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NOELEEN'S ILLNESS

Noeleen developed bad headaches but her Doctor was unable to locate the cause. One night when we were having dinner in the kitchen she felt so ill that she wanted to go to bed during the middle of the meal. I helped her from her chair into the passage and there she slipped from my grasp, fell on the floor and had a major fit thrashing around. With difficulty I got her to bed. Dr Richard Stone indicated that it was either epilepsy or a brain tumour, he placed her on epilepsy medication, and arranged for her to have a brain scan in Palmerston Nth. Nothing was found on the scan and medication for epilepsy continued.

One of the Western Building Directors, Stan Rennie, had urged me to take an overseas holiday and I had booked to attend the International Building Society Associations Annual conference to be held in Sydney. As the date for my overseas trip came closer, as Western Directors offered to pay for Noeleen to join me after the first week of the conference to allow us a holiday there after the conference I confirmed my booking rather than cancelling the trip after discussing our intention with Dr Stone.

Back home, after a while, Noeleen became more ill, the frequency and intensity of her head aches increased and further scans and tests were arranged but it took several weeks to establish that it was a brain tumour and then arrangements were made to admit her into the neurological ward in the Wellington Hospital, the only place in New Zealand where they did these type of operations then. As all the beds were full the admittance took many weeks; the few beds they kept free were for "urgent" accident cases.

I was looking after her at home but when she fell into a deep coma arrangement were made for an ambulance to take her to the Wellington Hospital. Dr Stone had been negotiating for weeks to get her admitted there and they were still trying to put him off, he told me he was now sending her down, spare beds or not. I travelled down with her in the ambulance. Admittance was a nightmare for me, she was wheeled into the emergency admittance area and once staff confirmed that she was still in a deep coma left her amongst other patients in the passage, this was their holding area. Several Interns had a look at her, as this was an unusual case they did not come across often but no one spoke to me looking at me with curiosity.

Some time later she was assigned a room of her own. The following day she had several tests and was prepared for the operation while I booked into a motel and in the morning parked myself in the waiting room on the surgery floor of the Hospital where Noeleen was due to have her operation and stayed overnight in the waiting room as no one was able to tell me what was happening.

During the following morning the Chief surgeon prepared for the operation with more scans and X-Rays using iodine dye to outline the position of the tumour. From time to time the surgeon came over to ask me questions, the main one I remember was, was she right or left handed, he came back on at least three occasions to ask the same question.

Next I saw her after the 7-hr operation when she was wheeled from the operating theatre to the intensive care unit on the same floor. The procession was as you see in the movies with 4 doctors and several sisters walking in front, beside and at the rear of the bed. All the usual bottles on stands from the bed and electronic equipment made it all a frightening sight.

She stayed in the intensive ward for a number of days before being transferred to another ward. Asking the surgeon what he had found he advised that he had operated successfully but the cancer was of a high degree of malignancy but she should be ok but required follow up radium treatment. His 2IC tried to interrupt to say that the position was more serious than that and he questioned the wisdom of the radium treatment but was overruled. With hindsight he proved to be right, I felt I had no option but to go along with the advice of the professor of surgery, feeling numb and dazed.

Over the following 18 months or so she had a miserable life with more treatments, pain and misery, being only partly alive. The last six to twelve months or so she was mainly unconscious and during the last few in deep coma from which she never recovered.

Back home after recovering from the operation I took her to the Palmerston Nth Hospital each day for over two months for cobalt treatment, and as I was warned, her hair felt out and thus I had to buy her wigs, after a few months at home when the tumour re-grew the radium process was repeated. This time she stayed initially in the Ozaman cancer recovery house and Palmerston Nth Hospital later. After the radium treatment she underwent a further course of chemical treatment and was allowed to return home, as I wanted, rather than the Wanganui Hospital.

Returning home she did not recognise the children although she seemed normal in her actions but when she asked Julie (her youngest child) who she was I thought it better for her to stay in the caravan which I had put amongst the trees near the house, she liked it there and for a while this was her whole world. Occasionally she came back into the house when I was home but the saddest event was when, to please me, she played her favourite piece of music, the first piano concerto by Rachmaninov, wonderfully, except that whole cords and sections where missing without her being aware of it, this was the last time she played.

Right from the start she never accepted how serious her illness was, went in full denial and refused to accept that she was going to die. I was able to keep her pain under control mostly and I had all the morphine to administer when needed. She was placed on experimental drugs, which I had to collect from the Hospital dispensary on a regular basis. When she was in her terminal stage she could no longer properly look after herself and I could no longer cope thus admitted her to the Wanganui Hospital where she was placed in that special wing no one wants to know about and not much later went into coma again never to recover from until she died.

I had bought her a compact portable radio/tape recorder which she had with her in all her hospital stays and I got a hell of a shock one day when one of the sisters told me that despite Noeleen being terminal, and with only weeks or a month or so to live and having been in a full coma since admittance had a couple of lucid moments and during one of these had asked the sister when I came to see her to play me one of the tapes when I was there. As she had never been aware of my existence the many times I was there this came as a shock. Neither the sister nor I could work out which of the tapes she was referring to thus I never found out.

Noeleen died not long after that episode but I was devastated by the events that followed. I was advised that she had died and would I come in. After the paperwork I asked to see her and was asked did I really want to do that? Which threw me, but on being shown where she was, dead obviously, I was asked what they should do with her rings, jewellery and personal possessions, but I asked to be left alone with her for a bit as despite the fact that I had come to terms a long time ago with her dying it was still a shock to be confronted with the fact, it was not long however that I was being reminded about her things, and I got up and told the sister to do whatever they liked and could not care a stuff.

