First thing’s first, I’d like to make a correction. This post is NOT the equivalent of Kill Bill: Volume 2. I realised after posting last week’s entry that Remembering Phillip Bloom is actually a trilogy. Having thought long and hard, I discounted possible contenders like The Godfather, Back To The Future and The Mighty Ducks. Let’s be honest, this can only be compared to Star Wars. Just the title “A New Hope” is so relevant to Phil and Shirley’s journey down South from Birmingham. Granted they didn’t have to deal with any Tusken Raiders, Sith Lords or garbage compacters but it was still a mission and had an uplifting and happy ending.
Sorry, hold on a second. If the previous paragraph makes no sense whatsoever then you clearly haven’t read part one. Do that now as you wouldn’t watch The Empire Strikes Back before Star Wars would you? The Empire Strikes Back finishes with Han Solo frozen in carbonite and Luke Skywalker minus a hand. Just to add insult to injury Luke also discovers that the evil Sith Lord who had cut off his hand was actually his father. Basically, it was pretty bleak and everything seemed hopeless. Sadly that’s pretty much how this post will end but don’t forget what comes afterwards. While there won’t be any cuddly Ewoks in part three there will be a celebration of a life well lived. Just hold onto that and you’ll be fine.
So Phil and Shirley had moved down from Birmingham to Bricket Wood to be near us. It was a new build flat so there was a lot to do. The first three weeks were full of energy sapping trips to IKEA, hours spent on the phone waiting to get through to IKEA customer service and then hours spent complaining to IKEA customer service about deliveries that hadn’t turned up and the parts that were missing. There was also the whole unpacking process and setting up everything. This was made more difficult as nothing had been installed so no broadband or phone lines and rubbish mobile reception. You really don’t realise what you take for granted until you haven’t got it.
During all this pandemonium Phil was actually coping pretty well with the changes. Most of the time he knew where he was and that they had moved. He occasionally said things like, “When are we going home?” but generally all good. Going round IKEA was fun (for the first couple of times anyway!) and it was great seeing him laugh. He was continually asking Shirley how much it was all costing him and almost had a heart attack when mistakenly thinking the cost of the wardrobes was actually the cost for the doors. You had to be there but it was priceless. I was really enjoying spending time with them whether it be pottering around in Radlett or just hanging out at home.
He got a urine infection and became a bit weaker physically and was struggling to lift his legs. This meant Shirley needed help with getting him in and out of bed for a few days. I came round the first night and Phil was excited to see me. “I saw you on TV earlier, what were you doing there?” I assumed he was hallucinating but he’d actually been watching the Live Aid concert. Guess who he mistook me for………….Bob Geldof! I’ve got nothing against Bob personally and what he’s done over the years has been nothing short of miraculous. However, he did generally look like he’d been living in a skip and I take great pride in my hygiene and general appearance so took serious umbrage at this. “You think I look like Bob Geldof? Bloody cheek, I used to like you, not any more. Don’t speak to me again until I get a written apology.” I carried on in a similar vein and he was laughing his head off. Just seeing that made my heart warm a little. Underneath the shell of a person standing before me was still the heart and soul of the big man that once was.
I helped clean and dress / undress him and seeing him almost helpless made me reflect on the circle of life. When we’re born we’re helpless and looked after by our parents and when we’re old our children look after us. There’s something beautiful and almost poetic in that. Well, that’s assuming you still speak to your children and they actually want to look after you. Hopefully my years of being a nice daddy to the girls will stand me in good stead down the line. I’d better make sure I don’t tell them off too much just in case. The book, “I’ll Love You Forever” portrays this perfectly but be prepared to cry. I thought of Phil again as he was before his accident and illness: big, loud, strong and a real presence. I looked at him now and the sharp difference hit me like a Mike Tyson uppercut. It was sad seeing what he had become but he was still here. We were so close to losing him two years ago so it was a blessing that we’d had all the time together since.
I then looked across at Shirley. This incredible woman who looked like the wind could blow her over. Her strength, love, fortitude and stubbornness was nothing short of inspirational. Never had the phrase “In sickness and in health” been so apt. She’d never complained once about looking after Phil, it was a given. I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by some incredibly strong women in my life and Shirley was right up there with them. Stoic didn’t do her justice.
Due to the infection Phil’s hallucinations became worse and he had a couple of episodes where he was violent. One was here at home when he thought Katie was out to get him and he tried hitting her with his stick. She was really shaken up and upset. “What if he always thinks this when he sees me?” It was hard to hear and hard to see the fear in her eyes. We reassured and comforted her but it was a reminder of what Phil and we were living with. The next evening we had a call from Shirley and she was hysterical. The mobile reception was awful but all we made out was “I can’t get him to respond at all.” We called an ambulance and rushed round in silence. We were both thinking the same, that he’d had some sort of attack and died.
