Breaking Dawn

I don’t remember much about the rest of the night. We sat alternately with Marc and in the waiting room. When I was in with him, I had no idea what to do. There were nurses flitting around the almost silent ward throughout the night, and those assigned to Marc attended to him regularly, administering drugs and drips and making regular checks on his levels, which didn’t show any signs of improvement. I felt useless in comparison.

I seem to have more memories of the waiting room. Once the doctors had induced the coma and my dad and Linda arrived, we all went in to see Marc in turn. After that, it must have been early morning. There was nothing else we could do until the consultant came in to see Marc and made a decision about what to do next. My thoughts turned to Marc’s work, and I began to realise that I would need to contact them at some point. As they were already aware that he was in hospital and were not expecting him in work that day, I decided that I could get away with waiting until later before I tried to call someone, when perhaps I would have something more to tell them.

Invasion of privacy

I had Marc’s phone, which was weird in itself. I didn’t want to go through it – it felt like a strange invasion of his privacy – but began the process of trying to work out who I might contact at the BBC. Marc is a computer programmer, and had started a job with the BBC at Media City in Salford around a year and a half before he became ill. Since the job was relatively new and I hadn’t really attended any work events with him, I was a little unsure of who to call. Knowing his boss’ first name for certain, I began to trawl through the contacts in his phone, and eventually worked out by a process of elimination (possibly also checking Facebook to make sure) which person I would need to call. I wasn’t looking forward to my first conversation with Marc’s boss being one with such shocking content, and felt relieved to be able to put it off for the time being.

I must have checked my own email and ascertained at some point around 7am that my own work had received the messages I had sent in the middle of the night. The replies I received were full of concern and the first experience I had of dealing with the reactions of others to our situation. No one knew quite what to say, and it was evident that all those who heard the news were in a complete state of shock. Talking to people now, they all remember that particular day and the surprise with which they responded to my messages. There was also a fair amount of disbelief that I had spent part of my night in hospital actually planning work for my classes!

Life-or-death situations

I don’t recall anything else other than standing in the corridor outside ITU feeling surprised that the sun had come up and the night was over. We must have tried to eat at some point. I definitely remember a lovely tea-tray containing a white teapot with red flowers, a set of pretty tea cups and some toast which one of the nurses brought us. These were clearly saved for traumatic situations where there was a life-or-death situation involved. I don’t remember seeing them again after that first night, though I became extremely used to the taste of the ITU waiting room’s machine-made beverages.

We were told at around 8.45am that the consultant was in the hospital, but that he would need some time to see Marc and get up to date with his records before he made any decisions and came to speak to us. It was agonising sitting there, knowing that the only person who had any say in Marc’s treatment was in the building but not yet ready to speak to us. We had arranged for my mum to take the children to school, and she also had the responsibility of letting them know why Mummy and Daddy were both absent. I must have spoken to her at some point, because I know she asked what I wanted the children to be told. All I remember is feeling very strongly that things needed to be kept as normal as possible for them.

Continuing as normal

In the end my mum simply told them that Mummy was with Daddy in hospital as he had become a bit more poorly during the night, but that she would be home to see them later. This they accepted without question, perfectly happy that it was the truth. I felt better that they were not concerned, although it seemed odd that life was continuing as normal for them while such traumatic events were taking place.

Thankfully my parents have cared for them one day a week since they were very young, so having mum there was a fairly normal occurrence for them, which helped. It wasn’t usually only my mum looking after them though (my parents tend to come as a pair and do most things together), and I wonder to this day whether something instinctive told them to continue as normal and not to make a fuss. They were both angelic over those first few weeks of Marc’s illness, as though they somehow understood that Mummy couldn’t have coped if they had played up or behaved badly at all.

Overwhelmed

At 9.30am we were gathered in the waiting room of ITU and a large group of people came in to speak to us. I remember being quite overwhelmed by how many medical personnel entered the previously empty room at once, and wondered why they were all there. The consultant did most of the talking. He was dressed in a suit, and was an older, serious-looking man. He explained that he was going to operate on Marc in order to have a look inside his abdomen and see if he could shed any light on what was making him so ill, since all of the other tests done so far had been inconclusive. He had brought all of the other people into the room to introduce his medical team to us, I suppose to reassure us that he would have the support of a large number of experienced medical staff while he operated on Marc.

There were several nurses, at least two of whom were from ITU. He explained that they would be in charge of ensuring that Marc got to the operating theatre from ITU and back safely, as well as caring for him for the remainder of the day. There must have been other nurses, specific theatre nurses, but I don’t really remember them. There was an anaesthetist, who introduced himself, and at least one other doctor who was called Laura, a woman who for some reason reminded me very much of a friend of mine and was extremely approachable. She looked around my own age, and throughout Marc’s stay in hospital she made a huge effort to fill me in and ensure that I was kept up to date with Marc’s progress at all times, which I was extremely grateful for.

Running out of time

Suffice to say I listened to their explanation of what was going to happen in the operating theatre. I don’t think I asked any questions, although I’m certain I was asked if I had any. I don’t think I was capable of much more than making sure I understood the information they were giving me. The operation sounds fairly vague to me writing about it now, and I suppose it was. The staff had little other choice other than to cut Marc open to see what might be the matter with him, as all other methods of investigation had proved useless up to now, and he was running out of time. I accepted what they were suggesting without argument, grateful that there was something to do other than wait for him to die of whatever infection was invading his body. The large group of medical staff left the room full of sympathetic looks, which told me that they were not at all certain of what the outcome of the investigative operation would be.

As they left, the sister from the ITU who had taken over from Lesley when the morning shift had started at 8am (I cannot for the life of me remember what her name was) squeezed my arm reassuringly. She then said something along the lines of, “He’s the best. If I had to have someone operating on me, I’d want him.”

I tried to take as much comfort as I could from the fact that the consultant who was about to cut Marc open, for better or for worse, was clearly well respected by his colleagues.

An Alien Place

At some point later, Marc arrived up in ITU on a trolley. I saw them wheeling him past the waiting room door and taking him into the Intensive Care ward. I think maybe Claire came back in to speak to me briefly, but there was nothing much else to say apart from to repeat that Marc needed to be ‘settled in’ to ITU, and this, apparently, would take a while. At some point (I can’t recall when) I was told that the scan had shown nothing other than some fluid in the stomach which, although notable, did not reveal the mysterious cause of the illness. This meant that Marc was still struggling on with no concrete diagnosis and therefore no further ideas for how to deal with whatever was attacking his body.

Deteriorating fast

Eventually Lesley came out to speak to me again in the waiting room. Before I went into ITU, she updated on Marc’s condition. She told me that, since I had last seen him, his condition had deteriorated and that he was ‘really struggling’. The doctors had made a decision to put him into a medically induced coma, which they believed would help to give his body some respite, as it had now been struggling against the infection for several hours.

