At some point my sister Janet arrived. I’m not sure when. I’m pretty certain she came straight from work, leaving her husband or in laws to collect her own children from school and nursery. We must have begun to let other people know what was happening, because I knew that Marc’s best friend (also called Mark) was on his way and his brother Matthew was still somewhere on the M1 or M6 driving the 250 miles between Brighton and Warrington. Most of that afternoon is a complete daze to me.
I was immersed in a world that was completely foreign to me, a place which was unnaturally cold, a sea of white sheets and blue curtains, only broken up by occasional flashes of maroon as the nurses and doctors whisked silently by in their scrubs. The sounds made by all the different machines were the hardest to adjust to though. ITU is never silent. Even at night, when the lights are dimmed and the patients are resting, there is always noise: the different pitches of the shrill alarms alerting staff to bags of drugs coming to an end; the rapid bleeping sound notifying that an IV needs to be swapped over; the rhythmic ‘darth vader’-style heavy-breathing sound of the ventilator. It’s hard to convey the multitude of alien sounds which assault the ears when you sit in ITU for any length of time. And I was hardly in the best frame of mind to deal with such a new and unfamiliar place.
At first I spent quite a lot of time panicking when the nurses seemed to ignore some of the alarms. It often seemed that I was the only one to be paying attention when a rapid series of high pitched beeps echoed out across the ward. But I learned fairly quickly that most of the alarms only delivered information to staff so that they were aware of machines which needed attention, and that this attention did not necessarily have to be instant. When a patient really did need urgent emergency treatment, the alarms were urgent and the staff’s reaction immediate.
When Janet arrived, she must have come in to see Marc. I can’t remember at what point she came, but I know she was there for the remainder of the afternoon. She immediately assumed a caretaking role over me which I could only appreciate distantly, and I’m sure I wasn’t able to convey this to her at the time. She has a very natural instinct that kicks in when others are in need, and seemed to know instantly what to do to support me. She, unlike my parents and myself, had had the benefit of preparing herself mentally for what she might face at the hospital, and when she arrived she was able to take over from my parents and give them a break, as I’m certain they were completely wrung out worrying about Marc and the effect that his illness was having on me.
A lack of privacy
I finally made the call to Marc’s work. As I said, things begin to get a little hazy around about Wednesday, but I know I called Marc’s boss in the afternoon, and I presume that I didn’t leave it until the Thursday to call and let them know how bad Marc’s situation now was. I distinctly recall making the call, standing in the corridor of the hospital just outside the doors to ITU. I’m never one for making public phone calls, in fact I despise phoning people I don’t know, but there was really no place that was particularly private and I knew that this was a necessary call that I had to get over with.
I spoke to Marc’s boss Richard for the very first time. I don’t know what I said to him. Presumably I confirmed what he already knew (that Marc was in hospital) and went on to explain how ill he had become. I must have conveyed that Marc’s life was still very much in danger and I didn’t know what the outcome of his illness would be. I know I cried during the conversation, despite beginning the conversation calmly, and by the end of the phone call I’m not sure that I was able to get through a full sentence and have it make sense. I remember feeling embarrassed whilst at the same time being aware that me crying was perfectly acceptable in such a situation.
I know that I did a lot of lip biting and deep breathing in an effort to get the important points across without breaking down. I think just saying out loud what a poor condition Marc was in made it more real and therefore harder to deal with. Speaking the words out loud rather than simply typing them in a text was so much harder. It was strange, speaking to someone I had never met about such a personal crisis. Richard was very nice, extremely shocked, and reassured me that I should not concern myself with work at all, and just to keep him informed about Marc’s condition, as a friend and not as his manager.
Making practical arrangements
I didn’t need to contact my own work at that point, because I was working part time then and did not work on a Thursday, which was the next day. Still, friends and even vague acquaintances from work were sending me texts asking how Marc was, and offering all sorts of support. I did have a rehearsal planned for that night, for the play I was directing, The Hound of the Baskervilles. I sent a couple of texts out to my drama society’s secretary, who is also a very close friend, knowing that she would take care of cancelling the rehearsal for the ten cast members who would otherwise be showing up to a rehearsal with no-one to direct them. Practical things seemed so pointless at the time, but were nonetheless necessary.
