"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Monday, 3 October 2016

Question of the Month: Decisions and Regrets

It's time for Question of the Month, where a group of bloggers answer a (hopefully) thought-provoking question. This is the last one I'll be hosting, so I thought I'd make it the most personal. The question is:

"What's a decision you've made in the past that, logically, you know was the right decision to make, but which you still feel guilty or regretful about?"

I asked this because some months ago, my Grandma was diagnosed with cancer. Her health began on a rapid decline that was sometimes hard to watch. She had to have her voice box removed, and had to breathe through a hole in her neck. That unfortunately didn't stop the cancer though, as we later discovered that the rest of her body was riddled with it. Plus, while it was never actually diagnosed, it was pretty clear that she was descending very quickly into dementia. It started with her freaking out that her keys had been stolen and ended just a few months later with her sitting and scowling at the wall for hours on end, unable to walk and only being able to communicate by banging her cane on the ground.

Her kids spent a lot of time discussing how to proceed with this. They knew she would HATE going to a care home and that she would fight against it passionately. She was only ever comfortable when she was at the house in which she raised her family. Eventually, they felt they had to. She was living in that house on her own and she couldn't look after herself. At the very least, the hole in her throat through which she was now breathing (called a stoma) would require cleaning almost hourly, and she was in no shape to do it herself.

Just as they'd predicted, she hated it. She became insufferable and depressed. This was before the dementia had set in, so she would let her family know repeatedly (despite not being able to talk) how awful it was there. So eventually, my dad and his brother decided to do something about it. Despite being incredibly busy people, My Dad, my uncle, and both of their wives worked out a roster so that they could bring Grandma home and ensure that someone could be there around the clock to take care of her. They split it into morning and evening shifts, with the men usually sleeping there overnight. They set up an office space with internet so they could still take care of some of their work while they were there. And, because they just couldn't find anyone who was free to look after her on the Thursday day shift, they asked me (and I agreed) to help out as well.

The nurses at the care home thought we were crazy. They thought it was a terrible idea and were so convinced that she couldn't get the same level of care at home as what she could there, that they even threatened to procure government intervention and keep her there against our will. But a quick bit of research told us that that wasn't possible. So we took her home and began to be care nurses ourselves.

Every Thursday for a couple of months, I would bring my gear over to Grandma's house and do my work there while watching over her. Occasionally I'd take her for a walk in the sun. Every two hours I'd administer a serum to help with her pain. And every four hours, I'd put on some rubber gloves and get her to cough all the disgusting built-up phlegm from her stoma into a tissue. I'd try to find films and music that would keep her entertained so that she didn't bang her cane at me while I was working to point at something that was freaking her out and that I couldn't do anything about. And when the nurses visited to give her her daily truckload of pills, I'd have communicate with the other carers to keep on top of all the different doses of everything she had. It was heartbreaking ever time I had to leave. At 6 o'clock, I'd have to pack up my stuff and head off to host a quiz night. The next person wouldn't be able to come in until 7:00, which meant she'd be on her own for an hour. As soon as she saw me pack up my laptop, she'd jump up and start banging her cane, pointing at the ground to indicate that she wanted me to stay. She'd have a look of terror on her face as if she was about to lose the last person she had left in her life. "I have to go to work!" I'd plead, to which she'd furiously shake her head and point at the ground again. I worked out that I'd just have to repeat that a few times before it sank in and her voiceless cries of "stay here" turned into "when are you coming back?"
"Next week," I'd assure her, but she just got even sadder at that.

The nurses that made the house visits were endlessly impressed with what we were doing. They said they'd never seen anything like it and that they thought we were all crazy (in the best possible way). But eventually, her health just got too bad. We had to put her back in a place where she had access to trained medical professionals. So in early January this year, we bit the bullet and put her back in a care home.

Now, just a few weeks earlier, I'd booked a holiday in South East Asia with my friends. The plan was to spend five days in Singapore, then go to Thailand for another six days, where our friend Brooke would be there celebrating her 21st birthday. It would be the first time I'd been overseas since I was 14, and the first time ever without my family. It would also be my first time travelling to Asia, so I'd get to cross that off my bucket list. I was very excited. Then, two days before the trip, Grandma had to be transferred to a hospital. She'd collapsed and was having unusually bad trouble breathing. I remember being in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, sitting in a family waiting room, while a doctor came in, explained the situation so far, and then, as tenderly as possible, brought up the subject of whether or not to resuscitate her. Dad was shocked by the question and told them to resuscitate her as if he shouldn't have had to say something so obvious. Even though I didn't agree, I totally understood how he was feeling, and I knew it was his call to make. Despite all this, I don't think the thought of cancelling the trip ever crossed my mind.

