Sleeping next your desperately ill child on a hospital ward is not restful. You don’t expect it to be. We got to the ward at around two in the morning and she was wheeled into her slot in dim light and while the nurses spoke in hushed voices the noise was unavoidable and I worried for the patients around us but they were all (three of them) silent and still.
The nurses found me a squishy purple plastic chair and wedged it between the radiator and Sarah’s bed. The heat made me light headed and I perched on the edge and watched her grey little face. The nurses has wiped off the mascara and the blood off her face and I could see how swollen her cheek and I was once more struck by how lightly she had gotten off.
Occasionally a little flicker of expression would flash across her face, a wince mostly and I hovered, ready to ring the bell and call anyone and everyone but by 3 am I’d sunk into the purple chair and just watched her hand, all I could see from the angle at which I lay. I was horribly uncomfortable but it took me until nearly four am to figure out the chair was actually a reclining chair. Duh.
Throughout the night whiffs of my shoes which, courtesy of the radiator, now smelt like some rodent had crept into them and died, wafted under my nose and I was horrified at the thought that the smell had permeated the whole ward. It made me feel ashamed that I could be thinking such ordinary mundane, selfish thoughts.
Flashbacks of her injury, the bus, the poor driver haunted me. I wanted to rush around and hug everyone who’d been so kind. Nameless faceless people who’d provided umbrellas to try and keep the rain off us, the police, Mrs Pate, Sue, the taxi driver, the ambulance people who told me urgently as they’d left us to let ‘Bob and Richie know’ how she was.
I wanted to find the bus driver and make sure he was okay. Sarah kept wondering how he was. He’d started to suffer chest pains after the accident. I could imagine his horror. Sometimes it’s easier to be the hit rather than the ‘hitee’, guilt can be far more painful than injury. I wanted to hug him and say it was ok. It was an accident.
I couldn’t sleep. I’d keep sitting up to check she was still breathing. In the gloom you watch anxiously for that tell tale rise of fabric but when it’s hard to see you want to prod to make sure she’s still with you.
Lisa came in with her dad at around two. They didn’t stay for long, Lisa just watched her sister with big shocked eyes. She suddenly seemed so grown up and not so self-involved but like me she was cracking weak jokes. Trying to find humour in a pretty much humourless situation.
The lack of humour hadn’t stopped the trauma team, when they found out that she been walking back from where she worked at Specsavers, coining the advertising slogan, telling her ‘You should’ve gone to SpecSavers!’ and then cackling away.
Every time exhaustion got the better of me and I dozed off, a nurse would bustle in and take Sarah’s blood pressure etc. Obs as I learned they were called. I was so grateful for them as I studied their concentrating faces for any flickers of unease, feeling intense relief each time they wheeled the obs station away without pushing any alarms.
Around six the lights were flicked on without warning. Bright fluorescent light flooding the dark little room. Curtains whisked back – evidently it was time for breakfast. Sarah mumbled something and I bent closer to hear. ‘Was there any of that egg mayo sandwich that they’d offered the night before going?’ I eyed her in disbelief. That’s my girl! When in doubt, eat.
Turned out she couldn’t. Surgery was scheduled for some time that day. It was nil by mouth for her.
So the wait began for us. And lasted, and lasted, and lasted. The imagination is your worst enemy. For every minute of delay I pictured festering infection growing. Eventually the frustration of the wait drove me to my first set of tears. Male nurses walking down the corridor would see my tear stained face and scuttle past, avoiding my eyes. From being first on the list for theatre she eventually went down to theatre at three.
Lisa and I waved goodbye and for the second time, as her trolley was whisked briskly away I found myself in tears. Lisa and I together. We don’t cry elegantly, either of us. None of this salty tears dripping daintily – our noses go red, our eyes are blotchy and swollen. There is no hiding our tears. It was in this state that we bumped into Sarah’s boyfriend in the corridor.
We have a tricky relationship, he and I. He’s got lovely big Bambi eyes and I can see Sarah’s attraction for him but he’s been a bit less than loyal and I’d mopped her tears a number of times over the months. It had made me angry with him but my estimation of him soared when he didn’t duck as he saw my tear-stained self in the corridor. Cool under fire for an eighteen year old boy.
I explained that Sarah had just gone into theatre whereupon my throat pretty much closed up and Lisa took over. He went through to the waiting room and Lisa and I went looking for something to eat. Such a prosaic thing but I’d love to know why hospital restaurants serve lunch at lunch and dinner at dinner, basing their whole menu design on the assumption that people are able to eat at these times.
It was well over 24 hours since Lisa or I had eaten but there was no chance of a hot meal, just some over priced sandwiches. We ended up in Booths, sharing a plate of French fries while people in surrounding tables slid furtive glances our way. We must have looked like complete wrecks.
When we got back to ward Sarah was sitting there, awake, smiling and clasping three cardboard sick bowls just in case. She only needed to use them twice as she fought off the effects of the anaesthetic. My brave girl.