I’m sure all of my friends who are parents, and quite a few who are still energetic enough to enjoy nightlife away from the television will know what I am talking about when I say that I think I have hit critical tiredness. For those duvet obsessives who have never sacrificed a night’s sleep to wipe a child’s bottom or to stagger home as dawn is breaking, cast your mind to one of those big budget disaster movies. Picture the scenario: the hero, who also happens to be the captain of the ship, has valiantly battled on through adversity to save his passengers while things explode and hiss all around him (and the token annoyingly self-centred character gets killed in a gruesome way just to remind us to be nice to each other). Just as he thinks he can push himself no further a nameless extra tells him that the safety doors, the only thing that is keeping them still afloat, are at a critically damaged level and he must once again perform stunts of spectacular skill, bravery and stupidity if he is to keep the ship afloat. In the gloomy bowels of the vessel the darkness is rhythmically broken by the red flashing warning light bouncing off the metal walls and the sloshing sound of water where it shouldn’t be is being drowned out by an ominous creaking and groaning coming from somewhere close by. Everyone knows the ship should be under the water in the state it is in and it is thanks to a lot of luck, as well as the skill, good looks and daring of the captain, that it has got as far as it has.
That, in a far less blockbuster way, is what is feels like when I reluctantly place my feet on the floor and force myself to stand up each morning after another restless night battling for a few hours of sleep. The fact that my uncomfortable, much hated bed, despite its vast inadequacies, is still the only place I want to be makes it even more of an indignity when I have to leave it prematurely. Certainly any attempt to stand upright and maintain an adequate amount of balance takes enough mental effort that it isn’t hard to imagine my own little Bruce Willis, in an oil, blood and sweat soaked vest, desperately trying to essential bits from falling off while trying to achieve the seemingly impossible mission of maintaining an upright position. Ok so perhaps the imagery is a touch melodramatic for what is essentially a knackered body holding up a befuddled head, but trust me there are most certainly warning alarms sounding that I can’t go on for much longer in my present state, and no, before you ask, they are not going off in the bowels of this ship.
The tired human being is a strange creature. The brain just keeps going into standby mode and I find myself staring mindlessly at walls while great swathes of time fly past, my vision is slightly wobbly, like there is a small smoke machine hidden just out of sight and my eyes keep telling me that it’s just too much trouble to focus. How strange, I seem to have just described my neighbours from last week, perhaps they weren’t quite so far down the gene pool after all. As an aside, the primordial swamp creatures were replaced by a rather uppity lady who wouldn’t even waste a glance in my direction, let alone gawp outside my room. She had a cold efficiency about her that seemed to leave her with little time for anyone, staff or other parents. It gave the small judgemental voice, that I just can’t help listening to when surrounded by the wealth of Darwin’s evolutionary pool that the NHS offers (and so little other entertainment), enormous satisfaction to know that the equally efficient hairstyle was being placed on the exact same pillow as the less than desirables who occupied the room previously. It obviously begs the question of what journey my pillow has been on before I got to call it mine, but that isn’t such a fun game and I’m having trouble enough sleeping as it is without adding to my worries.
So as you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m a touch tired. Dominic’s nocturnal wakings are taking their toll and if you add in nurses who think it is reasonable to wake me up to check that they are doing the job that they are paid to do properly, or even better, so I can do the job for them, and you’ll understand why walking in a straight line is a bit of a mental leap of faith at the moment. Dominic, of course, is also tired and by the end of the day we’re both glaring at each other as his stubborn (almost) four year old grump is pitched against my hospital weary can’t be arsedness. Two poor Radio Lollipop volunteers nearly fell foul of this last night when Dominic took his frustrations out on the rather nervous American gentleman by jabbing a pencil repeatedly into his crotch (to his credit he took it like a man and managed to keep his children’s TV presenter smile firmly glued in place despite what must have been mild discomfort and excruciating embarrassment). I also failed to summon up the enthusiasm necessary to persuade Dominic that his life would be a happier place if only he would stick dried pasta to a bit of paper with a glue dot. Instead my brain fixated on the way that the other (South African) volunteer thought that taking a sharp and enthusiastic breath inwards every 5 seconds somehow injected enthusiasm into the scenario. It didn’t. 5 minutes into their visit I was imagining all manner of violence involving dried pasta (which, for your information, does not like to be stuck onto paper with glue dots) simply to stop the noise and the forced enthusiasm from being shoved down our throats for any longer. They eventually left us in peace and I could let the smile drop and Dominic could pass out in peace. That, I fear, however was only a warm up for today’s enthusiasm-dripping event where the utterly silent Mickey Mouse is apparently going to negotiate himself onto the ward to visit Dominic. Mickey’s silence means that my participation is crucial to make sure that the whole visit isn’t a huge embarrassment for everyone. Having an enormous stuffed toy cram themselves into your bedroom when you are sore, tired and would rather being playing the DS is just asking for trouble. No doubt Dominic will get it in his mind to light sabre poor Mickey, having completely sold his soul to Lucas Arts and all Star wars related violence. In a damage limitation attempt I have cleared the area of all possible weapons and I’m hoping that he doesn’t get it in mind to tell Mickey that he’d wishes Yoda had come instead.