This, she explained, meant that he would have a tube inserted in his throat and be attached to a ventilator which would breathe for him, in addition to being sedated so that he would appear as though asleep. I’m not sure if I was given a choice about this – I don’t remember signing anything to give my permission – but again I was certain that the staff at the hospital were not taking this decision lightly, and would only do this if they felt it might help Marc.

Lesley explained that I could come in to see him before they put him under. It struck me that I was being brought in to see him whilst he was still awake in case once they induced the coma, he didn’t actually wake up again. This was an extremely frightening thought. She didn’t sound at all hopeful about Marc’s chances. With this in my mind, I was led in to see him, wondering what on earth I was supposed to say.

The sickest person in the hospital

When I entered the ward for the first time, I don’t think I took it in properly. I was far more concerned with seeing Marc than focusing on my surroundings, but suffice to say for now that ITU feels like a very alien place when you first enter. Marc had been placed in a bed to the immediate right of the nurses’ station. At the time this meant nothing, but later I realised that he was placed there because he was so very ill. The sickest people need to be within the closest reach of the medical staff. I was told several times over the coming days that Marc was by far the sickest person in the entire hospital.

When I reached his bed he was conscious, just, but extremely disorientated and I’m not sure that he knew who I was, or even that I was there. I don’t think I was allowed to stay with him for long. He was very distressed and clearly in a lot of pain, almost raving. It was difficult to see him like that. You know in the films, when people are brought to the bedside of their loved ones before death and say the most poignant and beautiful things before the person’s time comes? When all the loose ends get tied up and everyone gets to make confessions and say those things they always meant to say but never got around to? Those kind of scenes?

Well they’re absolute rubbish.

Last words

If Marc had died that night, our last words would have been ones of confusion and agony. Our last memories, ones of pain and suffering. The last words he said to me before I left? I don’t want to type them. He swore, which he doesn’t do very often, suggesting that words to describe his pain were difficult to grasp. I probably stammered that I loved him and would see him soon, once he was better, believing these sentiments less and less with every second that passed but not knowing what else to say. And I was escorted back out of the ward with what could so easily have been his final words ringing in my ears. Not ‘I love you’ or ‘My darling’. Not ‘I’m so happy to have spent thirteen years of my life with you’ or ‘tell the children I love them’, but an expletive which left me in no doubt about the amount of pain he was in.

I was escorted back out to the waiting room by a different nurse. For a long time I did not remember meeting anyone else that night other than Lesley, but there was a nurse on duty who escorted me back and forth between Marc’s bed and that waiting room several times that night. I found out weeks later that she was called Regi and she remembered me very well, but when she looked after Marc on her shift weeks later I introduced myself to her, as I believed that we had never met. It’s funny what the brain does – some people I remembered perfectly from that night, whilst my mind could clearly not cope with recalling the names or faces of others who played just as important a part in saving Marc’s life.

What will I do without him?

I sat for another agonising period of time in the waiting room. My dad and Marc’s mum Linda arrived at some point, and I filled them in on what had happened, painfully aware that if Marc did not survive the induction of the coma, his mum would never get to speak to him again. We were all in shock. I didn’t cry often during those first few days in the hospital. I have no idea why. Something must have kept me going: crying wasn’t going to help anyone, so it wasn’t really an option. I also think that when you are in shock, tears are not necessarily your first response. But I do know that in that stupid waiting room, after I had told my dad and Linda what was happening to Marc, and she had gone in to sit with him, I broke down on my dad and asked, ‘What will I do without him?’

This is the one time I ever recall admitting that he might die.

A horrendous call to make

And Dad told me that, while there was still a chance of him living, I had to stay positive and believe that he would be alright. So I did my best to pull myself together and carry on. I went in to see Marc again. This time he was asleep, and at least looked more peaceful than he previously had when awake, which was a relief in one way, but the thought that I might never get to hear his voice again was always in the back of my mind. I found out later that it was touch and go whether the act of inducing the coma in itself would kill him, but they felt that if they hadn’t induced the coma he would have died anyway. Doctors have to make some horrendous calls sometimes, and this has to have been one of them. I can only thank them profusely for having the courage to make the decision to induce the coma. I am certain that it helped him to survive those vital few hours through the night.

Lesley said that it was just a case now of (you guessed it) waiting. Waiting until the consultant came on duty in the morning, when he would make a decision about what was best for Marc, which might involve an operation. Hospitals are staffed by excellent general doctors during twilight hours, and have consultants on call, but to my knowledge consultants and surgeons don’t generally work nights. The doctors on ITU had spoken to the consultant and taken advice, and he was due in at 9am. Until then, all they could do was keep Marc comfortable and hope that inducing the coma would allow his body to keep fighting.

Silent Suffering

Once the lift reached the floor below we exited, and I remember blindly following the strange procession down a number of corridors with little idea of the direction we were going in. Eventually we stopped, seemingly in the middle of the darkened corridor. I wondered why, until the Irish doctor came over and told me that the scanning department was not yet open as we were still waiting on the on-call radiographer to arrive. We were literally standing in the hallway outside the door to radiography, waiting for a member of staff with a key and the knowledge to work the scanner.

It felt desperately wrong to have to stand and wait when Marc’s life was hanging in the balance and the scan could provide the answer to what was actually wrong with him. The doctor and Claire kept on reassuring me that it wouldn’t be long, and I think it was only a matter of a few minutes before Marc was able to be wheeled into radiography for the scan which I was hanging all my hopes on. At that point, Claire told me that the scan would not take long, but that I couldn’t go into the scanning room with Marc due to the risk of exposure to the harmful X-rays. Instead, she suggested, she would take me up to ITU to wait for Marc, as that was where he was headed after the scan had taken place.

Reluctant

I was reluctant to leave him really but, unsure of what else I could do, I went with her. By this point Marc seemed barely conscious that I was by his side and I understood that I wasn’t allowed near the scanner. It didn’t seem like I could be of much support to Marc anyway at this point and I was desperate to contact both Marc’s mum and my own parents to fill them in, as I knew that they would all be worried sick. I felt very responsible for keeping them updated, and guilty that I had not called them the instant I got to the hospital. I was unsure of what I was going to tell them, but felt that at least I could call or text them from outside Intensive Care with some kind of update.

I told Marc where I was going (with no real idea of whether or not he took it in) and walked away, following Claire down another maze of shadowy corridors and up a flight of stairs until we reached ITU. The next day I had no recollection of where it was located, so I must literally have plodded after Claire, paying scant attention to the direction we were taking. On the way, she explained again that Marc would be brought straight up to ITU once the scan was complete, but that it might take a little time to ‘settle him in’ so I needed to be patient. She showed me into the waiting room, a room I would come to detest intensely, and I think she brought me a cup of tea from a machine. She introduced me to the ward sister on duty ITU that night, who was called Lesley. I remember several conversations with her that night and am unsure of their order really, but I think initially she just told me her name and reassured me that, once Marc arrived, they would do their best to keep me fully updated on his progress.

