It was my birthday yesterday. I nailed it as far as birthdays go, making myself a brown butter cake with lemon curd and white chocolate cream, scoring some awesome presents, and going out for Chinese for dinner where I completely dominated a plate of honey king prawns. I did offer them around the table, but my friends and family aren’t stupid.
At the restaurant, I sat across from my 81 year old Mum. She nearly died about a month ago, but there she was, tucking in with gusto to satay chicken, beef and black bean and fried rice. As I looked over at her smiling face, I was taken back to the critical care ward, where my brother and I sat and listened while the specialist consultant spoke to Mum about her end of life wishes. She’d had a minor heart attack initially, but had a rare reaction to one of the standard drugs used to treat it, and had gone into acute kidney failure. Her body was shutting down, blood pressure getting lower and lower, breath gasping despite the oxygen mask, skin waxy white. Her eyes were closed, but she heard every word he said, and confirmed what we already knew. She did not want to be resuscitated, or kept alive by machines. If things were at an end, she would go on her own terms.
The consultant told us later, out of Mum’s earshot, that he thought she would only live another couple of days. We stayed by her bed, alternating breaks for coffee and loo, regularly joined by family and friends who had come to say goodbye.
That night, my brother asleep in our spare room, we waited for the dreaded phone call to come, like it had when Dad died. But it didn’t, and that morning when we arrived at the hospital Mum was sitting up on the side of the bed, and then moved to sit in a chair. She hadn’t eaten for days, but suddenly decided she wanted a vanilla ice-cream in a cone. I sent my brother to fetch it (pulling the little sister with a broken shoulder card because it was cold outside) and when he came back with a Cornetto, Mum proceeded to eat it in about five bites. Anyone who knows my mother knows she is not a fan of sweet things and watches her diet like a hawk, so we were both amused and bemused. Someone told us that those who are dying often seem to rally just before they pass, so we thought that perhaps this was Mum’s final hurrah.
But it wasn’t. Gradually, she got better. Her kidney function improved and rapidly returned to almost normal, her blood pressure normalised and they weaned her off the oxygen. And as she left critical care for the general ward, she gave the consultant a hot tip, and recommended he introduce Cornetto therapy to all his patients.
After dinner last night, my Mum gave me a birthday card, and I went a bit misty-eyed when I read the front:
And then I pissed myself laughing when I read what was inside:
I am regularly asked how I am able to laugh in the face of really tough stuff. And I always say, you should probably ask my Mum.