Riding the rollercoaster

I hate Rollercoasters. It defies me to understand why people would want to put themselves through the alternate cycle of terror and relief. The exhilaration of speeding through the sky could never compensate me for the heartstopping terror of being poised at the top with the stomach churning vision of the track disappearing beneath your feet.

Thats the kind of day we had yesterday it began with two phone calls as we sat eating toast bacon and mushrooms in my parents snug back kitchen watching the clouds rush by. Good news – the care package was in place and could start tomorrow. My sister heads in to take the early shift and share the news with mum. As Dad and I linger over another cup of coffee. The phone rings again. Hoorah- Transport is booked for 11am tomorrow. What a relief.

We talk through our chores. Lawyers to get another copy of the will. Dad can only find a draft. Bank to register his power of attorney. Rehability to buy a bed pan. In town we get through these relatively quickly. Even with regular stops for enquiries about mum and the strangely comforting looks of shared pain and silent hugs from people who walk up to Dad. I even manage to buy a coat from the small charity shop mum finds so many of her bargins in. Living in Texas has broken the habit of going out wearing a coat. I haven’t minded getting wet but today I am cold.

Feeling quite pleased with ourselves we get in the car and I head for our treat outing –  shopping at Waitrose where inevitably we will sit to enjoy our free coffee and a small treat. Dad is just about to start directing me down his ‘pretty way there’ when I suggest he calls mum to see if there is anything she wants. I had tried her a few times earlier but she had not answered. This time the phone is answered immediately but it is my sisters voice that comes through the car speakers mum is not very good at all. She asks mum if she wants to talk to us we hear a few mumbled words then the phone goes dead.

Waitrose abandoned we make the hospital in record time to find mum behind the curtains with the paliative doctor and resgistrar. They are subdued and they talk though pain relief in real concern. Last night mum had ended up in agony with no additional pain relief available eventually they gave her an injection which completely sent her ‘into the blue yonder’. She looks frail. Her mouth dry and lips sticking together. Her speach quiet and slightly slurred. She freequently utters what appear to be non sequiturs until you realise she is answering something asked before or by someone else. The registrars go with a plan to start a pump and back up medication and help for if the pain gets worse ar home. They say gently that if it gets unmanageable she can always revert to her initial plan for a hospice.

Them gone mum mainfully struggles to maintain conversation but rejects food taking only a tiny sliver of strawberry proffered by my sister. She even refuses my offer to masage her arm. Looking at her its hard to believe it will be weeks before the end or even days. FaceTiming my daughter I tell her there is probably no point in her coming now as she has begged daily to do.

My dad, sister and I escape the hospital for a late lunch in town. It feels great to get out of there . The drive through the windy streets of medieval Norwich and then the quiet restaurant and platter of delicious fish a timely reminder that life goes on. But we are all shocked at the rapid decline in mum. Even expected its shocking. We pointlessly rehash the decisions about her treatment and medical failures that got us here.

Her impending death hangs before us like a gallows. I really believed I knew how the rest of the day would go.

But I was wrong. For after all we are riding the rollercoaster. For in the evening – under the tender care of two amazing nurses – she rallies. I have deliberately avoided using names here. But they both deserve a name check. So thank you Beth and Chloe on Edgefield Ward at the Norfolk and Norwich. Beautifully and senstively cleaned by one and pain relief sorted by the other, we are gifted with the return of our recognisably alert and engaged mother. Who once again is putting lentil crisps in her mouth and the world to rights.

To celebrate we go to the Harbour Inn in Southwold for fish and chips. Its really magical down in the harbour . The dying sun sends swathes of orange and gold across the sky. I stand still and absorb the sounds of seabirds, the water lapping against the wooden quay, the moared sailboats bobbing. It is almost blissful and reassuringly timelesss. On countless evenings, over decades, mum and I have stood here enjoying the same view.

I know we  have a while yet to ride the rollercoaster. But in that moment I feel my feet touch the ground again.

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