By lisa h
The jug at the bottom of the opposite bed is nearly full again. The nurse finally notices when the liquid inside is a centimetre from the top. She clamps the tube, replaces the jug with an empty one, and then releases the flow. Creamy red fluid starts dripping again. It looks like someone mixed his blood with double cream.
The nurse is back, and walking our way.
“Hello John, how are you doing?” she asks my father.
My mouth drops a little, and I boggle at my mum. John? Who’s John?
“I’m fine thank-you. Just waiting for the doc.” My dad pulls his dressing gown tighter. “Is it okay that my family are still here?”
Visiting hours ended half an hour ago. We’re in the corner, and have been sitting quietly, trying not to be noticed.
“Don’t worry about it. Let me know if you want anything else, John.” She walks off in her comfortable shoes, eying the jug as she goes. It’ll be full again in ten minutes. I’ve been timing it.
“John?” I ask.
My son, Tom, glances up from his book. I don’t think he’s reading, as he’s not turned a page yet. He looks back down, and pretends not to be listening.
My mum looks sheepish. “We didn’t want to bother them, when they got it wrong.”
“But he’s Michael, not John!” There’s a wipe-clean board above dad’s head, which reads ‘John Hinsley’. Everyone knows him by his middle name, but apparently, not the doctors.
No one can think of much to say. We’re all in our own silent worlds, probably thinking similar things.
Is dad going to die?
It’s the Friday before Christmas, and we’re waiting for the results of his operation to remove a very rare cancer. Apparently he’s being studied with excitement within the medical profession. I’m fucking happy for them. This is my dad, and he’s supposed to live to one hundred and two. I told him so. He has to outlive his grandmother by a year, and my grandmother by two.
The doctor’s come along and taken my father and mother into a consulting room. Tom and I are sheparded into a day room. It’s supposed to be for patients use only, and visiting hours ended over an hour ago, and the nurses are being so nice I feel like slapping one of them and screaming, “Why aren’t you bloody kicking us out!”
I sit in a plastic covered padded chair, and try and read a magazine that’s over a year old. I leaf through in record speed; get to about the middle, where tales of the general publics’ woes are confessed for up to two hundred pounds an article. I throw it back down on the coffee table and flick on the telly.
I watch Eastenders, but I’m not listening. Tom’s sitting next to me, silent, still on the same page. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought him. I figured he’s thirteen, and old enough to understand about his grandfather being poorly. But the doctor’s supposed to give us good news, and there’s this swirling sensation in the bottom of my stomach that keeps making my blood thicken. It’s the only way I can describe it. Like all my fluids have been mixed with corn starch, and my whole body is slowing and stiffening. I don’t want them to come back in. Not with bad news.
They’re gone for ages. I’ve stopped watching the telly. I’m eavesdropping on another couple. She’s in after hours as well, visiting. They’re talking about the man with the creamy blood dripping from a tube. Apparently he’s very ill. I didn’t need them to tell me that. I didn’t see him move once, even when his wife came in and sat mumbling at his bedside. My dad’s full of energy. You wouldn’t know he’s sick. It’s not fair.
Mum and dad came back in. Mum’s eyes are red, and dad is the colour of ash. I go to her first, while Tom looks up with enormous green eyes. Mum’s crying, and won’t let go. Through my own tears, I stare at dad. He’s just standing there, hands deep in the pockets of his dressing gown, slippers on his feet, and a far away look. Then I have it. The most inappropriate thought possible. I imagine a Barber’s Quartet dancing into the room, with their funny sidestepping, hat-flicking routine. They’re all humming, each at a different octave. Then they break into song, right beside my dad. “Congratulations, congratulations, your dad’s got cancer, a really quite rare cancer…” I decide that none of this is real, reach for my dad, and we all hug and cry. I want him to be Mike again.
Note: Dad was operated on a second time a week after Christmas. They managed to remove all of his extremely rare cancer, and although the doctor still seems excited to see him, Mike-John has no longer got cancer. Roll on five years.