Thursday, 17 May 2012

My Post Doc

Two months ago Dad died. It was the 17th March 2012 at 3pm, Pretoria time almost exactly. He was buried in Lusaka, Zambia on the following Thursday and his memorial was held at the UNZA chapel on the Friday. This is the first thing I have written, apart from unreadable journals and my speech for the memorial since.

I love..loved...him with all my heart and right now the shock of it all is beginning to wear off and the acid grief is giving me constant belly ache. Ho hum...  He was my Dad, my friend...we made each other laugh and I think we made each other proud.  It was a privlilege to be there when he headed off and an honour to see the courage and kindness of my siblings, Rachma, Zoe and Ben, my Mum Ruth, my aunt, Jackie, his dear cousin Irving and Dad's great friends and colleagues in Lusaka; Adam, SJ, Vernon, Guy, Charlotte, Caroline, Grant, Mwitchi, Patricia, Wille,  Luo, Simon, Cynthia, Alan, Shenda, Mwangala, all the Team Hospice Chilanga. the Travelling Rabbi, Michael Galaun, Seb and all the wonderful folk, to many to mention, that helped with his burial and the memorial  Thank you so much.
Next week I move to Wiltshire. Life's funny that way.
Long Life! Take care and if you love someone give them a bloody great hug and tell 'em so. 

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Phone In Freak Shows on the BBC.

Dear All – Dad has taken a bad turn and I will be flying over to be with him at the weekend.  I don’t want to write about it this time. Instead I have distracted myself by doing a piece on the BBC Late night radio show I ended up doing a cameo on. T x

