Sunday, 4 January 2015

How Dad died - an unsolved mystery.

Claire and I kept quite detailed records of this difficult time. I think Dad had worked hard to keep the full extent of Mum's dementia from the rest of the family so neither my brother or I realised that he had in effect become her full time carer.  Claire thinks that Mother's decline crept up on him, and that it never occurred to him that the family might be able to help or advise or want to know the extent of his trouble with Mother.

Regardless of the background the whole house of cards came crashing down when Dad was taken into hospital

The timeline

For Claire and I the drama started on Friday 8th October 2004. Our daughter got a phone call to say that Dad had been rushed to hospital. I had to come home from work and Claire and I then drove down to Harpenden to collect Mum and then off we went to Luton and Dunstable Hospital. We were told that he had a blood clot on his brain as a result of a fall he had had three weeks before. He was under sedation and on a ventilator in ITU. At the end of what was a fairly traumatic visit we took Mum back home with us for the night.

The next day we returned to ITU. He was taken off sedation at noon and by 3PM he had regained some movement on his right hand side.

On October 10th his ventilator was removed but later replaced. Dad then started fitting - including one while we were visiting him.

October 11th to October 15th 2004 - I had to return to work so my brother and his wife travelled up from Cornwall to help Claire to look after Mum in her home in Harpenden and also to visit Dad. He steadily improved and by the 14th he was able to follow instructions and he also started trying to talk.

October 16th 2004 - My brother and his wife returned to Cornwall so we took Grandma back to Daventry with us. Dad was talking well, "It is very boring in hospital" and "I'm very cold".

October 17th 2004 - We visited Dad again who was quite chatty and seemingly on the mend.

October 18th 2004 - A traumatic day as Mum had to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act because of her dementia. She was taken to an assessment centre for what ended up being six weeks.

October 19th 2004 - Dad wanted some fresh air and a short walk. Neither of which was allowed. He was drowsy but this was the start of the three day spell during which I thought he might come out of hospital alive. Of course I was to be proved wrong.

October 20th 2004 - Dad was out of bed and much the best we had seen him. We were able to tell him more about Mother and his accident.

October 21st 2004 - Dad had been moved to an ordinary ward. He was very tired but was able to tell us that he was on solid food. With hindsight his transfer to ward 17 was premature because his condition steadily deteriorated during his time there. We also visited Mum in the assessment centre who was obviously upset at not being allowed to go to see Dad.

October 22nd 2004 - We got the dreaded phone call and Claire and I travelled down from Daventry expecting that Dad might be dead when we arrived. His breathing was very noisy and he clearly had a chest infection but by the next day he was somewhat better.

October 24th 2004 - Dad had a raised temperature and he wasn't very alert.

October 25th 2004 - Dad's medical data looked encouraging but to the naked eye he seemed unchanged.

October 27th 2004 - My 50th birthday. Dad seemed to be showing some signs of improvement.

October 29th 2004 - A former work colleague of Dad's was already there when we arrived. None of us were able to get any response from Dad who appeared to be unconscious.

October 30th 2004 - This was to be the last time we were to see Dad alive. True to form the visit was rather mysterious because we could clearly hear him talking to the nurses who were washing him but by the time we were allowed to see him he appeared to be unconscious.

November 1st 2004 - Claire went down to Dunstable on her own. She got no response from Dad who sounded very congested.

November 2nd 2004 - In the early evening we received a phone call telling us that Dad was dying. This was at 6:30PM and by 7:30PM we had arrived at the hospital only to be told that Dad had died shortly after they had phoned us. We were never entirely convinced by this and we have always thought that it is more probable they found him dead and then phoned us. Due to some miscommunication we were shown into the side ward where Dad was laid out before being told that he had died so we had to work out for ourselves that he was dead!

Claire and I went to Harpenden for the night rather than trail back up the motorway.

November 3rd 2004 - My brother Stephen travelled up from Cornwall and together we told Mum that Dad had died. She took it very well.

The mystery. We never found out how Dad came to fall on the stairs sufficiently badly to cause a slow bleed in his brain. Nor why he didn't go straight to the doctor.

We know that after the fall he confided his worries to a former medical colleague who then did nothing on the grounds of "patient confidentiality". Had she told us the whole story we would have taken Dad to hospital ourselves and it is likely that he would have lived. She never showed any regret or remorse about her (in)action.


  1. That was sad. :(
    I remember going to visit grandma in the assessment centre with Hazel right after he died. She clutched my hand really tightly the whole time, and I think I can appreciate more now than I could then, how scared and confused she must have been. Poor old souls.

  2. The end of life can be a horrible time. There is a lot to be said for how Claire's Dad died isn't there? Go to bed and just never wake up!