Shortness of Breath – Shortness of Time

© 2006 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In November of 1995, my father, Thomas J. Allen, Jr. was admitted to Kings Hospital in London, England complaining of shortness of breath.

I flew over to see him and he seemed in good spirits though he was having problem breathing. It could have been from the 438,425 cigarettes he’d smoked in his life.

I took the train from London to Cornwall to meet up with my Uncle at my grandparent’s flat in Truro. I arrived to find a message. My dad had taken a turn for the worse.

The next day I found him in an awful state.

Every breath was a struggle.

His hands shook; a terrible thing for a sculptor.

His fever was high.

He was in considerable pain.

He told me he wanted to die.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I did not want him to die.

I began to cry so I wrote him a letter.

I wrote that I felt he was facing a choice between life and death and I wanted him to choose life.

I wrote that it wasn’t time for him to die. He did not know his grandchildren. We hadn’t spent enough time together.

I told him that I wanted him to want to live and to become healthier than he had been before. My parents lived on the penthouse floor of an apartment building in Dulwich, South London. The elevator only went to the 8th floor and they would have to climb the last flight. He would rest after every step. When he got out, I wanted him to forsake the elevator and climb all nine stories.

You might think I was too demanding. He needed sympathy, not orders. Perhaps.

I did not think it was time for him to die yet.

My mother was more direct. She shook him and said, “If you die, I will never forgive you.”

He went into intensive care that day. His emphysema had developed into pneumonia. Before the doctors could get that under control he caught a drug resistant bacterial infection. Natural selection is hard at work in our hospitals.

He stayed in intensive care for five weeks before it ended.

I felt I hadn’t been paying enough attention and now I was afraid it was going to be too late.

It was all over when he was released from Kings in January, 1996. He was feeble and emaciated, but he was alive.

He needed to learn how to use his legs. Climbing the stairs became part of his therapy. He soon stopped using the elevator.
He needed to learn how to use his hands. When a contest was held to design the “Millennium Mark” for the year 2000, my dad won. For 12 months, every piece of precious jewelry in the United Kingdom was stamped with his design. He received a 2,000 pound check as the winner. He gave the check to Kings Hospital as a gift.

When my parents moved back to the United States, we crossed the Atlantic on the cruise ship Maasdam. We went right through hurricane Cindy. It was a lot of fun. You should try it if you get a chance.

Fifty-five foot waves went crashing over the decks; seventy-five mile an hour cross winds. It was a wonderful week. Hurray for stabilizers and healing tanks. We did not get seasick.

During the hurricane the ship’s swimming pool developed massive waves. The children loved that.

They loved spending time with their granddad and hearing his stories.

My folks lived with us in New Jersey for a little while before they moved to Seattle to be near my sister. The weather in Seattle is like the weather in London. The busses smell much better in Seattle than in London.

The cigarette tar in his lungs wasn’t going to go somewhere else. Things became real bad real slow. Increasingly, he needed to exert a conscious effort to breath. Sleep meant no air. Breathing meant no sleep.

My mom and my sister went to the movies and suddenly my dad died.

It was time.

Love the living. Live for those who love you. Remember the dead.

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Author: Brooke Allen

A social entrepreneur and retired Wall Street executive.

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