I am of course being an ungrateful, grumpy misery. The giant stuffed rodent will of course serve as a wonderful distraction today for both Dominic and myself. Even starting to write about it has caused a flipperty flop of nerves in my stomach. I should probably explain by rewinding time a bit to tell you what happened when I finally saw Dominic’s surgical consultant.
On the surgical ward Wednesdays mornings are ever so slightly wrapped up in fancy paper and tied in a fabulous bow and presented to the parents as something that should have a choir of small children “ahhhhhing” to fill the air with a sense of mystery and awe. You see Wednesdays are Grand Rounds. Not just doctors rounds you see, but Grand Rounds (with capital letters, a slightly hushed voice and everything). The ward manager normally makes a display of shutting your door proclaiming Grand Rounds as though the mere utterance of the words are enough explanation in themselves. The door shutting is an irritation as it quells any thoughts of eavesdropping what is essentially, your best chance at finding out what is really going on with your child. In practice it is a few consultants gathering outside each room in turn listening to the child’s consultant give a potted history to a gaggle of junior doctors while the other consultants, who have heard the same summary now on a weekly basis for two months (in Dominic’s case anyway), fiddle with their phones with a bored, distracted look about them.
This mythical Wednesday morning, after a briefer than normal confab, Dominic’s consultant came in looking rather sad and without the normal confident stride that I’m used to. His registrar lurked by the door looking at us out of the corner of his eye a bit like a spooked horse. It therefore came as little surprise when, after finding out that Dominic really wasn’t any better and was still experiencing severe intermittent pain, the consultant said that they should really take a look inside. Normally his surgical approach leans heavily in favour of laprascopic surgery, but in this case he said that he wanted to absolutely make sure that he didn’t miss anything and so the only option was to do a laparotomy. They would also do a full thickness bowel biopsy at the same time and possibly a scope and colonoscopy unless they could persuade gastro to do it beforehand (I don’t think gastro has even returned a call yet, let alone agreed to fit him in, at very short notice, for a procedure that it would normally take months for them to sort out). Currently the thinking is that the pain is caused by one of two things, either volvulous or intersussception. Thankfully the ‘fix’ would be the same for both so the possibility of them not fixing the right problem is somewhat reduced. His surgeon was very aware of how much worse Dominic looked since he last saw him, so he immediately added him to Friday afternoon’s emergency list. When he popped in this morning he looked equally as worried and there were lots of mutterings of getting blood ready and making sure he’s well enough to proceed. Don’t get me wrong, Dominic may look terrible in a sweat dripping down him constantly, ghostly pale, dark red rings under his eyes kind of way, but he is very well in himself in-between bouts of pain.
I’m mirroring the surgeon’s worry though. I’m relatively relaxed about the prospect of extending our stay, simply because there is little room left in my head to examine the possibility of another 2 months in hospital to explore how it makes me feel. My brain is instead agitated and sporadically fired by nervous and unproductive worries about things that could go wrong, and just wanting to get past the agonising wait for him to come back from theatre and the tense few days afterwards. Having him well and languishing on a ward is far preferable, in my mind, than the prospect of not having him at all. These are the thoughts that make sleep impossible in-between the duties I perform throughout the night, and it is the reason why you’ll see me, when not distracted by other intrusions, lost in thought, fingers nervously playing with my lip, which is a habit I seemed to have readopted from my childhood in a strange attempt to self sooth I think.
So the need to keep the ship from sinking goes on, regardless of the amount of sleep, or lack of it, or the frustrated tantrums that sees his toys flying in all directions from the bed. There will be no heroics on my part however, as next few days in themselves are enough dictate my role in our own little drama. Mine is simply to make the little boy, who is undoubtedly the hero in our tale and who is already wise enough to understand the implications of what tomorrow brings, lose his worries in love, distraction and laughter. So bring on the rodent!
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