Family Medical Emergencies: The dreaded side of life as an expat

I have been wondering whether to write this blog. It’s something that the expat community rarely talks about. It’s only when it happens to you and you’re thrown into the washing machine tumble of emotions that you realise others must have been through this extremely difficult situation before. So I decided to write…in a few spare grabbed minutes in between the chaos.

From a distance

These last few weeks of my life has featured hospitals to a great degree. Whilst I was running routine appointments in Singapore my 77 year old mum was rushed into A&E (Accident and Emergency) in the UK. She is seriously ill, frail and already had limited ability before this.

The downside to being an expat is that when your mum is seriously ill in hospital and you can only watch and wait from a distance and FaceTime. The dilemma of whether to risk getting on a flight (16 hours at least) and her taking a turn for the worse whilst you’re in the air and she’s in surgery or waiting to see the outcome of the surgery and then fly.

It’s the waiting that’s stressful. Not knowing what to do for the best. If I make the wrong decision will I regret it? What to do? It is so difficult.

My siblings were being wonderful in the UK and keeping me up to date with information as soon as they receive it. But I am waking up when they go to bed and I have 7 hours to wait before I can talk to them again and catch up on any potential developments overnight in the UK. It’s hard.

It’s hard for them too. They are shouldering the burden of looking after their own families, spending every spare minute at the hospital with mum and seeing nurses and doctors and keeping other relatives informed of developments. The multitude of messages and phone calls being made delivering bad news is emotionally draining for all involved. And I am protected from all of that being nearly 7,000 miles away.

Decision Time

There comes a time though when a decision to fly has to be made. That for me was when my sisters informed me that mum had developed sepsis and was really poorly. We found flights the same day and flew back to the U.K. (at eye watering expense). We had booked a MPV taxi from Heathrow to drive us the few hundred miles north to my home town of Southport. Each step of the way from landing to the time we arrived in Southport we were constantly checking messages for updates.

When we finally arrived to great big hugs from family, we dumped our luggage and drove straight to the hospital to see mum. She was in the High Dependancy Unit (HDU) and looked on death’s door. We made it. We made it back in time to say “I love you”.

The roller coaster of emotions

We honestly thought mum would pass away but then she rallied and was transferred back onto a normal ward. She was (and is) being prayed for around the world and if there ever was evidence for the power of prayer, she is it. It was an astounding recovery. So much so that the Drs decided to operate on the underlying life threatening condition.

About 9 hours in theatre followed. All the siblings were together all day, waiting for any news. We went to lunch, we shopped, we had coffee with friends…anything to keep us distracted from the worry. Then came the news – she had survived surgery and was back in HDU again. We were all very relieved as we all then voiced our concern that we didn’t think she was strong enough to make it through surgery. But she did. She is a true fighter.

We’re now back to the new routine of visiting, updating relatives and friends. There’s still a mountain to climb and she will be in hospital for a while, and more treatment to come – but she is fighting all the way.

And we don’t pay a single thing. The National Heath Service (NHS) is one of the most wonderful things that as a Brit we benefit from. There is absolutely no worry or concern about the cost of procedures, if they are necessary and if insurance will cover it. It is all paid for through our taxation system. It is one less thing to worry about and I am grateful for it.

Decluttering a life

One of the things that people rarely talk about with elderly relatives is the stuff they accumulate over a lifetime. My mum has lived in the same house for 50 years and a lot of stuff has gone in and not very much has come out. As she will need a walking frame to get around (she already has a stair lift) we needed to declutter her house for the space of the frame.

Oh my gosh, how much stuff do old people keep?! The amount of rubbish removed has been incredible. Trips to the tip have been numerous as have donations to the local charity shops. You know you have donated a lot when the charity shop tells you that they haven’t got enough room for all the books and perhaps another charity shop might like to benefit from them! Books, clothes, toys, crafts etc have all been donated to make space to move around. We have even created a craft room in her conservatory to keep all of her numerous hobbies together and within easy reach.

It has been very hard work physically as well as dealing with the emotional rollercoaster.

Time ticks on….

We have been back in the U.K. for three weeks now and we are due to fly back to Singapore in just under a week. We will have been in the U.K. a month. School resumes soon and work continues. Negotiations over compassionate leave, holiday and time off in lieu have already started. We will have to return to our lives. We cannot put them on hold indefinitely. We will return knowing that we did all that we could whilst we were here and not feel guilty about leaving. My siblings will be picking up the burden again. Mum has a long recovery road ahead and will need a lot of care support. There is little we will be able to do to practically help 7000 miles away. That is life as an expat.