Then, the day came. We all slept at the house of my friend Kelsey overnight and woke up early to head to the airport together. We checked in our luggage, found our gate and waited there for an hour, at once both nervous and excited. Then... I got the phone call from Mum.

'It's Grandma,' said Mum. 'She's stopped responding. We don't know how long she has left.'
'Oh no,' I said, my mind racing. My friends, aware of my Grandma's current state, stopped talking to each other and listened. 'I... Should I cancel the trip?'
'I don't know Michael, is that possible?'
'Let me make some calls. I need to find out what my options are.'

Over the next 20 or 30 minutes, I made some hurried calls to my insurance company and my travel agent (the travel agent being difficult because Kelsey had handled that for all of us). I was now in a race against the clock to figure out whether I should get on this waiting plane, I abandon it and be with my grandma in her final moments. From what I could gather, I could get a refund if I had to cancel it. But the insurance company obviously couldn't make any promises before a claim was lodged. Then there was the wishes of my family to consider. Everyone always says things like "He/she would have wanted you to be happy," But in the case of my grandma, I wasn't sure. She was clearly very needy, and may have seen it as an insult for me to go off and have the time of my life. And what about her kids... One of my Dad's strongest characteristics is the enormous sense of responsibility he has for his family. Even if my Grandma would have wanted me to take the trip, would he? Eventually, I was back on the phone to my Mum.

'I don't think the money will be a problem,' I said. 'It might even be an option to take half the trip and then if she passes, I can make my way home.'
'I think you should do that,' replied Mum. 'The truth is, we don't actually know how long she has left. It might be hours, it might be weeks. And I've spoken to Dad. To him, it's more important for you to be at the funeral than at her deathbed.'
'Are you sure? I feel the need to be at her side. It doesn't feel right to go off and have fun instead.'
'Like I said, it's more important to us that you're at the funeral. We usually have the funeral about five days after the death, which means you'll have plenty of time to get home. It's what she would have wanted.'
'Well... Okay. I'll go.'
'Stay safe Michael, I love you.'
'I love you too.'
I tucked the dreaded situation into the back of my mind and let excitement flood back again. We got onto the plane left for what would be a very big moment in my life.

Twelve hours later, sitting in my hotel room with the others, having worked out how to activate my new Singaporean SIM card, I called home to let my family know I was safe. The phone was on speaker mode and the others could hear the conversation.
'How's Grandma?' I asked after a while. There was a long pause. Then, through a cracked, wavering voice, my Mum replied
'She's gone.
My friends' grins dropped at the news and I hurriedly took my phone off of speaker mode out of respect for them. I didn't want to bring them down their holidays as well. Apparently she'd crashed shortly after our departure from Adelaide. It wasn't very complicated - her body just gave up and she couldn't be revived. I'd just arrived in Singapore, but now I'd immediately have to make arrangements to get back home.

My Dad agreed to hold the funeral off an extra day so I could enjoy the time I had planned for Singapore and then just fly back home instead of continuing on to Thailand. I had a real blast in Singapore, but it was slightly soured by the constant, frustrating phone calls I had to make over the course of five days to arrange a flight back home in a way that would suit the insurance company. One time I even finished a phone call while setting off on a ride in Universal Studios, trying to hear the travel agent's voice over the loud music and rushing water. But I eventually made it. I arrived home on the Saturday morning and attended the wake that night. At the funeral the next day, I was given a eulogy that my Uncle had written, but was too self-conscious to read out. It may have been the fatigue, or the guilt, or just the combined emotions of everyone in the room, but when I got up and read the eulogy out, it hit a lot of nerves. Many people approached me afterwards to congratulate me on such a moving speech.

I don't regret getting on the plane. My family and I came to that decision together. It would have been nice to be with my Grandma at the last moments of her life, but like we agreed, when didn't know when those moments would come. It could have taken her another three days to finally pass, and no one would expect us to stay there for that long. But I'll always feel a sense of guilt about it. No matter what anyone says, the guilt will be there. It's just something I live with now.
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