We’re home, back on Rum, safe and sound on the croft once more.
What a whirlwind start to 2016 we have had. In a few short days our lives were picked up, moved somewhere else completely, shaken up, turned upside down and now we’re back where we started, the dust settling and our minds reeling trying to make sense of everything.
Last year Davies had an appointment at Inverness hospital – it was fairly routine and nothing of great concern but as he and I sat in the paediatrics ward waiting room I realised there was this whole other world, right there parallel to our own which by a kind twist of fate we had never experienced or even been aware of existing. I watched parents and children come and go, some scared or unsure in what was clearly an alien environment, as it was to us. I also watched the parents and children come and go for whom this was an everyday part of their world. They knew the nurses, walked along the corridors and in and out of the rooms with obvious familiarity. To them, this world was home. That stayed with me and has haunted me ever since, the knowledge that it is mere luck which means neither of our children have suffered health problems which meant we felt at home in that childrens ward.
I was reminded of that feeling while Ady was in the hospital. Very, very quickly we fell into a routine. I would visit the hospital in the morning leaving Davies and Scarlett at the hotel. I perfected the best route from the hotel to the hospital depending on weekend or week day and time of day – one route was better after rush hour on weekdays but better avoided during weekends as it took me past a shopping mall. I learned the pot holes in the road to avoid, became familiar with the complicated lane lay out of the roundabouts. The hospital car park I favoured (there were four) allowed four hours parking with no return within 2 hours, so I would arrived in time to catch the doctors morning rounds and listen to Popmaster with Ady. He would have breakfasted and showered, but I would be there in time for the morning tea round which I was kindly included in getting a couple of biscuits too. After the first takeaway cup of tea from the hospital foyer I bought an insulated mug for less than that cup of tea had cost me and brought my own in from the hotel each morning. I’d stay while Ady had lunch, depending on how he was feeling and what medication he was due we might go for a walk then my four hours would be up and I’d head back to Davies and Scarlett. We’d eat lunch together – I’d stocked up on sandwich fillings, bought bread every couple of days and we always carry plastic plates, knives, forks and spoons in our rucksack anyway for picnic food in hotels, then fetch any shopping required – clean clothes, anything Ady had requested before heading back to the hospital. We had failed to find a laundrette nearby so had resorted to buying clean underwear and t shirts – actually if I’d known how long we’d be off for I’d have invested in a clothes airer and handwashed and dried stuff in the hotel bathroom. On the plus side we now all have plenty of new pants, mostly in festive designs as they were all half price due to having snowflakes and reindeer plastered across them! We would all four catch up for an hour or so until Ady’s dinner arrived at which point Davies and Scarlett would go to the patients lounge where they could catch up with friends online using the hospital wifi and watch the big screen TV. Ady and I would chat and then the kids and I would head away back to the hotel, either picking up food on the way or walking across to the food and entertainment complex adjacent to the hotel for something having scoured the internet for vouchers, discount codes and promotions.
My phone learnt all sorts of new words and now autocorrects for cannula, gallbladder, antibiotics, MRI scan. Between reading Ady’s chart, googling everything and talking to every doctor and nurse who came in I almost feel I was there watching the surgery myself. I watched the hotel, the shopping mall and the hospital all get de-Christmassed. There was a certain comfort in the institutionalisation of learning those routines and becoming immersed in that world. A safe, secure, sterile bubble where it was always the same temperature and light level. The same existed in the hotel and the mall. I smiled automatically and agreed with the sales staff that I was ‘enjoying a day of shopping’, enjoying my anonymity rather than crumble and cry and explain why I was buying all those snowman patterned underpants. For ten days our family left our lives and went visiting that world, learning the language, wearing the uniform and playing by those rules. I answered emails, sent messages, returned phonecalls and kept people updated on what was happening with Ady.
There were moments though, where our real life pushed through. A message from friends on Rum to say firewood had been carried up the hill and chopped up for us. Our Christmas tree had been taken down, photos of Bonnie looking settled and loved, or the chickens being fed, snippets of news to remind us that home was still there waiting. A parcel arriving at the hospital for us – gifts for all four of us including a birthday card for me, the only one I actually got on my birthday. Several gifts of money, quietly given and so, so appreciated. A friend arriving at the hotel and taking Davies, Scarlett and I out for lunch and talking about normal things other than hospitals, the local car club reassuring me that I didn’t need to worry about the car and it could all be sorted out later, a video message from friends on Rum on my birthday. The only ‘stranger’ I had shared our story with was the girl on reception at the hotel when the kids and I checked in at 1130pm on New Years Eve. She was just going off duty and caught up with me a few days later for an update. On our last morning when I went to pay for our breakfast she said it was on her and she was so pleased to meet Ady and know the story had all turned out OK.
We’re back home now, Ady is feeling better and stronger every day and is slowly easing himself back into life here. In a few weeks time he will be back to full health and the pain, the stress and the shadows of our start to this year will be memories. We have learnt from this experience though and are starting to put together some ways to ensure we feel less vulnerable at the prospect of this sort of situation reoccurring. We can make practical changes, get better at cross-training so all four of us have a better idea of the various tasks that each other does, we can improve communication channels, create information sheets, know what we would have done differently next time (not much as it happens).
What will haunt me though, in the same way as those parents in the childrens ward stayed with me, is the heart squeezing prospect of life changing forever in just a split second. Because while I was concentrating on the best route to avoid traffic, or weighing up the best price for a three pack of boxer shorts with robins on, remembering which level of the car park I had left the hire car on this visit, finding the best meal deal for the kids and I, finding out just what was in the drip Ady had hooked up to his arm and why he was having it administered I was not thinking about all the other stuff. I was categorically not thinking about what happened if he didn’t get discharged and sit in the back seat of the car while I drove us back up to Rum. I was not thinking about how this is our dream and a life we have built for the four of us. I was definitely not thinking about the consequences of him not being able to do all the things he does here any more and what the impact of that might be. For over half my life Ady has been next to me. I draw the pictures, he colours them in. I write the words, he takes the pictures, he brings the wood up the hill, I chop it up. We grow older, maybe wiser, definitely crazier together, hand in hand. When one falters the other is strong. As long as we are out of context together we can adapt, we quickly learnt our roles in the new setting and whilst we are hopefully back to our usual life again now with some minor tweaks I am reminded anew how very lucky we are and to make the most of every single day.