hospice (noun)….”A home providing care for the sick or terminally ill”.
I first set foot here about eight or nine years ago. Elaine had had a terrible reaction to the chemotherapy drugs and steroids she was then taking.
They de-stabilized her mind causing massive anxiety and horrific panic attacks.
As she gradually got over all this she wanted to have counselling and having seen what her illness had put me through insisted that I go too, though separately from her.
I really didn’t feel that it was necessary for me, but Elaine pulled the “Please do it for my sake” card so my fate was sealed, and an appointment was duly made with Linda.
I clearly remember sitting alone in the waiting room thinking “What the fuck am I going to talk with a complete stranger about for the best part of an hour”.
Linda appeared on time. Middle-aged, slim, neatly dressed with short well cut grey hair and kindly inquisitive eyes.
We went through to the counselling room where I had to fill out a questionnaire about myself. I well remember the one asking “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” –might answer that differently today!
When this was all done we sat facing each other and Linda said, ”Well Mark tell me why you’ve come here today.”
I almost replied “Because Elaine told me to” but it was too early in our relationship to be flippant so I began with Elaine’s history of cancer and it was honestly like spitting petrol on a candle flame.
I didn’t stop talking, it just poured forth. Poor Linda hardly got a word in, but she was very patient and we went on to see each other over several years.
It was so easy to give up despair and fear to someone who is at first a stranger and later, not quite a friend, but who you know understands with impartially. I never regret going to this day….reckon I’ll be back again soon.
Monday 21st December pm.
Elaine and I complete our journey to the hospice arriving there about 1:15.
Since we turned onto the main road Elaine has seemed asleep most of the time and we have not spoken. I don’t think she was asleep that much, more pretending so as to avoid conversation which really could have had only one subject matter, ie our destination.
I’ve parked opposite the hospice as the little car park is already full. As I help her out Elaine’s weakness and fatigue is evident and I gather up her bags quickly as she slowly makes her way to the front door.
My phone rings.
“”Hello Mark? It’s Dr Chakrabarti here.” (Elaine’s oncologist in Poole).
“I’ve been informed that Elaine is being admitted to Forest Holme Hospice sometime today.”
“Yes that’s right we’re here now – just about to go in.”
“I see, I think this is the right course for her now, it’s the best place for her to be.”
Oh God, he’d just as well have been stood in front of me and kicked me straight in the balls.
His saying that this is the right place now for Elaine to be, is like an official confirmation of her fate.
A rubber stamp if you like, signed, sealed and delivered to death.
I’m reminded of Pilate, washing his hands as they led Christ away to the cross. It’s unfair I know. If it wasn’t for this man, his team, and their dedication, Elaine and I would never have gotten this far, it’s just the timing that’s at fault.
“OK Doc – thanks” I manage to say, and hang up.
“Who was that?” asks Elaine.
“Doctor Chakrabarti” I reply.
“What did he want?”
“Just to wish you well.”
“That was nice of him.”
“Yeah.. it was.”
We’re at the door now and I press the buzzer for admission.
Inside we are greeted by Sister Gill and one of the nurses.
After passing our temperature checks for Covid 19 they lead us through a short corridor to what is going to be Elaine’s room-number 9.
We pass through odd sized double doors, one containing a small curtained window, into what is quite a large room.
There’s an easily washable fake wooden floor throughout, and a large window taking up most of the wall opposite the doors. The window blinds are up.
A wet room with shower and loo is to the immediate left, and a basin and bin next to the door leading to it.
The room is dominated by the large hospital bed at its centre. A chest with drawers is off the end of the bed with a flat screen t v on the wall above.
Between the bed and the window is a huge electric reclining chair. Its bizarre colour scheme of bright blue and baby shit brown can only have been decided upon late on a Friday afternoon, when all other options had been dismissed.
I do not realise at the time just how familiar this chair and I are going to become.
Directly in front of the chair there is an outside door, leading to a path which I later discover goes around the building and to the car park.
Outside and opposite this door there is a tiny patio area with an even tinier metal table and a single metal chair.
I assume this set-up was for the smokers, so they could suck cancer into their lungs whilst their loved one in the bed was trying to cough it out of theirs.
I note there is no ashtray now.
I put her bags down on the bed as Elaine sits down in the chair.
“Would you like a few private moments before you go Mark?” asks Gill.
“Please” I reply.
So Gill and her companion retreat and close the door behind them.
I sit down on the bed and take Elaine’s hand, she speaks first. ”Thank you darling.”
“Getting me in here. I feel safe here, they’ll know how to get this pain under control, we couldn’t manage it at home anymore.”
We are sitting looking directly at each other.
Elaine continues, ”I’ll be ok Mark, this is the best place for me to be right now, I know it is.”
(The words of Doctor Chakrabarti from a few minutes ago come back to me ,”It’s the best place for her to be.”)
There wasn’t a hint of self pity in Elaine’s words, no fear either. But it was a bloody hard job for me, fighting to keep back the tears, I just didn’t want to leave her there.
Sensing this she continues” You’d better go now Mark. Have you got something for your tea?”
“Eh…yes, no..I’ll stop in Wimborne on the way back and get something.”
“Make sure you do, don’t just go home and drink a load of Stella’s.”
“I’ll drink the Stella’s anyway but I will get something to eat.”
“OK babe then I’ll call you later.”
“You know I won’t be able to come and see you for a while?”
(No visitors are allowed due to the pandemic situation. There may be some leeway on this for Christmas day only, but that’s four days away.)
“I know Mark, but I’ve got my phone so we can still talk to each other, I’ll be alright. You’d better get going now.”
“I love you darling.”
“And I love you to, and drive careful.”
We kiss, and then again, and I kiss her hands. Then I walk round the end of the bed to the door. Pushing it open I turn back to Elaine and mouth the words I LOVE YOU.
She smiles and waves as I close the door.
Gill and the nurse are waiting there. I don’t know which of them reached me first as my knees just went and I slumped against the wall crying like a child whose toys have all been broken on Christmas day.
The voice was there again, deep inside. ”You know she’ll never leave that room alive.”
And the bastard was right.
To be con’t…