Categories
Personal

Roll on 2014

If you had asked me in June to write my “new year”post, I think it would have been short and a little rude, consisting mostly of “get stuffed 2013, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” and a lot of swearing.¬† Surprisingly, as I come to the end of the year, I’m finding myself feeling quite differently.

2013 brought some difficult times – my dad’s first anniversary, some very busy and stressful times in work, a huge increase in the number of migraines I’ve suffered with, and of course, my house fire. In many ways, this year has been quite trying. It would be pretty easy to get bogged down in all that sadness, and there were times when I did, but I’m happy to say that I’m finishing the year with a renewed ability to look on the bright side of life.

Though work was often stressful, we achieved an awful lot, and I’ve made some great friends too, and even through all the stress, we managed to have some fun ūüôā I’m so grateful for the people I work with, they really are an excellent bunch!

I finished three years of study for my MSc, and despite all of the other things going on in my life, I managed to pass (and according to my feedback, pass it well). I’m going to graduate in 2014, and I know it’s going to be an amazing day. It wasn’t easy keeping up study during everything else, but that just makes me even happier that I did.

I suppose that the biggest event in 2013 has to be my house fire. In one fell swoop, I was left standing in only the clothes I had, and every penny I had put into the house, every hour of sanding, painting, working; all gone, just like that. For a long time, it was hard to see any happiness in this situation. Dealing with the insurance company was a deeply stressful and sometimes miserable experience, and watching all my belongings be boxed up to be thrown away, and my house be torn to pieces and dumped into skips was painful and upsetting.

It would have been very easy to just sink into a pit of despair, but I am truly blessed with the people I know, and they (you) dragged me out of it. I can’t even express how grateful I am to everyone who kept me going throughout the whole process. Some people came to bring me clothes when I had none, others, a sympathetic ear when the reality of it all came crashing down upon me. A few wonderful, generous people sent me gifts to try to lift my spirits, and they really did. I consider myself very lucky to know so many good people, both in person, and online.

My house had to be rebuilt almost entirely inside, and though I can’t recommend “catastrophic house fire” as an upgrade plan, I have had a great opportunity to restore my house, and make it really beautiful. Almost every job I had planned to do or save for in the coming years is done, and I have a lovely home to share with friends and family, and build a life in.

I am lucky, too, to be sitting here in my new house, writing this post. But for a phone call that fateful night, I would have put my dishwasher on, and gone to bed, where I would almost certainly have succumbed to the smoke that filled my house so quickly and completely. If not for a phone call, I would very likely have died. It’s a pretty sobering thought…

All told, this year has been far from plain sailing, but I feel so very lucky to have people around me to help me get through the tougher parts, and help me celebrate the good parts too. It has been a year of highs and lows, and with the help of my family and friends, I’m choosing to focus on the highs, and leave the lows in the past. 2013, you weren’t so bad after all.

Categories
General Personal

Small mercies

On the 29th of May, at around 21:20, I received what I’ll now class as one of the least-fun phone calls I’ve ever had – “You need to come home. There’s smoke coming out of your house, and the neighbours have called the fire brigade”. I can’t begin to tell you all that went through my mind right then; a mixed up mess of panic, trying to think of what I might have done to have a fire start (did I leave the oven on? the grill? candles?), worrying about getting home, imagining for a moment that it wouldn’t be that bad.

As I rushed home (thankfully being driven by a friend), I thought about all the work I had recently completed on the house, and somehow managed to convince myself that it wouldn’t be that bad. I realised, in the midst of all of this panic, that I had turned my dishwasher on just before I left my house, and turned to my friend and said “it’s my dishwasher”. A few minutes later, my mum called me again to say that the firemen had entered the house, and that it was, in fact, my dishwasher that had caused the smoke my neighbours had smelt and seen. On the way, I tried to calm myself down, convincing myself that it would just be my kitchen, that perhaps I’d have to replace some cabinets, clean and paint the walls, and it would be fine. As it turns out, I was wrong.

