So, it seems saving a draft doesn’t necessarily save a draft. Here goes again.
Of all the places I’d pictured for embarking on my first ‘serious’ attempt at writing, this setting never got a look in. Tapping away on the tiny phone keyboard with my fat thumbs, backing up every three or four words to make a correction, and listening to the laboured, rattling breathing of my sister as she inevitably approaches her final breath.
She’s a tough one is Kathleen. Three days ago when the Emergency staff told the family her breathing tube was to be removed, we did our best to prepare for the worst. The massive brain bleed may have caused irreversible trauma, but her fighting spirit remained in tact.
It was on on her thirty seventh birthday, thirty six years ago almost to the day, that her first stroke came perilously close to taking her from her husband and four children. Severely paralysed and unable to communicate she worked every single day to recover as much function as was humanly possible and went on to embrace life against the odds.
On the other side of the bed is Kathy’s youngest, Kate, who has spent three nights sitting with her mum to ensure she is not alone. Kate turned three the day Kathleen had her first stroke having made her entrance to the world on her mum’s birthday. All those years ago, Kate saw the mum she knew and loved go into hospital one day, and some time later this other person would come to her home on weekend release from hospital or the rehab hospital. This woman was in an ugly steel wheelchair, wearing a scarf on her head and didn’t talk. She certainly didn’t have the beautiful blonde hair of her mum. Kate’s first recollection was her dad saying to her ‘Katie, that’s your mum. Go and give her a hug.
I received the call at work on Tuesday around two in the afternoon. It was Tracey, my nephew Michael’s partner, whom I had only met once before just over two years ago at the funeral of Kathleen’s husband Peter. “Kathy’s had a catastrophic bleed and is on life support at Fiona Stanley Hospital”. It is now Friday exactly three days since she collapsed.
Preparing for her favourite thing in the world, coffee and a chat with a friend, Kathleen said goodbye as daughter Mandy left the house, and went to the bathroom one last time before her friend from church was due to arrive and take her out.
Maggie arrived a few minutes later and immediately sensed something was not right. She expected kathleen to be eagerly waiting on the front patio but there was no sign of her and the front door was open. There was no response when she knocked and called Kathleen’s name, however she heard a disturbing noise which she later likened to a rugby player snoring. Maggie followed the noise to the bathroom to find Kathleen on the bathroom floor, unresponsive. A retired nurse, Maggie knew exactly what to do and made Kathy as comfortable as possible in the recovery position. The ambulance arrived within minutes and intubated her to help her breathing. By now Mandy had been contacted and had returned, accompanying her mum in the ambulance.
I went straight from work to the hospital and found three of Kathleen’s four children around the emergency department bed, all distraught. Kate was travelling up from her home in Bridgetown, three hours away.
For Kate it is like losing her mum all over again. For me it is like losing a whole family for a second time, you see I was adopted into this family aged 11 months. At that time my youngest new sibling Noreen was 15, and kathleen was already 20. My new family encountered more than its fair share of tragedy over the years. Mum and Dad lost their first born, John, when he was only two. Two years after emigrating to Australia they received word that their elest son Danny had passed away aged 28. Three years later Noreen also passed away. All three children suffered congenital heart defects. Dad passed away aged 92 in 2004, and Mum followed in 2007 aged 94. So it was just me and Kathleen left, and she could go in a matter of hours or at best a few days.
Sunday afternoon the call came through from Kate that her mum was getting very weak. The train went direct to the hospital and was by far the quickest option. Changing trains at Perth station, I saw it was only one minute until my connection left. I raced through the councourse, keeping left to ensure I’d get a clear run, only to round a corner directly into a family obviously visiting from overseas, and completely blocking my path. By the time we unraveled ourselves and I got up a head of steam I saw the doors on my train close.
The next train was 20 minutes away, and I was half way to the hospital when the message came through that Kathy had gone.