Abi was transferred into Bristol Children’s Hospital the afternoon of Friday, 8th February. We were introduced to another consultant, who told us that they were going to ‘start from scratch’ the next day, give her the night to settle in and then assess her entire situation in the morning. We felt bolstered by this. It felt a bit like a fresh start for us too, and, mentally, we were open to things being ‘better in the morning’.
We had to wait some time before we could see Abi after she was transferred while they settled her in. Bristol Children’s Hospital was certainly more child friendly, and the reception area had a Wallace & Gromit display and children’s artwork to brighten it up. We later realised this display was to promote Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal – the charity we chose to fundraise for.
We sat in the parents’ room, and had yet another weak tea and a piece of plain toast. It was clear that people were usually here for a long time. The random food items in the fridge and cupboards were labelled either with a family name or ‘please feel free to use’, but there was a lack of ‘free’ milk or butter.
Abi was placed in a large space at the end of the ICU room, which meant walking past the other patients and families. It’s not a place to stare, but in my peripheral vision I could see the shapes of tiny babies and small children and hear the bleeps from the numerous machines. My heart dipped at the thought of the pain in this room, something that the outside world was oblivious to. Though, having already experienced this type of environment at Frenchay, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by what I saw here.
We were able to sit with Abi for a short time and meet her care nurses. Here, a nurse is assigned a patient and they sit at a desk attached to the end of the bed for their entire shift, recording all their updates and keeping a keen eye on their patient. Our new nurse was lovely, approachable and caring (as were they all). She made us feel ‘at home’ and was happy to listen to us talk about Abi – we wanted everyone to know how special she was. Abi’s cousin had given us a colour montage of some photos of Abi, so the nurses were able to see what the ‘girl on the bed’ was really like. I think they appreciated that, they often only see the ‘poorly’ side of their patients’ lives.
We were given a very small room to bed down in on another floor, and spent some time there while they did various tests and procedures – some things we just didn’t want to witness. We used this time to rest, call family and catch up with everyone on Facebook. We were well aware that there were lots of very worried people back home.
Later that night, as we sat with Abi, the nurse told us they’d also clean Abi up a bit – wash her and brush her teeth. This was something I didn’t really consider when saving her life seemed the most important thing, but it showed us that they treated her with great dignity and regarded her at every moment as though she were alive and well. She asked me if I’d like to brush her hair. Abi’s hair was matted and messy after the operations. At the best of times, Abi had a thick head of blonde hair, which was often a nightmare to comb though, so this was no easy task. I was given a small comb and a bowl of water. I dipped the comb in the water and then gently and painstakingly combed through her hair, a few strands at a time.
As I leaned over her, I recalled the numerous times I’d rolled my eyes as she asked me yet again to brush her hair out before school, when I was always in a rush, trying to do a million things at once and get everyone out of the house. Even back then though, as I was huffing, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before she wouldn’t need me to do it anymore and, despite the usual gripes, deep down I appreciated this one thing that she wanted me to do for her. It had been about six months or so since I’d been asked to do her hair, as she was now doing it herself, so being able to comb her hair now brought back so many memories. I felt privileged to do this for her.
As painful as it was to see her unconscious on the bed, not even flinching if I tugged a bit too hard on a knot in her hair, I cherish this memory. At last, I felt I could do something for her, something motherly, something special that only I could do for her the way I’d always done it.
I managed to get it looking fairly tidy on the one side I could get to and mostly on the length as it was difficult to work from the scalp. But she looked better for it. There was a small knot of her hair in the comb and I took it and put it in my locket necklace.
After it all, when we returned home on the Sunday, I reached up and touched my locket to find that it was hanging open. The hair had forced the hinge and it was now lost, forever. Tears sprung to my eyes and my lips pouted like a child who’d just lost her best toy. My husband told me not to worry, that we had other locks of her hair.
‘But this one was so special,’ I sobbed. I know it was just a tiny screwed-up knot, but it was from that special time at her bedside, a moment in this entire horrible ordeal that I’ll never forget.