We all have important dates; birthdays, anniversaries, dates for celebrating, dates for remembering and dates for reflection.
Today, 18th oct is the pinnacle date of my year, a date which in ways could be described as the best day of my life, a life changing date as my destiny was sealed and then 17 years later was to become a day which can only be described as my worst.
The story begins on October 18th 1996. A typical night out in a typical sleepy English town pub. The night had been quiet and uneventful, spent with a few friends and at a fairly reasonable hour I headed home, one of my male friends decided to walk me safely home. As we left the pub, without a word he slipped his hand into mine. Today we have been together for 18 years. I was 17 when he first held my hand. I have now spent the greater part of my life with him than I have without.
Then a couple of years ago my dear maternal Grandmother was diagnosed with Cancer. Mesothelioma to be precise, the vicious, aggressive kind that comes to those who have been unfortunate enough at some point to have had contact with asbestos. She would never beat it and was given 4 – 6 months. With incredible spirit she carried on living a good life, spiting the disease for a further 2 years. Each Christmas and family occasion feeling both cherished yet borrowed. Nanna was made of stern stuff and in the last month or so of her life as her illness started to wage its war, she soldiered on bravely and with dignity. Her final week saw her seek respite in a wonderful hospice, this had been her greatest fear and we took great comfort when she later told us to never fear ending up in such a place. She felt at peace.
This final week I was still working, juggling appointments with apprentices with trips to the hospice. This is something I still berate myself for, I need to become less professional!
Little things were building up, my youngest daughter developed out of nowhere a nasty infection in her foot of all places and so threw into the mix a round of Doctors appointments and juggling childcare. Then on the 17th of October she develops an allergic reaction to her medication, literally erupting with vomit. Another trip to the Dr and more childcare woes. Precious time being spent solving these issues. Precious time I didn’t want to waste.
With her eventually in safe hands I could head over to the hospice where it is quite apparent to those already there we are at the end of life stage. (I had developed the balls at this stage to cancel work!)
As I am leaving home the school ring. My son feels sick, ‘Can you collect?’ Can I what?! Please not today. I fight the urge to yell at them, fill them in on my day. I am certain he is pulling a fast one. I tell them no, I can’t collect. I will try to find somebody. Now I do yell, on the phone at my husband, however important the job you are on right now is, I couldn’t give a monkeys. GET TO SCHOOL NOW! You get my drift…
So already feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, and full of self pity, I’m thinking things can’t get any worse? Silly me….
I make it home from the hospice just after the kids are home from school. Vomit girl has made a full recovery now on the correct medication, feeling sick boy was as I had suspected all along fine and just picking up on the inevitable vibes at home, my eldest was in bed with a headache. What?!
Apparently she’d come out of school at the end of the day sobbing in pain so had been given calpol and taken herself to bed. Feeling this was a little odd I went upstairs to check on her and my gut did a little flip. She seemed ok, but something wasn’t quite right. Time to watch and wait.
At 10pm she came into my room, howling with pain and screaming about a pain in her neck. By now the alarm bells were well and truly clanging! I rang the out of hours Doctor. In our area, the call begins by being asked one by one to eliminate the symptoms of meningitis. Each question was answered with yes.
Has she vomited? No. If she vomits I’m to ring back immediately. Her file is flagged. Try to get some sleep.
I hang up…guess what?
She vomits as I put down the phone.
We are asked to take her to an out of hours surgery 30 mins away in the nearest city. The joys of rural living. Husband takes her. Longest hour of my life. He calls, they aren’t happy with symptoms she’s been referred to a nearby Emergency department.
I need to leave home at this point, stuck at home with 2 children and no car. Normally I’d ring my mum, only of course she will answer the phone in the dead of night expecting it to be the hospice with bad news.
I can not do that to her.
Luckily my brother lives locally so he took me to hospital and the children home with him. I find my daughter sitting in a bed, watching cartoons looking it has to be said pretty good. A paediatrician comes in, she’s pretty sure it’s not meningitis, she has appendicitis.
I don’t think I have ever been quite so confused. At 2 am she is admitted to a ward for observation in the likelihood that she will be having surgery in the morning. A sleepless night of observation follows.
6 am she’s looking quite perky and a nurse remarks there is nothing much wrong and she’ll be discharged by 9am when the Dr does his rounds. Phew!
By this point mum has cottoned on to events and so I give her the lowdown, she in turn reveals she has already been called into the hospice, things aren’t looking good.
Within 20 mins of the nurses visit my daughter begins to vomit unlike anything I have seen before, her sister’s efforts the previous day now look like mere babbling streams in comparison. Nurses arrive and the situation becomes we’ll try to get the Dr sooner.
By 9am her temperature despite all of the drugs she is being given dramatically spikes, her eyes roll back in her head and I’m screaming her name as she drifts. Across town unbeknownst to me, Nanna is finally admitting defeat.
I text my mum.
I need you.
She needs me.
She also needs her Mum too of course.
She replies that she will be there when she can.
A short while later she texts she is on her way, this can only mean one thing. I have missed my goodbye.
My parents arrive at the hospital with a brief ‘she’s gone.’ Nothing more was necessary. The whole situation far too huge for anybody to deal with, they find their first grandchild in a hospital bed covered in wires. Concious but poorly. The temperature still not being controlled despite IV drugs. The Dr arrives. We are back to talking about lumbar punctures. She has 20 minutes targets to meet through the morning, if these are not met. It’s the test.
Whilst not improving, she stabilises and meets the targets set. A consultant arrives in the afternoon and suspects we are dealing with meningitis, although thankfully viral. Further tests could confirm.
No thanks, we’ll trust your judgement and thanks for not removing her appendix.
October 18th 2013. Happy anniversary dear. Words which were never said.
We spend a couple more days in hospital before she is allowed home for convalescing. For the rest of the week she bottom shuffles at age 7, too weak to walk. We are due to go away the following week. We need the week in Wales more than we ever thought we would. We need to recuperate, heal and come to terms with the week that just happened.
We are due to go away on the following Monday. The funeral will be Wednesday. We do however make it away after the funeral for a few days, still feeling a sense of disbelief. Did that really all just happen?!
A year on I will be visiting Nanna’s grave and reflecting on this day one year ago, the happy anniversary day it was will never be quite the same again. A day for reflection and remembering, not for celebration.
A year on and my daughter is filled with terror at the slightest hint of a headache, triggering panic attacks. I understand her fear, I feel it too.
A year on and now Grandad has also been diagnosed with incurable cancer. My favourite grown up. He is seizing the day, again defying his disease and living life to its fullest. Screw you Cancer.
A year on and I’ve learnt to live for the moment, to live with dignity and strength and that when life serves you a steaming plate of shit, expect sprinkles too.
As tough as things get, we survive. Things could always be worse. The story with my daughter could have had a whole different ending. So for that on this day I am truly grateful.