“Oh Shit!” shouted Pat as her latest ringtone blasted out the star wars theme on her new iphone. She had only installed the tone yesterday and this was the first call, timed perfectly with her balancing of some plates and glasses as she put them away after washing the dishes. The shock caused her to jump slightly, thereby dislodging two glasses onto the ceramic tiled floor. Glass everywhere!
“Shit! Shit! Shit!”
She placed the plates down and started rummaging through her handbag, before realising that the phone was right next to her on the table.
“Yes, hello. Pat Walker here.”
“Pat, sweetheart, it’s your Dad. Something terrible has happened. It’s your Mum. She just fell over and the ambulance is on the way. I think she… she’s dead.”
“Oh God! No! Dad just hold tight, I will be there in five minutes.”
Pat grabbed her car keys and handbag, leaving glass all over the floor, and dashed out of the house. She lived only two miles from her father and later would not even remember the short drive. Still on autopilot, she ran up the gravel driveway. The ambulance was already there and her Mum was being stretchered along the hallway towards the front door.
“Dad, what happened?” she said as she barged through the doorway. Poor old Les was ten years older than when she last saw him, yesterday afternoon. He looked bewildered, as though he was no longer aware of his surroundings. She hugged him tightly in her arms and said nothing.
After a few minutes the paramedic glanced around the door and called “We are taking her to George Elliot Hospital. Will you be able to follow on your own? We must hurry; Mrs Whetstone is still in a very critical condition.”
Pat, who was still hugging and trying to console her father, just nodded as she realised that her mother must still be alive. Now she was also momentarily bewildered.
At the hospital she was told that her mother had suffered a very severe stroke and was still unconscious. The doctor could only advise her to keep her fingers crossed until a clearer diagnosis could follow after a few hours when the tests were completed. So far, since the telephone call, Les had not spoken. He stared at the floor in deep thought, as though he was willing himself to find a satisfactory solution to the problem, as he had always done when his wife was in difficulty.
Win and Les had been married for sixty-four years and never spent a night apart. At the age of eighty-nine they were as one single person. It was no longer possible to comprehend one without the other. This fact was probably going through Les’s mind the whole time as he sat in the hospital waiting room. Both Win and Les, up until that day, were quite healthy and perhaps more importantly extremely sound of mind. Indications were that they had many good years left together.
After a couple of hours when the scans and other tests were completed the doctor reappeared and explained to Pat and Les, as far as he could, the situation. Win had suffered a stroke which had probably paralysed her whole left side. She had already shown a sign of waking up, but for the time being was to be kept in an artificial coma, probably for one to two days, to provide optimal conditions for healing. It was not possible to say at this stage whether she would be able to talk, walk or even eat on her own, but the doctor left on a positive note by saying that the majority of such cases make a good recovery with the right care and therapy. “Don’t give up hope, there is every chance of a recovery,” were his parting words.
Father and daughter were able to see her for a few minutes in the intensive care unit. She was hardly recognisable. Her teeth had been removed, her unruly white hair fixed back in a band, a tube through her right nostril, presumably to provide nutrition and a drip into her arm. She lay still, pale and staring upwards as though she had a fear of something horrible on the hospital ceiling. Pat shivered. Was this really her Mum?
Les held her hand and spoke for the first time. “Win, I know you can hear me. It’s Les. Remember when we discussed this? Well, now is the time. Remember what we said? Whoever is first must hang on for the sake of the other. You just hang on. You hear me? Hang on. I will do the rest.”
Pat looked on, amazed at his show of determination, but full of concern for her father. How would he manage?
She took him home as it was already quite late, made him a meal and put him up in the spare room for the night. Tomorrow they would sort out practicalities, but neither had the energy to be practical for the rest of that day.
The next morning Pat called the hospital and it was only good news. Her mother was stable and would be kept in the intensive care for the rest of that day, but hopefully the following day would be moved into a ward, where visiting was much more relaxed. She had woken up once and was able to recognise her situation, but was now sleeping again.
They visited Win once more that afternoon, but as she was still outwardly the same they only remained for one hour. Pat wanted to have her father stay with her again that night, but he insisted that he could manage better on his own at home. He needed his normal surroundings.
The following day Les was at the hospital as soon as the lunch period had finished and visiting was allowed. He asked at the reception where a Mrs Winifred Whetstone was being treated and was told to go to Katrina ward. Arriving in the ward he walked up to the desk but no one was present, so he wandered along the corridor. He saw his wife in one of the two person wards and went straight in, sat down by the bed and held her hand as on the previous days.
He assumed that he had surprised her in waking as she shook her head quite violently as their hands touched. “It’s all right dear. It’s only me. You are safe here.”
She sighed deeply and appeared to relax slightly. Les tried to understand what it could be like for her, waking from a coma in a strange bed, with no idea what or why this was all happening.
He decided to use the time by talking about their life together. He had heard somewhere that a stroke can damage the memory and to encourage stimulation of old memories could be a good therapy, so he began.
“Do you remember, Win, when we first met at the bus stop? I was in my uniform, home on leave, and you were going to a dance with that…who was it? Yes, Georgy Wilson. You were beautiful with the evening sun shining down on your blue silk dress and I was as jealous as hell. Who would ever have thought that Georgy would end up with that trollop who left him after the third child? Poor old Georgy!”