She was insistent and said that I would want her rings as they were expensive and could end up in the coffin unless some one pinched them along the way. I can't remember what happened since then but much later realised having her rings.

Despite the fact that I had known for almost two years that she would never recover, when her death did occur I was deeply upset and found the funeral and all the arrangements involved very hard to deal with and very upsetting. In a way I had said goodbye to her nearly two years ago, when she still was sufficient lucid and did not intend to have a last look at her in the funeral parlour but because of insistent pressure by Mrs Puckey, Noeleen's mother, that I should, and that I would for ever regret it if I didn't I did go, and regret doing so to this day. The artificial look, her make up, all tactfully done, and the ice crystals showing gave me a great shock. I never forgave Mrs Puckey for forcing this issue but even more can I never forgive her that I never saw her in the Hospital or at home to assist in any way except on the one occasion relatively near the end when I had placed Noeleen in the Caravan when she pleaded with her and me for her to forgo medication and pills and leave it all in the hands of God. I ordered her off the property never to return asking why she had not supported her own daughter in the most dire distress upon which she explained that she was carrying out the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventists Church and also that she just could not cope with her being so ill and all she could do was to stay away.

The funeral turned out a very large affair. The then current Seventh day Adventistís Minister had agreed to do the service in the Crematorium Chapel and the hall was overflowing to the extend that many stood outside. The service was a blur but I was acutely conscious of the children beside me and Tony in particular who was crying his eyes out, very uncharacteristic for him.

Noeleen had many friends and the fact that she had dealt with virtually all the florists in town and my involvement with many business associates resulted in a flower display by way of wreaths and other flowers of gigantic proportions, all the flower beds, patio's, walkways and outside areas of the chapel were covered with wreaths. Staff from my firm from junior to senior managers had travelled from all over the country (from Auckland to Invercargill), at their own expense, and in their own time, to go to the funeral service. I was particularly touched to see the entire Judo club present and in particular the entire junior class I used to teach.

At that stage I was able to take in that much only to find out that Noeleen in her quiet way had helped a great number of people of which I was little aware and they where popping up all over the place. This did not help me and was a great deal more than I could cope with and I had to abort my intention to do the proper thing to stand at the door of the chapel to shake every one's hand and went home where I had arranged a reception with drinks, like an Irish wake, for any one who wanted it but particularly those having travelled all the way from all over the country.

After Noeleenís death, things around the home had not changed much, the children were at home and I was still packing lunches, supervising what they did and in particular the Saturdays and Sundays were good times together. However I felt truly on my own and extremely lonely. With the children in bed I had many a very long walk over the country roads in the dark crying uncontrollably for hours on end, I must have clocked up many miles that way but it eventually passed even if at the time life seemed very bleak.

Mandy, my German Shepard dog, was penned up all day in her cage and missing all the stimulation a highly trained working dog needed. The children did not really take that much notice of her, feeling that she was my dog. She ended up barking all day long as I found out from neighbours up the road subsequently. The breeder was unable to help in taking the dog back or placing it with anyone. Mandy became ill but the vetenary clinic at Massey University could not pin down the root problem, she also had exema again which they fixed again. I had to leave her there for a couple of weeks, but why the dog was so dispirited they could not figure out, ultimately I was forced to put her down which was a further traumatic event in my life which took a very long time to get over with and even to this day not being sure having got over that.

It became more and more difficult to look after Julie who was only seven years old I did not mind having to learn what clothing she should wear but inferences of (helpful female friends?) did I know what I was doing? did not help and although all the children were good and helpful after much thought and investigation I placed her in a Rudolph Steiner school at Hastings. Few suitable schools were available for children that young but I liked the school's philosophy of a one to one teacher to pupil allocation for the duration of her school life there, and to identify and maximise on abilities and strengths of the pupil, even if it meant while way ahead in some areas leaving others behind with all that to be corrected in the final years at school in order to pass the standard National exams.

It was always a long trek to collect her in Hastings and return her after the school holidays. Coming home all those hours in the car she used to sing to me in German and French all the songs she had learned. She was doing well there and they had started her to teach playing the violin, it was felt she had a particular aptitude for that. She was very self possessed and confident of herself for her age and was well able to handle the boys at home who were much older than her of course. They felt that she was a bit spoiled and even Tony thought she was just that wee bit more sophisticated than they were, always eager to make sure that she did her share of jobs around the place which she was not to keen on.

The children were growing up fast then. Tony being the oldest and most capable ending up doing most of the helping in one way or other and he resented at times losing out on play or rather hobby pursuit time. He was hyper critical of Richard who was scatty and often did not complete his tasks and whereas Richard adored Tony and anything he did he was a bit of a nuisance following his every step and movement like a puppy dog. Julie had been spoiled by Noeleen and remained precocious and happy in her special role as boarder at Rudolf Steiner and at home during the school holidays.

I had lost interest in wine making concentrating mainly on the annual plum crop but was getting further and further behind in the filtering and bottling and Noeleen no longer around to help I was offered assistance by a group of about six mature ladies, an old friend, Doris Smith, Noeleen's friend Olga and their friends to filter, bottle and label all the wine ready. They were well organised with their packed lunches and made a good start when they arrived after appropriate instructions, however the process took many hours and became increasingly noisy, I was advised by most of them which of the wines tasted best and which were not so good, the production line slowed noticeably when they started to discus topics on local and national politics, religion, the economy, what was wrong with the city fathers and you name it subjects. They had arrived early in the morning intending to go home early afternoon but as dinnertime was approaching they decided to start cooking dinner. I had visions of them bedding down for the night and took the bull by the horn and told them that I would finish of the job myself and would take them home, which they all gratefully accepted as they were starting to flag. I did turn down any subsequent offers of help this being more than I could cope with.

Hennie van Dyk

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