My dad is about to be another birthday older. In birthday card terms he is in the ‘age cards’ section. There has been cause, in the past eighteen months, to not look as far ahead as this big birthday. At times, wafting from hour to hour has been as far as our family could move, such is the terrifying limbo experience of living with horrible cancers.
Two weeks after mum’s left kidney was dispensed with, along with its tumour – fingers remain crossed – dad was rushed to hospital. Perhaps God has to fulfil a certain amount of deadly deeds, perhaps he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many tests and scans later and the diagnosis was Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.
When dad was admitted to hospital, in the very first black days, he was moved from pillar to post rather – without a precise diagnosis there wasn’t a specific ward to put him on. He was so very poorly and, despite cocktails of morphine swishing through his veins, in a lot of pain. On his nomadic bed hop in the pre-diagnosis few days, he was surrounded by relatively well fellow patients.
One evening, in those first days, sister number four and I went to visit dad. We arrived at the ward we had been to the previous day and were informed that dad and his inmates had been moved to a different bay. We duly followed the wave-of-the-hand directions given by the nurse and eventually reached our destination. We stood and cast our eyes over the patients before us, scrutinising each person in turn whilst trying not to appear to be doing so. We didn’t want to be seen as rude, staring at poorly people – they might think we were trying to guess their illness, like ‘people watching’ where you pick people out as they pass by and guess their occupations. And what if we didn’t actually recognise dad? A hospital environment was so way out of context to his life that our eyes might actually pass over him lying in bed.
We checked out the beds, as discreetly as possible, and were certain – no dad. However, the far bed in the left hand corner had its curtains drawn around it. Dad must be in there. I stepped tentatively into the bay, eyes on the curtain. A young doctor in scrubs emerged from within. I explained that I was in search of my dad and gave his name. The doctor repeated dad’s christian name and gestured behind the curtain.
I peeped around the edge of the fabric.
“That’s not my dad,” I said.
The man sitting up in bed had long dark hair, an impressive amount of piercings and was about thirty years younger than my dad. He was indeed called Patrick though.
I muttered my apologies to the cubicle at large and walked back to Number Four. I relayed the description of the wrong Patrick to her. She began to giggle. “It’s like the books,” she whispered. “That’s not my dad, his hair is too long.” She was misquoting a toddler book from the series ‘That’s not my…dinosaur, mermaid, kitten…’ Touchy-feely board books with a different texture to feel on every other page. The favourite in my house was, ‘That’s not my monster.’ Each page would recount a reason why it wasn’t the right monster – he would be too furry on one page, too spiky on the next and so on.
“That’s not my dad,” I simpered, “he has too many piercings.” Number Four and I were convulsed with inappropriate mirth. Black hysteria. As the months have gone on, our fragile, roller coaster existence has taken great comfort in the dark art of black humour.
We composed ourselves and found a white board on the wall displaying the whereabouts of the patients. Our dad was AWOL. We began to feel slightly anxious, the hilarity of a few minutes before fading. We stopped a passing doctor for advice. He brought out his smartphone (!), inputted dad and directed us to the opposite end of the mile long corridor of bays.
Relieved, my sister and I giggled outrageously past the numerous beds along the noisy passageway, inventing ‘That’s not my…’ titles as we went. When we eventually found dad our black humour deserted us instantly.
That’s not my dad, he is too poorly.