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Looking the wrong way

Dr Antonio Munno

Dad is in the lounge. He gets up from the bed and shuffles to the dining room. With one hand he gathers the top of his pyjama trousers to stop them sliding off his shrinking waist. His other hand holds a walking stick. It belongs to mum, it’s too tall for him, and as he stutters forward it wobbles side to side like a gear-stick checking for neutral.

I am by the door. Dad looks up. His skin is jaundiced and his lips are cracked. He says in a broken whisper: ‘This is taking too long.’

‘It’s just there, Dad, you’re nearly there. Not too long.’ But I know he’s not talking about his journey across the room.

Within two weeks, Dad will be dead. It’s been two years. We have walked this together. I began the journey thinking I was leading him, one step ahead: his son, the doctor, guiding him through the maze of hospital corridors, surgical wards, outpatient clinics and chemotherapy suites. One step ahead so I could put myself in the way of what lay ahead, so I could be a buffer and filter for the bad news and difficult choices.

But while I was being a doctor and worrying about symptoms and therapies and prognosis, Dad was thinking about other things. In a drawer he set out envelopes of money for his grandchildren’s birthdays; he visited the pharmacy to tell them he wouldn’t be in again to sort out Mum’s repeat medication; he thanked the counter staff at the bank. He then cleared the shelves of his garage and sorted out stacks of tools and tape and wires to give to each of the children.

‘Dad you don’t need to do that,’ I said. But then I realised he did. For him this was not a medical journey but one of getting things in order and saying goodbye. I thought I was leading him, but really he was leading me. I was looking the wrong way.

Dr Antonio Munno is a GP in Bedfordshire

This is the winning entry to Pulse’s writing competition 2018 entitled ‘Turning Tables’. Dr Munno wins a Samsung Galaxy 8Gb tablet. Click here to read a selection of the other entries

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Readers' comments (10)

  • I know exactly what you mean. Been there. A poignant part of my life. will never forget

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  • So moving. I'm sorry for your loss

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  • So very poignant, I am sorry for your loss.

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  • tear jerking.....so true.

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  • What a beautiful and moving piece of writing.

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  • Thanks for this. I am sorry for your loss and identify.

    I lost my Dad in November 2015, very suddenly due to a brain haemorrhage. He died in Glasgow SGH, I managed to get to the hospital in time to watch him die but too late to speak to him. He had been speaking to my mum 30 mins before I arrived,he went for a CT head and came out GCS3. Sat round the bed with my mum and sister and basically watched him cone, stop breathing and die. His heart kept beating for at least 4-5 minutes after he stopped breathing, it really freaked me out and I had to get up and switch the ECG monitor off.
    I have seen so many families do this bedside vigil and didn't realise how painful an experience it can be. I wanted to run away and not be there, I also wanted my Dad to die quickly so it would be over more quickly. None of my medical training seemed to help at all and maybe was unhelpful, blocking my ability to process the pain and loss, with my mind trying to medicalise the experience.

    Thought I would connect via this forum, nothing prepares you for the loss of a parent. I have used writing before to explore my feelings and what you have written prompted me to write this snapshot of my day in 2015. With love, Ian

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  • Beautifully written.Sometimes it's more important to be a son than a doctor

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  • The mystery that there is anything at all. Then consciousness, self aware logic and most of all Love, that gives a meaning to the Universe as to why it bothers to exist in the first place. Love is everything.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The most admirable part is when he knew clearly his days were numbered , the only thing important in his mind was to sort out a legacy for those he loved . Fear and anxiety of how it would end was no longer an issue .
    Tomorrow (5/4) and the following several days are the Ching Ming Festival for Chinese, the festival is also literally called Tomb Sweeping Day(s) for remembering and visiting your ancestors in cemeteries.

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  • This was so moving and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

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