One of the longest spells Elaine had in hospital was in late ’96 early ’97, when she stayed in the Harbour Hospital at Poole for nearly two weeks.
This was when she had her second mastectomy and bi-lateral reconstruction. She was, I believe, the only patient in the hospital over the New Year period at the time.
As always, I stayed and worried at the hospital during her operation and went down to see her in recovery afterwards.
When she awoke she became convinced there was a white pony running around between the beds and I was duly dispatched to capture it, and under her instruction tie it safely to the end of a bed close by.
(Strangely she ‘saw’ that pony again one evening in the hospice).
Later the drugs had worn off, and she screamed and swore as they tried to move her from trolley to bed. Elaine was their first patient to have had that particular surgery all in one go, and they were not sure how to handle her post-op.
I used to visit at different times, but often at late afternoon/evening when, as she healed, we would get her some exercise by walking around the mostly deserted hospital together.
We owned a blue Ford pick-up at the time and as I was often the only one in the car park I would, for the sake of convenience, park next to the hospital entrance.
I don’t believe that car park saw many pick- up trucks. It was more used to Mercs’ and BMW’s ETC, with the occasional Bentley thrown in, to make the others all feel inferior.
One evening, as I parked and was just getting out, a man appeared by the door next to me. A woman, who looked a bit like a nurse, was behind him.
Stupidly, my immediate thought was that Elaine had died and they had rushed out to catch me before I got up to her room.
Without any intro’ he fired into me. “WHY are you parking here! “
“Eh, what’s happened?”
“What do you mean by continually parking this truck here, this is a private hospital and so is the car park.”
The penny dropped in my head, and an edge came into my voice.
“I’m- visiting-my- wife.”
“My wife is a patient here.”
If ever a man wanted the earth to open at that moment and take him completely, this was it.
The woman stood behind him had developed a huge grin across her face.
“But you were parked here New Year’s Eve- all day.”
“Yes, that is when she had her operation. I stayed all day.”
“But as I rushed out to stop you last night you just waved at me as you drove off.”
“No, I waved to my wife her room is above the entrance and she was at the window.”
“I was stood in the entrance.”
“I couldn’t see you, I’ve no rear-view mirror ( it had fallen off a while back) I just wave as I know she’s there.”
Poor Keith, for such was his name. He was the manager or assistant manager I believe, I’m not sure now, and he thought I was just using the car park because it was there.
It transpired he had become obsessed with catching the ‘phantom truck driver’, but he’d missed me every time. He even admitted to looking under the back cover of the truck on New Year’s Eve, fearing there may have been a bomb hidden in it!
Ours must have been the only pick-up he had ever seen parked there, why he just didn’t leave a note on the windscreen I do not know.
He couldn’t apologise enough. Especially when I rubbed it in by telling him I thought that Elaine had died and they had come out to tell me.
When I told her, Elaine laughed her head off.
Later, on one of our evening walks, we came across Keith locking his office door for the night. She teased him with; ”We’ll bring the Range Rover next time.”
He managed a half-laugh and stole away quickly. We never did meet him again.
30th December 2020 (just).
I go up to bed later and later now. I do so as I hate going without Elaine there. She was usually in bed before me and my being alone is torture. So the light goes out moments before midnight and hopefully sleep will descend quickly over me.
I seem to have just drifted off when a horrible ‘clacking’ noise, I don’t immediately recognise, brings me back with a start.
The room is half lit with an icy blue glare.
“Oh Christ, it’s my mobile phone!”
I snatch it up-12.18am-and an unknown number.
“Hi, is that Mark?”
“Hello, it’s Clare here, at Forest Holme.”
“Oh God no.”
“It’s OK Mark, Elaine’s alright.”
“She’s just woken up and got in a panic. She thought she’d missed seeing you and Kathy. I’ve explained that she hasn’t, but she is a bit confused and want’s to speak to you, shall I put her on?”
“Yes, yes do Clare, thanks.”
My heart feels like a slumbering diesel motor recently fired-up after several decades neglect, and now is trying to make up for lost time.
“Oh Mark, I feel so stupid.”
Her voice sounds frail, vulnerable even, I just want to hold her.
“Mark I woke-up suddenly. I thought I’d missed seeing you and Kathy, I felt angry then afraid and I started to panic, I feel so stupid.”
“You’re not stupid darling, you just woke-up suddenly that’s all.”
“I know now Mark, I didn’t then it was horrible. I wanted to speak to you, Clare said she’d call.”
“Do you want me to come over now Elaine?”
“No, stay there, I don’t want you to drive now I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Actually you’ll see me today at about 10 o’clock, it’s well gone midnight now.”
“Oh alright love, til later on then, goodnight, I love you.”
“Love you to darling, goodnight.”
The phone falls silent. The blue glare from the screen briefly mocks my panic, before plunging me into darkness.
I flick on the bedside light, and head downstairs. I’ve not been drinking much in case of being called to the hospice at night. I figure I won’t be called again tonight though. So now I pull out a bottle of Jim Beam, pour half a tumbler full, and down the lot. Then repeat.
I’m at Forest Holme just before 10 in the morning.
I’ve been thinking hard since last night. This situation with me on tender-hooks all the time just can’t continue. As soon as I’m back from the hospice I become a bundle of nerves, taking the phones with me everywhere in case I should miss a call-THE call.
