I flew to Ireland last week for an impromptu visit that could have turned out very differently. On Friday evening my dad was sent to hospital. On Monday morning I was told that things could go either way, that if they went badly he could deteriorate very fast, and that I should probably come home right away.
About an hour after I’d pressed the button to buy the flight, he was no longer flat on his back in a lot of pain. In fact, it was reported that he was now sitting up eating yogurt. This news enabled me not to spend the entire overnight flight anticipating the worst, and when I rang the hospital from Dublin airport, wondering whether I should take the Aircoach directly to St Vincent’s or proceed in a more leisurely manner to somewhere I could put down my stuff and have a shower first, I was told that he was about to be discharged.
Panic over. Welcome to Dublin. Have a nice three days here. Bit of an anticlimax but light years better than the alternative.
I did some shopping, I visited the folks, I saw some friends, I had some nice dinners, I hung out with family. My dad was up and dressed, sitting in his corner of the day room with his book, butter not melting in his mouth, as if he’d never seen the inside of a hospital ward, when I saw him the next day. (He’d been out cold sleeping when I went the first day, not surprisingly. You don’t get much rest in hospital, when they keep waking you up every hour to see how you’re doing.) He had things he wanted to tell me, important things he wanted to be sure I knew, about family history and his childhood. I knew most of them already, they’re safe in my memory banks, I promise I won’t forget. I’ll put it here too.
My father’s father fought in the First World War. He got injured playing football, he used to tell his kids, so they don’t know what really happened. In the second war, the family evacuated together from London out to Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire (not too far away) and – new, thrilling info, this – he was a member of the fire watch at St Paul’s Cathedral, using sandbags to put out incendiaries that fell on the roof. Dad said he’d come home soaking wet every morning. (If you’ve read any Connie Willis you may be extra excited by this snippet, as I was. Though it’s pretty cool either way.) His brother Sylvester won the Croix de Guerre. Uncle Sylv was English, but his wife was French so I suppose he was fighting in a French battalion, maybe? I don’t know really how that came about, but Dad is very proud of it.
‘When I was lying there in hospital,’ he said, ‘I was looking out the window all the time, and it surprised me that not a single aeroplane passed over that patch of sky.’ I was oddly astounded that he was looking at things, thinking about things, when he was meant to be possibly dying, but I suppose even then you have to pass the time. ‘I was thinking about the history of flight, and how my brother and I used to watch the planes going over in the war; we knew them all. They flew much lower then, of course.’
There he was, thinking about the Wright brothers while the medical teams buzzed around him wondering which way things were going to go and I dozed in middle-seat limbo umpty-thousand feet up, waiting to get there so that, it turned out, he could tell me this.
Funny old world, as he’d say himself.