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Looking the wrong way

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