By the time I got home, the fire brigade and gardai units had left, and the ESB were there, turning off the power to my house; too much potential damage to the wiring in the kitchen, they said, to leave it on. The dishwasher was cooling in the back garden, thrown out there as soon as it was identified as the cause of the fire. Huge fans had been used to clear the smoke from my house, only a small amount of water had been used in the house. As soon as my mum walked to meet me at my driveway, I knew it was going to be pretty bad. I was completely unprepared for what I saw.

My hall, with it’s brand new insulated plasterboard and fresh skim coat of plaster (waiting to be painted), was stained black. Plaster was falling from the ceiling.

Before
Before
IMG_2717
After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just over a week before the fire, myself and my mum had painstakingly stripped layer after layer of wallpaper from the walls to prepare them for the plaster.

The dishwasher itself was burned so much that any brand or serial numbers were unrecognisable, it was just a metal shell, full of cracked and melted crockery and glasses. Yes, you read that correctly; melted glasses.

Melted glass stuck to the basket
Melted glass stuck to the basket
The culprit
The culprit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My kitchen, which I had taken from a dark tunnel with awful wallpaper, to a much brighter, more open space, is burnt black. Nothing inside it is salvageable.

IMG_2174
Original kitchen
photo 3(1)
After renovations

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen walls & ceiling, blackened
Kitchen walls & ceiling, blackened
Kitchen post-fire
Kitchen post-fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure I have the words to describe the smell, or how unbelievably hot it was when I walked into the kitchen that night (I returned to take these pictures the next day, it was impossible to see the scope of the damage by torchlight the night of the fire). The counter was still hot to the touch, and the rooms felt as if I had left the central heating running for days on end. Naively, I thought that my kitchen and hall were the worst of it, were the only things that were damaged. I was in the house for more than 30 minutes before I went upstairs, and realised just how much damage smoke can do.

My bathroom, newly installed, was destroyed. Smoke billowed up the stairs, and the heat from the dishwasher underneath likely caused unseen damage.

Cream/beige tiles, destroyed
Cream/beige tiles, destroyed
New fittings, stained.
New fittings, stained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The floor tiles were the same colour as the walls, a mottled beige. The grout, though you’d never know to look at this picture, was cream. All the fittings are newly installed, and are maybe 6 months old.

My bedroom is destroyed, black soot and smoke settled on everything, turning my new white duvet a scary shade of black, and destroying all of my clothes (making my delayed luggage, and subsequent battle with Lufthansa, all the more significant and difficult for me).

I've turned a corner over to show just how black the duvet is.
I’ve turned a corner over to show just how black the duvet is.
My clothes, visible soot settled on them all. They can't be cleaned.
My clothes, visible soot settled on them all. They can’t be cleaned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, every surface is stained and smelly, and everything I own is now more filthy than you can possibly imagine. Every soft furnishing will have to be disposed of because of the smoke and fumes which will never leave them. Every wall stripped, and in many cases, the plasterboard stripped back to the bare brick. Floors must be removed and replaced. Almost everything which is not nailed down is going in the bin, and quite a few things that were nailed down will be following. In about 1.5 hours, smoke and heat destroyed so much more than I could have imagined.

IMG_2665
My ikea-hack (a pre-fire picture)

In spite of all this, it could have been so much worse, and so I’m thankful for some small mercies. I am alive, and if I had turned the dishwasher on and gone to bed (as I often did), I’m not sure that I would be. Though I had smoke detectors in the house, I had also been due to start a new migraine medication, to be taken at night due to the strong drowsiness that it caused – with that on board, it’s not a certainty that the alarms would have woken me, and the damage to my bedroom shows how much smoke I would have been surrounded by. I have insurance, so I do not have to foot the bill for the repairs. I am hoping that I will not be out of pocket for the replacement clothing that I have to purchase (and finding clothes is another battle in and of itself), but I can only wait and see. My house, though extensively damaged, is still standing. Many of my most special things were in one of the only rooms that was not too badly damaged, containing my latest diy project – custom built-in shelves, an ikea-hack of sorts (perhaps a blog for another day). I’m thankful that my neighbours are so vigilant – the smelt the smoke, heard the alarms, and investigated. The firefighters said that the countertop in the kitchen had been minutes away from bursting into flame, their quick action likely prevented a much larger problem.¬†I am also very thankful for all of the messages I’ve received, the offers of help, of places to stay, everything. They have cheered me up when I have felt very down, and I have been really touched that so many of you took the time to contact me.

