Monday, September 26, 2011

Paundy : A letter for my Dad

Mum calls you Aundy. That's 'cause it's Scottish for Andy. I always thought it was a nice name, Andrew. That's you that is. Andrew is a terrified 7 year old on his own and ill in hospital in 1949. It is too far for your mum to visit more than once a week and neither of you knows what is wrong with you or why you are so ill; Why you will always be so ill.
Now you're 69. I am too far away to visit more than 3 times a year - and you're back in hospital again, again. How much of your life have you spent there? How much of mine?

It's been 34 years since you had the transplant. 
Mum says that at the hospital today, the young doctor said he felt that you must be the longest surviving kidney recipient; that generally 10 years is the average life expectancy. He had once heard of someone who had survived 30 years, but never 34. You told the doctor that you were only the 3rd longest surviving patient, but you and Mum have forgotten that time has passed since someone else held that record.

Andy Pandy was one of my favourite TV programmes. His striped pyjamas always looked so fresh and cosy. As I grew up and practised being cheeky, I called you Aundy Paundy because I was Scottish back then too. Finally, I settled on Paund. You were furious:Where was my respect?
 Now, you find it endearing.
 At least I hope so since it's been about 20 years since I called you Dad.
 My Daddy...

...looked a little bit like James Garner , if he wore his leather jacket.

My Daddy wasn't around much and when he was, he was ill..
 My little brother and I would sit tearfully around hospital wards,kicking chair legs after school and at weekends. We'd spend interminable hours on a bus to Edinburgh for afternoon visiting, then go on to the Museum to pass 4 tedious hours and to eat sandwiches out of tinfoil. Then we'd come back for evening visiting before starting a long, travel-sick journey home in the dark and way past bedtime.
Sometimes Paund, you were the very embodiment of cheerful playfulness and at others, you would weep at the sight of us and be unable to stop. We didn't know why you were crying and Mum said you were being dramatic.
This was our life. We had no knowledge of another way. We still have none.
 I would be in trouble at school for not doing my homework, but the bus was too wobbly to write in a jotter balanced on your knee and the freezing black road, punctuated by dim 70's headlamps, ate the free time.I didn't explain why, I just did the extra lines I was given.

Before the long journey, and after school, we'd go with Mum to work. She cleaned buses. The yellow, blue and red swirls of the bus seat and the smell of vomit and disinfectant from the chemical toilet are as clear in my nostrils now as they were in the days when we tried to make a 48 seater bus into a playground. I loathed it all.

Sometimes, when the conductors were all on shift, we were allowed into the bothy for a change where a huge refectory table smelled of dust and must and old tree. Countless drivers and clippies had scratched their names into the surface - fag butts strewn across the floor like confetti.
Then it was back to school; back to hospital and to the smell of sick people, old people and my Daddy.

Daddy with tubes, Daddy with bandages, Daddy with an ever present cannula.
Daddy so bloated with his own urine that he was drowning in it, unable to walk or play with his children in the park his skin stretched so taut that it was a miracle that he didn't split open.
Stranded in the park, children and Dad. 
I can't remember how but help arrived. I am told that this was the time that everything changed. My Mum's youngest sister put you in a wheel barrow, wheeled you into casualty and at 5' high, ordered them to finally, once and for all, sort this bloody 31 year life of shit do what they were paid to do. 

Then came dialysis and life improved for a while. There were holidays in specially adapted caravans that family and friends had walked to provide, in kilts and with bagpipes on the only sunny day of the year. But this  was short lived. Dialysis patients didn't last long and the hunt was on for a donor. Everyone who could walk upright and sign their name was tested for compatibility. 
Finally some poor bugger died in a motorcycle accident and our family got 'lucky'. Well, lucky-ish for we were warned that most transplants failed and there was an NHS 'Two Strikes and Out' rule for translplants. So, the week that I started secondary school and the week of your birthday, there was a new hospital to visit and you Dad, stayed there inside a large plastic room where we could see you but not touch . It was agony. We talked through a grill and anything we gave you went through a sterilising machine that made everything taste and smell of disinfectant.
That's the first time that I saw Mum cry. The doctor opened the bubble door unexpectedly one day during visiting hours and she sat on your knee and cried. I cried but I wasn't sure what for. The doctor led my brother and I away so that you two could have some alone time and we stood behind a pillar watching a rare moment of intimacy. Two halves of a single person being re-glued. We two felt alone and when we returned you told us to press our ears to your wrist where a 6" cut was healing and we felt a warmth and a gurgle and a whoosh, whoosh whoosh noise. It was yeuchy.
Then days later it was back to drips and machines and panic as the kidney rejected.
But I knew it would be OK.
 I didn't worry.
I knew my dad would fix it.
 And you did.

Not like the girl who had a transplant at the same time -driven mad by the thought of housing part of someone not long dead within her young body. The Exorcist was in the cinema.
The doctor said that you ordered the kidney to change it's mind by the sheer force of your bloody will, he had never seen anything like it. You told him that you had a wife and two kids and that you refused to leave them.

You've been refusing ever since.
It's been 40 odd years now for me and my brother and longer for Mum.
40 years of dashing up the A1 and panic over, returning home shattered and shot; 40 years of hospital visits and cannulas and a cocktail of pills slowly eroding heart, arteries, bones, teeth, bowels, limbs and memories; of watching you die on numerous occasions; of this definitely being 'it'. Triple bypasses and heart attacks, angina, anaemia and skin cancer, cataracts and vertigo and all the time the vein they took from your leg and replanted in your arm to pump the cleaned blood round your system has made a noise like the sea if you put your ear to it and the kidney hasn't dared to reject you.
So, today another phonecall and Mum is in bits. She watched you die again today and she is scared because Monday's blood transfusion needed doing again by Thursday and the kidney can't keep up and now bone marrow is being tested and for the first time ever she wept down the phone.
And I wonder how many years I have been sick with it all and how many years my brother has spent in hospital and how my mother's life consists of trauma; and how tired I am and how sometimes I wish the call would be the last one and then I wish that I hadn't wished that. I sometimes wonder if its selfishness that keeps you alive and then I feel so utterly selfish for thinking so.
 I bought myself a rag doll the other day Paundy,  and not being a toy person, I felt baffled by that.

 But the universe provides you with what you need if you let it and I have it with me in bed tonight.

Tonight, I am a little girl a long way away from her Dad and the sea is silent.



  1. My sympathies, on a lot of levels...

  2. I don't know what to say. My heart broke for you and your family in so many ways reading this. x

  3. Thanks both x.
    We will all live to see another day-including Dad. My brother says he's used another one of his 9 lives but I think he's on his 5th cat!

    It helped a lot to write it down, was nevr quite brave enough before.

  4. I found your blog through Sarah Mac above. This is a very powerful post and my heart aches for the conflict of emotion in yours. I am glad I came across your blog.

    (I am a Fifer too) x

  5. Welcome Claire,
    I appreciate the
    support and will be jogging along to your blog shortly x x