Preparing for the worst

I know she repeatedly told me how ill Marc was, even before having met him. I presume she had been briefed on the state of the man that was coming into ITU that night, and I believe that she was preparing me for the worst. Once she had introduced herself and she and Claire had checked that I understood what was going on, they left me for a while with my plastic cup of tea and my thoughts.

The waiting room in Intensive Care is one of the worst places on earth. No joke. Over the next few months I was to spend far too much time there and although it can appear different depending on the time of day or night, it is always a tense, unhappy place. No one is placed in Intensive Care unless they are fairly seriously ill or recovering from an operation where they need certain crucial drugs that can only be administered in the ITU environment. The Intensive Care ward is constantly air conditioned, which is nothing like other hospital wards where it can be stiflingly humid. These air conditioning units are housed in cupboards in the waiting room area of ITU. They throw out heat constantly, so the room is always unbearably hot.

Severe shock

That night the waiting room was empty. I felt extremely hot, dizzy and quite sick. Sitting alone, I had a little time to process what was happening and consider myself for a moment. I really didn’t feel at all well. I remember trying to lie down on some of the easy chairs in there (none of your plastic, hard-backed chairs in ITU) and covering myself with my coat. Sitting perfectly still in once place. Standing at the one small window, staring out and trying to gasp at some fresh air. My stomach was churning and nothing I did seemed to stop it. I began to believe that I was coming down with the same mystery illness that Marc had: it was a few days later, I thought logically, I had been caring for him for the past few days. I could realistically have contracted the illness and be just starting with the same symptoms.

This was the thought process I followed, and once I did, I couldn’t get it out of my mind: I have the same illness. Marc is going to die. After that, I will get worse and I will die too. Who will look after our children when we are both dead?

I was obviously in shock. Considering the situation rationally, all of the symptoms I was suffering from could be easily attributed to the overwhelming stress of what was happening. The room was hot and was making me sweat. I was dizzy through lack of sleep and the hot atmosphere. I felt sick and my stomach was churning because I was frightened, the same way you would be before going for a job interview or sitting an exam, just multiplied by a thousand.

Melodramatic

Looking back, it makes perfect sense why I felt the way I did, but at the time I sat there, terrified that our children were going to be left parentless; that we didn’t have an up-to-date will which would instruct anyone what our wishes were; that I would never get to see them grow up. Writing this now it seems melodramatic, and I wish I had shared my worries with someone, as they might have been able to give me some reassurance that it was extremely unlikely that I had the same illness as Marc. Instead I sat and stewed for I don’t know how long, and waited for Marc to come back up from radiography.

I called Marc’s mum and updated her, feeling guilty and desperately sad that I didn’t have more positive news. I called my mum, or perhaps she called me, and we agreed that she and Dad would drive to the house where she would stay and babysit and Dad would bring Marc’s mum to the hospital, as she should be here too. It was her son whose life was in danger after all.

Occupying my mind

Once those calls were made, I busied myself emailing work, explaining that I would not be in the next day, and instructing my colleagues what tasks to set for my classes. Again, the word ‘surreal’ comes to mind. Sitting planning lessons on ‘Of Mice and Men’ and descriptive writing while my husband’s life hung in the balance seems ridiculous, but I was alone for a long time in that waiting room, and sending the emails gave me something to occupy my mind and stop the terror from taking over. I also called the work cover line, which I knew was a recorded message, and and explained why I would not be in the next day. I can’t imagine what I said. I’m certain the cover supervisor was surprised by the message the next morning. In amongst the usual ‘tummy bugs’ and ‘flu’ preventing teachers from coming in, a message at 3.30am stating that a staff member would not be in due to her husband’s hospital emergency must have come as quite a shock.

After that there was little more to do than wait. Wait for Marc to come up from his scan, desperately hoping for some kind of answer. Wait for my dad to appear with Marc’s mum to reassure me. Wait for the night to be over, with some kind of resolution to the hell I found myself in.

Trauma in the early hours

I pushed open the doors to the ward, certain I would be greeted by chaos and panic. Instead, it seemed at first to be as dark and silent as you would expect a hospital ward to be at night. I was uncertain what to do, but headed instinctively in the direction of Marc’s room. As I got closer I was approached by a nurse, who asked who I was. Confirming that I was who I’m sure she had been told to look out for, she took me by the arm and steered me into a small alcove at the side of the nurse’s station. As she did so, I began to notice that there were a lot more people on the ward that would be normal at night time. They were all clustered in and around Marc’s room, just working quietly, presumably trying to minimise disruption on the ward.

Just as we were heading into the alcove, the nurse was stopped by another person who was in a different uniform, one I couldn’t particularly identify, aside from to say that it looked medical. Again, she confirmed that I was Marc’s wife and said she would take me straight in to see him. I think the other nurse had been intent on heading me off before I got there, either to protect and prepare me, or to prevent me from getting in the way of all the personnel who were working on Marc. The second person had other ideas and seemed to be more senior.

She was very calm and very nice, and explained as she led me back out of the room and towards Marc that he was very ill, but that he had been asking for me and that she wanted to take me to him as soon as possible. Her name was Claire, the same as mine. To this day I am not certain of her job title. She was some kind of trauma medic, not a doctor (but I don’t think she was nurse either), trained specially to deal with particularly stressful and traumatic situations. She had been called down to the ward when Marc had ‘crashed’. She was with a man who filled the same role, and they had both been called to the situation, which should give a clue as to how much danger his life was in at that point.

Going downhill fast

She told me that medically, Marc had gone downhill incredibly fast since earlier in the evening. He had a raging temperature, an elevated heart rate and his blood pressure had ‘gone through the floor’, so much so that one of the night staff had called in the trauma team to deal with him. They were currently giving him medication to stabilise him but, she told me, it wasn’t working and his blood pressure remained dangerously low. She had been with him for at least an hour, possibly longer, and they had worked on Marc for a good while before calling me, presumably believing initially that they would be able to sort him out and return him to normal without the need for the middle of the night ‘panic stations’ call.

All of this just brought home to me how serious the situation was. I honestly don’t believe the the staff would have called me in unless they feared for Marc ‘s life. And they did. They had called me in because they were not sure if he would live through the night, although I’m not sure that I completely comprehended the level of danger he was in at that point. Claire walked me into his room. I think she introduced me to those who were working on Marc. I don’t know how I responded. (How does someone respond to a group of strangers who are performing potentially life-saving treatment on their nearest and dearest?)

There were probably between six and eight people in the room. Some of them must have been nurses who were on the usual night shift on the ward. Some had obviously been drafted in from elsewhere due to the emergency. There was Claire and her male counterpart, both dressed in a white uniform with trousers, seemingly not doing anything especially medical, but overseeing what was going on and, I believe, primarily there to check that I was kept informed and knew what was happening. I know there was at least one doctor, an Irish man who was introduced to me and tried to explain what was going on. I’m pretty sure there were others, but I couldn’t tell you who they were or what they were doing.

