Sworn To Secrecy

Not exactly an uplifting Monday post. For that, I apologize in advance. Sorry.

Sunday evening, my wife got an email from a friend whom we, and most everyone else, already know has a serious, long-term illness. She wrote that she has just been told she probably has only months to live. She noted that the only person who knows that is – unsurprisingly – her husband (they have no children).

And now, so does my wife; she’s second. She asked my wife not to tell anyone else; but, naturally, my wife immediately told me. However, I don’t really count as someone else, because I’m essentially a “dead end,” a cul-de-sac: I’m certainly not going to tell anyone.

There I was yesterday morning, thinking, oh, I’ll have a quiet day and try to “de-stress.” In my creative cocoon, I was seeing light at the end of the latest tunnel: the sequel is almost done. Finally, that struggle is nearing its end.

How unimportant the likes of that always seems whenever we are unexpectedly thrust back into unforgiving, actual reality.

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

Earlier this year, we’d already endured the worst death I have ever experienced. “I wonder if that’s what they told Kam?” was my knee-jerk response when my wife told me about this, more distant, friend. Later, we tried to lose ourselves in the first episode of the newest season of Downton Abbey.

Life is full of harsh moments like this. Yet this is new to me: What does one do with information like this when you are asked to keep it in confidence? The person facing the terminal illness has shared what she has been told of her fate, yet where does that leave those few who are told and then sworn to secrecy?

All I can say is that, having slept on it, possessing such information leaves me with a guilty sense of awful insider knowledge. Even if keeping it “quiet” is based on the best of intentions (to spare feelings, worry, etc.), important people are being left out of the loop; and they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, in my humble opinion, it’s never fair to them.

De-stressing On A Sunday

Friday and yesterday, I made some last minute additions and changes, some of which I found pretty emotional. (I’ve been here before: thanks again for “listening.”) Also, I’m at almost 90,000 words. I need a short break.

Classic FM is playing in the background. I’ve decided I’ll take a day off. Just 24 hours. No net today either.

Obviously that means no witty Sunday post. Nothing novelistically-related will appear here either. Today is for my personal indulgence: it’s going to be a “me” day:

Free Stock Photo: A man and woman practicing yoga in a fitness center

Free Stock Photo: A man and woman practicing yoga in a fitness center

Uh, wait a second! Hold it! Arrgh!

I must indeed be worn down a bit and need to recharge. I’m getting punchy. I just posted…. that they’ll be no post today! ;-)

Have a good Sunday!

Life: Endless Source Material

I spoke to my parents last night. I thought it was going to be a routine chat. What was I thinking?

“Rob, we had an incident,” my Dad calmly started to explain. “My Zoll defibrillator went nuts.”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. “What?”

Zoll Life Vest.

Zoll Life Vest.

He detailed what had happened. “Monday, I took it off to wash. After putting it back on, I walked downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, the alarm went off. You can’t misunderstand it. What a f-cking noise! Holy s-it!”

He was laughing, so I realized there had been no problem. They had spoken to Zoll, and the woman operator said he probably had not dried himself enough after his shower. Likely a bit of moisture impacted an electrode.

“Your mother was in the kitchen on the phone with your uncle,” my Dad continued.

“Oh, God, not him!” I laughed. The literary giant. “Of all the times.”

“Yep. She comes running out to me, and while the alarm is blaring its electronic voice is also yelling, ‘Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him!’ I pushed the button and silenced it, so it knew I wasn’t unconscious and it didn’t defibrillate me.”

I sat here, 3,000 miles away in London, listening to this semi-farce.

“Your mother dropped the phone at the alarm, so your uncle heard the alarm and all the commotion. After she got back to the phone, he started screaming at her to put me on. ‘Is he okay?! What’s going on? You want me to call someone?!’ Then he starts complaining his breathing is bothering him.”

I held my head. “You’re a comedy, the three of you.”

The Zoll operator asked for an upload of my Dad’s heart data off the device, just to double-check his heart hadn’t “malfunctioned” in any way. He did so promptly. She called back and said his data was fine.

