An Alien Place
Wednesday 6th April, 2016
At some point later, Marc arrived up in ITU on a trolley. I saw them wheeling him past the waiting room door and taking him into the Intensive Care ward. I think maybe Claire came back in to speak to me briefly, but there was nothing much else to say apart from to repeat that Marc needed to be 'settled in' to ITU, and this, apparently, would take a while. At some point (I can't recall when) I was told that the scan had shown nothing other than some fluid in the stomach which, although notable, did not reveal the mysterious cause of the illness. This meant that Marc was still struggling on with no concrete diagnosis and therefore no further ideas for how to deal with whatever was attacking his body.
Eventually Lesley came out to speak to me again in the waiting room. Before I went into ITU, she updated on Marc's condition. She told me that, since I had last seen him, his condition had deteriorated and that he was 'really struggling'. The doctors had made a decision to put him into a medically induced coma, which they believed would help to give his body some respite, as it had now been struggling against the infection for several hours.
This, she explained, meant that he would have a tube inserted in his throat and be attached to a ventilator which would breathe for him, in addition to being sedated so that he would appear as though asleep. I'm not sure if I was given a choice about this - I don't remember signing anything to give my permission - but again I was certain that the staff at the hospital were not taking this decision lightly, and would only do this if they felt it might help Marc.
Lesley explained that I could come in to see him before they put him under. It struck me that I was being brought in to see him whilst he was still awake in case once they induced the coma, he didn't actually wake up again. This was an extremely frightening thought. She didn't sound at all hopeful about Marc's chances. With this in my mind, I was led in to see him, wondering what on earth I was supposed to say.
The sickest person in the hospital
When I entered the ward for the first time, I don't think I took it in properly. I was far more concerned with seeing Marc than focusing on my surroundings, but suffice to say for now that ITU feels like a very alien place when you first enter. Marc had been placed in a bed to the immediate right of the nurses' station. At the time this meant nothing, but later I realised that he was placed there because he was so very ill. The sickest people need to be within the closest reach of the medical staff. I was told several times over the coming days that Marc was by far the sickest person in the entire hospital.
When I reached his bed he was conscious, just, but extremely disorientated and I'm not sure that he knew who I was, or even that I was there. I don't think I was allowed to stay with him for long. He was very distressed and clearly in a lot of pain, almost raving. It was difficult to see him like that. You know in the films, when people are brought to the bedside of their loved ones before death and say the most poignant and beautiful things before the person's time comes? When all the loose ends get tied up and everyone gets to make confessions and say those things they always meant to say but never got around to? Those kind of scenes?
Well they're absolute rubbish.
If Marc had died that night, our last words would have been ones of confusion and agony. Our last memories, ones of pain and suffering. The last words he said to me before I left? I don't want to type them. He swore, which he doesn't do very often, suggesting that words to describe his pain were difficult to grasp. I probably stammered that I loved him and would see him soon, once he was better, believing these sentiments less and less with every second that passed but not knowing what else to say. And I was escorted back out of the ward with what could so easily have been his final words ringing in my ears. Not 'I love you' or 'My darling'. Not 'I'm so happy to have spent thirteen years of my life with you' or 'tell the children I love them', but an expletive which left me in no doubt about the amount of pain he was in.
I was escorted back out to the waiting room by a different nurse. For a long time I did not remember meeting anyone else that night other than Lesley, but there was a nurse on duty who escorted me back and forth between Marc's bed and that waiting room several times that night. I found out weeks later that she was called Regi and she remembered me very well, but when she looked after Marc on her shift weeks later I introduced myself to her, as I believed that we had never met. It's funny what the brain does - some people I remembered perfectly from that night, whilst my mind could clearly not cope with recalling the names or faces of others who played just as important a part in saving Marc's life.
What will I do without him?
I sat for another agonising period of time in the waiting room. My dad and Marc's mum Linda arrived at some point, and I filled them in on what had happened, painfully aware that if Marc did not survive the induction of the coma, his mum would never get to speak to him again. We were all in shock. I didn't cry often during those first few days in the hospital. I have no idea why. Something must have kept me going: crying wasn't going to help anyone, so it wasn't really an option. I also think that when you are in shock, tears are not necessarily your first response. But I do know that in that stupid waiting room, after I had told my dad and Linda what was happening to Marc, and she had gone in to sit with him, I broke down on my dad and asked, 'What will I do without him?'
This is the one time I ever recall admitting that he might die.
A horrendous call to make
And Dad told me that, while there was still a chance of him living, I had to stay positive and believe that he would be alright. So I did my best to pull myself together and carry on. I went in to see Marc again. This time he was asleep, and at least looked more peaceful than he previously had when awake, which was a relief in one way, but the thought that I might never get to hear his voice again was always in the back of my mind. I found out later that it was touch and go whether the act of inducing the coma in itself would kill him, but they felt that if they hadn't induced the coma he would have died anyway. Doctors have to make some horrendous calls sometimes, and this has to have been one of them. I can only thank them profusely for having the courage to make the decision to induce the coma. I am certain that it helped him to survive those vital few hours through the night.
Lesley said that it was just a case now of (you guessed it) waiting. Waiting until the consultant came on duty in the morning, when he would make a decision about what was best for Marc, which might involve an operation. Hospitals are staffed by excellent general doctors during twilight hours, and have consultants on call, but to my knowledge consultants and surgeons don't generally work nights. The doctors on ITU had spoken to the consultant and taken advice, and he was due in at 9am. Until then, all they could do was keep Marc comfortable and hope that inducing the coma would allow his body to keep fighting.