Asking for me

I do recall that the room looked a complete mess. Again, I can’t remember exactly what kind of rubbish was scattered about the place, but the overriding feeling was one of the medical staff having to act very quickly, and not having time to tidy up after themselves. Claire explained that Marc had been holding her hand and refusing to let go of it for the past hour or so, which told me how frightened he was. She also said that he had told her over and over that his wife was also called Clare, and that he had been asking for me repeatedly.

Marc was pale and looked small on the bed, surrounded by all the medical personnel. I wasn’t sure what to do, not wanting to prevent any of the medics from doing their job at such a crucial time, but Claire guided me to his side and I took his hand, unsure of what else to do. I think Marc must have spoken to me. I have no idea what he said. I wish I could recount the vital words he spoke to me during those few moments – the last time we would be able to converse with each other with any real meaning for a long time to come – but I presume that I was in such a state of shock that my memory just wasn’t functioning normally.

Shifting shadows

I think Marc conveyed that he was frightened. Certainly I understood this above all else. It was exactly the way I felt too, but I also felt under immense pressure to remain calm and not show my fear. Marc doesn’t remember anything about that night. My own memories are often shifting shadows which refuse to take a concrete shape as I sit here trying to remember the facts. The effect that emotional shock and trauma can have on the body and mind is incredible.

I know that the Irish doctor took me to one side and spoke to me. I remember thinking how young he looked, thin and pale with glasses and a kind, intelligent face. He did give off an aura of confidence, despite his appearance of youth, and his dealings with me were calm and confident. I did not doubt that he was doing all he could for my husband. He told me that they were not sure what else to do, as they had administered drugs to boost Marc’s blood pressure to no avail. They knew that his body was reacting to some kind of infection, but kept coming back to the fact that they had no idea what the infection was. Without that vital piece of information, were unsure how to treat him.

Terror

They were already administering broad spectrum antibiotics, ones which they hoped would help to kill the infection, though without knowing the cause of Marc’s symptoms, they were guessing at the correct ones to give him. He must have had IV lines going into his arms, but actually at that point, I remember very little, other than Marc’s face and his expression of terror.

The doctor explained to me that they needed to do a CT scan of Marc’s body to see if that would show something up which would give them a clue as to what was wrong. I think I nodded. He told me they would be taking Marc down for the scan as soon as possible, but that they were waiting for the radiographer to come into work, as the CT department was closed at night and no-one was on duty to operate it the scanner. I must have reacted with panic, because I remember the doctor telling me that the radiographer was ‘on call’ and lived very close to the hospital, so wouldn’t take long to get there. He reassured me that they had contacted her and that she was already on her way.

Surreal

I can’t remember any other conversations at this point. Looking back, all I can picture is the staff in Marc’s room readying him to go down for the scan, in the middle of the night. Sorting him out so that all his IV lines and the drugs could be transported with him.  It was a very surreal experience. Claire kept me constantly informed of what they were doing, and reassured me that I would be able to go down with him to the scanning department. She then told me that after the scan Marc was not coming back to the ward, but instead being admitted to ITU, the Intensive Therapy Unit or Intensive Care, because of how sick he was. I’m not sure if this reassured me or increased my concern.

Soon after that point a porter in a blue uniform arrived and we set off: Marc being wheeled on a bed, the Irish doctor, the two trauma specialists and possibly some others, out of the ward and down the corridor towards the patient lift. I know there were ward nurses who stayed behind, and I suppose they went on to tidy up and probably heave a huge sigh of relief that their part in the trauma was over. I imagine they went home to their families and told their colleagues the next day of how chaotic and dramatic their usually quiet night shift had been.

As I stepped into the patient lift surrounded by strangers, I envied them. I imagined the great sense of peace which must have fallen once Marc’s trolley had left. I wished I could remain behind and feel like my part in the emergency was over too. But it wasn’t.

Mounting Terror

I struggled to understand what was being said to me, partly because I was still half asleep and partly because things had seemed so much better before I had gone to bed. It seemed difficult to comprehend how things could go from a state of being ‘fine’ to one of dire emergency in a mere four hours. But clearly they could.

I have heard that sometimes, when people are seriously ill, they become suddenly brighter or better, and ‘pick up’ a little just before they become severely ill or die. I have no scientific proof of this. No medical evidence or expert knowledge to support it. But looking back, it seems like this is perhaps what happened to Marc. He had gone from being really ‘out of it’ during the afternoon to seeming so improved by bedtime, to both myself and the nursing staff, that it seemed completely surreal that he had now gone so far the other way that I needed to be there at two in the morning.

No protocol

I must have sounded panicked. I know stuttered something about having two children asleep in the house with me and no one available to take care of them. I remember my mind racing as I tried to take in what was happening and work out the logistics of the situation. Crazy thoughts went through my head, like could I leave the children alone while I popped to the hospital? (Ridiculous.) Did I need to wake them up and take them with me? (Also pretty ridiculous.) None of these thoughts were sensible, but there is no protocol on how to act in that kind of a situation. The nurse on the other end of the line calmly asked who I could call to come and look after them. I know she told me to calm down and not to panic. She then repeated that I needed to find someone first, and then come to the hospital as quickly as I could.

My mounting terror threatened to overwhelm me as I realised they would not have called me at two in the morning, knowing I had children in the house, unless it was very, very serious. I hung up the phone after agreeing I would find a babysitter and then drive to the hospital. Shaking, I dialled Marc’s mum’s number. She answered pretty quickly (she doesn’t sleep very well). I think I just briefly explained that the hospital had called, Marc was very ill and I needed someone to take care of the children. She said she was on her way and we hung up. The entire conversation can’t have lasted longer than a minute.

Seeking reassurance

Next I automatically dialled my own parents’ number. They took longer to get to the phone. I needed to hear their voices and feel reassured, but in this case they were as much at sea as I was and not sure what to do either. Once they established that Marc’s mum was on her way, they told me to go to the hospital and call them once I was clearer about Marc’s condition. Looking back, my dad says he doesn’t know why he didn’t just get in the car straight away, but I think we were all in such shock that no one really knew how to react.

I got dressed and may have brushed my teeth. I grabbed a bottle of water, car keys and phone and checked that the children were still sleeping. Wishing I was too, I went downstairs and stood on the driveway, unsure of what to do next. We have several neighbours who we know fairly well. Our next door neighbour is a pensioner and I had no wish to give her the fright of her life by banging on her door at 2am. The other side were an option, and our neighbours across the road even more so, as we probably know them the best. I stood on the drive in agony. Shivering (with shock, as it wasn’t cold) and indecisive. Should I wake someone up?