When we went in we were relieved to see he was sitting at the table staring ahead. The ambulance arrived and they quickly ascertained he had a high temperature and took him to hospital. Along with the urine infection that hadn’t cleared up it was a good indication of what had caused his sudden change in temperament. After a couple of days in an assessment wing he was transferred to a ward which he shared with 9 other men. The worst part of this was seeing his fellow patients slowly pass away before us. Their relatives there each day; some crying, some fussing around them, some in silence. One day, the curtain is drawn around the bed and the symbol placed on the curtain signifying the end of life is close by. Then the end comes and a few hours later another patient appears in their place. In a way it was surreal but we didn’t and couldn’t let ourselves go there.
The next two and a half weeks were a roller coaster. One day he was unable to swallow and staring ahead in silence, the next he was eating and chatting away like normal. Well, I say like normal, 99% of the time it was total nonsense but it still had its lighter moments. On going in one day he told us all that he’d just won £5m on the lottery. We asked where the money was and he proudly announced he’d given it all to charity. I looked at him stunned and asked, “How about your family, we would have loved some of that.” He just laughed as did we. He did have moments of clarity, one of which I found heart breaking. He looked at me and said, “What life is this, I’m like a vegetable? I can’t do anything for myself, what’s the point?” I reassured him he wasn’t a vegetable and he just had to be patient. Once he was better he could come home and build his strength back up.
Eventually, his infection cleared and he was discharged and sent to a convalescent home. There they would work on his physical rehabilitation and get his muscles going again. We were so happy he was out of the hospital and had real hope all was going to be ok. Three days later though he contracted another infection and was taken back to hospital. There the doctors gave a stark diagnosis, “With an infection this serious along with his age and condition things can go either way.” It was a shock to hear this and hard to accept. He was pumped full of antibiotics and fluids but his body had already started to shut down. Then came the words that changed everything, “We’re very sorry, he hasn’t responded to anything we’ve given him. There’s nothing more we can do for him, it’s just a matter of time now.” He had sepsis and there was no way back, not even for miracle man Phil.
We asked if a Rabbi could be called to come and see us all. Rabbi Feldman from Bushey came and sat down next to Phil. He asked him if it was ok for them to sing some songs and say prayers together. For 36 hrs, since his readmittance Phil hadn’t been able to talk at all. He tried but all that came out was a grunt. He looked up at the Rabbi and said, “OK.” The Rabbi started singing Adon Alam and myself, Rachel and Shirley all started to cry. Maybe it was the Rabbi being there, maybe it was the singing or just us feeling more spiritual. Whatever it was, it helped us release some emotion and the whole experience was very special.
The following evening Rabbi Sturgess from St Albans came to see us and sang and recited prayers. He also spoke to us and asked about Phil, all the family and lots more. He was there for almost an hour and as with the night before we all felt so comforted by his presence. None of us are religious but I can’t express how much these meant to us. We also had a visit from Jo, a Macmillan nurse. The minute she opened the curtain and we saw her kind eyes that was it. Within a couple of minutes of talking and after she said to Rachel, “You’ve got a good one there,” (she meant me, don’t roll your eyes!) I burst out crying and sobbed and sobbed. All the emotion that I’d been holding in whist bring strong for Phil, Shirley and Rachel came flooding out.
At 6am Thursday morning we got a call from the hospital to say his breathing had changed and the end could be soon. Rach and Shirley went straight there and I joined them an hour later. In the bed next to Phil was a man who had singing tourette’s. I really can’t think of any other way to describe it. Constant and very loud singing at the top of his voice non-stop. Oh, and there was also some choice swearing as well. You really couldn’t make it up. In a way, it made it slightly easier for us as it was a distraction of sorts. To be fair, he also had a good voice so it could have been a lot worse! We were all holding his hands telling him we loved him. Sorry, that’s Phil not the singing Welshman next door. I had no feelings or him apart from admiration for his singing. We played Phil’s favourite songs to him and recounted memories and stories of times we had together. We also told him that he was free and it was ok for him to go. We would all be fine and everything would be ok.
I had to go home for a couple of hours so kissed him goodbye and spoke in his ear. “Phil, I love you and you’re ok to go and be free now. I promise you I’ll always look after Shirley and Rachel and make sure they’re ok.” An hour later, with Shirley and Rachel holding his hands, and with music playing in his ears he took his last peaceful breath and gently passed away. He wanted to be with his wife and daughter at the end and so he was. We couldn’t have wished for a better way for him to say goodbye and leave us. He was at peace.
Phil and Shirley had been living in Bricket Wood for 57 days, for almost half of that Phil was in hospital. We will be forever grateful that they were able to move and be here before all this happened. We’ll also be forever grateful for the time we had with Phil, before and after his accident. He’s gone now but never forgotten. A husband, daddy, father in law, brother in law, grandpa, friend, an average golfer and a colour blind tailor. More on that in the final instalment of Remembering Phillip Bloom.
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