Saturday, 16 May 2015

Father Figure

My grandad is sick. 

My mother and father had broken up before I was even born. He had always been a waste of space really, so no surprise when he turned up five hours late to take my mum to the hospital. What's the rush? She was only in labour. He then spent most of my arrival on the phone to his new girlfriend, and made the birth of my mother's first born to suck a lot more than it could have done. 

A few years later, he decided he did want a stab at being a father after all and that's why we all had to start going to contact centres. And why I got called out of my primary school class to speak to a kind man in a suit, a child psychiatrist of some sort, about how I felt about my parents. I remember so clearly pointing to a picture of a sad face when asked how I felt when in my father's company. I then pointed to a happy face to describe how I felt when he left. At five years old, I was kept out of the loop during the court proceedings, but my mother has since filled me in. Essentially, my father cocked it up. He thought the best way to win a custody battle was by attacking the competency of my mother's parenting, rather than actually trying to build a relationship with his daughter. It was apparent to anyone that my mum adored me, and that I adored her. Attempting to fault her capabilities was fruitless and after a lengthy battle, my father was allowed to see me once every fortnight for just an hour. Luckily for me, fathers did not enjoy the same custody rights that they do today, and his poor effort in getting to know me was reflected in this measly visiting allowance. 

Up until six months ago, I had seen my father every other Friday without fault. Despite the seemingly insignificant amount of time I had to endure of his company, I dreaded his visits, but I was obligated to be there. It's not like he's a particularly bad man. Most people find him witty, he has many friends and enjoys part time extra work in crumby tea-time dramas - Holby City was one of his most recent. It's just that we never gelled, he never tried to get to know me and I didn't him. You can't force a relationship, despite his quite gallant attempts by the end of it.

Despite this, I did have a father figure. My grandfather. I have seen him most days since I was born. He practically raised me, alongside my mother. He attended all my school plays, paid for my piano lessons and chauffeured me to friends' houses. But more than that, we spent mornings before school together writing court-room dramas that we would later act out, he spent hours helping me master fractions and perfect my homework. We would go on adventures; finding pretend castles near the beach, and pick blackberries for our picnics. When my Granny died, a few years back, I went round his house for tea every Tuesday evening and we would discuss Hitler's speeches over our pasta and do the crossword over dessert. My grandad is the best man I will ever know. Second to none. 

My grandad is sick. I mean, he's been sick for a long time now. He had his first heart attack when I was two years old (I'm nineteen now). I should probably mention that my grandad has always been a very active man; his walks were always marches, his dabbling in DIY saw no limits, from plumbing to electricity to building extensions, his garden was always alive and growing. Thus, the heart attack came as a blow for him, but slowly he and my mum built up his strength and he was back to being himself, if a little slower. I was thirteen when he had his second heart attack. This time, he was older. He didn't bounce back as well. A significant part of his heart died the second time, and he was diagnosed with heart failure, which means there is no getting better. There is only 'making you feel comfortable'. Palliative care. It felt like a death sentence. Since that second heart attack, my grandad has fought to re-build himself. He is slower, weaker and less capable than he was before, but, six years on and he has defied his prognosis. He's weaker and his lungs are beginning to fail - he was diagnosed with chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease a couple of years ago, the very disease my Granny, his wife, died of - but he's still here, he's still alive. Something we didn't imagine six years ago. 

My grandad is a wonderfully, inspiringly strong man. Which makes the condition I saw him in tonight particularly hard to take in. Grandad was diagnosed yesterday with pancreatitis, caused by a cluster of gallstones. The treatment ultimately involves the removal of his gallbladder and would ordinarily be a non life-threatening condition. But the pancreatitis has caused my grandad's organs to inflame, putting significant pressure on his heart and lungs, meaning his heart is struggling to cope with the stress. The doctors are unable to relieve the pain he is in at the normal rate because his heart cannot cope with the needed drugs. The surgery that is required for the gallbladder removal carries a significant risk; he has a much greater chance of his heart stopping when under anaesthesia. He may not survive it. And if he does, his quality of life will be worsened because of the pressure on his heart. Disability is not an option for my grandad. He wouldn't want to live if he couldn't live independently. 

Despite pancreatitis being a significantly better cause for a stay in hospital than his other episodes, I'm still very scared. My grandad is a pivotal part of my life and, selfishly, I need him to get better. I need him to come home. 

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