I wrote this post on 15 March 2013, just a month after Abi died. I needed to document the trauma and stress that I’d had to live, to get it out of my head in some way. I still remember every moment. I will be resharing my story of our terrible time, more for those readers who are struggling to come to terms with a similar sudden loss. I pray it brings them some comfort, just to know they’re not alone.
Having been transferred to Frenchay Hospital, we were first shown to a private ground-floor waiting room which was homely, with modern furnishings and a kitchenette. The policeman who had driven us over from Gloucester made us a cup of tea before he left. It was now around 1.30am, but the night was just starting for us.
Abi was taken to theatre on arrival so we didn’t see her. We were shown up to the children’s PACU ward by the nurse who was assigned to look after us that night. It’s amazing what relationships you can form with people within such a short space of time, because by the time her shift finished at 8am, she knew a lot about us and shared our grief, leaving us with tears in her own eyes. We were touched at every stage by how the staff cared so deeply for us, I imagine that it must be impossible not to feel some of the pain of the children and families they meet.
The main ward was bright and geared up for young patients; however, the waiting room, while private, was soulless and gloomy. It had random chairs … some small armchairs, some plastic, nothing you’d want to sit on for more than ten minutes; scattered pictures of nothing in particular that had clearly been thrown on the wall in a hurry; and odd-sized curtains, kept closed. In contrast to the brightly coloured ward, the walls in here were a dull shade of cream. I suppose it doesn’t really matter when you’re feeling so low anyway, but I recall wishing it was as welcoming as the downstairs room.
Feeling numb and drained, we fell into the chairs and were given some tea and toast, not that we could eat it. We were asked to recount the entire story again to the nurse, which helped us in some ways, and were very well looked after, but all we could think about was being with Abi.
All we could do now was wait for the operation to be done and find out if we still had any hope. I kept telling myself that it would be okay, once this bit was over, that Abi would be one of those cases where the patient makes a recovery, that the doctors were just erring on the side of caution by being so negative.
During this wait, my sisters and mother arrived, having all been called out of their beds. We sat in that room together all night, not really speaking, thinking of all the people who loved Abi who would be affected by this, hugging, and waiting with baited breath for the door to open.
Sure enough, at about 4am, the nurse came in and asked me and my husband to come downstairs as the surgeon was ready to talk to us. We held onto each other as we were taken down to another waiting room and sat there alone for a further half hour for the surgeon to arrive. I watched the clock on the wall and became increasingly nervous with every minute. The time since Abi’s collapse the night before seemed to pass so slowly, with hours and hours of waiting in rooms without windows. We had no concept of the time of day or life outside our room.
Finally, the surgeon came in and sat with us. Like the doctor before, he didn’t mince his words. He called it a ‘catastrophic’ bleed on the brain and told us in a quiet voice that it was unlikely Abi would survive the day. He was so quiet and I was so exhausted that I wasn’t sure if I heard him right, my brain was processing everything so slowly. I began to shake involuntarily, but I did not cry. I looked at my husband with pleading, questioning eyes, and asked him what he’d said. I was so grateful that my husband was with me; at my times of weakness, he was my strength. He always has been.
Hearing news like that was like having my guts ripped out. But we clung to every hope. There was one small chance which was to operate again to try to release the pressure and to see if that helped her brain to recover. It was a very risky procedure, which could cause another, fatal, bleed. She had a 10% chance of surviving this operation, let alone making any kind of recovery, and she would certainly be brain damaged, but to what extent they could not predict. Looking back, I feel it is amazing what we drew hope from. We had to give her every chance, no matter what the outcome. We knew for certain then that the Abi we knew and loved was gone, but we signed the consent form.
We were taken back up to the main waiting room to deliver the news to our family. I was a wreck, not knowing whether to cry or scream.
Three agonising hours later, we jumped in anticipation as the door opened again and the nurse came in and said that the second operation had been successful – in that she had survived it – and that we could finally see her. Abi had fought on! I thought this must be a good sign, that she’d fight this all the way.
We were taken to see her in intensive care, the first time we’d seen her since Gloucester A&E, not really comprehending what she’d just been through. Now, it was just a waiting game, to see if she would respond, wake up from her coma, or show any small sign of life…