Why share all this? I’m hoping to help people avoid a similar disaster, to learn from my rather hard lesson, if you will. If I had closed more of my doors, the smoke might not have caused such extensive damage, and I might not have been left with nowhere to live, and 2 or more months worth of repairs to be done. If I had gotten around to giving my neighbours some contact information for me, they might have been able to contact me sooner, instead of having to rush around to get my mum (though, of course, this wouldn’t have made a difference to the damage). If I didn’t have insurance, I would be completely lost. And of course, there’s the elephant in the room – my dishwasher.¬†The firefighters who attended my house said that dishwashers were a very common cause of fire, something which I didn’t know, and would never have thought. I was in the habit of turning on my dishwasher before bed, something which I know many people do. So, I implore you to look again at the pictures I’ve shared, at my stained bedroom, and imagine the smoke filling the house while you sleep, and I promise you, the pictures do not do justice to just how badly damaged everything is (I have grown fond of saying “however bad you think it is, it’s worse than that”). If you often turn on the dishwasher before bed, consider this a cautionary tale – break the habit, and potentially save yourself the heartache I’m now experiencing, or maybe even your own life.

A more complete gallery of images can be seen below:

 

Categories
General Personal

I just want my socks

Dear Lufthansa, Sky Handling Partner, and MultiTrip.com,

I’m writing this while sitting in my mother’s house, wearing almost the only pair of socks to my name. The reason for this begins on Friday night, and almost unbelievably, is still continuing now, as I write this, on Tuesday evening.

On Friday night, I returned to Dublin on Lufthansa flight LH982 from Frankfurt Main Airport. Unfortunately, though my friend and I checked in our luggage together, his case arrived in Dublin, but mine decided it would quite like to extend its stay in Frankfurt by a spell, and never showed up on the luggage belt. I made the fun journey to the Sky Handling Partner desk to report the missing luggage, confirmed my contact details and description of the luggage, and headed home, safe in the knowledge that Lufthansa find most missing bags within the first 24 hours¬†(PDF). 24 hours later, Lufthansa hadn’t found my bag, and I became very familiar with the ¬†phrase “Tracing continues, please check back later.”

Since I travel a lot for martial arts trips, and I’m always aware of the dangers of lost or delayed luggage (and broken bones!), I have multi-trip travel insurance with Multitrip.com¬†(in fact, I opted for a premium level of cover to allow for a larger amount of luggage compensation in the case of loss). Once my bag didn’t arrive on Saturday, I knew I’d need some help or provision for some emergency supplies, so I searched around the Multitrip website and eventually found a number to call. I was redirected to a call centre and told that this line was for medical emergencies, and that I’d have to call the claims team on Monday since they’re only open Mon-Fri, 9-5. I was advised that I should buy whatever I need, and then I could send the receipts in for consideration of refund, but they couldn’t confirm I’d be covered for these expenses.

Anyone who follows me on twitter, is friends with me on facebook, or knows me in general will understand why I had to explain to Multitrip why simply “buying whatever I need” wasn’t an option – shortly before my trip to Germany, I had a house fire. Most of my clothes are not currently¬†wearable, and have been deemed impossible to salvage also, so I had recently had to buy lots of replacement emergency clothes, for which I am, of course, still waiting for a refund from my home insurance. Most of these replacement clothes were in the case that had been lost, leaving me in a very difficult position. Multitrip said there was nothing they could do, I would simply have to wait until Monday.