Disclaimer: This is my recollection of the show last Friday.  It is written without recourse to transcripts or copies and has been flamboyantly reworked.  I may have got it entirely wrong. Just saying...
Last week the policeman who had been shot and blinded by the killer Raoul Moat hanged himself. For two years he had been struggling with the trauma and pain of the attack which had conspired with his sudden blindness to form a dark riptide of anxiety, fear and self hatred that eventually dragged him under.
PC David Rathband
24 hours later it’s Friday night and I am waiting on the end of a phone line; a guest on Radio 5 Live’s late night Steve Nolan show.  I and a couple of others have been invited to discuss the impact of visual impairment and coping strategies..or at least that is what I had thought but then I had never listened to the show before....... 
Previous to the ‘blind’ bit is a discussion about the singer Englebert Humperdink and his chances for the Eurovision Song Contest.
  ‘Ooohhh I love this I love this!’ coos Mr. Nolan, the erudite host, as the song ‘Please Release Me!’ circa 1970 something blares over the airways.  ‘This is the best stuff I have ever heard!’
He means it as well which for some reason makes me a teensy bit anxious about his grip on contemporary culture. But there was no time to dwell on comes next, then there is a short introduction to the tragedy of PC David Rathband and boom our slot is underway.
In preparation for the show I have been reading some of Rathband’s previous interviews, thinking about what might have helped him, what interventions could have been taken if any, looking at independent living and the recent government changes to the welfare bill  I have a couple of pages of notes to hand although I still don’t feel prepared.  There is so much to say...
The very first caller is a silken voiced, middle aged man, Dr. K, who had been working as a cardiologist when he was attacked and blinded with acid fourteen years ago.  Blimey! I think. This is exactly the right man to talk this through. Go Dr. K!
Dr. K however is still, fourteen year after his attack, brooding and depressed.  He begins to list all the professional bodies that have let him down, turned their backs on him over the years.  They wouldn’t let him practise medicine.  They had no respect for him as a doctor. Next he moves onto how his friends have left him one by one.  No colleague stood by him.  Now people only come and sit with him for a minute and then move off..he knows in his heart that they don’t want to waste time with a blind man.
Dr K is exhibiting much of the depression and paranoia that David Rathband hinted at in his various interviews. Only it seems to me that there is something more - a hardened, flatter, peevishness; an ‘it's not fair’ on a constant loop that fourteen years have done nothing to diminish or transform.  I wonder how his wife is coping.
Mr. Nolan is rapt.  ‘David Rathband committed you ever think of taking your own life K?’ he asks gently.  I can hear his pale cheeks flushing from excitement from where I sit clutching the phone in horror. Dr K pauses but then tentatively agrees....anyone faced with this would feel the same he is saying.
There is a brief pause before the host passes judgement. ‘You are the most inspirational man I have ever talked to on this show!’ he declares. ‘So many people will want to talk to you K! Please stay on the line.’
We all stay on the line.  My palm is now damp with sweat where I grip the handset.  
After more news they read several messages from people saying how inspirational Dr K is. Mr. Nolan obviously knows his audience. ‘You are amazing!’  ‘That is the most incredible story I have ever heard’. Texts and emails come thick and fast.
Eventually they introduce D who, not only lost her sight suddenly due to meningitis in her 20s, but moved from South Africa to UK on her own and began life all over again as a blind woman. However Mr. Nolan doesn’t ask her about this.  Mr Nolan gets this remarkable woman on the line and asks her what she thinks ....about Dr K.  ‘Isn’t he AMAZING?’ he enthuses.
‘Eerrr.,’ .D improvises and tries talking about her key decision to never to let things get her down no matter what .. but she is cut off by Dr K. ‘That’s all very well for you he says peevishly... you were younger when it happened.’
Actually Dr K is only 54 and, if we take the 14 years into consideration, was only 40 years old at the time he lost his sight.  But D is not asked to respond because more people are calling in to tell Dr K what an inspiration he is. She does not come back on the line.
At some point as I am grinding my teeth a young man, blind from birth, gets a chance to try and pep Dr K up. ‘Nothing has ever stopped me,’ he says but then makes the mistake of quipping that he can’t get a girlfriend. And he is off air.
Another woman, an innovator and campaigner who has  also assimilated, taken on, transformed her blindness gets a few seconds to tell everyone what she thinks ......of Dr K 
 ‘Well you mention you can’t work but you still have all the skills?  How about lecturing?’ She asks very politely and that brings another weary finger pointing tirade from Dr K about how he tried years ago but more people turned their backs on him, let him down. Mr. Nolan cuts in to read a few more ‘you are a hero, an inspiration’ messages. The woman gives up.
A producer comes on my phone line at last
‘Ahh miss Bush.. are you still there?’

‘Yes but I don’t think there is anything I can add to this...’
Two minutes..’
‘Really I can’t..’
I check the clock. It’s nearly midnight. I bite my tongue looking down at all my scribbled notes. Is anyone going to offer Dr K counselling? Is anyone going to actually discuss coping methods –ways to prevent people like Dr K and David Rathband falling into paranoia and topping themselves? That stuff is out of my league but it needs to be covered surely...?
‘You are definitely the most incredible guest we have ever EVER had on this show in all my years as a journalist,’ Mr. Nolan is saying with a slight break of emotion in his voice.  ‘..and we want to bring on now a  Mrs. L Go on Mrs L what do you want to say to Dr  K?’.
A woman’s voice, very posh accent, slightly hysterical, gasping with tears ‘Dr K you are the most incredible man I have ever...ever......well i just ...I can’t’...’  She dissolves into what seem slightly chardonnay induced tears.
Gently Mr Nolan cajoles her ‘Go on Mrs L.  You said you were a widow?  Is that right? ‘
‘Yes,’ gasps Mrs L.  ‘My husband died but now I know I haven’t really faced anything compared to this extraordinary man...’..’
‘And?  Go on, go on..’ Mr Nolan interjects with ghastly sympathy. ‘Do you remember what you wrote in your email?  You are quite far gone with cancer..?’
Once again the woman weeps ‘yes; praising Dr. K for showing her the way.
Sweet Jesus, I think trying to unlock my spasmed fingers from around the phone receiver.  The producer is suddenly speaking in my ear..
‘You’re next. ‘
No no (under my breath I am now singing ‘Please Release Me!’)
‘So now we have a Tanvir on the line,’ comes Mr. Nolan’s nasal tenor. ‘Tanvir what do YOU think about Dr K? ..’
Later on face book I message my brother.  It was the weeping widow.  I say.  With cancer.  You just can’t top that.’
Some things shouldn’t be topped,’ says my brother wisely.
What did I say?  Well I remembered that right at the beginning Dr, K had mentioned that it wasn’t fair that he hadn’t been allowed to practice cardiology because ‘I have lost my sight but I still have vision’. So I riffed on this for a mere matter of seconds, about how important that was, how powerful before I was cut off mid sentence my Mr. Nolan saying ‘Sorry about that callers but we have come to the end of a truly remarkable show.’
P.C. Rathband RIP

