Early Monday morning, Hermann and I are still asleep, when my phone buzzes. It is Janice. I'm not quite awake yet, the connection is very bad and breaks down. But I immediately realise that something has happened. Further attempts to get a useful connection. I've been there, sometimes Australia sounds like a local call, but mostly it's more what it is: a phone call to the other side of the planet. At some point, the connection remains stable and I hear Janice from far away, very upset. Papa had a heart attack, she is in hospital with him and the doctors are doing what they can. The conversation is very short.
Hermann and I are having coffee. I tell him what I have just learned. It's not much information. But we both realize it's serious and at least I should fly down to Australia as quickly as possible.
At the "Theater am Hechtplatz" a rehearsal is scheduled in the morning. There I encounter most of my colleagues and tell them what happened. They all are very understanding, offer to step in for me, encourage me to book a flight immediately. Which I do, during the rehearsal, a flight leaving from Zurich in the evening.
While I'm on the train, finally some more information. At home, I update Hermann with the news. I do not want to check in my bag, but I don't have a suitable bag for cabin luggage. Hermann's got one. I think about what I'll need and get my stuff togetherl
First I thought ICU was a creative abridgement for the hospital meeting place (I see you), but of course it's the Intensive Care Unit. Nurse Jodie picks me up in the waiting room. She welcomes me warmly, asks how my trip was and leads me through a few more doors into the intensive care unit. It is spacious, appliances everywhere, the single beds are in niches, separated by curtains. All beds are occupied, bustling activity. Janice is standing in the middle of the room, behind her, I see Papa lying in his bed. We hug tightly. I tell the nurse that I should wash my hands first, the last time I did that was on the plane. She points to a container with disinfectant gel.
Papa is connected to many tubes, a thick breathing tube leads through his mouth into the lungs. Janice tells me that he is breathing on his own again. The tube only supplies more oxygen. It's as if he's sleeping deeply. His hands are a bit cool, but he does not look bad, he has a pretty healthy color. I squeeze his hand, greet him and tell him that I'm glad to be with him, that even in Switzerland everyone is thinking of him and that he should get well again. Jodie tells us his blood pressure had slightly risen when I got to him.
Jodie asks if I'd like a coffee or a tea or something to eat. I do not want anything.
Janice and I are sitting on both sides of the bed, holding Papa's hands. She now tells me more exactly what happened. Tells me about the heart attack in the car in front of the Medical Center, where they've been because of Papa's leg. About his difficulty with breathing, about his face, which suddenly turned gray, about the cardiac arrest. About the staff of the Medical Center who reacted immediately. About the three ambulances that were there so fast. About the long resuscitation attempts. About his ribs, broken during the heart massage. About the drive to the hospital, as soon as there was a pulse again. About the two days here in the intensive care unit, that she has not left Papa's side, only was taken to Green Point yesterday to get the car from the parking lot, clear the still-laid breakfast table and take a quick shower. She praises the professional staff, who are so caring and compassionate. They even brought her a bed for the night.
She also tells me that since the CT scan yesterday she knows that Papa has no chance to ever get well again. I do not understand immediately. Too many impressions at once.
Then Doctor Rob comes in. He too welcomes me warmly. He invites us to a small room, with seating, right next door. Janice and I sit on the sofa, Rob and Jodie sit opposite us. Rob explains the situation to me, very sensitively, and what our possibilities are. He clearly states that Papa's chance of survival is vanishingly small, and the chance of living normally again is nil. He gets the brutal message across thoughtfully yet unmistakably. Without thinking for a second it is clear to me that Papa would not want to continue living this way. Also, Janice is absolutely sure that this is out of the question for Papa. In addition, a few years ago he had filled out an advance directive in which he himself represents exactly this point of view. So together we decide to stop the life-sustaining measures. I cry for the first time.
Rob and Jodie tell us exactly what they are going to do and how it will work out. It could be quite fast, or even take hours.
Then back to Papa. We should tell them when we are ready. Can you be ready for something like that?
Shortly after noon, the oxygen tube is getting removed from Papa's lungs. The painkillers and sedatives he continues to receive, in somewhat higher doses. Without all the devices on his face, he looks really peaceful, as if he was just sleeping. His breathing is not deep, but constant.
I sit beside Papa's bed with Janice, my thoughts and feelings are totally confused. Many memories come up. At a quarter past one it comes to my mind that the parking ticket has expired. I use this as an excuse to finally be able to have a cigarette. I only had one in Australia, at the airport at seven in the morning.
Outside everything is plastered with no smoking signs. "You just do not smoke around hospitals" they say. I wonder how the patients who smoke are doing this. They're crazy, those Aussies! I rush to the car, buy a new ticket and covertly take a few puffs, hidden in a corner of the parking garage. Then back in.
The situation is unchanged. I'm glad, because Jodie told us that there are patients who just slip away in such a moment.
I sit down again, beside Papa's bed with Janice. We don't talk much anymore, we're entirely with Papa.
Jodie comes by once again to check the infusions. She asks Janice which side he prefers to sleep on. Janice has to think for a moment. On his left side.
Another nurse arrives and they turn Papa to the side, it looks comfortable. I carry my chair around the bed, we both sit on Papa's left side now.
Shortly before half past two, Janice asks if I still do not want coffee. Well, now I really would like a cup. She fetches us coffee, since she already knows her way around here. I stay with Papa. Two minutes later, she is back with two cups. The coffee is strong and good.
Suddenly, Papa's breathing gets shallow. We put our cups away and are back with him, hold him tight. Then a sudden sigh, and he stops breathing. We both believe this has been the moment. But then, we see a pulse in his neck, very weak and irregular. A minute later another sigh. This time it's the last one.
Australia, November 2017
I still have time to brief my colleagues, write down the most important information, so that they can replace me in the running of the theatre season. At lunchtime I take the train home to Hermann, who fortunately has his day off today.
I call Mama and tell her what I know. She's stunned. She wishes me a good trip. Spontaneously, I ask her to tell Esther and Claudine. I'd still have time, but I'm glad that she takes care of that.
Just a quick shower, then farewell to Hermann. He asks me if he should come a bit later. I tell him that this is not necessary. But we'll see, we'll stay in touch anyway.
Back on the train, this time towards the airport.
At the airport I immediately go through the security check. Because I had no luggage to check in, I'm way too early. I wander around, get myself a sandwich.
The plane leaves on time. No news from Janice at the first stopover in Rome. Well, it is in the middle of the night down in Australia. But Esther sent a text. She is also shocked and sends me her best wishes for my journey. I exchange a few more messages with Hermann and other people who have learned about my trip. Everyone wishes me all the best.
Then the second leg to Abu Dhabi. Skipped the whole night in five and a half flight hours. It's already lunchtime in Australia. Somewhat scared, I turn on my phone. This time, there's news.
So Papa was stable during the night, but his condition is still critical. Although it's early in the morning, I do not feel like it. I drink a beer for Papa.
Now comes the longest flight of the journey. Fourteen hours to Sydney. While I'm sitting in the plane and fortunately am able to sleep quite well, they will push Papa into the CT tube and detect his severe brain injuries. But Janice will not tell me until I'm there with her.
Sydney. As quickly as possible through passport control and customs, then to car rental.
The morning traffic in Sydney is tough. Once out of the city, it gets easier. After two hours driving I'm in Gosford and can't find parking.
In fact, there are some spaces on the parking deck. I get a ticket for four hours.
The hospital really is a big construction site. Barriers and high wooden fences everywhere. But the way to the main entrance is well signposted.
But I almost found the way myself, when a nurse approaches me and asks me what I'm looking for. It's only a few more steps.