I decided I couldn’t. Stupid, looking back. Any one of them would have been more than happy to help after getting over the initial shock of being woken up so late. I think it’s a sad state of affairs nowadays, when we know our neighbours so little that we feel unable to ask for their help when we most need it. Or perhaps it is a fault of my own personality. I don’t like to rock the boat, cause trouble, be impolite or upset anyone. So I stood on the driveway for what seemed like an eternity, willing Marc’s mum to hurry up, knowing that she would be hating the drive (she dislikes driving at the best of times, but definitely in the dark), desperate to know how Marc was, yet at the same time wanting to crawl right back into bed and refuse to deal with the reality that was facing me.

Ghosts

Eventually headlights spilled down the street and Marc’s mum arrived. We passed each other like ghosts, knowing the phone call in the middle of the night meant nothing good. I told her I would call when I knew anything. She went into the house. I got into the car and drove.

The roads were quiet and the trip to the hospital took far less time than it had done earlier that day when I had driven there at rush hour. I realised with a start that this would be my third visit to the hospital that day and the fifth that week, after years of our only contact with the hospital being the single occasion when I gave birth to my daughter there. I worried about crazy things like whether I had enough cash to pay for the car park.

Have you ever been in a situation in adulthood where all you have wanted was for someone else to take charge? I was dreading what I would find when I got to the hospital. It felt like arranging for childcare, getting ready and waiting for Marc’s mum to arrive had taken forever. In reality it was probably around twenty five minutes. But what could have happened in that time?

Deserted

Reaching the hospital entrance I was struck by how deserted and eerie the place seemed at night. There were barely any cars on the usually jam-packed car park.  I debated how much money to put in the machine. £3 for three hours. £5 for twenty four. Having no idea how long I would be required to stay, I opted for £5, just in case. Later one of the nurses was incredulous that I had taken the time to pay for the carpark. I don’t know why I did. I think I was just going through the motions, doing what I would have done under normal circumstances, despite the fact that circumstances were about as far from normal as they could ever be.

The sound of my coins rattling through the pay machine seemed to echo loudly enough to wake anyone in the surrounding area. I winced at the noise. I walked across to the hospital’s main entrance to find it locked and only then remembered that the nurse on the phone had said to come in through the Accident and Emergency Department. I think in the end I went in through the ambulance entrance.

Running away

Inside, the hospital was even more deserted and frightening. I avoided the busier waiting area of A & E and the rest of the hospital corridors were silent and echoed with my footsteps. I managed to remember my way to the ward where Marc was, my feet feeling heavier with every pace I took in that direction. If there had been any kind of choice at that point to run away and not face whatever was coming, I would have taken it.

Instead, I focused on placing one foot in front of the other until I reached the darkened ward. Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door with no idea what I was going to find on the other side.

A Brave Face

After leaving the hospital I went to collect the children from after school club. I must have fed them somehow, though I can’t remember whether we went home for a snack or whether I resorted to McDonalds. Either way, we set off for what would be the last visit they had with their dad for the next four weeks. None of us knew this at the time, obviously. I am of the definite opinion that the ability to see into the future could never be a good thing. I have no idea if I would have coped had I known what was in store for us all.

The evening visit was actually marginally better than that afternoon had been. Marc seemed more ‘with it’, although I think the previous dose of morphine had worn off somewhat, and he was able to make more sense than he had done previously. We were told that, in addition to using the hand sanitiser on the way in, we had to wear aprons and gloves to go in and see him, to avoid catching or passing on any infection. In the afternoon I hadn’t been asked to wear either, so it seemed a little odd to be doing it now. Anyway, we went ahead with it and at least it provided a little distraction for the children, who found the huge adult-sized aprons hilarious and spent around ten minutes trying to adjust them so they didn’t trip over at every opportunity.

Needing distraction

I may have brought in something with me for the children to do. Hospital visiting is stressful and dull enough for adults, but for a four and seven year old it is almost torture. After spending a few minutes asking what all the strange equipment in the room was for, opening and closing the little locker which held all Daddy’s things, moving the stand holding the drip without realising that it was attached to his arm (and being shouted at for doing so) and giggling at the seat-which turned-into-a-toilet, they became bored pretty quickly and needed to be distracted.

We met a few nurses who were popping in and out to change the drip and remove some of the general detritus from the day (a tray of uneaten food was the thing which concerned me the most). They were friendly, which made for a bit of a diversion, but generally most of my time that visit was spent trying to keep the children from running riot in the room of a man who was in pain and didn’t really need two cooped-up children disturbing him.

Full of questions

Marc seemed brighter. I have no real idea why. It may have been that seeing the children cheered him up, or that he was putting on a brave face for them that he hadn’t managed for me alone. Either way, when we left just before the hour was up, he seemed much more able to answer questions. The cheeriness of the nurses surrounding the ward, coupled with the fact that there were far more people at evening visiting so the hospital seemed a more bustling and cheerful place, I felt a little better.

We left Marc with the promise of visiting again tomorrow, although I was already wondering whether I could get a babysitter and come alone, to avoid having to be concerned about the children being bored for the whole hour. Perhaps, I thought, he might actually be well enough to come home and there would be no reason for visiting. We said goodbye and left the hospital, the children relieved to be leaving but full of more questions about the people we had met, the aprons, the equipment and hospitals in general. It seemed to them like the evening’s visit had been a bit of an adventure, out of the ordinary and fairly interesting, but not upsetting at all. They definitely didn’t seem to realise that anything very serious was the matter, or that they might have to visit Daddy again.

The usual routine

When I got home I went about the usual routine, minus Marc. I had cancelled the rehearsal for a play I was directing with the promise that, by Thursday, I would be ok to block Act One Scene Three, as Marc would surely be home by then. My parents had just arrived home from their holiday, so once the children were in bed I called and spoke to them for a while, letting them know the situation with Marc and asking how their holiday had been. I don’t remember a lot about the conversation, except their surprise that Marc was actually in hospital, and the fact that my mum had come home from holiday with a pretty bad cough / chest infection which she felt quite run down. The conversation ended and I promised I would keep them updated about Marc the next day.

I must have sent Marc’s mum a text to let her know how he was. I don’t think I spoke to her: she had been at work that day and as she works very long days I know she is always shattered when she gets home. I tried to fill her in on the facts without worrying her, and repeated that I would fill her in the next day when I knew more. In conversations since then, she has said that she wasn’t especially worried at this point. She was a little concerned at her son being in the hospital, but hadn’t suspected that he needed anything more than rest and fluids to get him back to normal. I think my own perspective, being the only adult at close quarters for the duration of his illness, was more realistic, but I could only see this as I was witnessing everything first-hand.

He’s fine!

My final communication of the evening before going to bed was with the ward which Marc was on. At around ten pm I called them, asking for an update as I had been told I was welcome to do. I have since learnt that news you receive on the phone from a ward at any given time is completely dependent on who you speak to, and with no prior knowledge of the ward staff, I spoke to whoever answered the phone. To this day I have no idea who it was, but I suspect that it was not a nurse, but a Health Care Assistant who knew little of Marc’s case.

