The very last place I expected to be on a Tuesday evening was in a tiny room, with an insufficient amount of tissues and, as it turned out, hope. Whilst Nige lay on a hospital bed, Harrison and I set our faces and allowed the words to wash over us. A few phrases seeped through – one in particular rang out,
‘We can’t say for sure but he probably won’t make it through the night…’
Not enough tissues.
Gabriel needed fetching first; everyone in one place, this place. As I made my way back to the van, I returned my brother’s call. It was as incoherent as it gets I’m afraid – poor bugger definitely wasn’t expecting that. After that the ranting continued. It continued as I drove past Victoria Park. consumed me along Julian Road. It took my breathe as I sat at the lights on London Road and it burst out of me as I grabbed Gabe in the doorway of our home. All I remember of the journey back to A & E was Gabe sobbing loudly and rubbing his face, then, as we drove past the hospital entrance I saw Harry, waiting for us, his face still set, his mouth tensing up as he drew on a roll up. When we reached him he offered monosyllabic words of comfort to his brother but his eyes betrayed his inner stillness. As Gabe and I fell apart on the outside, Harry did the same from the inside. In this dangerously damaged state we huddled around Nigel’s bed and started on the final path of our cancer journey.
The staff asked about family.
‘Just us really…’
Imagine my surprise when, at 3.30am (Wednesday), his mum turned up with his three sisters. Our eight hour vigil of just us three and Lois was crudely broken up by their arrival. Our dignified grief mocked by the ridiculous bickering of sisters who, until now, had shown absolutely no interest in making amends for the years of wrongs laid by them upon our beloved. I had some sympathy for his mum, of course, as she cut a forlorn figure leaning over Nigel. She’s been poorly herself of late and watching her trying to grab back a long-since gone relationship with her son was heartbreaking. But then she asked a sobbing Gabriel, ‘What’s wrong Gabe?’ The sisters put it down to absent mindedness but for Gabe it was a flash back to those years of torment bestowed upon him by her and for me it was a reminder of how she had disowned Nige in a letter upon the word of a now discredited brother. The words of that letter, in her own hand, burned into my head. As I met Gabe’s gaze I knew they all just had to fuck off.
‘I swear, if you die now, with them clawing at you, I will punch them all in the face.’
was my uncharitable and overwhelming thought. Gabe did better though, he asked them to leave. And they did.
As calm descended once again and Nige had clearly made it through the night, we made a plan. Neither Harry or Gabe really wanted to leave but both had, by then, been awake for over 24 hours and both needed rest. Gabe chose to sleep for a bit in the van whilst Harry opted for a mind-clearing hour and a half walk home. He’d barely put his head on the pillow before Nick turned up at 10am and Harry came back to the hospital with him. By then Nige was sitting up communicating well. It was just bizarre how the more drained we became, the livelier Nige appeared; as if our love was the ultimate drug. Though I may have to concede much of the credit to steroids. By the time Seb and Anoushka arrived for a visit later that evening Gabe was home in bed, Harry was still hanging in there and Nige was looking much more like himself. Before our visitors left (taking Harry with them) we were moved to ASU. We had another side room which we were told we’d have so we could say our goodbyes privately, and they even brought me in a bed. After a straight forty plus hours awake I finally managed to put my head down.
Happy birthday to Gabe! He had a great time, I think. He and Alex called in to see Nige at about midnight and the three of them sat up chatting and scoffing sweets until 2am. I drifted in and out but with a happy heart.
A surprise visit from an Oncologist this morning. I registered this, telling him that I was told we wouldn’t be bothered by anyone, that all the nurses had been given permission to prescribe any drugs we may need. He replied,
‘When I read the notes on your husband I didn’t expect to walk in a room and see someone sat up, chatting, smiling and who could move his arms and legs.’
He ordered another MRI scan for a comparison and set about treatment. I mean positive treatment. When I asked about the bleed into the tumour he said there wasn’t one… He went so far as to tell me that the CT Scan was misinterpreted and that there was a good chance he’d be coming home. Later that day another Oncologist visited us and corroborated what her colleague had told me, adding that we may also be able to continue with the PCV Chemotherapy Treatment.