By Sunday, I was feeling pretty worried that my case still hadn’t been located, so I researched my rights regarding delayed luggage, and came across the Montreal Convention. This is a convention which says that airlines must pay compensation for many of the common problems with air travel, such as delayed flights, denied boarding, and delayed luggage. There are¬†lots of resources which explain the convention, so I was reasonably confident of my understanding of it when I called Lufthansa. Lufthansa told me that, of course, they would pay for my emergency expenses, but only 50% of them. When I asked for clarification, I was told that this was part of the Montreal Convention. Huh?

LufthansaTweet

I checked and double-checked the convention, and all of the sites I had found, and none of them had any statement which implied that airline liability was somehow capped at 50%, so I asked Lufthansa on Twitter to clarify. They told me that any refund is in accordance with their liability policy (PDF), which they linked me to.

I checked Lufthansa’s liability policy, and can find no mention of this 50% provision anywhere there either. Though I have since asked Lufthansa several times on twitter, facebook, and over the phone, I have had no explanation for why this 50% policy seems to be known by every call centre operative, but seems to appear nowhere in their own luggage liability documents. In fact, I was told by one representative, who I spoke to on Monday, that anyone in Lufthansa would tell me that it was 50%, but that they couldn’t tell me why. To do that, I’d have to get in touch with Customer Service, and there is no phone number for Customer Service, I may only write to, or email them. The last time I emailed Customer Service (5/9/12), their reply arrived on the 9th of November, 2 months later…

By Monday, my bag still hadn’t arrived, so I called Multitrip to speak to someone about a claim. This is when I found out that my bags are magic. You see, Multitrip defines a “trip” for me as starting when I leave my “home” (place of residence, not country of residence), and finishing only when I return to my “home”. You would imagine, then, if bags didn’t arrive in Dublin Airport, a place which I am not currently resident, that they would be part of my trip – no, my bags are special. Multitrip only care about your bags on the way out to your destination – in other words, there is only cover for a delayed bag on one leg of your trip. If your bag is delayed on the way home, you’re just plain out of luck. So while I must complete trips by returning to my home, my bags need only fly to my destination, and apparently magic themselves home. I informed Multitrip that I would be cancelling my policy and looking elsewhere, and I can only encourage you to check your own travel insurance policy to see if your insurer also doesn’t care what you lose on the way home.

Shortly after calling Multitrip, I received my first call from Lufthansa – they thought they had found my bag. They were going to try to get it on the 5pm flight, and would call me back to let me know if they had managed it. They didn’t call me back. Monday evening came and went, and with absolutely no clothes¬†available to me, I had to go and buy some supplies.

On Tuesday, when my bag still hadn’t arrived, I called Lufthansa. They told me that there was something wrong with my phone, that the number I gave them must have been incorrect, that no one could get through to me. I found this hard to believe, since my phone is almost never switched off, has a voice-mail facility, and had received multiple calls on both Monday and Tuesday without issue. I confirmed my number (it was correct), and gave them an additional number to try (my mum’s phone). When I arrived home from work that afternoon, they hadn’t called my mobile, nor the alternative number I provided them with. I called Lufthansa again, asking why I hadn’t been called, confirming my details again, and was told that someone would call me back soon to arrange delivery. When I asked why I couldn’t just arrange delivery now, Lufthansa said that the delivery company had to speak directly to me before arranging delivery; so the company that apparently couldn’t call me or leave a message needed to call me or leave a message before delivering my luggage. Great.

I waited another hour or two, and then called again to ask why no effort had been made to call me. I was told that it must have been an issue with my phone (again), that my number was wrong (again), and that it was now too late for any deliveries so there was nothing they could do. My luggage was going to spend another night tantalisingly close, but not with me, because apparently I’m harder to get a hold of than the Doctor.

