A couple of days ago when I intended to write this I was going to say I thought it was the end. Let the record state that I think it is grossly unfair and seven sorts of complete shit that having gone through the diabetic horrors of having his leg amputation it has just been one ghastly ailment after another, from infected testicles to phantom leg pain to catheter issues and now to enormous mystery weeping blisters. The man should be able to perch atop his enormous wheeled chair shouting orders to lackeys, arguing over what sport gets watched on the communal plasma screen and swigging back plastic tumblers of his semi illicit rum. He's probably only got a few years at best why can the man not be comfortable?
Instead, he looked horribly bloated and was covered from neck to toes in this god-awful rash, we're talking bubbling blisters some of which were the size of my palm. Skin samples had been taken from one arm and so in addition to the blisters the skin was bright purple. And he was wheezing and gasping for breath and slumped to one side and so very very uncomfortable.
My youngest sister K, the nurse, was with me. We stood by the side of the bed, rubbing the hospital disinfectant into our hands. Then my sister swung into action.
There are moments when it's a bit shitty having a nurse in the family, like the time my sister AJ stepped on a pin that broke off in her foot and my mother attempted to excavate it herself with a home scalpel and a pair of tweezers, because she was a nurse and so she could.
But there are excellent times too - and this was one of them. K snatched up a pair of bright blue latex gloves from the box on the sidetable and whipped them on. HOW ARE YOU GRANDIS? She shouted at his ear as she peered beneath the sheets. This was not cruel, this was sort of comforting, Grandad's hearing aid, like the Tasmanian tiger - much discussed but never reappearing, had disappeared "in the move" and he had reverted to his customary shouting.
He rallied a little and yelled his hellos back to us. I leaned in to kiss his face. DO THEY HURT GRANDIS? I asked him and he shrugged his cheeks a little. THEY ITCH and as if to illustrate he suddenly swatted at his chest and underarms.
WE'RE GOING TO MAKE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE GRANDIS, my sister announced and in a few seconds the pillows had been readjusted, the bed lifted and my grandfather hoisted into position. My sister is a small girl, my grandfather is a big man and I was no help at all really but it was done.
AHHH CAN YOU JUST, OW UNDER MY ARM...
I reached across for the buzzer but K scooped up a handful of some sort of ointment from the table by his bed and matter of factly rubbed it into his torso.
THAT'S BETTER, THANKYOU LOVE...
Next my sister snooped at the drip, scanned his notes - showing me the photocopied pages describing various horrible blistering ailments and their possible remedies (boil ye a toad and stir it thrice widdershins under a cresent moon) and examined the canula in the back of his hand.
A couple of nurses came in and my sister drifted into the background as they checked his blood sugar levels and made reassuring noises. There was some small talk with my sister, she works at this hospital too although currently on maternity leave.
Have you had a good look at these, one of the nurses said, I've never seen anything like it, and she whipped off the sheet to expose the raw weeping groin and thighs. My sister's face was a tight, professional mask. She nodded shortly and made little mmm hmmm noises, then she said in a seemingly casual manner: I was thinking, he sounded a bit...overloaded.
Yes, the nurse nodded back, I was just thinking that myself...we'll have a look at that drip, because he is drinking fluids after all...
...and with his cardio problems, K said, and I was just wondering how those bedsores were going...
They're so busy, my sister told me afterwards when we had said our goodbyes and re-disinfected our hands and headed toward the lift. And he's such a big man...it takes 2 or 3 people just to move him, and things get missed or get postponed because other stuff happens on the ward, but I did think they needed to do something about the overloading, that's way too much fluid...
That afternoon the dermatologist called our father and told him that they were pursuing an aggressive treatment for these mysterious blisters and rash. There could be sudden reactions. And then later the doctor in charge of the second team, monitoring the diabetes and heart and kidneys and bladder infection rang too and they both asked about the same thing. The NFR sign, Not For Resuscitation. K took the second phone call, our parents were out and she was still at the house with me watching vampire movies.
We haven't broached that conversation yet, I heard her say and then the hmm mmm noise again. She asked about the medications he was on and then replied that yes she was a nurse too, at the hospital. And then I heard her say...well of course he's surprised everyone before...quite a few times actually.
The next day, after nearly 24 hours of the treatment we saw Grandis again and he was like a new person. The swelling was down, the wheezing was gone, the blisters were still there but less angry and he was much more animated, flinging his arms about and grilling C, and K's husband T, about football results and the view from his window. In fact he was almost a little too animated, I felt, like he was over compensating for my tears of relief or... maybe even...high. But whether it was the sensitivity to blubbering granddaughters or the heavy duty drugs coursing through his bloodstream, he seemed much more comfortable.
The new regime involved heavy duty antibiotics and steroids and cortizone creams rubbed into his body three times a day, being wrapped in dressings and warm wet sheeting and then covered in space blankets. That's three nurses three times a day. Extra staff were put on to the ward to ensure the treatment took place.
Extra staff? I exclaimed when my sister told me this later.
Yup, she said. The doctor told me she was very impressed with the care of nursing and I have to say...I am too.
Was it because he was your grandad?
Well in theory, she said, everyone should get that level of care, but I don't see it happen all that often. Maybe him being Grandis was just icing on the cake.
He's very lucky, I said. And I meant it in so many ways.
Mmmm hmmm my sister agreed.