Nothing You Can Do, Duck

Back in March of this year my Mum had to go into hospital. This was down in Spain where she stays for the winter on a campsite with John, her partner of twelve years or so, in their motor home. She had to have an operation on her bile duct, which was ‘blocked.’ She was in hospital for a while, three or four weeks, which to me implied that it was more than something minor, though we were told that ‘they didn’t think there was anything to really worry about.’ The hospital was a nice place, by all accounts, ‘brand new, like a hotel, duck.’ I offered to fly down to Spain, but, really, as well as there being nothing to really worry about there was, ‘nothing you could really do, duck,’ either. So I left it at mobile phone calls and texts.

Eventually Mum and John returned to the UK, later in the year than they usually do, for the English summer. On the way over, before they got on the ferry, there was an episode involving a haemorrhage from a fistula. It was now I began to look up medical terms. Perhaps everybody knows what a fistula is but I did not: the dictionary says it’s: an abnormal or surgically made passage between a hollow or tubular organ and between the body surface, or between two tubular organs. My mum says it’s ‘where the pipes have been going in and out.’ My brother Bumble lives in Spain on a permanent basis because he has so much metal in his legs – from injuries sustained during a cat-burgling-type incident that went wrong some years ago – that he can’t really deal with northern winters because the metal conducts the cold right into his bones and makes him shudder. Bumble travelled in the motor home with them and was a great help during the haemorrhage -‘You’d have been useless mate, you’d have fainted,’ as he put it. He is forty-five, I am forty-eight, but we are still capable of marking the scorecard as if we were ten and thirteen. Schoolboy days are the days we will all be talking about soon enough, I reckon. Nostalgia is one of the places this will take us all.

Back in Stoke-on-Trent there was a second haemorrhage, in the kitchen, when my mum was alone. ‘Blood everywhere, duck, thought I’d had it.’ John found her in time. At the City General they sealed an aneurism ‘which had popped’ on the hepatic artery. Five days later mum was out of the City General and back on the sofa. I drove over from Norwich to see her. She looked a bit weak. I was beginning to find the whole of this narrative more than a little concerning. The word cancer had not been mentioned yet, I don’t think, but now, if I remember rightly, it was. Yes, the original blockage was a tumour but they thought it was all clear, that it had been removed, had not spread, and that the test results looked okay and that of course they hadn’t wished to worry anybody not from Spain and that that was why information was released on a need to know basis. Last Thursday everything changed. Mum phoned me up and left a message at lunchtime. I didn’t return the call for about four hours, I was sorting out songs for that stand in DJ slot at Future FM. But I had heard a slight note in her voice on the ansaphone so I did call back before I went out to the radio station. ‘The thing is,’ she said, ‘the damn thing’s only gone and come back, hasn’t it.’ There was more than a slight note in the way she said this. Then she started using expressions like palliative care, in the liver, can you sort a few things out for me legal-wise, and, do you think I ought to tell your brother and sister now? I surfed the net and found the likely prognosis, it looked like, it looks like, a year at best. I shed some tears, of course. When I told her this she seemed a little surprised. It’s Bumble who’s the sentimental fool, not me.

Yesterday I went over to see her, to sort out the legal stuff and to ask questions about other pressing matters, what best to do about Christmas, for instance, and what her surname is, by the way. She has two ex-husbands and will be getting married to John soon; I’m never sure where we stand: when I send a birthday card I just write Mum on the envelope. Apart from that I fell back on black humour and was direct. Mum, who is no shrinking violet and who can come up with some evocative imagery of her own (of which more in due course), and who wants me to put this story up on the blog, had moved the language on from ‘palliative care’ to ‘when I die.’ However, I still managed to provoke a frozen stare when I asked if she had thought of the songs for the funeral. ‘I have not quite got that far ahead yet, Stephen,’ she said, frozenly. I only get called Stephen if I am in trouble. ‘C’mon,’ I said, ‘Everyone has their funeral tunes sorted out, it’s like Desert Island Discs.’ Mum’s friend Sylvia had arrived and was picking at a chip butty while listening in to the conversation. Sylvia is spiritual, has almost certainly been to séances, and was wearing a Davy Crockett hat, indoors. ‘He can’t help it,’ Sylvia said, looking at my mum with a degree of sympathy beyond that which the situation provokes in any case. ‘It’s because he’s a Leo.’

