When Paul rang me from the ambulance that was rushing his dad to hospital, I knew I had to be with him. I phoned his sister in Bristol, to let her know, then phoned my son-in-law. He jumped in the car, picked me up, and we were there within twelve minutes of getting Paul’s news.
The ambulance hadn’t arrived, so I announced myself and waited outside. A policeman was standing nearby when a nurse came out to show me to the visitors room. She took me through the “Ambulances Only” doors. I turned to the policeman, gave him the thumbs up, and flippantly said “Hey – I’m going through the restricted doors – it’s anarchy in the UK.” The nurse and the policeman laughed with me.
I haven’t laughed much since that moment. I hadn’t known that “Visitors Room” is a euphemism for “Bad News Room”.
She brought me up to date. The words “cardiac arrest in the back of the ambulance” dropped me into an abyss. The paramedics got his heart going again, and were doing all that they could for him. Deep down I knew it was over, but I said,
“He must get through the next year. He has to.”
She asked me if there was some particular reason, but I just repeated my demand. I didn’t want to talk about how vulnerable our children are right now.
I rang Laura’s fiance, Dave – told him that Mike had had a massive heart attack. Dave accelerated.. Nobody can drive like Dave, in an emergency.
I lost track of the time. I didn’t know whether Paul had called in the early evening or the middle of the night. Everything in me was focused on Mike’s survival, and on Paul’s strength.
The door opened. Paul and his partner, Krusti, were ushered in, both weeping, leaning on each other, hardly able to stand, through shock and grief. Krusti’s eye make-up was smeared over both of their faces.
I’d been asked if I wanted to be with Mike while they were working on him. I’d replied that I needed to be wherever Paul chose to be. When asked, Paul said he couldn’t watch it any more.
He kept repeating that he’d seen it when Mike’s heart stopped, seen him cease breathing.
“I thought he was dead. I thought we’d lost him.”
He went through the events of the day; how he’d been worried about Mike, but he and Krusti had needed to come into town to collect his daily meds, so he rang for an ambulance while he was on the bus, but was told that an ambulance couldn’t come unless the caller was with the patient. He’d gone home to find his dad sitting downstairs, apparently well and cheerful. They’d sat together for a while, talking and joking, then Mike said he wanted to go to bed. He didn’t have the strength it make it up the stairs, only getting as far as the landing. Paul knew there was something terribly wrong. He said he’d call an ambulance. Mike protested, but Paul phoned the emergency services, and they came.
Someone came in and gave ups an update about Mike. It wasn’t positive. They questioned us about details of his state of health. There was something missing from the puzzle. They didn’t know what he had suffered the cardiac arrest.
The visitors room door opened again. Krusti’s dad came in.
A doctor showed up. Mike was on life-support. The doctor gently explained that he had no chance of survival. I finally allowed the truth to surface.
Stephen, the younger of Mike’s two sons from his first marriage, turned up with his girlfriend. Stephen’s pupils were huge. He was sagging, but he put up a brave front. We waited.
Out in the world, clocks ticked, informing the general public of the speed of time, while in that room, time got lost in the agonised air.
A charge nurse came and told us that we could be with Mike. Everyone filed into a room that was partitioned off with blue, wipe-down curtains. Mike was unconscious. A respirator tube protruded from his mouth.
I looked around, pleased to see that my family were supporting each other, and I could feel Laura and Dave approaching in the car. I wanted to get them to Mike as quickly as possible, so I ran outside just as their car screeched to a halt. I opened the passenger door and took Laura’s hand, trusting that Dave had prepared her for the worst. He had. I led her to Mike’s bedside.
I watched this little group of people; my two younger children, my stepson, his girlfriend – who I had never met – Krusti, Dave, Krusti’s Dad. Paul was locked into his own emotions, but embarrassed by his extreme grief. Krusti was grieving; at the same time supporting Paul. Laura’s shock was already dipping her in and out of reality. Stephen’s girlfriend was doing all she could to fill in the cracks that he couldn’t hide. Stephen was amazing in his own indefinable way, hugging Paul, hugging Laura, then going back to his girlfriend for an injection of strength. Dave was standing by for whatever might happen, and Krusti’s dad was unreadable. I later learned that he was devastated.
I tried to be with the right person at the right time, but I kept looking at Mike, my estranged partner of over twenty years, and I realised that I wasn’t only there to support my children.
I bent over him, and spoke words that were for him alone to hear. I wanted him to move on in peace.
Mike’s arms were twitching involuntarily. We were told that it was because his blood pressure was dropping.
I went over to Stephen, and asked him how he felt about the ventilator. We agreed that it was time to let Mike go. The charge nurse had told him that Mike’s that “Mike’s body was “unhappy”. Mike had been showered with love and kisses. There was no more to be done. The agony of waiting was stretching out.
With Stephen’s blessing, I asked the charge nurse to request that the doctor switch off the respirator. He showed up soon after.
What followed was horrendous. I expect it always is, but then Mike’s body calmed down. His breathing slowed. He became peaceful.
Breathing ceased within a few minutes, at 12.24 am on Sunday morning.
Goodbye Mike. I know that you tried to be a better person, and I appreciate it. Maybe at some point in the next few days I’ll get a bit of time to myself, to analyse my feelings.
Meanwhile, our beautiful children need me. Rest assured that I’m here for them, and for Stephen, should he wish it.
©Jane Paterson Basil.