At about 7.30pm that evening, I received a very interesting call from the delightful Sky Handling Partners (seriously, check out that professional looking site – doesn’t it fill you with confidence?) who wanted to arrange for the delivery of my luggage the next day. After a brief conversation about what time the luggage would come at, I asked how they were able to call me this evening, when they had been completely unable to for the past two days. The answer I got was brusque to say the least. I was told once again that my number was wrong (it still wasn’t), and that there was a problem with my phone (there wasn’t, and still isn’t). When I said that my number wasn’t incorrect, and that I had even provided another number as an alternate contact, I was told that they had tried twice on Monday, that they didn’t have the time or resources to keep calling just one passenger over and over, and that they have other airlines to manage, you know! I tried to ask why they didn’t leave a voicemail if they were unable to get through, but I was cut off, and told that there was no point in going through it all again. I was genuinely appalled at the way I was spoken to, so after terminating the call, I called back to ask to speak to Customer Service so that I could register a complaint. I’m reasonably certain that it was the same, extremely rude woman who answered the phone and told me that they don’t have a customer service department, and if I wanted to register a complaint, I’d have to write, so I asked for the email address in order to do so.

This brings us to today – I’m still without my luggage, though hoping that it will arrive today. The way Sky Handling Partner spoke to me, however, gives me no confidence in the planned arrival of my luggage, and makes me worried about what condition my luggage might be in if it ever does arrive. I have submitted a complaint to Lufthansa about the way this has all been handled (Feedback ID FB-ID 21983388 if you’re reading, Lufthansa!), though I’m not confident about the speed of their reply, and I simply won’t accept this 50% provision unless they can show me where it’s mentioned in that linked liability policy they gave me – how can a company insist on being 50% liable for something that’s 100% their mistake? I’m out-of-pocket for more replacement clothes I’ve had to buy to replace the replacement clothes that Lufthansa lost, and with Lufthansa seemingly only willing to pay 50%, I’m likely to be left out-of-pocket in the long-term. I fly often with Lufthansa, and have always thought of them as a very reliable airline, but these current difficulties have made me rethink that position.

So, Lufthansa, Multitrip.com, and Sky Handling Partner – please, I’m not asking for much. I don’t want world peace, or the Hope Diamond, I just want my dirty socks.

 

Update

Lufthansa have replied to my complaint, thankfully a good deal more promptly than last time. Sadly, the answer they have given is still unsatisfactory, because it doesn’t really answer anything at all:

Dear Ms Keane,

Thank you for your online feedback via www.Lufthansa.com

dated 17 June 2013.

We regret that your checked baggage did not arrive following your flight LH982 from Frankfurt to Dublin on 14 June 2013. Please accept our sincerest apologies for this unfortunate occurrence and for any inconvenience caused. In addition, we are sorry to learn about the unfortunate event that happened to your home prior to your trip.

Luggage is normally handled with accuracy and care and the vast majority is processed without incident. Of course, we realise that statistics are of little meaning to a passenger whose luggage has been delayed and regret the less than positive impression gained. According to our records we are glad that your baggage was delivered on 18 June 2013.

In cases of delayed baggage delivery the customer is entitled, to a reasonable extent and taking his/her standard of living in consideration, to buy consumer items and toiletries which correspond to the content of the baggage which is temporarily delayed.

Please allow us to explain that interim purchases are refunded in accordance with the Montreal Convention and with Lufthansa policy which is, as you are aware, 50% for clothing and 100% for undergarments and toiletries. This procedure fulfils the legal rules and regulations. Should you wish the full amount for your interim purchases to be refunded you may send the items of clothing purchased back to us, along with the original receipts, to the address below:

Deutsche Lufthansa AG
P.O.Box 710234
60492 Frankfurt
Germany

Furthermore, in order for us to process your claim, kindly ask you to provide us with your receipt of interim purchase in PDF or JPEG format along with your complete bank details, including IBAN (International Bank Account Number). Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

Emphasis my own there, highlighting the paragraph where they discuss their policy, but still fail to tell me where exactly this policy is specified. I have responded to clarify that, due to issues in Dublin, my bag was not returned to me on the 18th, but is still in Dublin Airport. I have also told them that their policy explanation is not accepted, because that is not the policy which is stated on their site.

