Hiya mate, how are you? ~ Not so good, I’m dying, we’re all dying was the glib reply in order to get my brain together. Yes, I know but I only have about 3 months ~ O.K! I started some small talk to try to get control, how do you know? Who told you? It was Alison (The nurse in York District), you know I went for some more blood tests last time I came home, well the results aren’t so good and they think they can do nothing else to help me. O.K. dad, leave it with me I will call Alison and find out what the score is.
Of course I could not call because, being a coward, I didn’t want the answers so I passed to my wife Janet. She called and established the “facts”. No he has long months, maybe up to a year because the cancer is spreading and we can’t control. Phew, a little bit of breathing space, time to think. My dad spent 6 months a year here in Spain with us and 6 months back in York. In York he could enjoy the company of his neighbours and mates in Burton lane Club.
Long gone were the days of dominos and bingo because long gone had the eyesight due to diabetes however the social event, the friends around him, the chat of the days on the railways were always a pleasure. My dad enjoyed company and everyone loved him. He certainly made the best of what life had thrown at him. He had been blessed with the love of my mum, Ida; they were together for nearly 60 years. My dad was a typical Yorkshire man ~ he could not cook, he could not iron he would clean if he had to but basically he went to work and spent his leisure time on the allotment and in the club, he brought home the money and my mum did the rest.
It all changed one Saturday night in April 1999. We were in bed asleep, in Stony Stratford, 160 miles away; the phone rang at about 2 in the morning, obviously bad news. It was my dad ~ your mum’s had a stroke and she’s in hospital. How is she? We won’t know until tomorrow then they can tell ~ tell what? Whether she will live or die! So matter of fact but what he was going through was hell, only those who knew him knew that. ~ O.K. dad we are leaving now see you in the morning.
We arrived in York about 6 am. My Auntie and Uncle with whom my Mum & Dad had been out the night before were there, spookily the clock that her grandson Mark had bought had stopped and the phone did not work. It was a very surrealistic morning waiting for 10am when we could go to see my mum in the hospital. The first visit was horrible. My mum just seemed to be asleep, only her grey hair showing above the covers, she seemed dead. When we visited in the afternoon she was awake and recognised us, very woozy but coherent. Mark, her only grandson and the love of her life had flown home immediately and armed with photos and memorabilia tried to drag his gran back. Unfortunately it was not to be. Slowly over the next few months my mum went downhill.
Mark had to return to Spain but came over when he could; Janet and I went every weekend to visit. In some ways her stroke was a blessing because my mother was the champion worrier of U.K. If she had been told she was ill she would have been dead in a week with worry, dead in a day if the illness had been my dad or one of us. The stroke was like a blow to the back of her head that removed all that worry. Not without traumas for the rest of us. One of the worst times for me was when she asked my dad. “Who is that man?” ~ She meant me, to say the least it was a bit upsetting.
Anyway every single day my mum was in hospital my dad visited twice a day to sit with her, bathe her and just to be near her. At 85 we thought he would kill himself first with the gruelling regime. Instead of getting better my mum seemed to get worse. After 8 weeks they agreed she could come home for a night, imagine, it was like being at school, “we will allow”. Of course we knew everyone had her best interests at heart but the ones coming between you and what you want become the enemy! Crazy I Know. My mum came home, she could not make a cup of tea and the next day when they came to pick her up she went like a lamb ~ Heartbreaking. Finally they had to make a decision. She could not stay in hospital she had to go in to care. No, my dad was adamant, she had to come home. I supported him 100% because, although I was apprehensive, I knew if he didn’t try he would never forgive himself. Luckily the dreaded phone call came and my mum passed away in hospital with another massive stroke. Again another 2am call from the hospital.
Back to Fred. Janet and I drove back to York at 120 mph to see and tell my dad. Again crazy, I thought we will be in York at 4am wake my dad up and give him the worst news of his life ~ so we slowed down, still reaching York too early, no where for a coffee so we simply killed time and eventually woke him at about 6am on the 24th June, two days before his birthday. We went to the hospital, said our final farewell and took my dad back to Stony, returning a couple of days later to sort everything out.
So that was the start of my dad’s unexpected, unprepared single life. Until he was ready he stayed with us. God knows what was going round in his head and I am sure they were long days for him but he was very stoic and never showed how he really was feeling. He sat in the conservatory, smoked his pipe and thought his thoughts until he decided he was ready to return home.