I asked how he was. The woman I spoke to, once she had established who I was asking for, said that he was fine, much better. She even tried to bring him to the phone to speak to me, since his single isolation room was almost next to the nurse’s station where the phone is. I don’t remember actually getting much out of him, but I do remember the woman’s final words to me.

“Oh he’s fine.” she said. “So much better than he was earlier!”

I took this as a good sign and felt comforted, on climbing into bed alone, that he was finally on the mend. I turned off the light and went to sleep, feeling comforted that perhaps he would be home in the next couple of days, and that the nightmare was almost over.

At 2am I was woken by the phone.

I struggled into consciousness and groped for the bedside light. By the time I had answered it, the line had gone dead. I found my glasses and put them on, trying to come to and work out what was going on. The phone rang again. This time I made it. The voice on the end had only a brief message:

“Is that Mrs Littlemore? This is Warrington hospital. Your husband has become very ill. He’s really struggling. The crash team are with him now. You need to come.”

Comfortably Numb

I don’t remember a lot about that evening. It was a Monday, which meant no clubs for the children – it’s our one free night where there is no Beavers, football, swimming, taekwondo, ballet… I must have collected the children from after school club and explained to them that Daddy was in hospital where the doctors could keep a close eye on him. I think I tried hard to reassure them that it was all going to be ok. But to them ‘hospital’ meant nothing. They accepted what I said completely and without question: Daddy was being looked after and would be home with us again soon.

Children have no option but to accept what they are told. Their main source of knowledge is their parents and if they are told by them that chocolate tastes disgusting and have no one contradict this fact, they will believe it. I’m a great believer in telling children the truth and explaining things properly to them, not babying them or sugar-coating the facts. I probably spent a long time that evening explaining that Marc was weak from not eating for days. Telling them about the drip the doctors had put him on, which was restoring him to health. I’m not sure how much they took in, but I do know that neither of them got upset, as I thought they might. I said Daddy was away for a couple of days and would be back good as new very soon. They simply accepted it.

I wasn’t so sure.

I got up the next day and took the children to Link Club before school. This was usually Marc’s job, but that day I took them for the first time ever. I called work and told them I was coming in, but might be a bit late, due to having to drop off the children. I also asked if I could leave early (I had a free period towards the end of the day anyway) and go to visit Marc in the hospital. Colleagues asked why I was coming in at all, but to me, staying off would have been like admitting that something was seriously wrong, and I didn’t want to do that. Also, being in work would take my mind off Marc for the time being, and I welcomed that.

Shocked

I taught all day, although I’m not sure how well, and spoke to a couple of friends at work about Marc. Most of them were shocked that he was in hospital. I remember playing it down, again refusing to give my fears credit. Instead, I constantly repeated the mantra: he was only there to have fluids. He would be home again soon, right as rain, in a couple of days. How wrong I was.

I left work around lunchtime and drove straight to the hospital. Visiting time was something like 3-4pm, and I managed to get there in time to spend the whole hour with him. And what an hour it was. I had hoped that I would find him sitting up in bed, with more colour, telling me that the fluids had done their job and he was on the road to recovery now.

Severe pain

Instead I faced a man who still had constant sickness, though he hadn’t eaten anything to actually throw up any more. A man with a bedside commode which he was using because he didn’t have the strength to get to and from the toilet further down the ward, and because the staff didn’t want him infecting anyone else with his mystery illness. A man who was on morphine.

Morphine. Now I’m not a medical person, and my first thought when Marc told me that he was on morphine was that it was used as a painkiller when people were dying and there was nothing that could be done other than to reduce pain levels and make them comfortable. This was terrifying. I didn’t really understand at the time that morphine was used as a painkiller after operations or when someone’s pain required a stronger drug. The one thing I was sure of was that morphine was powerful, which had to mean that Marc’s pain was severe.

Hallucinating

It also made him have a form of hallucination where he believed things that were blatantly not true. That couldn’t be true. But he was utterly convinced that they were. He spoke to me half way through the visit about the child of a friend of ours, a boy just a few months younger than our own son. He was convinced, he told me, that he had been in a terrible road accident and was seriously injured or dying. I have no idea where he got this from, and to this day don’t really understand it, but he was so convinced that it was true.

He insisted quite forcibly that I get on the internet and Google the child’s name, and only when I had shown him that there were no reported accidents on the news websites of this terrible crash, would he let it rest. This was extremely odd behaviour, and coupled with the fact that he was occasionally still being sick and could not tell me what the doctors had said to him, made my concern increase. He couldn’t tell me anything, other than the fact that the doctors had decided to keep administering fluids and to give him morphine for the pain. He didn’t seem to have any idea how long they thought he would be in, or what was wrong.

Making themselves scarce

The frustrating thing about visiting time is that the doctors are not present on the wards, having done their rounds prior to visiting, and the nurses also make themselves scarce. They do this to allow families spend time with their loved ones without interruption, and probably to have a quiet hour where they can catch up on paperwork and perhaps have a cup of tea and a little peace. General wards are hugely understaffed – usually one nurse is in charge of two bays of patients with six patients in each. Twelve people. That’s a lot for one person to take care of. So any ‘down’ time they might get is hugely appreciated. And actually I don’t believe for a minute that they sit with their feet up drinking a cuppa during visiting hours.

Why am I telling you this? Well because that day I needed to speak to someone. A nurse. A doctor. Anyone who might fill me in on what was actually wrong with my husband. But there was no one to be found. I was determined not to leave without speaking to someone, as my worry was quickly turning to fear. Eventually I found one of the Health Care Assistants, who pointed me in the direction of the ward sister.

I found her attending to a patient at the other end of the ward and had to wait about another fifteen minutes until she was finished and could talk to me. I explained who I was and asked what the diagnosis was for Marc. She took me to one side and basically said that he had been in a lot of pain, hence the morphine, and that he had a constant temperature, but that despite sending off bloods for investigation, the doctors still had no idea what was the matter with him.

Fear began to turn to terror as I realised that the medical staff at the hospital (the ones I had had faith would know what to do to help Marc) were actually completely stumped as to the cause of his illness. The look on the sister’s face was not comforting. She clearly didn’t want to alarm me, but her expression showed me how concerned she was that she had a very sick man on her ward with no real explanation why. She almost looked as though she pitied me. I asked what would happen next, and she didn’t really have an answer.

Listless

I felt guilty taking up so much of her time and also worried that I was still on the ward long after visiting time was finished. Not knowing what else to do, I told the sister that I would return for evening visiting at 6 and bring the children with me. She managed a weak smile as I left but it didn’t give me much comfort. As I passed the door to Marc’s little room I could see him, pale and sweaty, lying listlessly on the bed. I think I tried to wave at him but can’t remember if I got a response.

For the second time in two days I walked away feeling as though I was abandoning him. The situation was beginning to feel nightmarish: I just couldn’t see where this was all going and felt extremely helpless. Thoughts crowded my head as I left, all jostling for pole position.

