“Do what you can while you can”
He was much changed this time. His once towering strength looked, much diminished, almost lifeless. He saw me and his is eyes lit up, “The Hospice rejected me,” He said, almost joyfully. “They only take those who have less than two months to live, so at least I’ve got two months more.” Two months more, I thought, as I looked at his once strong body now emaciated and his once curly mass of grey hair, now thinned and sparse.
He reached gingerly towards a box of tissues on the tray in front of him, his fingers moving in a scissors action, fluttering like two butterflies as they tried to grip the tissue on top. I moved my arm ready to assist. “No, no,” he said “I must do this. I need to do this.” Suddenly images flashed before my eyes of him, not that long ago, racing vintage cars at over 100 mph. Such a change, I thought. He coughed a weak cough and coughed again, in an attempt to bring up whatever needed to be brought up, but it simply refused to oblige. Still he smiled. The human spirit is amazing, I thought, being able to adjust as it does.’
“You know,” he said, quite excited, almost proud, “I’ve found a way to eat my breakfast of a morning. I haven’t got the strength to open the Weet-Bix wrapper or break up the Weet-Bix or pour the milk, the nurse has to do that for me, but if I use both my hands I can manage to get hold of the bowl and gradually bring it to my mouth and lick out my breakfast.”
His demeanour then darkened, “I’m a bit worried though,” he said, “I now have a great deal of difficulty pressing the buzzer for the nurse. I can only manage to get enough pressure if I use two fingers.” He then proceeded to show me how, and eventually his wavering thumbs rested one upon the other. Then he looked up at me, “but what will I do when I can no longer press the buzzer? I can’t call out. They wouldn’t hear me. This is as loud as I can speak. He then lowered his eyes. “You know,” he said, “I can no longer control my bowels or my bladder. The nurses have to clean me up. They are lovely, they don’t seem to mind.” Even with all this, he still radiated a gentle acceptance. It was time for me to go. I kissed his hand and he smiled, but as I walked out I looked back fleetingly and saw, not a smile of acceptance, but a look of desolate despair.
I walked to the lift and pressed the elevator button, my mind still completely immersed in what I’d just witnessed. I was lucky, I was alive, I was mobile and I still had time. As I walked out of the hospital the freezing winter air hit my face and hands, ‘Don’t put things off,’ I thought as I hurried towards the car, ‘there might not be a tomorrow.’