Fred had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 1994. As I have said previously my mum was a worrier but she accepted this better than I expected, better in fact than me. It was something we all had to accept ~ no choice. Funnily enough, apart from the inconvenience and discomfort of routine visits and medication it never really affected him until the end.
In 1997 it was his 80th birthday. Mark had been living here for 3 years at that time and we decided to celebrate it in Spain. Foreign food, Flight delays, hygiene my dad had all the prejudices. The fact that both my parents wanted to spend time with Mark overcame all the obstacles and after an unforgettable evening at Villa Tiberius they both became avid Hispanophiles and spent many long holidays with Mark.
At the turn of the century Janet was made redundant, I was unhappy with my job and so we decided, what the hell, let’s try Spain. Mark had been here 5 years and so it was not such a leap into the unknown. In March 2001 we packed our bags and came out here. Fred, now comfortable with Spain joined us.
Thereafter for the next 4 years my dad spent a life split between 6 months here and six months in York. His doctor in York was kind with prescriptions and the hospital accommodating on appointments. A real testament to the health service in U.K. and the main thing we were frightened of giving up.
At first it was great, always a ladies man my dad flirted with all our clients who in turn were delighted to encourage him and to open a different world. A bit like being on holiday 6 months a year. It was, I think, a happy time for him but not one he would have exchanged for having Ida back.
The phone call giving him 3 months to live came in July, just a couple of weeks after he had left Spain. When we learned that the 3 months would more likely be 12 months we arranged that he came back here in September after the worst heat. A second phone call came and told us that maybe 12 months was optimistic and a couple of weeks was more likely.
At this point we decided that he should be back here. My dad’s main wishes were that he should not be in a wheelchair and that he should not go in a home. So I took the next flight back.
Alison has arranged for my dad to have a blood transfusion to prolong his life. This was scheduled for the day after I arrived back. When I opened the front door my dad was too weak to stand up, he looked and sounded terrible. I went out for some fish and chips, he ate a little and the next morning we went to hospital for the transfusion. This took two days. On the third day we embarked for Spain. At Manchester airport I asked him if he wanted any breakfast. Aye, I’d love a bacon sandwich which we bought and which he devoured with relish. The transfusion took ten years off him. When we got back to Spain no one believed he was ill.
I had been warned in U.K. that the transfusion was more or less a favour and that the results would be short lived and that a further transfusion in U.K. would not be economical. (This is no criticism; the care my father received in York was excellent)
So for a while everything was fine but suddenly he developed T.I.A’s. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). Essentially “mini strokes” which prevent control of everything, arms, legs, bodily functions etc and last for anything from a second to a couple of hours. These were unrelated to the cancer and we found (how I don’t know) that if he slept in a sunbed at 45 degrees it didn’t happen.
This took its toll on Mark and I though as we were spending alternate nights sleeping with my dad. The first help we had was from Denise at a local doctor who loaned us a commode. Getting my dad from the bed to the toilet during one of those T.I.A’s was nearly impossible; light as he was he was a dead weight.
Finally we decided that we needed help and I went to see Cudeca. Mark had some friends there. From the first meeting it was as though all the stops were pulled out. Within 3 days we had a visit by a doctor and nurse (Dra Rosa and Melanie) Mel was from Yorkshire and spoke to my dad exactly as he expected to be spoken to, no bullshit, just how it was. You can’t believe how much he looked forward to their visits. They also helped us in understanding and coming to terms with the inevitable and helped us round some of the Spanish bureaucracy. They supplied an electric bed to replace the sunbed in fact everything we needed, all free of charge (Important to a Yorkshire man). Which leads me to a small aside. One night my dad dropped his bottom set of teeth in the bedroom, Mark and I searched all over but couldn’t find them. When the room was cleaned a couple of days later the cleaner found the teeth to my dad’s delight, “Give her a couple of quid Dave, it would have cost me twenty quid to get a new set” ~ you can tell how long he’d had them.
Occasionally as the T.I.A’s worsened and the cancer bit deeper we spent a few nights in the Costa del Sol hospital where my dad received a further two transfusions. The treatment he received was excellent and, in my layman’s opinion, superior to what he would have received in U.K. despite the treatment from York also being excellent. I have to pay tribute to Helicopteros Sanitarios, The Spanish ambulance service and the Costa del Sol hospital, not only for efficiency and medical care but for the way they treated and interfaced with a frightened old man (and that was just me!)
