"Hello, it's Lorraine from school. I'm phoning because T has had an accident..."
It's The Call. We all get it at some point; some more than others. I wearily tuned out. What's he done this time? Stuck a pencil up his nose? Tripped over his shoelaces? Dropped his dinner tray on his foot?
"...and because it's a head injury, we've called the paramedics."
I snapped back into consciousness. A head injury? Paramedics?
"Sor...sorry.... what happened?" I could feel my heart simultaneously in my mouth and on the floor. He'd jumped down some concrete steps, but in doing so, had hit his head on an iron door frame. He had fallen backwards and cracked his head on the steps.
I put the phone down, picked up my keys, mumbled something to Teen, who was already home - and left in a fug.
The Deputy Head showed me down to the playground and there he was, Tween, stretched out on the playground floor, surrounded by three paramedics. Another teacher was saying something to me - I could see his lips moving - but I couldn't really make any sense out of it. My world was suddenly full of my baby boy, being shuffled onto a stretcher, half conscious. There was a tube coming out of his hand.
He was talking but in pain. He said he felt sick. And complained that he couldn't hear properly. He kept doing odd things with his jaw. I could see a huge white egg on his forehead, but he said all the pain was coming from the back of his head. I daren't look there.
I phoned his Dad. Matter of fact. Tween's had an accident. We're going to hospital. Meet us there.
The paramedics were calming. "Just a precaution." "Back playing tennis in no time!" "Not serious enough to put the lights on..." I sat in the jump seat in the ambulance. Tween's trolley was facing away from me, so all I could see was his head. I longed to run my fingers through his hair, but my seatbelt held me like a vice.
A&E. A CAT scan.The news that it was more serious than first thought. "He's fractured his skull in two places, and he's got a small brain bleed. We're going to transfer him to Bristol Children's Hospital". I looked at my ex and made a small involuntary noise. We held one of T's hands each. T looked scared.
We waited for the ambulance on the children's ward. T was given morphine, and went to sleep. My ex and I sat next to each other, and spoke quietly and decently - something that we haven't done for ten years. We talked about our parents. He told me about his girlfriend, who is much younger, and I could see that he loves her. I told him a little bit about my sad love life. He seemed genuinely sympathetic. We talked about mutual friends, and even had the odd gentle joke.
But then the ambulance came at 3am, and we were transferred to Bristol. T started being sick, and didn't stop. And the anxiety came back full force.
At Bristol, a quick stop in A&E and then a trolley ride (more vomit) to a large, windowless room with umpteen machines. An eery light. A large central bed, and a tiny put-me-up in the corner, hidden behind a column of pumps and dials and sockets. It reminds me of a film set. Something from Alien, maybe.
HDUMy ex left to get some sleep, promising to take over the next day. The nurses were kind, and quiet, and efficient. They showed me where the toilets where. On the way, I looked at a sign. "What does HDU mean?" I asked. "High Dependency Unit," she answered, and held my eyes. It took me a few seconds to understand that that was where we were. The High Dependency Unit.
I dropped my eyes and felt them sting.
Tween and I spent 12 hours in that room, but it felt like a week. With no windows, we couldn't tell whether it was day or night, and time was marked only by hourly observations on T. Blood pressure, lights in the eyes, what's your name, squeeze my hands, move your feet.
Are. You. Still. Alive.
At one point, with a flurry of drama, a group of doctors appeared. They pealed through the door in order, it seemed: most junior first attached to clipboards, then more and more senior, culminating in the man himself. He was stern and perfunctory, and I vaguely remember getting close to him and telling him to sound less cross as Tween was only 12. He reeled backwards and looked at me as if I was insane - to be honest, I probably did look the part, with witchy hair and pin-hole red eyes, but he did soften slightly.
The nurses were angels. I always remember the midwives at the birth of my children, and I will always remember the nurses who cared for T this weekend. They were reassuring, helpful, kind. When a nurse saw me crying silently on my little bed behind the machines on T, she brought me a cup of tea and rubbed my shoulder.
My ex arrived at what I assumed was evening. A chance for escape. I taxi'd home to my older son, who moaned when I didn't cook the tea he wanted. It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming at him; instead, I cooked him his bleedin' chicken nuggets and went straight to bed.
Next day, early doors, a lovely friend came to pick me up and take me to the hospital. En route, we talked about T, and about her daughter, who had been through a horrifying experience some years ago involving an exploding cyst. We talked about how it feels, as a parent, to watch your child in excruciating pain and be helpless. Your role as a parent has always been to make things better, and now you can't. You want to cling to your child in the hope that you can mop up their pain and fright, absorb it into you, somehow. But it's impossible. And it's awful.
WardWhen I arrived, T was on a ward, asleep. Children's wards are incredible places. This was a neuro ward, of mixed ages; opposite was a baby who kept fitting, and was in for tests; next to us was a teenager with multiple issues - such a brave boy but in an awful lot of pain; and diagonally was a teenage girl who was constantly texting. She seemed to be waiting for something.
And the angel nurses came from one to another with infinite patience. Sickness and toilet accidents were swept up with 'not to worry!' and 'better out than in!' There were kind smiles and sympathetic smiles and good morning smiles. There were older ladies with tea trollies and menu plans. There was a play specialist who got on T's nerves. There were teachers. Slightly scary consultants. Psychiatrists. A never ending trickle of mostly underpaid NHS specialists, all coming together to heal my little boy.
I sat in the chair by his bed for three days. A short time, actually, looking back, but again, time was stretched into an interminable mess. Drugs were given for the pain. Trips to the shower and toilet were accomplished - this time without any sickness. T's pain score went from an '8' to a '4'. He was getting better.
|The view from Tween's bed. It's a Banksy.|
The nights were noisy. A pull down bed meant that I could sleep next to Tween, which was brilliant. But some parents insisted on watching telly until late, only getting told off at around 11.30 (way past my bedtime). And the babies crying kept everyone awake, of course. But much worse was the poor boy next door, who had just had surgery, and was screaming in agony.
In that one children's ward there were so many stories of pain and hardship and love and endurance and heartbreak. Some will end happily. Others won't.
Fast forward to yesterday morning. T was much brighter and had done well on his memory testing. They were talking about discharging him. His smile was huge, and his joy at the prospect of going home eclipsed the pain in his head. The nurse came back. "Actually," she said, "Can you go now, because we need the bed."
So that was it. Ingloriously kicked out, we shuffled off the ward, past the nurses station. There was no one there, so we couldn't even say thank you, or goodbye.
It will be a long road for T now. The thought of three months with no sport is killing him (not literally, thank goodness). But when in hospital, we were reminded several times of how lucky he was to still be here.
We're just taking one day at a time. And are trying our best to avoid iron bars in future.