I'm a little numb to be writing this; I'm still trying to summon up the will to finish writing what's become the world's longest summer holiday blog-post, when this has happened:
At eight o'clock last night, my mother was taken to Intensive Care where a tube was put down her throat, and lines were inserted into her neck to keep her alive. She's now unconscious, having been fairly alert in hospital for the last two weeks. In fact she's been in and out of hospital for the last two years so we're all used to it. We thought this was just another bump in the road.
Mum suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and has been in a wheelchair for at least twenty years. The net effect of this has been the atrophying of her legs. They don't do anything anymore except gain fluid and over time, this has caused complications.
When she was first diagnosed back in the Eighties, she tried everything to beat it and walk again. She flew to Germany to meet a doctor who was working on pioneering research that as far as I recall, went nowhere. She had all her fillings removed and replaced with a substance that was supposed to be better for her. And she had surgery to insert a kind of electrical widget into her body to trigger her nerves back to life. But nothing worked and she concentrated instead on trying to live as normal a life as possible.
But it wasn't easy. Being wheelchair-bound, a simple trip to the shops is a huge undertaking. She needs carers to dress her weeping legs, and a home help to cook meals. Mum hasn't worn shoes for years, and recently, her visits to hospital have increased as complications set in. We took all this as it came; she certainly did. Though it would've been nice if she didn't falter quite so soon after my Dad, her first husband, died last year. The timing was pretty shitty.
Mum always recovered though from the leg infections that started affecting her mind, making her, temporarily at least, babble. It was petrifying to see, but the few antibiotics she wasn't allergic to would kick in and she'd be her normal, chuckling self a few days later, eager to get home to her quiz shows and to her small, fat dog that dotes on her.
So when Mum went back in to hospital of her own volition this time (my sister and I would normally have to insist she go in), we thought it was just another dip. And like I say, a few days later she was the chattiest she's ever been - and then she deteriorated.
Mum looked tired, and stopped eating. She'd started throwing up too; little amounts of stomach acid she's casually retch into a cardboard bowl as there was no actual food in her. And day by day, she got a little worse.
Last night, I did my usual skip out of work an hour earlier and got to the hospital. I was feeling okay til I saw my sister and niece, red-eyed and sobbing, and I panicked. When I parted the curtain around Mum's bed, I saw her with a ventilator mask on. She was panting, and grasping on to the bed rail as if trying to escape. I stepped towards her.
'Mum?' I said, as casually as I could. She looked around trying to focus, and I brought my face to her.
'Hello sweetie, are you okay?' I asked as I kissed her forehead.
Mum mumbled something. It was short and urgent, and her eyes widened as if compelled to by a brief, terrifying moment of lucidity.
'Love you,' Mum panted.
'I love you too, Mum,' I said. I was proud of how casual I sounded.
'Love you,' she panted again. There was panic in her voice, and I hyperventilated as I stepped away from her bed.
This shouldn't be happening. I wasn't ready. We weren't ready. And I'd still done bugger-all with my life to make her proud.
A nurse approached and said she needed to go to Intensive Care. I kept it together, and nodded like a fucking pro. Mum would've been proud of that. In fact, over the last year, she'd started to listen to me more and would even defer to whatever I told her to do. She even listened to me over the opinion of my stepfather who didn't want her to go to hospital at all. And the responsibility unnerved me.
'She needs an operation on her bowel,' a sober-looking man told me, 'but she's weak. She has sepsis. She won't survive it so we need to stabilize her as much as possible first.'
My sister came running over. 'Please save my mummy; don't let her die.'
The doctor gave a half-smile and cringed while I nodded some more. 'Don't worry,' I said, 'No pressure. Okay.'
When the doctor left, I walked into the corridor to call my step-father. Despite it all, he still had no idea his wife was dying.
'Please come in to the hospital now,' I said.
'I've been!' he told me cheerfully. 'I went this afternoon. Shame. She looks very poor.'
'No,' I replied as something gripped hold of my throat and made the words squeeze out like they were caught in a vice, 'She's... really... not well'
And then we waited. I had small windows of tearfulness, but there was a glimmer of hope while she was alive. Mum always told me to never give up on hope; if there was any hope anywhere, it had to be clung on to - though I did have the dual loop in my head of General Melchett in Blackadder IV: "If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through."
We spotted my step-father stagger in to the hospital and head to the ward my mother was no longer in, and my niece ran to get him. We gathered round and said as calmly as we could that Mum was going to Intensive Care to be stabilized for an op, but her chances weren't good. We'd been warned that her age and her many complications all went against her.
'Oh dear,' my step-father said.
As we headed up to the relatives' waiting room adjoining Intensive Care, my head was killing me from stress, emotion, and not the greatest amount of sleep the night before. We couldn't see Mum yet, as there'd been a struggle to set her up to the ventilator and feed wires into her body. All we could do was sit and wait and think, and stare at the NHS posters plastered all over the walls that we read without taking them in. After an hour, my step-father's children turned up and sat down next to him.
'Oh dear,' he said again and started to cry, which set me and my sister off as we've never seen him cry before.
Two more hours passed. A surgeon appeared with a team, and said more of the same things with a somber tone. She's very, very ill. She needs surgery, but the scar tissue from earlier operations over the years were causing them concern. She's not even well enough to get the scan she needs to work out their next move. But we could see her soon.
It was midnight when a nurse ushered us in. My stepfather had already gone home. He didn't want to see her in that state. I didn't either, but my sister was adamant that she was going to see her and there was talk that Mum might even be able to hear us, at least in theory, as she was only mildly sedated.
We walked in to a hospital cliche. The machine next to our mother gave a gentle, rhythmic beep and the lights all around us were off, apart from a strong beam that lit up her gaunt face. Her mouth was open with a tube in it, and a clamp around her cheeks meant I only had room to brush a finger against her temple.
'Love you,' was all I could say, this time no longer sounding calm. My sister by comparison wouldn't shut up.
'Stay strong,' she said. 'Fight this. Get strong enough for surgery,' and I had to leave. I was so paranoid that I feared in my mother's fragile state, my sister might be putting undue pressure on her even if it was anyone's guess that she could hear us.
And then we were sent back to the relatives' room where I realised I couldn't take it any longer. I was exhausted and decided to go home, where I was thrilled to see my cat had shat all over my carpet.