Towards the early evening one of the nurses told me that Marc’s ‘levels were improving’. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure at all what that meant, and the staff were still extremely cagey about how extremely sick Marc still was, but it did seem like he was doing better than he had previously been. They were constantly monitoring his temperature, blood pressure and heart rate, among other things, so I can only assume that these were all more stable. The sepsis he was suffering from had been causing his organs to start shutting down, but I am convinced that the dialysis, which was the only ‘new’ treatment he was being given since returning from the operation, had begun to take effect.
Sepsis is also known as blood poisoning, and now Marc was having his blood cleaned and purified by the dialysis machine, he really seemed to improve. It was as though the machine acting to give his kidneys a helping hand was just what Marc needed to give him a little extra help and allow his body a little room to recover. And by recover, I mean slightly. He was by no means better. But by 7.30pm, the nurses began to suggest that it might be alright for me to go home for a few hours. I don’t know whether this stemmed from them genuinely believing that Marc was improving, or the fact that they could see how exhausted I was, but by 8pm they had pretty much told me that I could go home if I wanted, and that they would call immediately should there be any change.
Linda had already left by this point. She remembers quite clearly that she was looking after a friend’s fish and became suddenly obsessed with the need to go and take care of them. Again, I think she felt the same as I did – that overwhelming urge to escape from the hospital, even for a few short hours. My mum and dad were also exhausted and at least one of them was at home with the children. Marc’s best friend Mark arrived. He was visibly floored when he went in to see Marc, the shock etched on his face. I suppose he hadn’t seen Marc going downhill gradually as I had, and looking at his best friend lying motionless and attached to so many drips and machines was incredibly upsetting for him. Nevertheless, he offered his support and said he would wait in the hospital until Matt, Marc’s brother, arrived. He was coming straight to the hospital and we didn’t want him to have to face seeing Marc alone. He was expected about 9.30pm, and the nurses had agreed to let him in to see Marc, knowing how far and for how long he had travelled to get there.
At 8.30pm I left Mark sitting with my Marc, waiting for Matt, and said my goodbyes for the night. I don’t remember if I kissed Marc. Probably not: I couldn’t get near him. He was also still in the coma, so looked like he was asleep. I told him goodbye, probably said something about me giving the children a cuddle from him, said that I would be back to see him in the morning, and left the ward. I had been awake since 2am the previous night: around about 19 hours, after only 4 hours sleep. I felt exhausted, dazed, confused, completely drained. I was so relieved to be leaving the confines of the hospital, but terrified at what might happen to Marc when I wasn’t there. In my hand I was clutching a piece of paper with two telephone numbers for ITU on it, having been reassured that I could call at any time.
I must have driven home. I know Janet came with me. Once we got there, my mum and dad must have left for their own house, after filling me in on the children’s day. They, of course, were fast asleep. I think Janet must have picked up some kind of food for us on the way home. I don’t remember eating it. I do remember getting into a pair of pyjamas and climbing into our bed. It felt incredibly surreal that I had leapt up out of this very bed less than 24 hours ago and raced to the hospital. So much had happened since then.
The most difficult thing was trying to reply to all the messages I had received, asking how Marc was. At that point, relatively few people knew that Marc was ill, (my own work, Marc’s work, people at my drama group, a few close friends) but even those few people sending texts meant I felt the need to reply. I started to cut and paste parts of texts, composing a general ‘update’ which would suffice to let most of the people who were concerned know how Marc was. Every minute that I sat on the edge of my bed sending text after text I felt more and more exhausted. In the end, Janet came and took the phone away from me, saying that I would never get any rest if I kept sending people messages all night, no matter how well meaning and supportive they were.
The last thing I did before lying down was call ITU. The phone was answered and whoever answered it went off to call the nurse on duty for Marc. I found this very reassuring, and knew that if I was speaking to the actual nurse who was caring for Marc himself, I would be getting a realistic picture of his condition, unlike the previous night. Still, I dreaded the moment that the nurse came to the phone, terrified that she might say that Marc’s condition had worsened, or that he had just died. Ridiculous, as they had assured me that they would call the instant that anything important happened. To my immense relief, the nurse simply said that there was no change, which although meant no improvement, meant at least that Marc was no worse than he had been when I left him.
I took as much comfort from this as possible. My mind and body were completely exhausted and eventually, after much tossing and turning, my mind alert and ready for the phone to ring again, I managed to get some kind of sleep.