Speaking with her after the “all-clear” had been determined, he said he laughed, “That thing going off like that almost gave me a heart attack!”

As a fiction writer, no way should you ever say you’ve run out of material. If you have, you’ve stopped living. Life is an endless source. ;-)

The Doctor’s Office

As you may know, I’ve been visiting with my parents in Pennsylvania after my father’s “heart failure.” Things have been very tense, of course, at times, over concern for his health. But at other times I’ve also found myself (thankfully) in what borders on a comedy:

• Dad: “God, I’m getting out of breath explaining to your mother I’m not out of breath walking up the stairs!”

• Mom: “My wrists hurt. Maybe I have a health problem?”

• Dad (to me): “I could be in my casket, Rob, but remember, your mother’s wrists hurt.”

Back on Thursday, my Dad had his first post-heart failure check-up. It was at his new family physician. I went along.

Actually, I drove. Another little contribution to being here for two weeks trying to make things just a bit easier for them both as he recovers. (I’ve been handling household stuff Dad would normally do, like chauffeuring mother around – she can drive, but doesn’t like driving their small SUV – and hoovering the house, and related “guy stuff” as I’d mentioned the other day.)

 Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stethoscope.


Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stethoscope.

This doctor had been recommended in the hospital by my Dad’s last registered nurse there. He came out from the check-up pleased: the doctor’s a man in his 50s who is also on a “low sodium” diet. Nothing like your doctor having a similar issue to yourself, my Dad laughed.

I think it must be nearly twenty years since I’ve been in a U.S. doctor’s office. And how you can forget. Around the receptionist’s window were well-worn (even torn), taped up, ad hoc reminders that payment is required when services are delivered, and to have your insurance ready, etc.

Many in Britain heavily criticize its National Health Service (NHS), and often rightly so. It has its problems. However, not having to worry about personal insurance coverage and/or having to whip out a checkbook or credit card to cover a “co-pay” when you see your GP, is something many in Britain also appear to take decidedly for granted.

That’s what I noticed. My mother? She had her own opinions about the practice building itself. Sitting next to me in the waiting room, other patients within hearing, she grumbled at one point perhaps a bit too loudly:

• Mom: “This place has no air conditioning. You can tell it’s not New York.”

• Me: “Shush!”

The bear in their back garden has already been the subject of a post. Help! I’m trapped in a Seinfeld episode!

Happy Saturday, wherever you are reading this. ;-)

Okay, So What’s On Your Playlist?

I suspect most of us don’t see eye to eye on everything in life with our significant other. How can we? It’s perfectly reasonable we have some differences.

Taste in music may be one. My wife and I don’t agree entirely on music and certain artists. So, she being 3,000 miles away in London currently, I feel a bit less guilty about using the speakers to listen to, uh, some Chris De Burgh.

Thinking on that also led me here. Right now, I’m writing, sitting alone outside at my parents’ house, in their screened-in rear porch. It overlooks, well, trees….

View from my parents' back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

View from my parents’ back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the risk of perhaps alienating some of you, I thought I’d share the artists on one of my mixed playlists:

Chris Cornell; Adele; Steve Winwood; Ivy; James Blunt; Sara Bareilles; The Wallflowers; Tina Arena; Peter Cetera; Amy Winehouse; The Goo Goo Dolls; Natalie Imbruglia; The Cars; Judith Bérard; Quarterflash; Pat Benatar; Survivor; Laura Branigan; Mr. Mister; Corynne Charby; Matchbox Twenty; Sophie Ellis-Bextor; Jean-Jacques Goldman; 10,000 Maniacs; Chicago; Patricia Kaas; Journey; The Bangles; Chris De Burgh.

Yeh, I know. I’m showing some, err, “age” there. ;-)

Dad is doing well again today. I’m taking some time to unwind this afternoon. We all hope a general recuperation period has begun.

I hope you’re having (or you had) a good weekend, wherever you are reading this….

