Elaine had always wanted to fly in a hot air balloon. One year as a surprise I booked us a flight that hopefully would take us over our home and locality, which is what she particularly wanted to do.
These flights are very weather sensitive and after many cancellations we reluctantly took a trip from Fordingbridge ( some miles from home) which took us over Salisbury, one beautiful summers morning.
It was all very pleasant, I can recommend floating 1200 feet over Salisbury Cathedral in a wicker basket as a grand cure for constipation and any desire on my part to do it again. But Elaine really wanted to fly over home so she ‘blagged’ a reduced cost flight to try again.
After the usual false starts, we walked from home one evening, the mile or so to the local school playing fields for our next adventure.
It was a lovely summer evening, but take-off was considerably delayed due, I believe, to concerns over the wind. However we were eventually up and away and heading for home when the wind started to gust and took us over meadows and towards the river.
I gather the pilots sometimes like to show off a bit by skimming down to the water then shooting upwards just in the nick of time. This duly happened, and as she could no more swim than fly, Elaine’s face was a picture.
So must mine have been, when with a large oath ending in ‘er’, the pilot hit the gas as another huge gust took us towards a big sod of an oak tree on the opposite bank. He wasn’t quick enough.
The basket crashed into the tree top then we shot upwards taking plenty of ‘oaky’ camouflage with us. We then levelled out across meadows and road but were heading straight for the only house on the hillside in front of us.
People were having a barbeque when we all but dropped-in, our pilot was struggling a bit. They weren’t best pleased and much swearing followed us as we only just made it over their roofline.
We floated around a while longer but it had all gone a bit quiet in the basket by now and we were pleased to hear we would be landing soon.
This took place in a field the other side of town. But as we touched down another big gust caught us. The balloon went sideways, tipping the basket on its side, and dragging it along the ground.
We were stacked and helpless like wine bottles in a wicker rack.
When we eventually stopped Elaine crawled out from under me, looked around then gasped and pointed.
Running across the field towards us was a small figure all in pink, with wings, and a wand in one hand.
Turned out to be a little girl just a few years old. She’d been to a party and had just got home when she saw the balloon and unable to contain herself had rushed out to see it, hotly pursued by her mum.
“Christ” said Elaine “I thought she was an angel and we were all dead.”
“Hope I feel better than this when I’m dead.” Said a guy behind us, and we all managed a laugh or two.
On the way home I asked Elaine if she wanted to try for,’ Third Time Lucky’, and fly over home.
Her reply of “Bugger That” sealed the end of our ballooning days.
Wednesday 23rd December.
I arrive at Forest Holme just before midday.
Though it is less than 48 hours since I left Elaine here, it seems like half a lifetime has elapsed.
After last night’s conversation with Doctor Kevin and then a later short chat with Elaine, I’m left in little doubt as to the misery of our situation.
My hollow prayers all the way here have been said knowing there is now no chance of my darling ever leaving this place, alive that is.
The staff who greet me as I am let in all act with the obvious knowledge that they are expecting me and why. After temperature checks for Covid 19, and a fresh face mask, I’m led around the outside of the hospice, through a side gate and along the path that leads to the outside entrance of Elaine’s room. As I pass the window she sees’ me, and I’m rewarded with a big smile and a little wave.
She is sitting in the gaudy recliner alongside the bed, and speaks first as I shut the door.
“Hello darling how are you?”
“Fine sweetheart, now I’m with you again. You ok?”
“Yeah, I’m alright.”
We as humans always do this don’t we; “ How are you?”
“Great, and yourself?”
“Fine thank you.”
Why can’t we just be honest; “ How are you?”
“Like a flat turd actually, and yourself?”
“Still fucking dying, far as I know.”
I know this is how she would have preferred the conversation to go but perhaps the gravity of the situation got the better of us just then.
She is smiling still as we kiss our hellos and I perch on the bed beside her.
Elaine continues; “ Well, this is all a bit strange, everything seems to be happening so quickly.”
“Too damn quickly love, but you had a better night I gather.”
“Yes, thanks to this” she reply’s proudly, and pats an object tucked down by her leg in the chair.
It’s a syringe driver. A battery powered machine about the size of a large packet of biscuits, it supplies a constant amount of medication, via a tube and needle.
“It’s even got its own designer bag,” she continues on, pointing out the cover that surrounds it.
I reason this must be a staff/patient in-house joke, as it looks to me more like a large beige sock that doesn’t fit too well, but I keep quiet.