I don’t think I’m going to be very good at this.

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13 Responses to Nothing You Can Do, Duck

  1. mum says:

    ” Ah up duck ” Only a quick comment at this time ” This is fine carry on with more of the same ” Gorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn Stoke ( Pulis out !!!! ) only joking ! 🙂 xx

  2. Daftburger says:

    Hopefully you’ll live to see Pulis out mum! x (I’m not joking!) 😀

    My wife’s family didn’t tell her her dad had died until six months after the event ‘as he didn’t want to cause any upset in her life’ at that time (She’d just started a new job). Contemplate that. From my point of view I can’t imagine anything so cruel but I’m a sentimental softy westerner!

  3. OS says:

    Hey up, Mum. They’t be owrate, duck. It ow comes rate in the wash. 😉


  4. OS says:

    Hold on….

    I’ll do a blog fer thee over in Bag End, Mum. Dunner rush ower theer, ar need think abite this.


  5. OS says:

    That didna tak long. They cost goo over theer nar. 😉


  6. Stephen Foster says:

    I’m sure you’ll be welcome for a visit OS but try to leave all your crap inside the Green Seat and not spread it around Whitehill ‘cos that is quite a smart area where people tend to keep a bit tidier than you.

  7. Jane Davitt says:

    My dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January and died at the end of September. It’s so very hard to be told that there’s no hope and the medical people never really do give you the honest truth. A few days before he died they told mum he could hang on for weeks.

    I still haven’t really got to grips with the fact that if I need advice or help I can’t pick up the phone and call Dad, who knew everything, always, the way dads do. Every time I think about it, the tears well up, surprising me, because I don’t often cry. Now it feels they’re just there, waiting for a random thought or item that triggers a memory.

    Which is a roundabout way of saying I’m so very sorry about your mum and I hope that something can be done. Sympathy from a stranger might not mean much, but it’s sincerely meant.

    I don’t have a song (the pressure! I’ll be judged on it!), but Dad’s was Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ which went down well at Bradwell Crem and at the do afterwards a lot of the men (not the women, oddly) volunteered theirs.

  8. Stephen Foster says:

    Men make lists, women have better things to do, maybe.

    I’m sorry for your loss, Jane. Your story sounds to me like a preview of the ‘normal grieving’ that will lie ahead, the crying, that’s what memories do, how they work, isn’t it? Mum gave me a folder of photos yesterday, a few of which I’ll scan into the blog in due course, there’s an absolute corker of her with a beehive from the sixties holding some baby with one wisp of hair which appears to be trying to emulate hers…

  9. Lee Wright says:

    To Foster’s mum, I’m really sorry to have read your bad news. Be sure I’ll be thinking of you during your difficult time. Keep your chin up.

    To Stephen, my dad (who sadly passed away 3 years ago) once told me never to give advice (which in itself is a bit contradicting) so I won’t. So keep your chin up as well, and keep the Pulis Out flag flying.

  10. Geraldine says:

    What to say at a time like this? As Jane says above, sympathy from strangers (even those of a few years’ standing) might seem unusual but, like hers, mine is very sincerely meant. We want our parents to live forever, especially when we have our own children. Mine never knew my mother and barely knew my father, something I have always much regretted as they would all have got so much enjoyment from each other. At least your Mum has had years of love and fun with her grandchildren. I hope that your remaining time together will be full of more such love and fun and not too many tears, although they are an essential part of coming to terms with all of this.

    I look forward to seeing some of those photos, as from reading your books over the last few years, I have built up a picture in my mind of your Mum, which has been enlarged and coloured by her many comments on here.

    To you Mum, if I may call you that, I wish you the joy of those you love around you, laughing over happy memories and creating new ones for the future. And of course, a full winning card for Stoke for the remainder of the season…

  11. Geraldine says:

    I have contemplated that, Daftburger, and I cannot, cannot, get my head around it. How on earth could anyone think that would help her?

  12. mum says:

    Thanks to you all xxxxxxx Will be keeping everyone up to date 🙂

  13. George S says:

    Just reading this. So sorry to hear it. What a horrible thing! C and I send the very best wishes both to you and, especially, to Mum F x

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