You can’t treat an illness you don’t understand. If the doctors didn’t know what it was, how were they going to manage to treat him for it?

Difficult to admit

That day felt like the longest day ever. We sat for an hour in A&E waiting to be seen. To be fair to the staff at the hospital, it was only an hour – like I said the doctor’s letter went a long way towards cutting our waiting time. But Marc was in such a bad way that by the time his name was called I was ready to scream.

He saw the triage nurse first, who took his temperature, blood pressure and did some other preliminary tests. I can’t actually remember what they all were, I just remember her asking what was the matter, and reading the doctor’s letter. She seemed to be taking us seriously, and I again felt vindicated: we weren’t making a fuss over nothing. He was ill!

Imposter’s Syndrome

I have often thought that both Marc and myself suffer from Imposter’s Syndrome. Good old Wikipedia definition? “Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds.” In our case at the hospital, we felt as though people wouldn’t believe that Marc’s illness was genuine. We worried that someone might challenge us, express doubt at our appearing in A&E on a Monday morning with a simple case of gastroenteritis.

One doctor did actually ask, almost accusingly, why we had come to A&E with a stomach bug. As he examined Marc he couldn’t seem to find anything which suggested that Marc had anything other than sickness and diarrhoea. I think the only reason he admitted Marc was to administer fluids, as he could see that he was weak. Whatever the reason, I’m glad that despite his doubts he saw fit to find him a bed.

Grateful for the privacy

It wasn’t an easy day though. Firstly, and I believe this was the reason for the accusatory question, if Marc had a stomach bug then it was probably contagious and we were in a hospital full of sick people. Sick people who didn’t need to catch a stomach bug. So we were bundled into a private space at the rear of the A&E department. A tiny room with no windows which was separated from the rest of the beds in A&E by a wall and a door. It had its own bathroom and I remember at first feeling grateful for the privacy, until I realised they were keeping us away from the other patients.

Marc lay on a trolley-style bed which was far too short for his 6 foot frame. He was in pain and needed to lie down, but the bed was not comfortable and I remember him constantly moving around trying to find a position in which he could feel at ease. The doctor who examined Marc was very over-cautious, wearing a face mask and an apron. It made me feel guilty, like we had contracted some horrendous disease and were purposefully trying to spread it around the hospital. I think the doctor was probably just following protocol, but at the time it seemed very clinical and only added to my fear.

Waiting for a bed

The nurses were less judgemental, and far more sympathetic to Marc’s pain and my increasing sense of anxiety. They introduced themselves and came to check on Marc as often as they could. However, far from hospital proving to be the answer to everything, so far it had been stressful and tiring. It also seemed lonely. In between the short visits from various nurses to check on Marc, there was no one around and nothing to distract us from the pain he was suffering from. Someone set up a drip and Marc began to receive the fluids I was hoping so desperately would help him, and they may have given him some painkillers too. We were told he would be admitted, but they were waiting for a bed. It took longer because they needed a bed which was isolated – in a room on its own – so that Marc couldn’t infect anyone else.

Eventually I left the hospital to go home and gather some things for him. If he was staying, he would need an overnight bag. Again I was torn by a desperation to leave the tiny, quiet room where there was no one but myself, an increasingly sick man and the feeling that I might be going mad, and the relief I felt at being able to leave the hospital, even for just a little while.

A complete blur

I went home and packed Marc a bag. I can’t really remember what else happened. I must have done all this before the children needed collecting from school. Or perhaps I arranged for Marc’s mum to get them. I honestly don’t know. A lot of it is a blur, but I remember driving back in to see Marc to find he was about to be moved as a bed had become available. I suppose this was some time around mid-afternoon. Marc seemed no different really. He did speak to me and was still on the drip, but I don’t recall us having a particularly detailed conversation. I think it mostly consisted of me trying to reassure us both that now he had the fluids and a room for the night where medical staff could keep an eye on him, everything would be ok.

After another short wait in the room-from-hell, a porter came with a trolley and transferred Marc on to it. I followed with the bags as he wheeled Marc along corridors and into a lift. We trundled along, attempting to make small talk and joke with the porter, and a short time later arrived in a general ward where Marc was settled into a bed in a small single room. I made sure he had everything he needed unpacked and tried to make him comfortable before leaving to get the children.

At around 4pm, with the visiting hours for the ward clutched in my hand, I left for home. I walked back slowly back to the car, unable to shake the feeling that with every step away from the hospital I was abandoning him.

Waiting

The hospital is not far from our house – around 15 minutes with no traffic. It shouldn’t have been a difficult journey really. Marc and I went home from the doctors and gathered a few things (well I gathered a few things – he was incapable of doing much at all). We spoke to Marc’s mum, who had come over to see how he was. I tried to reassure her that the hospital was what he needed and things would get better once he was treated there. Then we set off.

Speed bumps

I remember every speed bump caused Marc pain. It sounds ridiculous, but there are several along our road, and even driving at the pace of a snail made him cry out. He didn’t speak much, just moaned every now and then. I think I tried to chat to him, reassuring him that the hospital was where he needed to be, and once we got there things would be sorted out quickly, so he would feel better and we could bring him home. I think I was more trying to reassure myself. This man slumped in the car-seat next to me was not my husband. He was in agony and there was little I could do to help him.

Reaching the hospital, I paid for the car park and we got ready to walk to Accident and Emergency. It wasn’t far, maybe a minute’s walk from the car park, and I didn’t for a moment consider parking up outside on the double yellow lines or in the ambulance bay. When Marc tried to get out of the car however, I did consider going to ask if there was a wheelchair I could use. I mentioned this to him and he dismissed the idea, typically. Instead, I supported him under his arm and together we limped towards the emergency department.

I called work at some point. Part of me felt bad that I wasn’t going to make it in that day. The other part felt relieved – that my taking the morning off to drive Marc to the doctor was vindicated – there was something serious wrong with him! Then I just started worrying again, wishing so badly that there was nothing wrong with him, or that the doctor knew exactly what it was and had acted to sort Marc out with an injection or a course of antibiotics. Not knowing was infinitely more terrifying.

Naive

The more I deal with doctors, the more I realise how naive my expectations of medical experts were before all this. I have the utmost respect for the staff of the NHS. They were there when we needed them. They saved Marc’s life.  But I think I used to believe that doctors were an authority on everything and could solve all problems. That they could somehow diagnose an illness or condition and would know what to do.

Now I know differently.

Every doctor wants the best for their patient. But sometimes all they can do is consider the symptoms and make a best guess at what is wrong. They can treat the patient for whatever they believe is the problem. And if this doesn’t work, they can look again and try something different. But they do not always know what is wrong. Some illnesses are very hard to spot.

On that day, no-one knew what was wrong with Marc.