‘Wait… What?? But we were told to say our goodbyes…’
‘No, no. We think there’s more to be done. We’ll move you onto the Oncology Ward and work out the correct dose of steroids. You should be home soon.’
Can you even comprehend that? I mean really?? We spent from 8pm Tuesday until 8pm Thursday coming to terms with this gorgeous man’s imminent death. We endured an incredibly unsettling and awkward ‘final’ visit from his estranged family that, quite frankly, none of us want repeated. Each of us found a space within ourselves to temporarily carry the grief until we had the time to lay it bare and go through it all together. But suddenly we didn’t need that – we were just left with the raw grief within us, with no plan at all on how to offload it. Incredulous, delighted, bewildered, we fragmented. I stayed with Nige whilst the boys went home. Both went on to deal with the colossal weight of emotions in their own way. It’s no surprise at all that the one who had remained as stoic and as in control as humanly possible was the one to crash and burn.
As Nige continued to defy the odds and regain his former strength, Harry disappeared. Gabe kept in contact with me throughout all this and so between us we managed to resolve the situation. I say ‘resolve’, there’s still much to battle through but suffice to say, by 4am, Saturday morning he was home safe. Sound may take a while but hey, this is not the week to be taken by surprise.
Saturday and Sunday
We have a brand new Harry! One who talks, one who sobs openly and one who suddenly seems to be able to handle our altered situation as well as finding himself newly single. It’s shifted the brotherly relationship somewhat too, which has always been a disjointed one. As a consequence to everything I came off Facebook. Honestly, I was shocked at just how obsessed we all get with other peoples lives; how we offer words of support to relative strangers really and yet, right in front of our eyes our own flesh and blood are struggling to be heard. It’s just so wrong that if Harry had written a status about how he was feeling he’d have had oodles of support. But he didn’t so he was left unheard. I feel utterly shit about that and so yeah. No more Facebook, time to stop looking at the world though laptops and mobiles. Time to put them away and look people in the eye, read between the lines. Less statuses, more words.
Today Nige started to slur his speech a bit. I think they may have reduced his steroids a bit too quickly. Thankfully we moved to the William Budd Ward, on Oncology, where the Oncologist upped the steroids. Harry and I were with him as they wheeled his bed into ‘Bay 3’ and the distress on his face was plain to see. He wasn’t disappointed but, rather, confused. He had no idea really on what to expect but he just said he thought it would be ‘different’. Sensing his distress, the three other blokes on the ward stepped forward to make him feel better; a wonderfully courageous thing to do given the advanced stage of their own illnesses. Lionel in particular took a shine to Nige, and Nige really liked him. Pete the Pilot too offered many sage words but Rob (or Leslie) looked bewildered and bombarded me with questions about his upcoming chemotherapy treatment. It’s fair to say that some proper bonding happened on that ward over the couple nights Nige was there and I can honestly say I’d never met three braver men.
For the first time in a week I spent the night at home. Comfy, yes, but I’d sooner have been with my man.
Harry continued to improve in spirit. Eating and sleeping still weren’t on the menu but there’s time. The lovely Lionel was off having treatment when we got to the hospital. When he returned he looked like a shell of a man. It reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. When his son arrived he reached his arms out and just sobbed and sobbed on his chest. The tears just flowed from both mine and Nigel’s eyes. Poor old Lionel, poor, poor lovely Lionel.
Wednesday – Discharge Day
Emotions are very mixed up on discharge day. I know this from experience! This morning Harry and I turned up to a teary Nige. Lovely Lionel had had an awful night, battling the effects of all the radioactive shit coursing through his body. Nige spent a couple of hours holding his hand, giving him something to focus on. It took it’s toll on him though and even after we returned home he talked about how scared he was of Lionel dying.
So there you have it, our fucked up week during which we almost lost one, rescued another and learned more than you can ever know about ourselves. We’re home now, with the promise of Dorothy House support and a far more open approach to each other.
PS Still no Facebook – it feels great 🙂