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Dying of Covid, my 93-year-old artist father was given hours to stay. Certainly he couldn’t paint himself out of this one? | Nigel Featherstone


On Tuesday 26 April I acquired a cellphone name I’ll always remember. “We’ve got X-rayed your father’s lungs,” mentioned the ICU physician at Canberra hospital’s Covid ward. “I’m afraid the information is just not good. He has 48 to 72 hours to stay.”

Per week earlier, my father, Jack Featherstone, who lived alone in a former schoolhouse in Braidwood, a small city in rural New South Wales midway between Canberra and Batemans Bay, had been admitted to hospital. Inside hours he’d examined constructive for Covid-19. He had simply celebrated his 93rd birthday.

Two years prior, Jack had acquired a most cancers analysis, for which he selected a palliative method. Six months later, he spent a fortnight in Goulburn Base hospital having what gave the impression to be coronary heart assaults.

Now he had this new well being problem – one which hundreds of thousands of individuals world wide had confronted, too many not surviving.

Australia this weekend reached the milestone of 10,000 Covid deaths. The pandemic continues to be a matter of life and loss of life, particularly for the aged.

No matter his varied diagnoses, Jack was lively in Braidwood’s vibrant social life and loved the help of the group. Strolling up the primary avenue with him took hours, as a result of everybody needed to cease and ask how he was faring.

Jack Featherstone’s deep love of painting is what keeps him going, says his son Nigel.
Jack Featherstone’s deep love of portray is what retains him going, says his son Nigel. {Photograph}: Tracey Nearmy/The Guardian

Within the days earlier than the ICU physician’s cellphone name, I visited my father thrice.

In the course of the first, I used to be made conscious of my very own threat of publicity to Covid once I donned the required private protecting tools (PPE), together with booties, gloves and a face protect. As I entered my father’s room, I assumed it could have been the final time I noticed him. Behind a tent of clear plastic, his pores and skin was the color of milk. Hollows confirmed the place his cheeks was once.

“However have a look at that view of the Brindabellas,” he mentioned, referring to the mountain vary that borders the town’s west. “Isn’t it a ripper.” An outsider artist who has held simply three exhibitions in his lengthy life, my father’s deep love of portray – certainly his each day pursuit of the elegant by means of artwork – is clearly what retains him going.

Days later, Jack was transferred to the Covid ward. Though I requested for instructions, I turned misplaced. Aside from the red-print indicators saying DO NOT ENTER, there have been no indications of what lay behind the glass wall.

Once more, I coated myself with PPE, earlier than a nurse led me to my father’s room. Sitting in a chair however related to an oxygen tank, Jack was struggling to breathe; it sounded as if he was making an attempt to attract life from the ocean.

Trying on the ground, he mentioned, “They advised me to not get vaccinated due to my most cancers.” Then he regarded up. His moist eyes appeared to say, “Of all of the issues to knock me off.”

Phrase shortly unfold by means of the household. His eldest sister, Edith, who at 99 nonetheless lives at residence in Sydney, rang me with panic in her voice. “Please inform my brother how a lot I’ve beloved all of the adventures we’ve had.”

I drove again to Canberra, donned PPE once more, then put my hand to my father’s bone-thin shoulder.

He regarded me within the eye and mentioned, “I wish to die in Braidwood.”

Solely two and a half years in the past, I’d organized my mom’s last farewell, however I used to be not able to do it once more. Regardless of the gravity of the latest prognosis, and needing a 24-hour reprieve from household speak about illness and dying, I caught the prepare to Sydney to fulfil work commitments.

And instantly regretted it.

I cancelled my conferences and spent the afternoon on the Australian Museum, as a result of my father had at all times been concerned with palaeontology. As I stared on the skeleton of a dinosaur, a small boy beside me, who appeared to have turn into separated from his mother and father, known as out, “Daddy? Daddy? The place are you?”

Two days later, my father remained alive, as he did the week after that.

As soon as his viral load was sufficiently diminished, Canberra hospital discharged Jack and despatched him again to Braidwood hospital, the place he spent two months recuperating. He started strolling once more – this from a person who till a yr in the past had trekked weekly up Mount Gillamatong, the landmark on the sting of city.

Though he had spent the perfect a part of three many years dwelling and making artwork within the previous schoolhouse, Jack made the choice to maneuver into the permanent-care constructing adjoining the hospital. Two years in the past, the NSW authorities had demolished the unique Braidwood hospital, developing a “multipurpose service”, which opened in 2021.

Jack Featherstone paints with a safety pin in time to classical music at Braidwood MultiPurpose Service in NSW.
Jack Featherstone paints with a security pin in time to classical music at Braidwood MultiPurpose Service. {Photograph}: Tracey Nearmy/The Guardian

Central to the design and administration of the brand new facility is the precept of ageing in place – guaranteeing that, irrespective of how precarious their well being, the city’s previous folks can nonetheless hear and really feel all that has turn into important to them, can have a look at the sky and know the place they’re, will be visited by individuals who know their tales. For Jack, locals drop off paints and canvases.

Not too long ago, I visited him once more.

North-facing, his room was crammed with morning mild. Jack had completed a brand new portray, which was dominated by a tree he had rendered in bright-yellow autumn splendour, round it 30 figures representing those that have helped him this yr.

Set out on a slim desk was one other portray, a piece in progress, this one depicting the luxurious, inexperienced paddocks past the room’s window.

I requested if there was something he needed from his home.

“Sure,” he mentioned with a smile. “My sun shades. The winter mild round right here is good – it’s so good on your well being. I wish to take pleasure in it for so long as I can.”



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