Tuesday, 26 August 2008

14. Staying perfectly still

The picture was taken by Hugh Sykes when we were working for the Today programme in the late seventies. The late seventies, by the look of things, is a reference to the percentage of alcohol in my blood at the time, but whoever was with me in the pub was undoubtedly pleased to hear they were my bestest mate and I bloody loved them. Alternatively, they were receiving my latest lecture on the intricacies of third division footballing styles. Whatever, I publish it here now because I’m a bit short on laughs this week.

Elderly parents are the major topic of conversation of my generation. Many a good party has been ruined by the question “are your parents still alive?” Mine are 95 and 91. They’ve been old for nearly half my lifetime.

Dad was taken to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning. This is nothing new. I’ve been answering emergency calls of this kind for 25 years. Except this time the call didn’t come to me. I’ve been excused - due to special circumstances.

Instead, the care home he’s been staying in for the past couple of weeks rang my sister. My sister was in Israel. So she rang my nephew, Richard. He was in Ipswich. So it ended up at Daniel’s door and Daniel valiantly saw my father through a sleepless night in the A&E department of the Royal Free.

In the morning, my mother rang Mary to find out what we were doing about dad, and we had no idea anything had happened. When you’re already under pressure, it’s hard to stay cool when more pressure is piled on. So Mary and I went off to the hospital, by which time Richard had arrived to take charge of the situation. Dad was stable – if very confused – and the doctors and nurses at the Royal Free had responded admirably. You fear the NHS might not be much concerned about a 95-year-old man, but it was.

So here’s where we are now. My father is in hospital. There are many serious things wrong with him, yet he will probably survive. My mother is in sheltered accommodation with some support from a carer. She is increasingly frail. My sister is on her way back from Israel. My nephew is in the front line until she arrives.

Many of you are journalists and all of you can think of a million unanswered questions. The contingency planners amongst you will be in a flat spin by now. There are no right answers. Here’s mine (for the time being) – and I will be judged on it:

If you’re stuck on a bus in Mexico (and this happened to me) in 100-degree heat with 95 percent humidity, and the air conditioning breaks down, and you can feel the panic rising around you, the most sensible course of action is to stay perfectly still. The more you huff and puff and fan yourself, the hotter it gets. Just stay perfectly still.