Saturday In The Poconos (With The Patient)

With Dad now at home and feeling pretty good, we’re all settling into trying to help him recuperate from his heart “failure” last weekend. I’ve been trying to do what I can around the house – driving my mother here and there, running errands, changing smoke detector batteries, etc. Normally, my Dad’s been the one climbing on ladders and doing “guy stuff” in their home.

He’s also thrilled the English Premiership has restarted. It was on the television all morning. Memo to anyone in U.S. sports media who still believe men “over 50″ will never take to soccer/football: My 73 year old very American Dad – who grew up adoring baseball and American football – loves soccer now too.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of men playing soccer.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of men playing soccer.

If I had ever bet that he’d be immersed in a Leicester City v. Everton match, I’d have lost my shirt.

There is some downtime. So later, and in days to come, I may also have some time to write sneakily. They don’t know about my novels. ;-)

And my wife (back in London, from whom in 15 years’ married I’ve not been so long separated as we will be during this week, or more, apart), bless her, she decided this morning to have a laugh. She iMessaged me this Telegraph piece:

Marion Cotillard: ‘I felt I could lose myself’

My phone beeped at me at 4:30 am with just its link visible. Nothing else in her message. When I spoke to her a few hours later, she said she just couldn’t resist it: “I know she’s not Juliette Binoche, of course. But she’s second….”

8. You wholeheartedly agree with the phrase: “Mélanie Laurent is a goddess.”

…. everyone knows the correct phrasing there is not “Mélanie Laurent is….” At least, not yet.

Obviously, the most accurate statement is “Juliette Binoche is….”

“Marion Cotillard” being one is the other acceptable response.

All things considered, it’s wonderful to feel able to really smile for the first time in nearly a week. :-)

Dad’s Home (And Quite Alive)

We’ve had a wonderful surprise: my Dad was released from the hospital last night. He’s home and looks remarkable following his ordeal. Fingers crossed it may continue….

En route to their house in Pennsylvania, I landed at Newark yesterday at just after 1 pm. It took me an hour to get thru the airport. First, it took an age for my lone bag to appear. It was followed by a huge queue at Customs caused by all those lining up to hand in that archaic customs form: Welcome to the Land of Paper Work the Free. (I would not want to be a non-English speaker having to complete that jargon-ridden form, next to be greeted by scowling customs officers scrutinizing it. It should be gotten rid of. The EU manages with customs exit channels in which you “declare” or “don’t,” simply by exiting through “red” or “green” doorways.)

Those formalities were followed by a wait to get the rental car. I got away finally at 2:30 after I’d called my Mom. I reached their house about 4pm. By 4:05 we were in my sister’s car headed for the hospital.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

In transit, I was out of touch much of the day. I arrived to find Dad was to be discharged within hours! To do so, his doctor insisted he wear a Zoll Life Vest.

It is to be worn all the time except while showering. It monitors the heart’s actions. If anything “bad” happens, it shocks the heart. (At which time my mother calls the doctor, the company, and 911.) That is a rare happening; but if it does, it is far more timely than awaiting paramedics or driving him to the hospital. The woman who set it up explained it to him (to all of us) that usually it is worn for several months. Once a week, he has to upload the accumulated data on the device to the Zoll company just by plugging the device into the company’s modem, which my parents connect to their landline. The info goes to his doctor.

On the drive back to their house, while my Mom and sister stepped into a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, waiting in my sister’s car my Dad told me he was happy I am here. He agreed my Mom needed a break and that she’d relax more now with me around. I will be here a week at minimum. Everyone has rallied around. Lots of people on two continents have been inquiring about him. Facebook’s Messenger has been abuzz for days.

When we were sitting in the lounge with Hot In Cleveland on the TV last night, Dad in his chair (LifeVest on of course), I said I couldn’t believe we were here. I added that when I had gotten on the plane this morning, I never would have even hoped this is where we would be. It is all a great relief. I had been thinking, quite seriously, the end was near.

Oh, do I feel jet-lagged today? Not at all (yet). On the contrary, I feel great! :-)

The Anxiety Worsens

Turns out my Dad may be, well, very bad after all.