The story continued on through their life from the moment they met until the present day. Les described their first date, the wedding, the birth of Pat, their first grandchild and all other major events in their long sixty four years. He spoke of the happy moments, but also the sad ones. He knew that he was touching Wins senses as he could read the smile or sadness in her eyes as he spoke. This motivated him to continue. He laughed and cried and gave cheeky giggles, all in time with the stories events. Win reciprocated, mostly synchronised with him. In a strange way, despite the sadness he felt for her condition, he was having the time of his life remembering all of those years. In doing so he realised that lately he had spent far too little time talking with his wife and too much time in his garden shed or watching TV. He told himself that this would be different from now on.
Eventually the Sister came into the ward and said that he must leave. It was time for the doctor to visit and carry out some more tests and visiting time is over at six o’clock. It was now ten minutes before. Reluctantly Les stood by the bed, bent over to kiss Win gently on the forehead and looked closely into her eyes as he assured her that she would recover and they would soon be together again. “Don’t forget what we discussed,” he said again. “Hang in there. Think positive, and we will be back home again before you can blink an eye.”
A tear came into Wins eye, which she quickly blinked away. Les was happy that he could still see the inner strength in those eyes that he had known for so long. She would come through.
As he ambled down the hospital corridor towards the exit, head down as usual in deep thought, he heard a voice behind him “Dad, where have you been? I’ve been worried sick. You weren’t at home and you weren’t here with M…”
Les spoke before she had chance to finish her sentence. “Er, sorry Pat. I forgot to let you know that I was coming straight to the hospital. I’ve been with Mum all afternoon, but you can’t visit now. Visiting time is just finishing and anyway they need to do some more tests. Can you take me home?”
Pat gasped, “but…but..Dad.” She wanted to tell him that he couldn’t have been with her Mum. She had been with her all afternoon and was the only visitor. Her Dad had been talking to the wrong woman. All in a moment she realised that the old ladies with their white hair, teeth out and tubes everywhere, somehow all appear the same. Les was not senile, but had simply mistaken this woman for his wife. She smiled lovingly and said, “no worries Dad, as long as you are safe and sound. I can see Mum tomorrow, but promise me that you will wait until I pick you up, so that we can come together.”
She took him by the hand and they walked out together. In the car park he stopped and looked at his daughter. “You know,” he said,” I really think that my visit did her a whole lot of good. I saw the way her eyes listened to my every word. I now know that she will pull through and come back home to me.” He walked along with almost a skip in his step.
Madge Scattergood was a widow. Her husband had died sixteen years earlier from a heart attack. She had lived alone ever since until just after her eighty-fifth birthday when she was found unconscious on her lounge floor by the daily health visitor.
She woke up two days later in the Katrina ward of the George Elliot Hospital. There she lay for two more weeks in a state of hopelessness. She had no family, no-one to worry or care for her. During those two weeks she gradually realised that now was the time to say goodbye to this world. She was not sad, but only very tired. She pondered her life and was satisfied. She smiled to herself; she had had a good life. When she first met Peter she was only sixteen and they had married the following year. They travelled the world together, through his work as an aircraft service engineer. For the last forty years before Peter died they had lived on all continents and seen most countries of the world. Her only regret was having no family. She was now alone.
One afternoon as she lay mulling over these thoughts, a well groomed old gentleman came into her room and immediately sat beside her and grabbed at her hand. She tried to protest, but paralysis of her upper body and the tubes in her nose stopped her from any normal form of communication. She shook her head but the old gentleman calmed her with words of affection and tenderness. After some minutes she relaxed and listened to her only visitor in two weeks.
He spoke of their life together. At first she thought that she was going crazy and this strange little man must really be her husband as she was so ill and confused. He spoke of their first meeting and how they made love on the beach during their first holiday together. Her eyes became moist as she too remembered the first time she made love with Peter. She was seventeen and they were both so terribly naïve. It was over in a few minutes, but she would never forget his urgency.
As this solemn but determined old man continued she realised that he had mistaken her for his wife. With this knowledge she was able to relax and indulge herself in his stories of love and sadness, which made up his life. During the afternoon she became more involved in his heartfelt anecdotes and almost forgot that she was not his real wife. Inwardly she had smiled, laughed and cried and conjured up the emotions as though the events had been real to her.
This was her happiest afternoon since the death of Peter. Within those few short hours she developed more affection for her blind date than she would ever have thought possible. She wanted to hug him, and tell him how lucky he is to have such a wife and daughter, who he can still touch and love each day. But she could not say these things and was confined to her world of private thoughts. She had no idea that all of these inner feelings were being spoken through her own eyes. Les was seeing everything.
After a long time the Sister came into the room and asked her “sage” to leave as visiting time was nearly over. As he leant over her and kissed her forehead she wanted so much to hold him. A tear formed in her eye but it was a tear of gratitude and happiness. He had given her something very precious. She was in a state of true contentment.
When he left the room she knew that she would never see him again.
The following morning as the nurse came into the room of Madge Scattergood to the continuous low siren sound of the heart monitor she realised that her heart had stopped. Madge was pronounced dead a few minutes later.
When the doctor covered Madge’s face with the bed sheet nurse Caldwell turned towards him and said thoughtfully, “I hope that when I die it will be with such a contented smile on my face doctor. This must have been one lucky lady.”