Elaine is surprisingly bright, but she does close her eyes quite frequently and is still prone to sudden bouts of violent hiccups, especially if she sips a drink.
I’ve hardly time to settle in when a gentle knock on the door announces the arrival of Doctor Kevin.
He comes in, wearing the blue attire that doctors seem to favour plus mask and protective apron. He brings a small chair with him.
He introduces himself and I like him straight away. A little above average height, stocky, with short cut ginger hair and the pale complexion that goes with it. There is a benevolent smile in his eyes and his whole manner brings to mind a country curate from a Victorian novel.
Doctor Kevin places his chair opposite Elaine and sits down with his back to the outside door. I sit back on the bed by my wife.
“Well, have you had a chance to talk yet?”
“Not yet Doctor Kevin, Marks only just got here.” Elaine replies.
“OK, will it be easier for me to go through everything we’ve found out and decided?” says Kevin.
I reply that I think I need him to do just that.
Elaine and I are holding hands and she has a gentle contented smile on her face that I find strangely puzzling.
Doctor Kevin continues; “As I mentioned last night Mark, I have been able to give Elaine a thorough examination now that the fluid in her abdomen has gone down somewhat, and I can feel the cancer mass here, around the stomach and also in the middle back area.”
He points this out on himself, Elaine is still smiling.
“It’s not in her stomach Doc’ is it?” I ask.
“No but it is all around and is pushing her stomach to such an extent that it is restricting its capabilities. This is why the oral pain medication was not working. It has to pass through the stomach lining to be effective and was not able to do so. Now that we’ve got Elaine on the syringe driver we can by-pass that particular problem.”
“Has the cancer spread anywhere else Doc’? (Me again).
“It’s travelled extensively throughout the lymph system, which is now severely compromised and I see from her last scan that the liver is effected also. As I said Mark she is now far too weak for any more anti- cancer treatments, it is only a matter of time, I am so very sorry to say.”
I look at my love. She has her eyes shut and still the smile is present. There is an expression of gracious acceptance in that smile. It is the look of someone who understands that they are exactly where they are meant to be at this moment in time, and have made their peace with it.
It’s as though this conversation was nothing to do with her whatsoever.
I just feel a deep rooted sadness. Even though I know this is real there’s a part of me that still can’t, or won’t, believe it.
I suppose I didn’t want to believe it. The idea of living without Elaine was, I think, just too big a thing to grasp…it still is!
“How much time Doc’?”
It’s me that’s spoken, but it wasn’t a conscious effort.
“That’s difficult to say, Mark.” He replies.
“Everybody is different but my opinion is that it’ll be more than a week, but not much more than two, if that.”
How many times has this man been asked that question, I think to myself. It’s a stupid one really. He hasn’t got a crystal ball, for God’s sake. There’s nothing definite about any of this now, except the end result. He can only guess, but then he must have had a lot of practise, mustn’t he.
By now I’m inclined to think that Doctor Kevin would have made a bloody good diplomat.
He continues; “Elaine and I have had a long talk about all of this, haven’t we Elaine?”
Elaine opens her eyes. Even though they’ve been closed it’s obvious that she has not missed any of the conversation.
“Yes Doctor Kevin we have. I understand it all ok.”
“Doctor Kevin” she continues. “What’ll happen at the end, will I just explode inside?”
There is a ripple of the giggles between the three of us.
“No Elaine, you aren’t going to explode I assure you.” Says Doctor Kevin.
Then he continues; “As the pain and discomfort get worse we will up the dose of pain killing medicine and introduce another syringe driver. The medicine works with a sedative to relax the body into accepting it. This will make you sleepy, and with your low sodium levels you will begin to loose concentration. As you become more uncomfortable we will increase the doses of everything. This will in turn, make you sleep more, then at some point you will start to get quite agitated in your sleep. We will then introduce more drugs to settle you down and you will fall into an even deeper sleep, then deeper still, until you are at the point where we will no longer be able to wake you up, and then……”
There is a momentary silence before Elaine pipe’s up quite cheerfully. “Oh that all sounds pretty good.”
She looks at me “Doesn’t it darling? So I’ll be asleep most of the time, better than I’d thought.”
I can hardly believe her. Here we are discussing the imminent end of her life, her death. Yet her only question is an almost comical one as to how it will take place. There is no concern, absolutely no fear at all, and I know it’s not the drugs, she’s been like this all along.
My sadness is now bolstered up by the immense pride I feel in this incredible woman who is still, for the moment at least, my wife.
To be con’t …..