Many years ago Elaine was recovering in bed from some cancer related problem, when I took her some tea and we started talking about the possibility of her death.
We never did shy away from this type of conversation, but we didn’t make it an everyday topic either. When the circumstances arose the subject was discussed without embarrassment, and then left alone again.
While we were talking Elaine looked at me direct and with her customary big smile said:
“I won’t be afraid Mark, as long as you’re there to hold my hand.”
So I promised her I would be, and now I’m worrying.
What if she has a bad turn and I’m at home. It’ll take me at least twenty minutes on clear roads to reach the hospice.
What if I drive like a twat, crash, injure or kill some poor bastard and/or myself. That’s not going to help Elaine, no something has to change, and now.
I know what I need to do, just have to pick my moment.
As I walk along the side path to Elaine’s room I pass the window and can see she’s lying back in bed, eyes closed.
She looks up as I enter the room.
The ever present smile appears and she greets me first.
“Hello sweetheart, you OK?”-she sounds tired.
“I am now you’re here. I’m sorry about last night Mark, I was silly for getting in a panic.”
“Don’t feel silly love, let’s just blame it on the drugs.”
“Alright, I feel better now.”
I take off my coat then go over and kiss her and, as I gently squeeze her hand, I realise just how weak she is becoming.
Before we can say much more a knock at the door heralds the arrival of Kathy, Elaine’s councillor. She’s on time and kitted out in protective gear, which now seems so normal.
Elaine perks up now Kathy has arrived.
I met Kathy for the first time yesterday, and soon come to understand why Elaine likes and trusts her so much.
I find there is a genuineness about Kathy, coupled with an ability to connect and listen without any hint of condescension or indifference.
I don’t think it is fair for me to say here what passed between the three of us. Much of the time it was just Kathy and I talking, with Elaine joining in now and then. But as it is Kathy’s profession to council others, it is not for me to share anything, that was said, in case it causes difficulty for her.
Suffice to say we passed 45 minutes together, and Elaine was all the happier for it, so was I.
After Kathy has gone the nurses come in to tidy both bed and patient and check the syringe drivers.
I take the chance to walk the few minutes into Poole to buy a newspaper and get some air. When I return Elaine is led down in bed seemingly asleep.
I’m trying to keep quiet but she hears me and asks; “Is that you babe?”
“The one and only.” I reply as I go to the side of the bed and kiss her.
The moment feels right.
“Do you want me to stay with you here from now on?”
With eyes still closed her answer is one clear word.
I’m hovering near the open door leading into the hospice. I can’t go beyond because of the restrictions but a nurse soon comes along. It’s Mandy and I ask her what the procedure is to allow me to stay.
“Wait here Mark, I’ll go and talk to Sister.”
She’s back in a couple of minutes.
“Mark, Sister says you can stay as long as you need to. We can’t let you use the relatives suite as it’s all closed down at present but you can use the facilities here and I’ll show you how to work the recliner, they say it’s very comfortable. We’ll give you blankets and pillows to use and as Elaine isn’t really eating now we can feed you as well.”
I’m so relieved, I can be here for however long, but there’s things to do first.
I go outside and call best pal Mike, he already has our spare keys and the codes for home, and he is more than happy to step in and look after things there.
Then I leave Forest Holme and head back to collect what I’ll need for my stay at the hospice for at least the next few days.
At home I pack up what I think I’ll be needing, including alcohol and chocolate. It’s all a bit rushed, like a last minute military operation that’s just got approval, but I’m all done in an hour or so and decide to have a cup of tea before I return.
The cat’s eye me suspiciously from their beds but make no move to come into the main house.
As I’m sitting at the kitchen table drinking my tea my eyes wander to the mirror on the wall opposite. Elaine bought that mirror at a scout jumble sale years before we met, it’s been everywhere with her since.
For some years now we’ve pushed the Christmas cards we get around the inside of the frame, and every Christmas she drapes a large length of tinsel across the top.
It’s all there now, but as I stare at it, it seems so pointless-‘Merry Christmas Happy New Year’- fat fucking chance of that.
It’s like everything I know, everything I have and love and believe in is slowly being sponged away before my eyes, and I can’t do a damn thing to stop it. I’m powerless, trying to hold on to the handful of cold water that represents the life I know and it’s trickling out between my fingers no matter how hard I press them together.
I can’t lose Elaine, I just can’t.
Please God, let me wake up.
How long ago it all seems since that operation at the Harbour 24 years back. So much of our happiness depended on its success and what we made of life, and each other, afterwards.
We’ve done a bloody site better than many would, in the same circumstances, but thinking of what we have lived alongside all these years, the enormity of it can easily overwhelm.
As I finish my drink the thought strikes me, it’s a quarter of a century since our honeymoon. We took the blue pick-up, it was the best vehicle we had at the time, we owned it for years. It’s long since been scraped but the memories remain intact.
They’ll live-on as long as one of us does- one of us.
Memory lane is too costly an excursion right now, so I head for the door. I remember the credit card bill that needs paying at the last minute, but decide to leave it for now-a decision I’ll come to regret later- I just want to get out of here and back to Elaine.
Tomorrow I’ll wake up in a hospice, on New Year’s Eve.
The honeymoon is over.
To be continued…..