Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sick Stepfather

I have been holding off writing about this. Aside from being very personal, there seems to be nothing conclusive about the matter.

A bit of background first. My mother met my step father about thirty five years ago and they have lived together ever since. They argue often, but my mother is difficult and so can be my stepfather.

When they met, I had already left home but my two brothers and sister were all at home, my sister the youngest, no more than seven years old or something like that. But as I was not living at home, I don't have the stronger emotional connection to my step father that they all have. I respect him greatly for what he has done for them and what he has done for my mother.

He was a person of grand ideas and was responsible for my mother losing a significant amount of her inherited money in his businesses. The rest of it she spent on shoes. He has more than repaid the money by his paid labour in his latter years.

He has five children of his own, all pretty successful people. One married a chappie who you would have seen often on tv news and current affairs. His grand children are doing very well too, and there are great grand children now. My mother gets along with them all well enough.

Only once did I have words with him. I was about eighteen and after clearing the kitchen table at a Phillip Island holiday house my mother had rented, I swept the crumbs off the table and onto the floor and he jumped on me for it. Even back then I was Mr Perfect and intended to then sweep the floor. Some minor matters can have a profound impact on your view of people.

My sister when she was older, challenged him hard about green matters, especially areas he was interested in and had slogans for, such as Rights for Gold Miners, Help the Environment; Plant a Greenie. They had some really ding dong rows. It seemed pointless to me as his convictions were strong and his mind was not for the changing.

His illness started about three months ago when he suddenly started to lose weight and energy. If it was left to the public health system, he could well be dead, or we would have had to have admitted him to emergency when his condition became much worse. Sister's girlfriend the Bone Doctor stumped up $200 for him to have a gastrosocpy?, sorry a gastric tube insertion. The short of it is after several following tests on the public health it was discovered that he had a cancerous tumour where his bile duct joins the liver.......or is that kidney, no liver I think.

The Bone Doctor says it is not liver cancer per se, just a cancer adjacent to the liver. From my net research, liver cancer is rare in Australia unless you have cirrhosis? or Hep C.

As well as losing a lot of weight, he skin colour turned yellow. As is per is usual, the hospital staff had to be convinced that he was not a frail old man, but an active person who just a few weeks earlier had been doing paid physical labour, like gardening and fence building. If you saw him pre illness, you might guess about 65 years old, not 81.

Treating staff pretty well told him that not a lot would be done for him because of his age. Eighty years old is the cut off for a liver transplant, and after what the Bone Doctor said, it may not have been appropriate anyway. Things became difficult between stepfather and the hospital doctors as he felt that they had written him off. I certainly sounded like that to me at times. Really I think it was just poor communication.

He had some keyhole surgery to unblock his bile duct and after a two week stay in hospital he was sent home. His appetite ought to have improved but it hasn't much. He is somewhat better, but not a lot.

Brian damaged brother stayed with mother while step father was in hospital and they did not come to blows. Both held their tongues. Sister has been marvellous by transporting mother around for various matters. Tradie brother and his new g/f have mowed the the large lawns a couple of times at my mother's home and we slung her $500, partly to cover costs of sis in law's father's funeral notice and flowers. Mother unconvincingly said it was too much and unconvincingly tried to give some back.

After some flirtation with alternative medicine, with the theory that a parasite is causing the problem and some treatment, he was offered chemotherapy at a hospital in Moorabbin. Transport was a problem and after an initial refusal to supply transport, a private ambulance turned up to transport him for his first session this week.

While we have our fingers crossed, the Bone Doctor's folks have put a dampener on it. Sister was most upset because Bone Doctor's father, a GP, mother, a theatre nurse, and Bone Doctors sister, a radiographer, concluded he won't see christmas, even though they have not even seen him.

I have also drawn a conclusion about our public health system. It is not so bad for the young to middle aged, but if you are old, you are far better to be in the private health system with private health insurance where doctors, hospitals et al make money from treating you.

Although outwardly ok, my mother must be in a state of panic should my stepfather's treatment be unsuccessful. She will be unable to afford to stay in the house she has lived in for nearly four decades, it needs a lot of bulldozer blade maintenance for a start, and she will be somewhat dependant on us kids to solve her housing problem.


  1. The trouble is that pensioners can't afford private health insurance even with the government subsidy. I know because I tried keeping it for four years but the other bills kept rising so I just kept the extras, dentist, glasses, physio and medication.

    As much as I'd like to say your stepfather will be okay, you'd best be prepared for worst case scenerio. Anything that touches the liver is usually bad.

  2. With the anniversary of my father's death coming up in a few weeks I am conscious of the concerns you must have for your mother and step-father.

    My wishes to you and your family for the best outcomes.

  3. I know Jahteh, my mother had to give up her private health cover quite a few years ago. Famous bearded media person managed to survive though.

    Thanks Victor. My father died in 2000 but because he lived a long way away, it did not have a such a big impact.

  4. I sincerely hope your step-dad gets a good reprieve with this treatment, Andrew.