Anyway inevitably the cancer won, my dad held out to have Christmas lunch with us. He was in a wheelchair at that stage but had only been for a few days. He had all his faculties and had decided it was his time. We had Christmas lunch, pulled some crackers and watched T.V. He went to bed Christmas day and never really woke up.
We brought Fred out here as a gut thing; we never checked it out it just seemed what we had to do. Without Cudeca we could not have done it.
If you ever have any doubts about health care in Spain for you or your family, forget them. If you don’t speak Spanish and live in the Costa del Sol area, join Helicopteros Sanitarios (952 81 18 18). They can provide all your medical and emergency needs to a certain level at a ridiculously low annual charge. If that level is exceeded then they will take you to the Costa del Sol Hospital and if they need more specialist help they will take you to Malaga.
I speak from experience. My dad had a T.I.A attack as we were walking out to dinner one night. He was particularly excited as we were going with Sheila and Colin, friends of ours, but Sheila always made a big fuss of him. Anyway the attack came. My dad immediately fell and banged his head on the wall (I always accuse Sheila of pushing him, I’m still not sure). The security guard called Helicopteros, they came, gave my dad a full E.C.G. blood pressure etc. dressed his wounds and told me they wanted to take him to Hospital. I followed the ambulance and went with my dad as he was fast tracked through A&E. After checking, he was left in a comfy armchair wired up to everything for observation (This is common here, you can nearly guarantee that you will spend all night in the waiting room). After an hour or so the doctor came and told me he was not happy and wanted a second opinion so back in the car and I followed the ambulance to Malaga. After establishing where he was to be I told the ambulance driver I needed some petrol and a sandwich and went to the local garage, after I got back and found somewhere to park and was walking into the hospital (about 30 mins had passed) the ambulance driver saw me and said “the doctor’s looking for you, we are going back to Costa del Sol”. My dad was back on the stretcher and the doctor, in perfect English showed me the X rays or whatever and pointed out a scar on the brain. He explained that this could have been there years or only tonight but that at 88 there was little point in operating as that would almost certainly kill him.
Anyway back in the car, followed the ambulance to hospital and accompanied my dad to a ward. “We will keep him in tonight, you can collect him at 11 in the morning” ~ it was now about 5am.
Went home to bed fell asleep for what seemed like 5 minutes and the alarm went. Back to the hospital (The car knew its own way by then) and waited to see him.
When I went through the door he was sat up in bed, not only had they made him comfortable they had encased his arm in plaster “ look what they’ve done to my bloody arm” as they found he had broken it in the fall, but they had also given him a blood transfusion (Remember in York it was a favour)
On with his clean clothes and back to the car, how are you feeling dad? ~ “I’m a bit peckish, can we go to Ruby’s (a local bar) for an English breakfast?” (dé•jà vu I thought)
The purpose of this story is to urge any one who is in similar circumstances not to worry about health care in Spain, even if its you that is the patient remember there are a lot of people out there to help you, of course it’s not all perfect we met one Spanish G.P. in La Campana who is the most ignorant man I have ever met, Cudeca helped us round this one, and also if you don’t speak Spanish you sometimes have difficulty explaining or understanding however this is easily solved ~ just ask for a translator to be present in important meetings. There are a few rules of course, make sure you have your E111 card, medicines are not free when you leave hospital but often less expensive than U.K. but that is about all. Join Helicopteros if you are in the area and support the associations relying on donations (Books to the hospital etc. but most of all Cudeca)
Cudeca have now opened a charity shop in Marbella (Avda del Mar, the marble walk way where the Salvador Dali statues are) and Janet is working there together with other people who want to support this fantastic and innovative (In Spain) concept which recognises the needs and fears of both patients and families and handles those needs superbly. They, I am pleased to say, have gone from strength to strength since being started from an idea by Joan Hunt O.B.E. in 1991 and now have an in patient facility in Arroya de la Miel paid for by the donations and support of you and I
Maybe you can help the people who need your help now by donations of any good quality clothing or items by giving a few hours of your time or why not visit the shop and spend a few Euros, light a light, buy a flower or badge or bracelet or just write out a big cheque.
If you ever need Cudeca they will be there for you and if you don’t need them now or in the future you are the lucky ones and you will have helped those that do.
For more info on Cudeca ~ http://www.cudeca.org
Fore more info on Helicopteros ~ http://www.helicopterossanitarios.com
For more info on Costa del Sol Hospital ~ http://www.hcs.es
For more info on E111 ~ http://www.dh.gov.uk/travellers