My father taught me to never make false promises. If I said I was going to do something, I should. He would be so disappointed in me this weekend. This is why:
Friday started off to a great start. Excitement was building at school because this week is the year 6 residential to a place in Ashdown Forest. I was asked to join the team looking after the children and, although the thought daunted me, I was looking forward to the opportunity to share this special week with the kids. Over the past few years, I’ve watched them go and return with a maturity that only comes from giving children a chance to be more independent and prove to themselves that they are far more capable than they believed possible. It’s a wonderful thing to observe and something I never thought I could be a part of since I’m a librarian and not one of the staff that deals with the children on a day-to-day basis. As the final hours of the working day approached, I had something else to look forward to – all my children under one roof for one weekend! With the older ones scattered in the wind (university and work), we don’t often get to spend family time together as a whole and this was the icing on the cake before heading off for a week away With the school. Alas, the Friday was not going to end as we had anticipated.
Dinner was getting prepped and special drinks and snacks bought for the weekend were cracked open with enthusiasm while music and laughter filled the house. My second oldest sprog hadn’t arrived yet so there was no pressure to rush with the meal preparations. Instead, I spent my extra time dancing with my oldest sprog and his two younger siblings to old tunes that they seem to play more than we do these days. The hubble joined in for a while but isn’t much of a dancer, so he sat and watched, laughing at our pathetic attempts to jive.
Now over the past few weeks, the family has been hit by a myriad of colds and sickness bugs, some of which had me scuttling to the doctors, requesting help. With little to no sleep over the past week thanks to my youngest sprog contracting gastroenteritis, I was so relieved to see him bopping about with his big brother, jauntily skipping along with thin limbs that need beefing up. My timer went off so I strolled over to the kitchen and checked on the chips frying in a hot pan. They were a beautiful golden brown and needed turning out, which I did. Whilst in the process of removing the last stragglers trying to escape my spatula, my daughter screamed. In the periphery, I had heard the hubble coughing, but didn’t think anything of it. He had complained that he had a cold earlier in the week but nothing untoward had come from it and, to be honest, the focus of the week had been on the youngest sprog.
The scream made me jump. Her words were enough to send me running across the dining room to where the hubble lay face down on the floor not moving. Thankfully, I had automatically switched the cooker off or I would be adding another layer of horror to this narrative.
There he lay, still and silent with the music and lights frantic in the background. “He just fell! He just fell!” screamed a frightened voice behind me. My eldest pushed me aside and tried to lift him up with me shouting for him to stop. I check the hubble’s neck and face. Nothing. So we slowly turned him over, only for him to start convulsing as soon as his body was moved. We held fast, supporting his head and shoulders so that he lay in the recovery position until it passed. Now it might seem as though this took a long time, but in reality, it was fleeting – like hummingbird wings. His eyes fluttered open and I could feel my lungs filling with air again.
Flailing hands tried to shake us off. We tried to coax him to lie down and relax, gently pushing him back to the ground where he lay like a drunk, confused and still shaky. The eldest sprog began ranting about heart attacks and no amount of reassurance would convince him otherwise.
Unfortunately, I knew what had caused this black out. It was a vasovagal syncope, something the hubble had suffered from over seven years ago when we first got out cats. He discovered, later, that he was allergic to them and had asthma – not without a frightening incident of him coughing himself into a black out just like this one (minus the dramatic fall) and me jumping on his chest, trying to revive him. We soon learnt about the cause and effect of vasovagal syncope and how these hard coughs could knock him out. We sought medical help. The return of the same event from so many years ago sent a shiver down my spine. Was he getting sick again and how bad could it be?
Once he had rested for a few minutes on the floor with raised legs and a supported head, I turned him to the side and helped him stand up. He flatly refused to let us call for help and kept insisting that he was okay – shaken, but okay. I relented, watching him like a hawk to see if anything other than the awful bruising on the side of his face would emerge. Apart from his heavy breathing, nothing did but I wasn’t taking any chances. With a cold pack applied to his face and knees, he looked and sounded exhausted from the ordeal so the decision was made to put him to bed until further notice.
We congregated in the bedroom, discussing the event and still arguing over the next course of action. The younger (more sensible) members of the family insisted on me calling 111 or at least the out of hours doctor. I tried to explain that in either case, we would be sent to the A&E and, bearing in mind it was a Friday night and I had been there on numerous occasions with my mother when she was alive, I didn’t want to sit for five hours waiting to be seen while he shivered in the waiting room. Instead, I went online, filling in the 111 survey to assess the damage done to the hubble. Of course, the end advice was to take the patient to the A&E, but again the hubble refused point blank stating that if he felt worse, we would go.
