I suspect, should I ever die and they need to perform a post-mortem on me, they'll find the First of February 2001 etched in my brain like a stick of Brighton rock. It is a date I shall never ever forget.
In mid December 2000, I had been told I needed an urgent hysterectomy operation. I had developed a large mass in my womb. If I lay face-down on a hard floor playing a board game or doing a jigsaw with Kay, I could feel it digging in to me. The consultant gynaecologist I went to see was fairly hopeful it was a benign fibroid but because of its large size, could not rule out it was something malignant. He needed to open me up and see for sure, but did not want to leave it too long. However, with the Christmas and New Year period in the way and therefore an obstacle both from my and the NHS point of view, my operation, although urgent, was fixed for the 2 February 2001, some six weeks away.
However over Christmas, it became apparant my father was very ill. I have written before about how special he was to me, how close we were and how upset I was when he died, untimely ripped from our lives by leukaemia and (cruelly) to have two kinds of the disease at the same time: one which he could have lived with for many many years and, apart from the occasional blood transfusions, would have caused no problem, but the second type was more aggressive and by mid-January 2001 revealed the diagnosis that he had but a few months if not weeks to live. Not certain when exactly he would die, I was nervous to go ahead with my operation, but my father begged me to carry on, as it was much needed and he would not be happy if I postponed it. He argued that I still had my life in front of me and would be recuperating by the time he grew worse, so we stuck to the schedule.
A few days before my operation, Greg, a nine-year-old Kay and I drove the sixty-odd miles to stay with my parents for the weekend. We visited my father who was by now very weak and in hospital. The consultant haematologist told us that Dad was rapidly fading and that his blood was showing more of the killer leukaemia cells day by day. Again I protested that I ought to cancel my operation, but again my father insisted I should go ahead and be all the more stronger to deal with what would happen to him later. At our parting, I hugged and kissed him and could not bear to let go or turn the corner out of view from his bed in the ward, all the time trying to keep a brave front for Kay who did not really understand or suspect what was going on.
A few days later, it was Thursday 1 February 2001: the day before my operation. I had been told to report to the ward at about mid-afternoon. I was to have a bath at home beforehand and to have brought a case full of stuff to last me a week in hospital. The hysterectomy and removal of the "mass" would take place on the Friday morning. I was at home busy preparing myself and making sure that Greg and Kay would have enough to be fed and watered during my 7-day absence. I was also packing a case and getting ready to have a bath after lunch.
At about 12:50pm the telephone rang. It was my mother in floods of tears. My father had suddenly passed away ten minutes before. I froze. Now what to do? I was all for rushing to be with my mother but Greg wanted me to have that op so badly as he was nervous it could be bad news and to postpone it was madness. However I could not leave my mother to cope with Dad's funeral on her own and in any case I did not want to be incapacitated for it either. I decided to cancel the operation. I rang the hospital and left a message with the consultant's secretary. I rang around my circle of friends and relatives telling them the grave news.
I was in a daze. I could not think straight. There were a million and one things to think about, not least of which was how we were going to break the news to Kay. The phone kept ringing. Then in the late afternoon my consultant rang me back. He said he sympathised with my position, but he would seriously urge me to reconsider the operation for the next morning. "Your father can no longer be saved, but YOU can", he said. He also said he could not guarantee that putting it off for a few weeks would have a good outcome if the mass was malignant. He begged me to think about it and ring him back with my decision. Meanwhile people were ringing me saying much the same thing, that my father would want me to go ahead with the operation. My mother even rang to say she had been taken by close friends to collect the death certicate and the funeral could be arranged for three weeks hence by which time I would have recuperated. There was nothing else for me to help her with, so even she said I should go ahead with the op.
Thus it came to pass that on the evening of 1 February 2001, Greg delivered me to the hospital and then rushed off to collect Kay who had been with a childminder since leaving school that afternoon. I found myself sitting up in a bed in a large old Victorian gynaecological ward of twenty beds or more, ten down one side and ten down the the opposite side. I sat listening to people laughing with and chatting to their visitors, while the tears rolled down my cheeks. My beloved father had just died; I sat all alone surrounded by people; and I faced major surgery the next morning. A day I would never ever forget.