More on “Old soldiers never die…”

Why did the title “old soldiers never die” come to me when I thought of writing about our, my wife’s and my, adventures? I will use the name Annette from now on whenever I talk about my wife. It is one of her names.

So why old soldiers never die? I think it is because of the second part “They just fade away”.

It is sunday afternoon and I am at the hospice having just dropped the children off at sports where they will spend three hours. When I arrived Annette was lying on top of the bed with one shoe, not a regular show but one of those shoes worn by people whose feet don’t fit into regular shoes for some reason, on and the other on the floor. It looked as if the ambulance drivers had just rolled the bed into the room and left hurriedly for other jobs. The head of the bed was about 2 metres away from the wall and over to one side. My wife sensed I had entered the room and whispered, probably thinking she was speaking at a normal volume but unable to actually make much sound, “I am cold”. I got to work moving the bed into the right position, putting the sheet and blanket over my wife, turning on the heater, closing the window (nurses always like open windows which by the way caused the sinking of the Britannic) and making Annette comfortable. I moved the bedside table into position beside the bed and checked the iwatch I had bought Annette a few days ago to see if it was charged. It wasn’t. I set up a charging stand I had just brought it and explained to Annette how to use it although I doubt it was understood. I bought the iwatch a few days ago because Annette was having difficulty reaching for her phone when people called her and I thought that having the phone ring on her wrist might help. I have no idea how effective that solution has been as it was only setup two days ago. We shall see. I also upgraded Annette’s phone to a new iphone because she had asked for one for some time. I had bought one a while ago but in one of the more delirious moments Annette had handed the phone to our daughter and asked her “here, would you like a mobile phone”. Our daughter had looked at me as if I was a three headed alien who had just stepped out of a spinning top shaped spaceship. The look of shock lasted a split second before the answer “Of course” (you need to pronounce the “of course” in the same way a teenage girl would say “whatever” if her parents won 150 million pounds on the lottery (that actually happened) to understand the tone of our daughter) and from that moment on our son has lived with one question on his mind… when am I getting mine and why did “she” get one and not me? Our daughter is eight and our son seven. I am going to call them Ailne and Henry (their middle names) so I don’t have to keep saying our daughter etc.

Anyway I set up the iwatch, plugged it in to charge, checked the charge on the phone and also checked why whenever I called Annette her phone would always go to voicemail and could only think that it was some divine mechanism where when I left the hospice the phone suddenly rejected all calls as every time I called the phone it answered. All this time Annette lay in the bed quietly sucking on the pain relief “lollipop” which is actually a lozenge but since Annette called it a lollipop everyone else did too. The lollipop, which always made me hum the homonymous tune, was Fentanyl. Quite a powerful opiate which has claimed its fair share of victims but does stop the pain signals causing distress.

So back to the title old soldiers never die they just fade away…

Annette was certainly an old soldier fighting the oldest war that everyone has to fight in. The war against death. We are born and spend our whole lives dodging death some of us go through life in a kind of cold war situation, others in full on world war one trench warfare, and others in a kind of guerrilla warfare where the enemy strikes unexpectedly and then disappears.

So is Annette an old soldier? I would say so. She found out she had diabetes at eight years old. Her mother would not accept that anything was wrong with her and believed that it was all in the mind and would simply go away if ignored. It seems as if the old Indian proverb that three things have to be dealt with immediately (fire, debt, and disease) was not known let alone understood. After a few hypoglycaemic episodes where Annette ended up throwing a fit at various locations her mother finally agreed that something was wrong and from then on the enemy had revealed himself and the war was on. The guerrilla warfare was now moving into a proper second world war style strategic war with small battles here and there. Insulin in the late seventies was primitive compared to now. There were no micro needles and testing blood sugars involved setting up a lab and getting a vague result. Counting carbohydrates was not done although doctors did suggest being careful what you eat. There was only animal insulin, NPH, which was not great. As time went by the boffins started developing better weapons to fight the war and also started to develop intelligence that helped understand the enemy. The one thing to remember is that diabetes is a killer. When applying for life or health insurance the word diabetes is like throwing a wrench, if it could fit, into a swiss watch mechanism.

In 1998 the enemy was winning. Annette’s kidney was dying. The first major territory gradually falling under control of the foe. Annette took steps to try and replace the kidney before the dreaded dialysis started. Living in a mediterranean, relatively poor, country meant that medical facilities in that country were limited and transplants were not easy to come by so the only option was to get the government insurer, all workers had to be insured at this agency, to pay upwards of $160,000 dollars to have the transplant done in the US. The decision to approve or reject the application for a transplant was taken by a committee who had to make life or death decisions based on one wonders what criteria and deliver the sentences. Annette’s first application was refused and she requested a personal audience with the committee to try and present her case. The audience was granted and somehow the argument from a petite young lady with a bright future ahead of her, Annette had a degree in biomedical sciences and was working in the pharmaceutical industry, must have touched someone’s heart and the transplant was approved.

Annette moved to the US and waited for a kidney and pancreas (the doctors had decided to try and do both together) to be available. Unfortunately Annette could not avoid dialysis and was put on it while waiting for the organs. It looked like the enemy was going to win and Annette was going to be permanently shackled, three times a week, to a dialysis machine, and seriously limited by the enemy. After a few sessions of dialysis two organs, kidney/pancreas, became available and the surgery was successful.

Take that diabetes…

The war was not over but the battle was won. A new kidney and pancreas meant that not only was the fear of dialysis now put back but the diabetes had been given a good whack and knocked back. This was a major victory. Annette had the upper hand. The enemy was on the run. Time to take advantage.

Annette made a vow that she would travel the world and have as much fun as possible with this new lease on life.

The enemy struck again. There was a problem with the pancreas. The blood supply was not working properly so a second operation, costing another $150,000 had to be undertaken and an alternative vessel connected to the pancreas. Success. Back on the road again.

Slightly weakened due to the fact that Annette’s body was a little confused and thought that these two intruders, the new kidney and pancreas, had no business in her body but the boffins had developed a smokescreen that fooled Annette’s defence system into thinking that these two intruders were ok and also took away some of their rapid response units. This was great if it wasn’t for the fact that this smokescreen didn’t just apply to weakening Annette’s response to the kidney and pancreas but to any foreign body entering the homeland. This meant that in the event of an infection, such as flu or even the common cold, Annette’s body would not fight that infection and then the boffins had to perform a delicate balancing act where they would try and increase the bodies defence against the unwanted intruders while still minimising the effect on the kidney and pancreas. In real life this means that a transplanted person is very susceptible to any type of infection or illness and once they have it it takes a lot longer to get rid of it which is why transplanted people seem to be walking on eggshells when it comes to what they eat, how clean their environment is etc etc. It can be quite irritating for the uninitiated. My family took years to get used to the fact that Annette was actually in danger of dying if she got infected and not just a manic germophobic.

So it is now 4pm and the children have to be collected from sports so that is all for now. All this time Annette has not really said and certainly not done much. The was seems to be lost but we have been in this position before and come through it although the attacks seem stronger and more life threatening every time. We will see.

More about the history and present of Annette’s war and hopefully an understanding of how the quote which titles this story is relevant.