Thank you for your reply, but I’m afraid that while I’m aware of your 50% policy, it doesn’t seem to be stated anywhere in the policy documents which you linked to me, and as such, I don’t see how you could possibly apply it. There is no mention of 50% or sending clothes back in the liability document which you linked me, so I do not accept this option as viable or correct.
Additionally, further issues with unreturned phone calls mean that your records are incorrect – my baggage was not returned to me on 18th of June, and instead is still in Dublin Airport today.
I am not asking you to cover exorbitant expenses and I haven’t purchased expensive specialist replacement clothes – I purchased desperately needed socks, underwear, and the cheapest and plainest t-shirt that I could find while I waited for a mistake that I didn’t make to be resolved, and it is simply unacceptable to state that your policy is to only refund 50% when a) the error was not mine, and therefore I am not 50% (nor any percent) responsible for it, and b) it’s not actually stated in your policy. The policy document sent to me is here¬†– If you could be so kind as to highlight for me where on this page the 50% margin is made clear, I’d be delighted to review it.
At the moment, I am not satisfied to close this complaint.

I’ll keep you posted with further updates if and when they come.

Categories
General Personal

Dad

‚ÄúDon’t think of it as dying, said Death. Just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.‚ÄĚ ¬†– Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

A little over a month ago, on April 13th, my dad died. Really though, this story begins much earlier than that. In October 2010, my dad was first diagnosed with cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s¬†Lymphoma, after finding a lump in his throat. We were told that it was very treatable, even curable, and he began treatment (CHOP). When he began to lose his hair, I shaved his head. He seemed to respond well to the treatment, and at the end of March, he was given the all clear. Unfortunately, after just 5 months in remission, the cancer returned. It had grown and was continuing to grow quite¬†aggressively, and had spread beyond the initial¬†lymph¬†nodes. So, in September 2011, treatment resumed again. The cancer seemed to respond to the treatments (ICE, GemCis, and then Velcade), but only for a while before it began growing again – it was chemo-resistant and very difficult to treat. The stem-cell transplant that we had hoped would take place in January was postponed, as the doctors simply couldn’t clear his blood of the cancer cells.

Dad began to spend increasing amounts of time in the hospital, spending some nights there virtually every week in March. On April 7th, my dad turned 56. We celebrated his birthday, even though he was feeling quite unwell, and thrush in his throat (a complication of his immunocompromised state) made it difficult for him to eat and drink anything. He returned to the hospital on April 10th, and was diagnosed with pneumonia. He saw his oncologist on the morning of April 11th. The doctors explained that they had done everything they could, but that they could not see a way to beat the cancer. They intended to treat the pneumonia, get him out of hospital, and make sure his remaining time was a easy as possible. We thought that we had a few months of time left. We visited that night, and the following evening, and though a little sleepy due to the pain medication for his throat, dad was able to talk to us all.

On the morning of April 13th, when we called the hospital to check in as usual, the nurses told us that dad had deteriorated quite a lot overnight. We all went into the hospital, and spoke to the nurses, asking them to address the elephant in the room: was this it? They told us that he had deteriorated very sharply, and that they were not going to be able to cure the pneumonia either. We asked for an idea of time, and they guessed at a few days. About an hour and a half later, dad simply opened his eyes and stopped breathing.

The days that followed were difficult, but we were greatly helped by friends and neighbours (who were also dealing with another tragedy – the death of our friend and neighbour, who passed away about 30 minutes after my dad). The two funerals took place, on the 17th and 18th of April, and our community rallied together to support each other, and both families, in a way which makes me proud to be a part of the neighbourhood. And then, slowly, we tried to return to our lives.