As the adult in this situation, I have to hold my hands up and say it was my fault we didn’t go immediately. But knowing what I do about A&E’s on a Friday night, I was loathe to put the hubble through it. Instead, I spent the rest of the night observing him and gently waking him every hour just to check for a response and to ask him questions on his condition and what he remembered.
The hubble woke up from a restless night and had something to eat, complaining about his knees, elbow and finger – the points of impact from his fall. There was a slight ache where his skin kissed the floorboard on the side of his face, but no headache to accompany the injury. I still watched, waiting for the concussion to rear its ugly head. It did. At about 11am he admitted to losing his balance because of dizziness. Thankfully, my youngest sprog had been on watch duty and had provided the support to right the stubborn man with a shaky head. That sealed the deal. I had enough evidence of a concussion so we whisked everyone into gear. My youngest and oldest sprogs would stay home while the middle one insisted on coming with me as back up. The second oldest, who had arrived late to the party the night before, had to go back to work that morning.
Activated, we all got ready and left for the walk in clinic, only to spend three hours through assessments and re-assessments. Taking an unwilling and unco-operative patient is one thing, but when its your hubble, patience wears thin when you know how important it is to make sure everything is okay. Explaining the situation to the nurses we saw, they happily gave him the skinny on how serious the situation was and given the dizziness and pain in his upper spine, they advised us to go the A& E immediately.
Tired, distraught and grumpy, I drove the two home and fed them, preparing for the next onslaught of tests and waits. I wasn’t wrong. It took another five hours at the A&E to get the testing and check ups done. If I sound bitter, it’s not because of the time spent in the waiting room or the entertaining atmosphere created by some other interesting patients arriving or the fights breaking out before us. No, it’s because I had bitter memories of spending time in the A&E with my mother, waiting next to her in the hallways while beds were full and people screamed at tired clinical staff. The aching memories of knowing that my mum was dying and now I was holding my hubble’s hand in the same position of not knowing the outcome.
The final call of his name came and we seated ourselves in the same cubicle where an earlier guest had screamed and cried for over an hour before receiving 5mg of morphine to dull the pain in his lower abdomen. I remember his screams because I had questioned how the doctor examining the hubble at the time could listen to the hubble’s chest and breathing with all that noise. The silence we encountered in that same space felt a bit more ominous than the earlier screams.
The consultant was pleasant and put us at ease immediately. The doctor who had performed the assessments smiled and sat next to me as we began the meeting. First, the consultant went through the events again, questioning the hubble and then myself, concurring with me on the cause of the black out and convulsion straight after. He explained the circumstances to the hubble and then took a deep breath. I held mine.
The news was that they needed to establish what was causing the black outs and whether the convulsions were seizures, since they ran in the family, which was no surprise. The coughs had caused the black outs but that convulsion, that was something new. Given the black outs had occurred before (seven years ago), the hubble was deemed unfit to drive for the next four weeks until a neurologist ruled out permanent damage and continuity of the seizures. But that was not all. The concussion was a minor side bar as I was told he was unsafe to be left alone in case he fell in the shower, tripped down the stairs or collapsed in the bathroom after a cough attack.
I now have two weeks to watch over the hubble and make sure no further falls occur and will wait anxiously for that appointment with the neurologist to come through. Those aware of the pressures put on the NHS service will understand my worries that it may not happen as quickly as they have promised. I am so grateful for those eight plus hours spent at both the clinic and the hospital, and for the amazing staff who helped us on a busy night filled with incredibly tough customers. Without them, we wouldn’t have a game plan for the future and for catching what I hope is nothing as serious as it sounds. At least we are here, at the beginning of it and not close to the end when there is no hope left or cure to be found.
It sounds silly, but the guilt is eating me up. I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Yet, in this scenario someone loses. I would either have to morph myself into two people or let down the team at school. My family will always come first. So, as I write this and smile and comment on social media as if everything is okay, inside everything is not. I still consider us lucky as others have it worse and the decisions they have to make have greater consequences. For me though, even the littlest promise broken is a big deal. And for those who rely on me, as kind as their words of support are, I know they would feel the same. Something to consider when making future promises.
Thanks for reading and have a great Sunday.