Sunday, 5th July 2015. I have just arrived at Stanmore where Dad is still recuperating from having his leg amputated. The drive from home takes around two hours. I sit for a moment in the dilapidated car park and take a few breaths. I hate this place. I hate it for its building-site ugliness; its Victorian architecture no longer fit for service, patched together with shonky 1970s plastic-and-breeze-block nastiness. I hate it for its smells, for the state in which I invariably find the toilets, for the silence of the corridors. I hate it for the amount of time it has claimed from my father’s life. I know that of course I should be thankful that it has undoubtedly done a fair bit to prolong his days. But I do not feel thankful for anything right now.
My mobile rings. It is my sister. I think about not answering, but the thought of procrastinating a moment longer while I listen to my sister’s cheery voice is too tempting.
‘It’s me. Mum has had a fall.’
‘No!’ Fear and panic, always near the surface these days, rush to my chest, squeezing the breath out of me.
‘It’s OK. Marina found her. This is actually good,’ my sister is saying.
I realise she is sounding elated. Why? What is remotely ‘good’ about this? Our father is lying in a bed with only one leg, waiting to be discharged home to a woman who has just fallen. This is the nightmare I have been terrified would become a reality.
‘Mum is in Pembury hospital. I called the GP and he sounded excited,’ my sister says. ‘He said, “This is our chance”. We can get her into a home from here,’ she goes on. ‘We can take control. This is proof that she cannot be left alone.’
I hope she is right, but from where I am standing the mountain still seems impossibly high, cut through with precarious crevices, ravines and pitfalls. We have carried our hopes gingerly up this path before, only to watch them snatched from our hands and dashed on the black rocks below.
‘We need to get her assessed by a psychiatrist while she is in Pembury,’ my sister says. ‘We need to push for this.’
We end the call and I go in to see Dad. He is asleep, propped up. his mouth partly open, his face smooth with morphine. I look at where the sheets fall away flatly from his torso where his right leg once was. I look at his hands; his gentle, loving hands, rested on his lap. I can’t tell him. I can’t tell him that his wife of nearly fifty years has fallen and is now in a hospital seventy-five miles away. I can’t tell him what this means: that she will most probably not be at home when he is discharged. I can’t begin to think through the consequences of this.
Dad opens his eyes. ‘Hello, Anna love.’ He smiles.
I smile too, take his hands, and start to explain.