In the weeks since, I have thought often about my own beliefs. As I’m not religious, and have no belief in an afterlife, there is no comfort for me in the idea that I will meet dad again when I die. I wondered whether, at a time like this, someone with no faith might feel hopeless or lonely, but that hasn’t been the case. In the deep sadness which has underpinned every action in the previous weeks, I have drawn comfort from friends and family, from the wonderful moments of¬†happiness¬†as we remembered dad in all of his grumpy, practical joking, leaving too early for everything, tv-hogging glory. I have been touched by realising how many people cared about my dad and my family, by seeing our very large local church filled to capacity and then some, by the constant hum of activity in our house as people came to see us and say goodbye to dad. I have found solace in all of the messages that I have received via twitter and facebook, from people who have simply been moved by dad’s passing.

I have also thought a lot about my stance on¬†superstitions, psychics,¬†alternative¬†medicine, and my general efforts to think critically about these things, and I’d like to share some observations. Dad died on April 13th 2012, and anyone who is paying attention will note that that was a Friday. Though that particular Friday the 13th will remain as a beacon in my memory, I have no greater fear of Friday the 13th, the number 13, or any associated superstitions than I did before my dad died. Friday the 13th was not responsible for my dad’s death, any more than Saturday the 14th would have been, if he had died 24 hours later.

Dad died of cancer, or more specifically, of pneumonia (and other conditions) associated with his immunocompromised state and cancer. I still believe that the doctors did everything possible to cure him, and that we would not have been helped by alternative medicine.¬†Since dad’s death, I have watched several video advertisements, read articles, and generally been exposed to a number of¬†alternative¬†cancer cures. Though I am upset, and emotionally fragile, I am still not convinced that switching to an entirely plant based diet, having a daily coffee enema, drinking litres of fruit juice, taking antineoplastons, or any of these other treatments would have cured my dad, and if I was diagnosed tomorrow, I wouldn’t choose them for myself either. I still think that people who prey on the ill and vulnerable are wretched, and dad’s death hasn’t changed that.

In the last week of dad’s life, we were told first that he would have months, and then that he had days, perhaps a week. In truth, once he deteriorated, we had only a few hours. This hasn’t shattered my trust in the institution of modern medicine, but rather, has highlighted how, sometimes, patients and conditions behave in unexpected ways. Though stories of people outliving their expected 6 months are often told, there are, I’m sure, stories like ours to counterbalance that. As dad was known for leaving far too early for everything (in case there was traffic, a flat tire, a road closure, etc.) I’d like to think that he just didn’t want to delay! I would, of course, have liked for dad to be one of those stories, and for him to have amazed doctors by living beyond their expectations or making a recovery, but it simply didn’t happen, and truthfully, another 6 months would have been unfair if he would have had to endure the pain and general difficulties that he saw in the last week of his life.

In the past, it has been said to me that a critical thinking position will crumble when the issue is personal – i.e. when it is one’s own family member (or someone to whom you have a strong emotional connection) who is ill, rather than someone you’re reading about in an article.¬†The past month has been one of the most emotionally charged and challenging periods of my life, and I believe, a fair test of this statement.¬†Having tested the theory, I still don’t believe that having kids, experiencing death, or any other emotional upheaval will make me¬†suddenly change the way I think, place less value on rational thought, or make me regret trusting conventional medicine. Or as I like to call it, medicine.

My dad taught me to think and stand up for myself, and made sure I knew that when something appeared to be too good to be true, that it probably was. Even though our lives are changed forever because dad is gone, I’m still me, and I still think the way I did before.

Dad had long maintained that, when he died, he wanted “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” played at his funeral, and we couldn’t but honour that request. A memory which will stay with me forever is laughing through my tears as I heard the congregation whistling along, and I know that dad would have been amused indeed. I’m grateful that we have so many wonderful memories to choose from when we want to remember dad, and they’ll continue to help us smile when things are jolly rotten.

For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin – give the audience a grin
Enjoy it – it’s your last chance anyhow