Struggling

We entered A&E and I left Marc to go and speak to the receptionist. If I had thought he was struggling to walk at the doctors earlier, I had seen nothing yet. As I let go of his arm he staggered – literally staggered – and I thought he was going to hit the deck. Several people reacted with surprise at this staggering, stumbling man. Perhaps they thought he was drunk. Whatever they thought, I had to hurry back to his side and assist him into a chair before returning to the reception desk.

I spoke to the woman, glad of the letter we had been given by our doctor, which seemed to move us up the waiting list. She noted Marc’s details, then asked me to take a seat and wait to be called. I went outside briefly and sent a text to a friend of mine whose husband worked in the hospital. He wasn’t medical, but I knew he might have some influence over the staff and the situation in A&E. I had never asked for special treatment before this, but that day I was willing to do anything – literally anything – to have Marc seen by someone who might help him as soon as possible.

The concern of friends

When she got back to me it was to say that he didn’t really have any influence over A&E any more, as his job had changed. She expressed her concern and asked me to let her know how Marc was later. I remember desperately wanting to speak to my parents and realising with devastation that I couldn’t because they were abroad on holiday. I dreaded going back in to see Marc, fearful that he would be worse, but also didn’t want to leave him for long, as I knew he needed me.

Taking a very deep breath, I walked back inside the A&E department. We continued to wait.

Hospital-bound

So, that first weekend. I can’t recall many of the details, but suffice to say, it was miserable.

I had my first taste of running the house and getting both children to their clubs and back, whilst looking after a sick husband completely on my own. This was to become very familiar over the coming months, but up until this point was completely alien to me.

Marc and I are a very equal couple. We each share in the majority of the household jobs and there are very few ‘stereotypical’ traits to our relationship. Marc, for example, is a brilliant cook, and if I’m honest, although I am perfectly capable of cooking, I’m a little lazy. It’s very easy to leave Marc to cook, and know that the result will not be an easy fish fingers and chips, or some kind of pasta sauce out of a jar, but a delicious, home cooked meal. Equally, I’m not especially ‘girly’ and am quite happy (unlike many women I know)to get ready for an evening out in around twenty minutes. Mind you, as many of you will know, once you have children you never have more than twenty minutes to get ready for a night out!

A wreck

So having to take care of everything came as quite a shock to me. I know that sounds spoilt – I’m well aware that many women out there always do absolutely everything in terms of the children, but I wasn’t used to it at all. Add to that trying to care for a man who was quite seriously ill, plus worrying myself sick about why he wasn’t getting any better, and I was a bit of a wreck by the time Sunday arrived.

But on Sunday morning Marc seemed to improve slightly. He managed to eat a small amount and was more ‘with it’ when I asked about how he was feeling. Looking back, he clearly can’t have been much better. I think perhaps between us it was just wishful thinking that he was starting to get better. We were still making the presumption that it was a simple sickness bug, and most people would be well on the way to recovery once this kind of illness had lasted 3 days. So surely, we reasoned, Marc would get better soon.

I took the children to swimming lessons, an activity which lasts all morning due to one lesson being at 10am and the other at 11.30. I sat and did homework with each child while the other was in the pool, all the time hoping against hope that when we got back Marc would be sitting up in bed or better still, downstairs on the sofa eating some toast or soup.

No fuss

He was still in bed. He had been sick again and seemed very weak. I determined that if he didn’t improve by the Monday morning, we were going back to the doctor and not taking no for an answer. He continued to insist (as he does – never wanting fuss and always worrying if he thinks he is causing anyone too much trouble) that he would be fine and up and about by the morning.

I continued with the day as best I could, packing bags up for school, signing homework and reading diaries, putting the children to bed and preparing myself for work the following day. Periodically I checked on Marc, desperately hoping that there would be an improvement, something which would stop the nagging ache in my stomach which I knew was linked to my concern for him. At around 11pm I went to bed.

Neither of us slept particularly well. In the morning I rang for a doctor’s appointment, dropped the children off at breakfast club and called work to tell them I might be in later, but not first thing. I was taking Marc to the doctors. Now, like Marc, I don’t like to cause trouble. I felt incredibly guilty ringing in and saying the reason for my absence was accompanying Marc to the doctor. Here was yet another sign that it was more serious than we were admitting, because no one takes the morning off to drive their 43 year old husband to the doctor’s surgery. But am I glad I did.

Extremely sick

As we entered the surgery I was concerned that Marc wouldn’t even make it into a chair. He looked so weak I feared he might fall over. I reported in with the receptionist and took a seat next to Marc. Other patients in the waiting room looked quite concerned at inhabiting the same space as him, so he must have looked bad. The man we sat next to actually stood up and moved away on the pretence of reading some leaflets, but I’m convinced that Marc looked so ill people were terrified he had something they might catch and wanted to put distance between themselves and this extremely sick-looking man.

We spent a long time in the waiting room. It seemed like forever. Every moment Marc sank lower in his seat and it was clear to me that all he wanted to do was crawl back into bed and stay there. The waiting room cleared a little and eventually the man who had moved away from Marc began speaking to us. I remember him asking what was wrong with Marc and when we explained that we had been in to see the doctor on the Friday he proceeded to tell us a horror story about someone he knew who had been suffering from a serious illness which the doctor has missed. Not what we wanted to hear at that point. Eventually Marc’s name was called and we knocked on the doctor’s door.

This time we saw a different doctor. A locum who was filling in. My heart sank as I realised that it was not our usual doctor, not the doctor who had seen us on the Friday, and I was terrified that again we wouldn’t be taken very seriously. Thankfully I was wrong. The doctor examined Marc very closely, asked  us lots of questions about his condition and made him lie on the bed where he proceeded to press on Marc’s stomach.

Marc yelled the place down.

Newly qualified

I later found out that the doctor was newly qualified. This made him less experienced, but worked in our favour. It meant he was massively thorough and asked every question going to make sure he didn’t miss anything. It also meant that he had only recently completed his medical training in a hospital. He told us that he had previously examined patients with stomach and bowel problems and he wasn’t happy with Marc’s condition. He could send of a sample of faeces but this was likely to take at least 3 days to come back from the lab and, in the meantime, the complaint had been going on for too long.

I am convinced that the decision he made saved Marc’s life.

He suggested we go straight to Accident and Emergency. He would give us a letter which would allow us to take priority and be seen more quickly than less serious patients. He asked if we wanted him to send for an ambulance. I remember being so happy that he actually had taken us seriously and was taking some action. We refused the ambulance, not wanting to take up an emergency vehicle when someone else might need it. We took the letter, drove home and packed a few things to take with us to the hospital.

Dizzy and weak

I had spoken to quite a few people over the weekend who had reassured me that sometimes a severe stomach bug weakened the body and the lack of fluids would be causing Marc to feel dizzy and weak. I set off for the hospital feeling that, once he was seen and given some IV fluids he would be restored and strong enough to get over the bug more quickly. I felt sure that, now we were headed for the hospital, we would be in the right place and things would begin to improve.

How wrong I was.