'I cringe when I see someone smoking'
PAUL McKay spent 30 years with the love of his life, Anne, seven years helping her deal with a deadly disease and four days watching her slowly slip away.
Last Sunday night Mr McKay's wife of 30 years died in Ipswich Hospital. It was their wedding anniversary.
It was the last chapter in a tale of love and tragedy.
"She was my wife, my partner, friend and best mate," Mr McKay said. "She lost her battle of seven years as the result of the cruel and unforgiving disease of emphysema, due to smoking."
Virtually all that made the ordeal bearable, he said, was the caring and dedication of staff at Ipswich Hospital, especially in Ward 7C, the respiratory ward.
"I am totally in debt to Ipswich Hospital and all the people who work and keep this truly incredible facility operating," he said.
"From the paramedics who drove the hundreds of kilometres to our home the other side of Coominya to stabilise Anne and return her to the emergency department team and respiratory Ward 7C, and the very special extended family of specialists, doctors, nurses and the endless number of support staff, there are too many to individually thank that back up this truly dedicated, caring, devoted team of very special people, but they all know who I am referring to.
"The nurses at the hospital were part of our family.
"Thank you seems so totally inadequate for making the transition for Anne and I as painless as the end of one's life can be, but thank you - from Anne and Paul."
The former army mechanic spoke to The Queensland Times just two days after his wife died.
The shell-shocked look in his eyes spoke volumes about the ordeal he had shared with Anne.
He said he and Anne had both been previously married when they got together. They met after listening to a bagpipe player playing Amazing Grace.
Anne was born on Australia Day, and before the emphysema they used to go to celebrations and pretend they were for her.
The couple loved nature and relished life on their farm at Coominya, where they built a home together.
Seven years ago they got as far as Lismore on a planned road trip and were staying with his former wife and her mother.
"Up until this time Anne smoked and we'd done that many Quit campaigns, Seventh-Day Adventist campaigns, Smoke-enders, patches - you name it," Mr McKay said
"It's an addictive substance and it had her hooked. She was a smallish lady, a beautiful person, the best person I ever met in my entire life.
"We had dinner and Anne had a couple of smokes then got in the car and collapsed out of the car."
Within 10 minutes of arriving at Lismore Hospital, Anne was in a coma.
She stayed in a coma for seven days before being released from the hospital and coming back to Ipswich with Paul.
It was the start of what Paul called a long downhill run.
For four years they lived more or less a normal life, but the last three years were full of a horrible inevitability.
"Anne's lungs were tested and they were 38% capacity. A year later they were down to 22%, so needless to say she was very short of breath," Mr McKay said.
"It was like having a paper bag over her head. It was 18% the last time she was tested."
Anne stopped smoking straight after the incident in Lismore, but even the withdrawal was a harrowing ordeal for both of them.
She was reluctant to go to hospital but eventually realised there was no choice.
At first, an ambulance was only called every few months, but last year there was only one month when Anne wasn't in hospital.
"We met an astounding, astonishing man called Dr Thomas Nathow and he kept Anne alive three years longer than expected.
"Without him, Ipswich Hospital and the nurses on 7C, I wouldn't have had Anne for the past three years. We used to say he worked his magic on her," Mr McKay said.
"She was sitting on the fence so many times. Anne wanted to die at home and I respected that so every time she got well enough, I took her home."
He said Anne stuck with her GP at Gatton, Margaret Hughes, because they understood each other.
"She was on antibiotics and Tuesday last week I went to get her some more, but I guess this one was too strong because this one took her away," Mr McKay said.
"The garbage that Anne was bringing up on Thursday. I cringe now every time I see someone stick a fag in their mouth.
"If they could see what came out of Anne's lungs on Thursday... she was drowning in this muck.
"They just don't know what they're doing to their body."
Last Thursday week, when Anne was taken to Ipswich Hospital yet again, the couple both knew she wouldn't be going home this time.
Friday was the last time they spoke. Saturday night Anne opened her eyes for the last time, only able to raise her eyebrows.
They used to talk with their eyes, Mr McKay said.
"We always knew what each other was thinking, feeling. She was so special. She really cared about me," he said in tears.
When it became obvious Anne wasn't going home, dozens of hospital staff came to say goodbye.
"On Saturday, one of the nurses who was looking after Anne over the last couple of years wasn't on duty but one of her friends texted her and said, 'Anne's back in hospital. She's not very well'.
"She came into the hospital and stayed with Anne for half an hour. One nurse, Anthony - Anne always picked up when she knew he was on. He spent his break with Anne. That's above and beyond what is required of their job. Thomas wasn't on duty but I know he would have come in if I called him."
Mr McKay spent the worst four days of his life, the last four days of his wife's life, sleeping in a chair beside her bed, waiting for the end.