's old, not long for this world. A diagnosis of cancer after an otherwise healthy life. The doctors have told him that treatment won't be able to do anything.

He's strong, he's looked after his family, moved them to this country. He's raised a son and a daughter.

They don't have much money, the house has souvenirs and memories. It's clean, fresh fruit on the table.

When I meet him he's angry. I recognise it in his tone of voice, in his body language. He gives one word answers, offers no explanations. Taking his history is like pulling teeth, one after another.

Before we go to hospital he wants to use the toilet, he wants to change his clothes.

He calls to his grown son, shouts at him. The pyjamas, not these pyjamas, those ones, the ones over there.

He's angry, he loses his temper – more shouting at his son.

His son sighs, I can see it annoying him. His father is shouting at him, but he's not doing anything wrong. He's doing what his father wants, but it's apparent;y not good enough.

I ask the man if he want's his wife to come to the hospital with him, he tells me no, that his son will come instead.

The wife shares a look with the son as he helps his father out the house and into the ambulance.

He'll be gone soon, the father. I want to tell the son that his father doesn't hate him, that when he is gone he'll miss him and that the anger isn't really directed at him.

I want to tell him that he should remember the good times, before his father became sick.

But it's not my place.

9 thoughts on “Before He Was Sick”

  1. Hard one to bite the tongue through, that one. If the patient's attitude suggests anything to me, it's that he feels secure enough in his family's love for him to be able to take it out on them. Unfair, yes, but I hope the family can see it this way one day. That he loved them and they loved him, regardless of what went on in his final days.

  2. It's hard sometimes not to say what needs saying (especially if you are as tactless as I am, not that anybody is ) In similar situations I try to give an encouraging smile and maybe a whispered “your doing a great job”. I think knowing that someone understands the weight on your shoulders makes it somewhat lighter…and I presume by these postings that you survived the tube of death? Well done that man .. only the return trip to go …..

  3. I saw a lot of that when my father was ill – losing his temper with us and withdrawing from us. He was simply trying to deal with the fact he was dying. I wish someone could have told me that was the reason, but I only put the pieces together later.

  4. The desire to fix things, to end emotional trauma out of my own inability to deal with it – even peripherally – would make it impossible for me to do what you do, Tom. I would end up pissing people off left and right, unintentionally. :/ Thank you, as always, for sharing what you do with those of us who are fascinated armchair trauma junkies.BTW, Google Reader told me I didn't have permission to read this feed, but only starting with this latest post. Are you blocking the RSSdom on purpose? I'll gladly come here to read, but was wondering. It could be just me, but the rest of my feeds were working.

    I hope you are having a good vacation. 😀

  5. It reminds me of my dad.I am 27 now but I was 14 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (& cancer in his bladder). My sister was only 11.

    When he got diagnosed he wouldnt tell us and keep it to himself until it was too late for efficient treatment.

    When my parents told us the doctors had already given him not more than 3 months to live despite chemo therapy but we wanted to have a last holiday together in Scandinavia and the doctors too agreed that it would be nice as it used to be his favourite holiday destination and they said he was medically well enough to make that journey – although he wasnt …

    He changed completely becoming another person – he started to become angry at all of us for everything and anything happening around him when really he was too upset with his own disease, his failing body and the destiny that seemed too unjust and too cruel to get accepted. He was angry that he couldnt work anymore and provide things for his family, he felt useless but mostly helpless and it made him a broken man.

    He started to command and chase us around. We had to provide everything immediately and although we all loved him to bits and tried to work hard it was never good enough and there was a time when my mom and I did become annoyed (although we never stopped loving him and/or feeling sorry for him in the state he was in) – but not my little sister… She was the one who still came running and she was the one who still listened to his never ending orders to get him a new blanket, another towel, a new pair of trousers and a different pair of socks. It was heartbreaking to watch …..

    He's been gone a long time now but I still remember the guilty feeling after his death when I thought about the times we ended up shouting at each other.

    In the end he was too weak and too hard to look after at home so he was cared for in a hospice ….

    He was high on morphine and there was a time when I entered his room and he was halucinating and didnt recognize me. I was 14 – that was the worst thing I have ever seen: “It's me, I'm your daughter” I said – it was horrible to watch him fall apart.

    He was dead before he died and we said goodbye long before he passed away… if only we hadnt been kids…. if only he hadnt died that young…. Life's not fair, I still miss him and I still regret not being able to be there every time he called out to us…

  6. Do not go gentle into that good night,Old age should burn and rave at close of day;Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Though wise men at their end know dark is right,Because their words had forked no lightning theyDo not go gentle into that good night.Good men, the last wave by, crying how brightTheir frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,Do not go gentle into that good night.Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sightBlind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,Rage, rage against the dying of the light.And you, my father, there on the sad height,Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.Do not go gentle into that good night.Rage, rage against the dying of the light. [Dylan Thomas – c 1951]

  7. The old man might have been that way all his life. There might have been too few good moments to remember. You never know. That's the other reason it's good not to say anything. Unfortunately.

  8. wow … thanks for posting this, so very appropriate poem, I've never read any Dylan Thomas before, time to change that me thinks.

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