Things that keep me awake at night
My wardrobe is full of things I can’t wear anymore. So much is a bad memory, every piece of clothing, every pair of shoes.– the sensible sandals for walking down those long long corridors – miles of them. I walked miles. Make sure you take breaks. Go for a walk. Look after yourself. That was what the leaflet said – the one they gave out from the intensive care unit in London. The place we went first. At least there they seemed to know what they were doing mostly.
Every hour I would walk to the doors, down the path to the little area where you could smoke. Sometimes if the step was free I could sit there. Watch the traffic. Wonder what to do next. After a week or so it was suggested I go home. I think they were trying to be kind. They said I looked on the edge. I told them I couldn't. Not without him. I said I was staying until he could come with me.
At first I slept on the little pull-out chairs in the waiting room. Sometimes I shared it with one of the others – another person who’d left home one day expecting to be back the same afternoon. There were a few of us. Being near the airport things like this …. It wasn’t just me and him. Then after a few days they told me I couldn’t stay there anymore and so I found a bed and breakfast nearby. It had a Union Jack flying in the garden. I burst into tears when they said they had no rooms. I was so very very tired. Then the big burly man with tattoos said I was to sit there leave it to him. Half an hour later his wife took me to my room and said it would be five hundred a week, and not to worry about the notice in the room saying No Curry of Any Kind. – that was for the Asians. She didn’t like Asians stinking the place out.
It was just me in that place, and then the Russian Tae Kwando team and their mums. I would sit and smoke with one of them. She was a taxi driver in Moscow and she had the most intense eyes I’ve ever seen. Gentle. Quietly spoken. What do you say though? What do you say?
Outside, in the real world, London was on fire. I would see it on the TV when I got back each night. Riots. Disbelief. People asking why. Rich fat people saying it was a disgrace. That didn’t seem real either. Nothing was real.
I had a cashmere jacket – thick, warm, half jacket half cardigan. Like wrapping yourself in a very expensive blanket. I took it each day when he was in the local hospital, for the chilly summer nights when I came home. I would leave when I’d seen them give him his methadone – not before. Sometimes it wouldn’t happen before midnight, sometimes even later. He wasn’t able to swallow then, and so everything had to go into a tube in his nose, and at that stage of recovery he was restless and his arms would flail all over the place, and often caught the tube and pulled it out. I think it hurt, but I don’t know. He couldn’t speak then.
Sometimes it would be eighteen hours – sometimes more - before they put it back, and in all that time he would have nothing – no water, no meds, no food. I would say to the nurses “his tube needs replacing” and they would say “later” or “soon” or “back in a moment” or “we’re waiting for the doctor” – and I would wait and wait and wait – another three hours. A shift change. Then it would be handover and I would wait some more. Then ask again “ the tube?” and they would say “in a moment” and “we’re waiting for the doctor”. Then it would get dark and I would worry about the methadone and what if he had another fit, or whatever it was that made his heart stop beating – no-one said, no-one ever said exactly what it was, and I was so tired, and everytime I asked they would look at me as if I were a bore – a pain in the arse and I would hate it but what else could I do?
I would look at my phone – five, six, seven, ten, twelve – the hours would go by – no fluids, no food, no meds… is that still ok? It’s not dangerous? “later” “soon” “we’re waiting for the doctor..” the shift would change and there would be a handover.. Is he going to die? Can you die from this? From the little side room, occasionally a nurse would walk past. Each time I asked they would look more and more pissed off with me but what was I to do? What could I do? Sixteen hours – eighteen…. He has had no fluids for eighteen hours. What do you do when you’re in a hospital and you know something bad and wrong is happening? Who do you call? The police? What do you say? “later”. “In a moment” “we’re waiting for the doctor.” The shift would change again
After a few days of that, I found the little PALS office – the complaints place. I cried again. I cried a lot then. I was so tired, and not really eating. Always tired. There was a woman who wore her glasses on a string around her neck. She said “leave it to me”.
The next night it was no different. Eight o’clock came and went. The tube got pulled out .The methadone didn’t happen. I said “it’s been five hours…” They said “it’s a bank holiday” By midnight nothing had happened. The junior doctor – the one whose face I will never forget. The nurse with the badly dyed hair asking me to step outside the room. “I have to ask you if you’ve been drinking” She didn’t look at me when she said it. “My staff say you’ve been acting in an altered way. That you smell of alcohol” It was almost funny at first. I said “I’m here every day from eight in the morning until gone midnight. Then I go home to sleep. How could I possibly be drunk?”
She shrugged. Not interested.
I said “I don’t drink. I haven’t had a drink for months. How can I smell of alcohol?” Her eyes were blank. “Do I smell of alcohol now?” “ Yes”. Still not looking at me. Then… “….you stay here longer than any other visitor we’ve ever had. Why don’t you go home.” I said “I go home when he’s had his methadone. When I’ve seen him have his meds. That’s when I go home” Then I started crying again because I was just so fucking tired and nothing felt real. I could see they were trying to make me leave. I didn’t know things like this happened. Not in real life.
I tried again. “I’m not drunk. I don’t drink.” No reply. She wouldn’t look at me. “How can I prove it?” She shrugged. “You can’t make accusations like that and then not let me prove they aren’t true”. She shrugged again. Looked at the floor. “Do you have a breathalyser? Can you test me? I’m not drunk. I don’t drink” “There’s one in an office. But it’s closed now” “So what can I do? How can I prove I’m not drunk?” again she looked at the floor. “I’m prepared to make a note on his records and leave it at that. Why don’t you go home now?” This sounds unreal – mad – made up – as I write it down. I wish it were.
I threw the sandals away last summer. I haven’t chucked the jacket yet. No idea why. I’ll never wear it again. I feel sick when I see it. It won’t make any difference though. Nothing will. Not anymore.