Saturday 17 January 2015

A good death

My father, Jack Rheinberger, passed away in 2014. A brief obituary can be found at the ABC Open “In Memory Of” project.  And you can read about his life in his memoirs.  But this story is about how he died.

Dad had been struggling with plumbing problems all year. It was mostly due to old scar tissue on his prostate, the legacy of radiation treatment a decade ago.

He was constantly in and out of hospital, usually with blockages. The pain and indignity of the treatment was almost as bad as the problem.

One night the blockage was so bad that the Doctor couldn’t get a catheter in.

“Nurse, get the introducer,” the Doctor said. “And Jack, I advise you not to look.”

Of course, Dad looked.

You know how you can bend a coat-hanger to unlock a car? Imagine something similar, made of surgical steel, with a nice little bend in the end to get around that awkward spot in your urethra.

The Doctor spent five minutes poking around with it, trying to get it past the blockage. Dad gripped both sides of the bed, holding as still as he could, crying silently with the pain. Finally, something slipped past his lips.

“Oh Jesus!” he said. “Sorry, sorry...”

“You don’t have to apologise to me,” said the Doctor.

“I wasn’t,” said Dad, ever the staunch Catholic, “I was apologising to Jesus.”

These hospital trips were petty common over the last year, but the problem was gradually brought under control.

Then one night, Mum and Dad called their five children together to share some bad news. Dad told us that his GP had done a follow-up scan for something else and found a terminal problem.

“There’s cancer in my lungs and my bones. But my kidneys are the problem – they’ll pack it in maybe three or four months from now.”

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