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Drip Feeding in February

It’s a funny thing but this time last week I was in South Africa in Pretoria East Hospital sitting with my Dad who was attached to a remarkably noisy array of machines some of which blinked, some gurgled and some which went ‘ding’ like the number 57 bus to Highbury circa 1970.

Dad and me in 'lekker' T-shirts
I suppose ‘funny’ isn’t the right word. There is nothing funny about a father who has VERY nearly died from complications arising from serious infection and multiple myeloma and who is in ICU trying ...although so weak he can barely raise his head from the pillow signal through his oxygen tube that he wants someone to sneak him a roast beef sandwich past the ward sister.  I mean ‘funny’ in the sense that one can be in Cambridge, sighing and huffing at a computer one day and the next in Sub Saharan Africa in an isolation unit without ever actually having to do any walking. Train, airport, plane, airport, hospital. Surreal.

Dad is still in the hospital as I type although now out of ICU and isolation and in the general ward where his jelly and custard is not swabbed for bacteria before it is allowed to his bedside. He has a long hard rehabilitation ahead of him and there are many questions still to be resolved about his health and next treatment but for the moment he is out of danger (unless dying of boredom is a possibility. He was already bored in the ICU! This is one man who would rather take his drip stand fishing then lie still in a hospital bed. I pity the nurses...)

My brother had flown over a couple of days in advance and seen Dad at his worst. At one point Dad, mid rigor and fever spike, had told Ben, slightly urgently, to take the number of Ambassadors Funeral Company from his phone. This is what my dad calls ‘future planning’ ...although at least he had the number in his phone I ‘spose. So when I arrived my brother, though wonderfully supported by dad’s mate Adam, had already dealt with a whole load of hoo haa. There was a lot more to come. A lot more which I won’t go into now. You will have to wait for the novel.

With aunt looking better!
My aunt joined us and we spent the week going from Jan Marie’s Bed and Breakfast (which I must tell you ALL to stay at...even if it means diverting your trip to the grim old Pretoria. Mr and Mrs Jan and Marie are the most fabulous couple especially if you arrive in confusion, unable to drive, upset and freaked. They picked us all up from airports and dropped us all daily at hospital never asking for a bean. )

I stayed five days. My benefits were suspended for that time and had I stayed longer there would have been complications. What it is to be the Department of Work and Pensions bitch.  Talking of bitches, Grace had to board with our mate Daisy and I, having to resort to my white cane again, was somewhat lopsided without her. But now I am back and my brother is back and this evening my aunt will also fly home leaving Dad to the tender mercies of the nurses and his partner on whom I will not say another word lest it cause the very computer to melt into a smoking bubble of plastic, glass and sparking wiring. Not

Oh and ZAMBIA won the Africa Cup of Nations!!!! Won it! It was phenomenal. The whole country is still dancing.

Oh and I got a place to do a PhD at Bath Spa! I don’t have the finance yet but the place is a start! (yes...I too have the ‘forward planning’ gene of my father.) Will tell you more about it all in the next post.

And that’s enough for this month don’t you think. Holy shit.