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Reform Magazine | November 29, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: ‘Amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on’

Sheila Maxey is on a medical rollercoaster

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My pilgrim way at present is a rollercoaster, flinging me up and down. On 25 January, Kees was taken into hospital at 3am by the paramedics. Soon diagnosed with double pneumonia, they started him on antibiotics. A week later a nice junior doctor said to me: ‘I am so sorry, we have tried three different antibiotics but his heart is just too weak to fight. There is nothing more we can do.’ We began to discuss hospice care and our son, Peter, phoned Hospice at Home.

The next day, a new and more senior doctor said he really wanted to try a fourth ‘industrial’ and very expensive antibiotic. Over the next few days, Kees responded. Then I, and he, caught Covid and so I could not visit. Our children, Peter, Ruth and Mary moved from phone calls and WhatsApp messages to visiting Kees in person – for Peter, a 170-mile-round trip; for Ruth, a 160 mile round trip; and for Mary, Eurostar from Rotterdam. Another new, excellent doctor met Mary in person, and she organised that the rest of us could attend by phone. Good news: Kees was now clinically well – although he was still completely bed-bound. We discussed how to get him home, especially as his dementia had got so much worse in the strange world of hospital.

I returned to visiting after Covid. The excellent doctor sought me out to say how sorry he was but Kees had another chest infection and was, once more, being treated. Another family consultation, with advice from the excellent doctor, and we have currently gone for bringing him home with ‘fast track palliative care’ and an ‘advanced care plan’. I am learning the language.

I have been wonderfully cheered on my rollercoaster ride by emails, flowers, cards, phone calls and prayers. But the particular blessing has lain in the ‘we’ – our three children have travelled on the roller coaster with me. They have worked as a team, drawing on their various expertise – Peter, a hospice nurse; Ruth, a community minister; Mary, the manager of a huge Dutch biomass plant – and they have respected the very different work pressures each of them is under. My sister-in-law, with a smile, commented last week on our three 50-somethings: ‘They have turned out well, haven’t they!’ That made me laugh and cry.

However, in the end, this is my pilgrim way and Newman’s hymn keeps speaking for me.

Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,/Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,/Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see/The distant scene; one step enough for me.

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex


This article was published in the April 2022 edition of Reform

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