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The Washing Machine Man

It's up to me to convince Dad to change...

"Me?" I asked my sister. "Why do I have to do it?"

"I think he'll listen to you."

"When has he ever listened to me?" I asked her. "And what about Mum?"

"Mum's too upset, she can't think straight."

"Oh, OK. I'll have a go but I can't promise anything."

"I know," she said. "Just try, the nurses are getting fed up with him."

"I'm not surprised."

"Good luck, Steff."

"Oh thanks," I told her. "I'll need it."

That telephone conversation took place this morning, now here I am on the Cardiac Ward staring out of the window. You can see for miles from up here and all human life is busily going on below me. I can see a woman struggling along with bags full of shopping and with two little girls in tow, a policeman booking a motorist and just what are those teenagers up to?

It's life I'm watching and all the ups and downs make it fun, although we all forget to appreciate it at times. I have to smile at the young woman, the smaller girl won't budge, she's making a protest about something or other.

"Hey, Dad. Come and see this."

He gets out of his hospital bed and looks down to where I'm pointing. The little girl is still playing up, she's making a good show of it.

"Remind you of anyone?" I ask him.

"You always were stubborn," he says, with a chuckle.

We both watch as the young mother tries to reason with her small child. We can't hear what she's saying but it's not hard to imagine the sort of tactics she'll be using. The little girl stands her ground, kicking her legs in that restless way tiny girls always seem to do.

Eventually the child moves forward, painfully slowly at first and obviously begrudging every single step. Then suddenly she's running towards mummy with her arms open wide. Mum must have said some magic words and another little family drama reaches a happy conclusion.

"She's a good mother," I say to Dad.

"So are you," he replies.

"Oh thanks. I've a good kid, she's easy to care for."

"She's a little gem," he tells me.

"She is isn't she? Don't you want to see her grow up?"

"Hey," he goes. "You can cut that out, your sister tried that."

He gets back into bed and I sit down next to him. It might have been a cheap shot I just took, but that doesn't mean what I asked him wasn't a fair question. He's had a heart attack and only thanks to the modern miracles of surgery is he still with us.

The trouble is, the modern surgical miracle was too good and far too easily performed for my Dad to fully appreciate how serious his condition really was. No invasive incisions, no pain and the whole thing was done in ten minutes. Now he has a tiny tube in an artery and he feels like a new man, he's not so tired anymore and he has a whole new life ahead of him... or could do if he would only listen to what the cardiac people keep trying to tell him.

I can't find the right words to say to convince him and what's the point if he won't listen? My sister has tried, the nurses have tried, the consultant thought he'd got through but Dad only pretended in order to keep the guy quiet and get rid of him. I can't say anything that hasn't already been said and tears are welling up in my eyes.

"Oh Dad, please try," and those words are the sum total of my argument.

"Come here, sweetheart," he says.

I rest my head on his chest and he holds me while I cry like a baby. I'm a little girl again only now my daddy isn't invincible anymore, he's mortal and I'm going to lose him long before I'm ready. He hasn't held me like this in years and I can't remember the last time I ran to him with open arms. If I'm stubborn then it's not hard to figure out where I got that trait from.

"I will try," he says, as he strokes my head and holds me tighter.

"You will?"

"Yes," he answers. "I'll do everything they say."

I can hardly believe what I just heard. I look up at him, I'm a mess of tears and I know my nose is running but I don't care.

"You'll see the stop smoking advisor?" I ask him.

"Yes," he says.

"And the dietitian?"

"Yes," he promises.

He even agrees to attend the exercise classes they've got planned for him, just as soon as his heart is up to it. I've no doubt it isn't anything I've just said or done that's convinced him, he's not that easily swayed. He must have already figured it out for himself that seeing his grand kids grow up is worth far more than cigarettes and booze.

I can understand why he was stubborn and reluctant to face up to reality, he has to change his whole lifestyle and after so many years it will take some getting used to, but he can still live a full life. He's the washing machine repair man, he loves his job and he's not finished yet... which makes what I have to ask him for next the hardest request of all.

"Dad?"

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Your work rang, they're sorry but..."

"They need the van back?" he guesses.

I nod and he looks so sad, he gestures towards the bedside cabinet and there in the drawer I find the keys to his service van. They aren't just any old keys, they're a symbol of what he could lose forever if things don't work out, but they're also a symbol of the renewed life on offer if he gives himself a chance and follows the cardiac people's advice.

"Do you know how many washing machines I've fixed?" he asks me.

"I've no idea, hundreds, thousands I should think."

"I reckon at least twenty thousand," he says.

"You can fix a few thousand more when you get these keys back."

"After rehab?" he says.

"Yeah, after rehab," I reply and we both go quiet for a while.

He's a lucky man, I think to myself. He's got a nice slow and steady new life ahead of him with a wife, two daughters and two grand daughters to look out for. One things for sure, between the five of us we'll give him a whole lot more than broken down washing machines to help out with.

"Thank you, Dad," I eventually say to him. "Thank you so much."

steffanie xxx

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