One day, when I was a wee girl, I was out with my mum, brother and sister. We bumped into an old school friend of Mum’s, who looked at us three siblings (brother, curly black hair, blue eyes. Sister, wavy blonde hair, blue eyes. Me, straight red hair, green eyes) and said, in broad Norfolk tones ‘Wull, oi cun see that you hint strayed!’ Meaning the three of us shared pretty much the same face. Dad’s face.
Big eyes, straight nose and stupidly broad cheekbones that the rest of our body hangs off. That’s us. That’s Dad.
I got more than the physical inheritance though. I was the lucky one who also got Dad’s propensity to angsty bollockery, love of history, and easily moved to tearsiness. Along with an appreciation of crap jokes, crosswords, and terrible puns. Not to mention being a complete arse who will argue a point for faaaaar too long. When Dad comes to stay, sleep goes out of the window. You’ll find us instead, at three in the morning, way too many wine bottles down, nose to nose, debating* some pointless issue that has no importance or relevance to either of us over an overflowing ashtray.
*Shouting and telling each other to fuck off
Overflowing ashtray? Yep. We both smoke. In fact, the first cigarette I ever smoked, aged 13, was in front of my parents. A roll up, ham-fistedly fashioned from Samson tobacco and Job rolling papers, in a hotel restaurant in Formentera. Watching Dad, I piped up ‘How do you actually roll a cigarette, Dad?’ ‘Like this. You have a go!’ So I did, to the horror of other guests (Woman at next table: He is TEACHING her how to ROLL. A. CIGARETTE). And Dad then suggested I try smoking it. So I did, again, to the horror of other guests.
Kind of stupid of us both, really. Because we’re both asthmatics. And smoking and asthma… yeesh. Not the best of combinations. Dad’s much worse than I am, always has been, even before the fags and red wine came into his life. He’s always had a weak chest, a hacking cough, not coped well with extremes of heat. Part of the reason why my parents moved out to Spain when they retired, to get away from the damp, the cold. But still, the fags and the asthma remained.
A few years ago, Dad developed a chest infection. And being that type of man, refused to go to the doctor to get it sorted. Until Mum called a doctor to the house because dad hadn’t eaten, slept or smoked for three days because he was finding it too hard to breathe. Quelle surprise, his oxygen levels had dropped so low he was immediately hospitalised. Scary shit for my sister and I, back here in the UK. But he got better, slowly. And of course, was back on the red wine and fags as soon as he felt better. Stupid bugger.
So how’s Dad doing now? Not great. He ought to be. He’s on holiday in Thailand with some golf friends. He hasn’t played a round for a while though. Because (and I will try to type this without crying) he’s in intensive care instead. The stupid bastard. Another chest infection, which he ignored. Until he hadn’t slept for days. Because he was struggling for each breath. He did seek medical advice, and was told to go to hospital immediately. What do you think he did? Yes, he went back to his hotel room. Until he couldn’t breathe.
He couldn’t breathe.
And because the stupid bastard had left it so long, he didn’t just have a chest infection. He developed pneumonia too. So now he’s in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Thailand, breathing through a ventilator, hooked up to an IV drip, unable to talk, waiting to have an incision made in his chest to get his lungs drained of all the shitty gunk that he allowed to build up in there.
I could wring his fucking neck, the stupid, stupid bastard. I could, but I can’t. Because he’s on his own, in another country, and I can’t talk to him. My sister and I are relying on texts and terse emails from hotel receptionists and friends who don’t seem to grasp just how scared we are. From the moment we first heard, the news has been mostly positive. He’s stable. The hospital staff are pleased with how he’s responding. He’s mostly been unconscious, but when he’s awake, he can communicate by notes. But no direct contact with us, obviously.
I don’t want to say it; I don’t want to admit it. I’m doing everything I can to distract myself from it, by twatting about on twitter, listening to podcasts, pissing about on facebook, anything to pretend that this isn’t real, this isn’t happening, Dad isn’t seriously ill in another country that’s seven hours in the future. I’m laughing hysterically at things that aren’t funny, allowing myself to be wound up by stuff I don’t care about, and taking offence where none is meant. Being mawkish and self-indulgent, and writing twee vomit inducing bollocks. Anything. Anything than allow myself to dwell on reality.
But the thought that is my constant companion, from the moment I don’t wake from the sleep I can’t find, is the same. Please don’t die. Please don’t die. Please keep breathing.