I love old people. They really do fascinate me. Whether it’s their persistence and determination of waking at the crack of dawn and indulging in a 5AM bath then doning their best outfit while waiting for the day to pass, only to continue this routine once more. It both amuses and puzzles me.

Another thing I love about the older generation is the pride in which they dress themselves with. Always dressed neatly, clothes irones to the T, shoes shined until blinding and hair combed to the side.

So you can imagine how embarassed I was when i found my shabby self in front of an old gentleman (a perfectly fitting term) taking a history. I happened to be post my 30 hour shift and I probably reeked of sweat (my own olfactory senses blunted by the stench of stale blood which filled my night before). I was happy to smell his freshly washed clothes dabbed in cologne.

I entered the room and I peered at his hand upon the floor. What is he doing? I thought. Worried he might fall and end up with a dreaded neck if femur fracture I bent down to ask.

I watched his hands tirelessly dip a cloth into a tin of an unknown but fresh smelling substance, and coat the surface of his walking frame until it began to glitter in the sun. He was shining his walking frame with such vigor and pride. This old man was obviously on an advanced level of hygiene, one I would never reach.

He gazed at my dirty takkies and probably felt sorry for my unbrushed hair. I apologised for the intrusion and explained i had come to admit him to the male surgical ward for the gastroscopy. He complained of ongoing painful swallowing and given his age, cancer or tumours of the esophagus needed to be ruled out.

I could see from the get-go , he wasn’t too keen to be there and the thought of the procedure must have scared him i guess. I tried my best to reassure him and explained it was a pretty routine procedure done under light sedation. A good number of old people live under the perceived notion that any general anaesthesia could be their last, and i don’t blame them.

He seemed unbothered by my reassurance and peeped out the window while I spoke. He interrupted me politely.

“Young lady i don’t fear the scope or the camera in my stomach. What I’m concerned about is that I left my ironing board in the reception because the security would not let me bring it to the ward”

I almost choked on my spit. He brought an ironing board to the hospital! Its one of the few times where i can type “Lol” and know I really did laugh out loud.

I assured him i would keep his ironing board safe and if he needs his hospital dressing gown to be ironed , we would arrange something with the laundry service. He seemed content, so i left.

A couple of days later I found myself a little more presentable so I felt better whilst doing the morning rounds. I gazed at his gastroscopy results and found it disturbing. They found a tumourous mass probably cancerous. I watched him as he struggled to sip the milk in his hands and i knew his symptoms were worsening.

I consulted with the Don who consulted with The Godfather who made the decision to put him onto the elective slate for an esophageal stenting procedure which would at least alleviate his symptoms. We explained this to him and he seemed happy a solution was reached.

3 days passed while we worked him up to be placed on the elective slate and it was decided that he would be operated on a Monday morning. Everything was prepared, consent was signed, patient was counselors, blood tests were normal, his name was placed on the slate.

I left on Friday afternoon only to hear about the commotion on Monday morning. As I walked into the ward I heard a group of people crying, so instinctively I started running. A resus on a Monday morning, the horror.

I located the sound waves to be coming from the old gentlemans room and my heart fell. I sprinted. I called for help. I asked for the emergency trolley, emergency drugs and I grabbed a box of gloves on the way out.

I broke a sweat and weaved my way thought the 12 people standing in that room. I paused and felt a huge sigh of relief escape my lips as I saw the old man hugging his wife.

What the hell is going on??? Who is dying?? Why is everyone crying?? Haibo.

I urged them for answers and a young lady of around 30 began answering.

“Doctor please tell us it is not true. Please doctor. He is our only grandfather left. Please doctor. I took a greyhound bus from Johannesburg to come spend the last few hours with him. My sister has come from the eastern cape with a private car. We can’t let him go ”

It was obvious that i had missed a huge piece of information and my look of confusion was evident. I quicly browsed through the file searching for any new piece of information. I checked his vitals trend and all was normal. I examined his heart and lungs. All normal.

The sister ran in with the emergency trolley in tow and began ushering the family out in preparation for a resuscitation. I stopped her.

We both stood with our feet glued to the floor as we searched for whom needed to be resuscitated.

I sat down.

“What is going on? Who told you that your grandfather is dying? Can someone please explain to us what is happening?”

“Doctor, last night at around 7pm my grandfather called me up and told me the situation. There was something growing in his food pipe and on Monday he is going to the theatre to remove it.

He also told us a nurse had come in and told him that this supper would be his last meal, his last supper. He asked her if that was true, if it really was his last supper and she said yes. We came to see him before he dies”

The information had showered over me like a torrential rain and it all began to make sense. I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes.

All this commotion over a communication misunderstanding!

I explained plainly that what the nurse meant was this was his last supper BEFORE HE GOES TO THEATRE in the morning because all elective cases needed to be starved to prevent a full stomach and vomiting. There was obviously a language barried problem coupled with poor hearing, which catalyzed this entire drama. I ensured her that her grandfather was in no immediate line of death and apologised for the trip she had made from johannesburg.

Somehow this caused everyone to cry harder and louder and very much longer. Probably out of relief. I stayed to answer any questions to avoid any further misunderstandings.

After the procedure I briefed the family that all and gone very well and he would be up in the ward soon enough.

I made a quick detour downstairs and fetched his ironing board . his face began lighting up with excitement once he had been reunited with his trusted ironing board!