The optimism of yesterday vanished this morning. I’m flying back to the States on Thursday. I may not be on here much for a few days.

Hopefully, it’s not as bad as thought. But it’s his heart. It’s not looking great.

One of life’s awful times may be upon us….

An Anxious 24 Hours

We have had a difficult 24 hours. My father, back in Pennsylvania, was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia and sedated – out cold – for nearly 36 hours and administered intravenous anti-biotics. He was also put on a ventilator.

My mother and sister were practically beside themselves. I could hear it in their voices over the phone as they told me. They had already been dealing with it for nearly 12 hours before they had contacted me.

We had left the States to return to England only five days before. Five.

Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a healthcare practitioner in the process of conducting a blood pressure examination upon a seated male patient in a clinical setting.

Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a healthcare practitioner in the process of conducting a blood pressure examination upon a seated male patient in a clinical setting.

On getting the news yesterday afternoon, my wife made it clear to me: “Fly over there if you feel you need to.”

However, my mother wanted me to wait for him to be awoken, when there’d of course be more news. Today was decision day. “If they wake him up and it’s bad, please come over,” she asked me tearfully.

The doctors woke my Dad up on early this (Tuesday) morning, Eastern US time. Things look okay. She discovered they’d done it when he surprised my mother with a phone call from intensive care, with the doctor standing over him.

No immediate travel plans for back to the States. My Mom has headed back to the hospital, to see him fully awake for the first time since Sunday evening. She said she’ll call me later with an update.

Living at a distance is something we all deal with. And if you live an ocean apart in another country, that merely compounds the difficulty. I said to my wife, “We were in the States and Kam died. Your Mum gets put in hospital, and we were in the States. My Dad gets hospitalized and we’re in Britain. We just can’t seem to be in the right place at the wrong time.”

_____
UPDATE: My Mom came back to me and told me he didn’t have pneumonia. He has fluid under his heart pressing against a lung – which looks like pneumonia. He may need minor surgery, or pills could even do the clearing up job.

But that may change too. Nothing’s etched in stone. It has been one of those days….

“Characteristically Gallic”

The U.K. Telegraph reports:

A French hospital is to open a wine bar for terminally ill patients in an unprecedented but characteristically Gallic way to improve their quality of life.

“Characteristically Gallic.” Yes, this is one of those France-sourced stories “Anglo-Saxon” media love: alcohol and the French. About the only thing that tops that is probably sex and the French – and particularly, we might recall, when a president of the republic is discovered rendezvousing at night with a much younger women actor who is not his “official partner.”

To digress briefly, of course French media have certainly not been ignoring that “presidential” story either – and not even now, over six months since it first appeared. Unsurprisingly, the publication that broke it in the first place is really still on it. Take, uh, a “closer” look at the bottom right corner of this screen grab of Closer’s “Anglo-Saxon” page, July 31, and notice which “non-Anglo-Saxons” get space:

Screengrab. Closer "Anglo-Saxon" web page, 31 July 2014.

Screengrab. “Anglo-Saxon” page, Closer, 31 July 2014.

To many French, “Anglo-Saxon” has long been synonymous essentially with “native English speaker.” Hence Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie pictured above. In the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s got zero to do with Edward the Confessor. ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Glasses of red and white wine isolated on a white background.

Free Stock Photo: Glasses of red and white wine isolated on a white background.

Okay, back to wine, hospitals, and the French. Let’s not picture everyone falling over Don Draper-like drunk. We’re told everything will be kept under careful, medical control:

Patients at the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital in central France will be able to take part in “medically supervised wine-tasting” sessions.

They will be allowed to invite friends or family over for a drink.

Dr Virginie Guastella came up with the idea because she believes that patients “are entitled to enjoy” their last days.

Patients enthusiastically supported the plan, which has been approved by the authorities. The bar will open in September in the hospital’s Palliative Care Centre….

Forget it’s France. It sounds like a genuinely comforting idea. So, why not?

Have a good Friday, wherever you are. :-)