In October 1999, my dad decided to book a last minute holiday. Having just split up from his girlfriend, he thought it might cheer him up. He initially booked to go to Cyprus, but after some persuasion from me that it wouldn't be hot enough for him, he decided to go to Gambia instead. I'm not sure if he was given any medical advice prior to travelling, but I am sure he didn't take an anti-malarial medication. He was away for two weeks and loved it.
When he returned to the UK he still had some time left off work, and so came to stay with me for a while. Less than a week after returning from holiday - on the Thursday - he started to feel a bit fluey. We joked that my husband, Paul, had finally beaten him in a game of squash, something totally unheard of before now. We've joked since (a bit dark, I know!) that he could only beat him when he was dying.... By the weekend he was really poorly - and my dad was never ill, so this was totally unlike him. He had no energy, and still had flu like symptoms, but now also had sickness and diarrhea. He was due to return home on Sunday, to RAF Headley Court, but was too weak to travel. Paul was also in the RAF too, so on Monday he took him to the doctors on the base where he was stationed.
The doctor took blood to do various tests, his main suspicion being hepatitis. The nurse added malaria to the list of tests. The doctor sent him home with some rehydration powders, and he had to go back on Wednesday for the results. He was so ill when he went back to the doctor that he struggled to walk. They decided he needed transferring to hospital, but he collapsed and fitted while being helped to the RAF ambulance, so a 'civilian' ambulance was called to take him to Lincoln hospital.
Paul followed in his car, and called me at work to say it would be a good idea if I made my way to the hospital. He didn't want to worry me, but my dad was quite poorly. The RAF also started to make arrangements to get my brother, Guy, home from the Gulf where he was serving at the time - also in the RAF. I can remember thinking it seemed a bit over the top to get Guy home. My dad would be better by the time he'd made it back to the UK.
When I arrived at the hospital, my dad was still in A&E. He was barely conscious. I can remember him standing giving me a big stupid grin as I left for work that morning, and now he was barely conscious. One of the student doctors tried to reassure me that she'd contracted malaria and had recovered - but my dad never regained consciousness. He was transferred to the ICU, and we were taken into a relatives room that had beds and things for us to stay there. A doctor from the ICU came in to tell us that my dad only had a 20% chance of surviving. I felt like I was having an out of body experience, like I was listening to him talk to us from somewhere outside of myself.
The next couple of days passed in a bit of a blur. We only left the hospital to go to my stepdad's house for him to feed us, and then we'd head straight back. On Friday night they told us that there was nothing more they could do. My dad's organs were shutting down one by one, and it was just a matter of time. He died shortly after 6.30am on 13th November 1999. He was 54. My dad was incredibly phsyically fit - he had the physique of someone half his age.
To watch him become more and more weak, and then lay helplessly in a hospital bed was something I didn't expect to have to do for some considerable years. He was a character, my friend as well as my dad. He was a bit of an idiot, a clown, and everyone loved him.