In a juxtaposition that would have been worthy of a mediocre episode of Casualty, while my family and I were transforming ourselves into the living dead for Halloween, my mother was being rushed to hospital by ambulance. In Casualty, I suppose I would have been standing by her bed as she lay dying, dressed as a vampire, with the make-up running down my face.
Fortunately, life is rarely as crass as a BBC hospital drama and after nine days of being connected to various drips and machines, my mother pulled through.
The NHS is a wonderful emergency service. They saved my father's life and gave him another 11 years, during which he saw the birth of his first grandchild. Unfortunately, this excellence does not always extend itself to the basic nursing care that is so vital if people are to recover from operations and illnesses.
My father ended up dying from the MRSA bug, in conditions that reminded me of Guantanamo Bay: kept in isolation, strapped to a bed, with a radio playing nothing but white noise and painfully bright sunlight beating down on his face.
My father-in-law's case was even worse. Two years ago, he had a small lump removed from his tongue. The eight-hour operation was a complete success and although we had been warned that his speech would be affected, within a day he was able to chat on the phone. I won't relate the details here, but as a result of an appalling dereliction of duty by two of the nursing staff, a simple complication resulted in irreparable brain damage.
Three weeks later this healthy man in his 60s, who had been paragliding only months earlier, died. The hospital later admitted full responsibilty.
Of coure, these are two isolated incidents and perhaps my wife and I have just been unlucky. Overall, I'm a big fan of the National Health Service, but I couldn't help feeling a little jittery at the prospect of leaving my mother at the mercy of a large, impersonal hospital. How well would she convalesce in a noisy environment where the lights weren't turned off until 2.00am and the staff consisted of an ever-changing line-up of agency nurses?
But convalescence wasn't even an option. The moment my mother was no longer in danger of dying, she was discharged. On Monday she was being fed intravenously. On Tuesday she was expected to go home and cook a meal. I couldn't let this happen, so after a frantic weekend of tidying my youngest son's bedroom, building a bed and washing sheets, I picked my mother up from Teddington and drove her down to Lewes.
For the last four weeks, my mother has been completely pampered. A combination of rest, good food and company has worked wonders and she now seems to be back to her old self again. At some point we will have to make a decision about what happens next (moving to a nearby warden-assisted flat seems the most sensible option), but for the time being it's important that my mother feels that she can stay for as long as she likes.
We're quite different people. This is her bathroom:
Whereas ours is a more chaotic envionment, consisting of a Swedish barometer, far too many plastic toys, dozens of bottles and unashamedly naked loo rolls. But I think my mother is happy here. She hasn't mentioned going home.
If you have noticed a decline in the quantity and quality of my blog posts recently, this is my excuse. At the moment I no longer have the time to peruse the vast archive of Derek's diaries and even scanning old photographs feels like a major task, so please forgive the lazy YouTube links and barely-edited posts.
Normal service will hopefully be restored in the near future.