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Oh Hell

285 pages4 hours


I started to write this book as a doodle, why not, as that is how I started writing in the first place. Yes a doodle but a cathartic doodle, one that was not meant to go anywhere except to the unfinished manuscript folder on my PC. But like a truck with a heavy load on a downward slope, it took off, faster and faster, not easily stopped. Of course it helped that periods of my family’s history is interesting, but it was more than that.
There was a compulsion, an imperative that was larger than me. The story that needed to be told is one of insidious illnesses that affects a large percentage of the population of western society – the illnesses are dementia, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
This is a story of people, real people, and how their lives were destroyed by these diseases. It is about the ravages of World War Two and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and although my life has not been unduly affected by their diseases it is often a destroyer of the loved ones of the diseased.
As this is a story about people with various afflictions, I wanted it to remain about those people and so have not deviated with long medical descriptions or treatments, and have kept complex terminology to a minimum. And although I want to highlight the plight of those with the afflictions so readers can understand how sad and debilitating they are, it is a story and not a textbook, and so that is why I have kept complexity from it. The same with geographical detail and history, where I have given just enough to round out the story and not to flummox.
It is the real story of war, love, hate and disease – but more importantly, it is the story of life.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven ~ John Milton
About 10th of June
It all started when my daughter Kimmy sent me a text message saying: “Grampa (my father) is back in hospital. I don’t know how bad it is, I’m trying to find out. It was Helen (Dads wife) who phoned me and of course she’s frantic. If I find out more I’ll let you know, love Kim”.
‘Hell’, I know what this means. For now though I’m going to do my best to resist as I have been there before. But in my heart of hearts I know that I must go back to Australia and do what must be done. I arrived in South Africa only three weeks earlier on a two-month visit to my family and also to house-sit my son’s place whilst he and his family were on holiday in Europe.
I SMSed Kim back and said that “I’ll phone Helen and see how she is.” I knew Kim was not going to be happy, as she would have liked me to have said, “OK, I’m on my way to take control”, but for now it will have to do.
The minute Helen picked up the phone I knew that I could not unduly delay my return but I needed to until Lance and his family returned in another four days’ time. As I talk to her, I know of old, the quivering voice and could imagine her hands shaking, claw-like as she works through a panic attack. As a result of her illness she has virtually no body fat, I could see her face with the shrunken-skin stretched drum tight, accentuating the protruding, pointed cheekbones, with her hazel eyes – small coffee beans in their large sockets. I know the despairing stare and the pain that those eyes contain. I could hear the tears in her eyes and I shudder.
Her words were incongruous with this memory as she says, “It’s okay, ...I can... cope”. We both know that she can’t. I promised to phone back the next day and monitor her.

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