My mum is ill. She’s been ill for a year, eating nothing, getting weaker. She didn’t want to bother anyone, because of covid, and she hates a fuss.
This week she couldn’t stand up and could barely breathe, so I decided to overrule her and take her to A&E. We’d picked a bad night, we were told on arrival. We’d face a six hour wait at least.
In fact, having arrived at 8.30pm, I left her at 5am. The night quickly took a nightmarish tinge, a succession of fleeting images, ghoulish, impressionistic, greyish-green under the strip lights.
A handsome young man flanked by policemen, his hands cuffed and dripping blood, looking embarrassed by all the fuss he’d caused.
Another, with learning difficulties, thrown into the night because he’d been medically discharged and they needed his bed, though he whimpered he didn’t know where the bus stop was, nor who to call for help.
Me, trying to wave smelling salts under my nose while keeping my mask in situ, to ward off a fainting fit. A doctor asking if my mother’s diarrhoea was foul smelling, to which she paused in pretend consideration, before replying – “Well….I wouldn’t wear it to a party.”
A young woman with a bruised and bloodied face offering us £1 for a cigarette we didn’t have, and my mum, never one to miss an opportunity in any circumstance, starting to phone her pals to tell them of a nicotine shortage and a potential profit to be made on Ward B. Me, resting against a curtain to update my Onlyfans at 3am while the doctor inserted a canular into my mum and the man opposite screamed that the morphine hadn’t worked. because when else might I get the chance? Bills need paying, however wretched life gets.
The charming nurses, porters, paramedics who all offered mum hospital gowns and blankets every time they passed, refusing to believe this charming posh bird could be happy to sit in public in just her bra. (More than happy. It was a good bra and she was roasting, and never one for modesty).
The evening was exemplified and encapsulated by watching a junior doctor – who can’t have been five foot – struggling to attach a saline drip to a curtain rail with a rubber band, there being no available drip hooks.
Worse, there were no beds. Six hours sitting on a plastic chair in A&E, then a stretcher in the observation room for the examination and life-saving saline. An elderly woman moaned all night that she was too ill to cope with this hospital stay. We had much sympathy with her sentiment, though we willed the moaning to stop.
The peculiar smells and noises sickness bring, and how I ran from them, nauseous and panic-struck, as if death were coming for me. As if I could outrun him.
The kindness of the staff, under the most extraordinary circumstances. Their patience, ability to listen and sympathise, over and over. We came to know our neighbours’ grievances as thoroughly as our own.
And at last, the astonishing kindness of the blood donors whose type A positive flowed into her, bags of it, until her cheeks were warm and pink again, and she demanded coffee and cake.
Such astonishing kindness. I wanted to weep. I did weep, when it was over. I stayed strong until strength wasn’t useful. Strength is easy to find in a crisis. But the patient fortitude needed to face years of it would be utterly beyond me.
To the wonderful workforce at QEQM, who run on rubber bands and a rage of will, and saved my mum this week, you are finer human beings than I’ve any idea how to be.