I can’t believe that she’s gone. I was there when she died.
I’ve seen her dead in her coffin.
We’ve had her funeral, but I still can’t believe that she is not going to burst through the door any moment now saying “YEA! fooled you all. Now which miserable sods didn’t cry or send a card”.
Sunday 20th December. Elaine goes up to bed about 9.30. She’s been on the go all day, as much as depleted energy levels will allow. It looks to me as though she is tying-up loose ends, getting things in order.
She is back downstairs inside an hour.
I say the stupidest thing possible, “You ok?”
“No, I just can’t get comfortable Mark. I feel bloated and my tummy and back have started to hurt like hell. I’m up to date with the pain killers. Just wish they would bloody well start working”.
She is on slow-release morphine based meds’ plus morphine sulfate liquid as a back- up.
Elaine feels thirsty so I make ginger and lemon in hot water, a favourite, but it is hardly touched. Any attempt to eat or drink and she gets awful acid reflux and violent hiccups.
We sit and watch TV for a while. Christ knows what was on, I don’t remember.
Elaine becomes more and more restless. She tries sitting on the stairs, in the kitchen, lying on the floor and back to the sofa. Nothing seems to help her as the pain level creeps upwards.
“You go to bed Mark, I’ll shout if I need something.”
So I go upstairs but sleep and rest elude me entirely. I hear her moving about and after half an hour or so I go back down.
One look tells me this is getting bad. Elaine has never been a complainer but if ever desperation had a face I’m looking at it now.
I suggest more meds but Elaine tells me none is scheduled for another two hours.
“Bollocks to that you can’t put up with this lot, take another 2.5ml now at least.”
She doesn’t take much persuading, so I prepare the syringe and she swallows the sickly sweet liquid and rinses her mouth with the offered water.
We try bed together for a while but the result is the same. Elaine has to keep moving to try and stop the pain from catching up with her.
We’re back downstairs by 1.30.
Time comes round for the slow release meds but over an hour passes with little relief to show for it. Elaine calls the emergency helpline direct to the Hospice and speaks to a nurse who advises another 2.5ml of the liquid. There is concern that Elaine’s medication is not working correctly.
(We find out why later in the week).
It’s difficult for me to express here how utterly helpless I felt. Here was the person who I love more than life itself, yet I could do so little to help her at this wretched hour.
Why do these things always happen in the middle of the fucking night?
When I was in my early teens my mother started to suffer severe asthma attacks. I well remember the look of hopeless desolation on my father’s face as we watched mum fight for breath on so many occasions. We could do little to help and it always seemed to be worse in the early hours.
I knew if I looked in the mirror now I would see my dad.
At 4.30 I ring the Hospice.
“Hello’ yes Mark, my colleague spoke to your wife earlier. She should be having a better response to the pain relief by now. If she were my patient here I would give her another 5ml of the liquid now. It may take up to an hour to kick-in, the only other option is call an ambulance and get her to hospital.”
“I’m afraid so. We can’t take her in tonight. I’ll put her down as an emergency case for the Macmillan nurses, they’ll contact you after nine o’clock in the morning.”
I hang-up. Hospital, A&E no bloody way! We’ve been too many times before.
If Elaine ends up in A&E with all the Covid-19 restrictions I can’t stay with her, she’ll think she’s been abandoned, this next dose just has to work.
She’s sat on the edge of the bed when I go up.
“What did they say?”
“Take another 5ml now, another 2.5 in two hours”.
“Are you sure?”
“If you don’t take it I fucking will, it’s that or A&E.”
This is all the coaxing she needs and the sickly liquid is quickly dispatched.
We sit together on the bed, Elaine takes my hand.
“I can’t continue like this darling, I need to be somewhere where this pain can be controlled”
“That means Hospital or the Hospice”.
“It’s got to be the Hospice. If I go to Hospital I might catch Corona Virus and die. Then the cancer would be so pissed off.”
We both giggle, then sit in silence. Later she goes onto the landing and curls into a ball on her side.
I feel so helpless.
Elaine has the other 2.5ml around 6am and settles sitting upright in bed. She now seems sleepy, also slightly confused. I put it down to the medication and am just grateful we seem to have dodged A&E.
Downstairs I make coffee and leaning on the rail of our Rayburn cooker I look into the mirror above it. My hair is now so grey (when did that happen?) and my skin appears to have a misty morning tone to it, but it’s my eyes that hold the attention. They are completely without any light whatsoever, none from within and none reflected back. Just soulless hollows looking back at a lost soul.
I turn away leaving the glass to its own reflections and pour the coffee. I don’t eat, breakfast is the mouthful of fear I’ve been trying to swallow all night.
I’m back upstairs at 8am. Elaine has been quiet for some time and I find her propped up in bed eyes closed. I’m not sure if she is sleeping but deciding not to disturb her I sneak back downstairs.
The phone rings just after 9am.
“Hello Mark? My names Hazel, I’m one of the Macmillan nurses. Sounds like you’ve had a rough night?”
“Bloody awful Hazel, we can’t do another like it Elaine needs help.”
“You both do Mark. Do you think she would be happy to come into the Hospice?”
“Yes she’ll be ok with that.”
Right, I’ll try and make the arrangements this morning, will call you back after 10.”
Upstairs Elaine is awake.
“Who was it?”
“Hazel, the Macmillan nurse, she’s trying to get you into Forest Holme. She’ll call back after 10.”
“Thank you darling.”
Julie, Elaine’s best friend, is coming round at 10.30 for the traditional Christmas present swap. I ask Elaine if I should cancel, but as always she wants to see Julie very much so the arrangement stands.
At 10.15 Hazel calls to say a final decision on Elaine is yet to be made and she will call back after 11.
Julie arrives a bit late due to a fallen tree blocking the local road. Her smiles disappear as I tell her the situation. She fixes them back when she goes upstairs to see Elaine.
I make tea and Elaine tries some, but 2 sips and the acidy hiccups start again and she leaves the rest. She seems very weak. Julie and I communicate with silent looks.
Hazel calls back shortly after 11.
“Hi Mark, all fixed, Elaine can come in today. They want her here by 1.30 at the latest to start some blood tests. She’s only being admitted for assessment at the moment, not palliative care. Shall I arrange an ambulance?”
“No don’t worry about an ambulance Hazel, I can bring her in myself.” (An idea is forming in my mind).
“Ok Mark if you’re happy to do that fine, but please be here by 1.30.”
“We’ll be there, thank you, Hazel”
“It’s why I’m here, good luck.”
My idea is a slight deviation off the direct route between home and Forest Holme.
I go back upstairs to where Elaine and Julie are now opening presents. They look up as I come in.
“Pack a bag, we’re off to the Hospice.”
To be continued…