Sunday, May 24, 2009

Talking with MIke

You know those movie scenes where the difficult telephone call has to be made. She picks up the phone, dials the first few numbers, puts the phone back down, walks around the room, stops and looks out of the window, takes a deep breath and picks up the phone again? Well, I played out the scene last night.


Between the hours of 8-10 pm was the best time to phone my brother, Mike, in hospital in Spain. So I waited until 8.00.

What if I have nothing to say? “Sorry” doesn’t take so long to say. The whole awkwardness of talking to someone you haven’t spoken to for years, and who has cancer, and who is dying doesn’t make for good conversations.

A Spanish lady picked up the phone. I don’t know how to say, “Can I speak to Michael?” in Spanish, and she had no clue and put the phone down.

Next minute he is there pouring a mouthful of abuse down the phone – not directed to me, but to the Spanish woman. He can’t speak Spanish either, so I doubt she has any clue what the problem was.

The problem, once Mike realises that he has a connection and he is not holding a dead phone in his hand, he tells me, is that the ward that he had all to himself, he now has to share and the other occupant, being Spanish, is ruling the roost, and he has been relegated to one tiny corner.

There’s nothing like a mouthful of abuse to open up the lines of communication. I don’t think I even got to say sorry, not that Mike would have listened. He refuses to be sorry for himself. The deed is done and dusted and who cares who is to blame and whether it is fair or not?

“At least they’ve not dropped me from the operating table!” It’s a reference to my sister’s recent illness, death and catalogue of hospital errors. Apparently Mike had been fretting that he never got to see Linda, or attend her funeral. He thought that others thought it meant he didn’t care…and sadly some thought exactly that way. The ones who knew, myself and my eldest sister, had kept it from them, at his request. To him, to tell them how ill he was, would be like the bridesmaid turning up at a wedding far outshining the bride. So he requested silence on the matter. I suppose we also agreed to keep quiet because at that time neither of us knew the true diagnosis. We didn’t know he was dying too.

I asked for a conversation with Mike, and I got one. Liberally sprinkled with colourful language he told me what life was like in the hospital. While he was speaking, the nurses were changing drips and giving him medicine and he was interrupting his discourse to say ”Ow”.


We laughed a lot. I cried a lot, though I tried not to let him know.

It was so different from Linda. I didn’t realise how difficult it had been talking to an unconscious body wrapped in a ventilator, keeping up a steady flow of comments and not having her respond.

Mike’s raucous laughter and pithy observations of Spanish hospitals was entertaining. It wasn’t a performance put on for me, to cheer me up and make me feel better…it was him being genuinely him.

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