My phone rang yesterday morning. It was the hospital.
“Dont worry! It’s all fine” the concerned nurse reassured me. “Melanie is awake and we’ve used a word board and although its very difficult for her she’s pointed to specific words. She’s ‘asked’ for you and William to visit!”
Melanie’s mum and dad are hugging each other. Melanie had suffered a Cardiac Arrest on the street a few days earlier and colleagues, passers by, Firefighters and Paramedics fought desperately to keep her alive, delivering CPR and multiple defibrillator shocks to try to sustain life. It had been fraught and challenging for all of them.
Melanie’s sister comes in to the hospital with William and me. The wee lad was excited.
Melanie is understandably confused but comprehends what is said. The nurse takes me aside and warns me that she is very emotional, and it’s a concern for them, as it is very draining. Everything is happening in slow motion, Melanie acts as if her skin has changed into lead and each movement is an effort. She sees William and her face lights up. He’s a star, climbs on the bed and makes a fuss and then decides that mummy would like to see a game on the iPad so shows her that, but then gets a wee bit sidetracked. The reality of her situation is gradually dawning on Melanie and she is desperately emotional, still trying to understand whats transpired and the effect its had on her. The tracheostomy makes it impossible to speak but she moves her lips to try anyway. Its all too taxing so I leave with William so that he can go to play with his pals, and Melanie’s sister stays.
In the world of a 5 year old, a lift is a magical thing. It’s the second best thing about visiting mummy. “Can I press the buttons daddy..please! PLEASE! Not down the stairs again! In the lift pleeease!”
Outside having inspected the smokers’ corner and remarked on the mess they’ve left with cigarette butts everywhere William dances off down the pavement, content in the way that only a small child can be. His world has shifted slightly but the pieces are all still apparently intact. And the hospital has a lift, and sells ice lollies. And he gets to see his mum.
I returned to the hospital in the evening to say goodnight to Melanie. The nurses are professional, efficient, considerate, concerned for family as well as patients. But they are also human, have emotions and are affected by what they see, and have to deal with. As I scrub the nurse talks to me about the latest development.
“She’s fine, calm, bit of indigestion but nothing serious” her tone professional, direct, but warm.
“It’s common around this time of the month” I offer, smiling. Adding “It’s one of the reasons I’m really really really glad I’m not a woman!” and laughed.
The nurse’s face cracked into a broad smile “Shaving, shaving! You have no idea how glad I am not to be a bloke and have to shave!”
I looked earnestly at her, then stared down at her legs, clad in the regulation blue trousers, then back at her somewhat puzzled face “I’m definitely NOT wanting to see your legs then, you must have some spectacular fur going on under those trousers! It must be as luxuriant as the arm of my fleece jacket” and I rubbed my hand up my sleeve in a cat-stroking gesture.
Her face broke into the broadest of grins, and she spluttered out a laugh she’d not expected to have to use, almost choking, and alarming the other nurses in this otherwise peaceful ward.
I went to Melanie’s bed, She was tearful, then smiling. But tired. I made a fuss, she smiled again. Then her eyes closed. The nurse appeared, with a colleague. She spoke loudly to me so Melanie could hear:
“I’ve got to show you, something, have to reveal it all to you.” Melanie’s eyes opened and the nurse lifted her leg up level with Melanie’s bed so that she could see and with a flourish pulled up her trouser leg to reveal a mass of hair, huge wodges of it tumbling out over her sock! “What do you think of THAT then!”
She had found an old wig, probably used for covering shaved heads, and got her colleague to do some arcane medical procedure to stick it onto her leg!
Melanie laughed in silence, the puff of her ventilator the only sound. Her face lit up into a giant grin, one that happened in such slow motion we got to enjoy it for a long time. Then she slowly closed her eyes and drifted into a slumber.
A trauma ward is traumatic but not just for the patients, a wee bit of lightness and laughter goes a long way to lift everyone, and healing is helped by all sorts of things. Whatever transpires in the difficult weeks ahead of us it helps me to know that humour will play a huge part in it. Because I like to laugh, and so does Melanie.
Thank you NHS. Thank you.
(*NHS – National Health Service)