I went over to the Macmillan Unit in Christchurch – as usual – only this time it was to say ‘Goodbye’ to David. I knew it was only a matter of hours or days. I kissed him on the forehead and told him it was ok to go… I don’t know if he knew I was there or not. David had been ill with prostate cancer for 18 months. We agreed that when he really became ill that he would be at home. I became his carer for the last few months of his life.
I did not sleep that night and was on the garden deck at 6am. There was one lone star in the dark morning sky twinkling at me… I guessed it was David saying… “It’s ok Babs I’ve gone” I climbed back into bed with Lottie our crazy boxer dog lying on David’s side of the bed.
The call arrived at 8am to say David had passed at 6.14am that morning. My best friend and husband of 42 years was now gone. What do I do now? The Macmillan Unit asked me to come sooner rather than later as there was only one other patient in the ward and it was not nice to share a ward with someone who had just died – I suppose this gentleman (also called David) might be thinking… ‘My turn next’.
I got up and dressed and went to say my goodbyes to David once more – but only to the shell of the man I loved. Security was even more strict than usual. Now one had to mask up, use gel and even put on a plastic apron before going through the locked doors to get inside the unit. My daughter Siobhan, son-in-law Paul, and grandchildren had rushed down from Basingstoke to take me to the unit. I was in such an emotional state it would have proved difficult to drive. My daughter Siobhan was not allowed in.
I spent the weekend trying to plan the funeral, which was limited to 20 people because of COVID-19. This had to be the one most difficult thing I have ever had to do. I had always though I would be the first to go.
The family arrived again on the Monday to take me to the Macmillan unit to pick up David’s belongings. My daughter had wanted to see her dad on the Friday morning, but she was not allowed to see him – only one family member was allowed. In some ways I’m pleased this happened as I did not want her to be left with this image of David – it was not her dad in that bed – he had long gone.
Besides, I discovered that the MacMillan Unit had had an ‘outbreak’ of coronavirus on the Thursday and they were shutting down all the wards. I was fine apart from a small tickly cough, but as I am always a bit chesty, I was not thinking it was COVID-19 at the time.
Once the family left after lunch I climbed into bed and switched off from the world and just cried. At the same time a friend’s son was doing some gardening work for me. We kept our distance and wore masks etc, but unbeknown to me his spade sliced through the Virgin cable and so I was without Wi-Fi and Internet – but what did I care? – David was gone and how was I going to get through without him?
The next few days were a bit of a blur. I just wanted to world to stop and for me to jump off. Nothing else seemed to matter, but I knew I had to get everything organised for David’s funeral.
I had telephoned the doctor and asked for some antibiotics for my chesty cough. A good friend went and picked these up from the chemist and dropped them at my door.
I stopped answering my mobile. My landline, computer and Wi-Fi were not working. But I really did not care about anything. My son-in-law Paul, finally got through to me and threatened that if I did not go and get tested for COVID-19, he would telephone the doctor/111/and the police. At this stage I was more scared of the police calling round so I did as I was told.
Paul turned up the next day with large bag of food and a ‘Finger Pulse Oxygen Reader’ and insisted on phoning each day to get the readings. This drove me quite mad, but I knew he and Siobhan meant well. My levels were always below the 90s around 88 it was because of this that they insisted I go and get tested. This was somewhere around day three. I left my bed and drove to St Pauls Lane to be checked. I figured that ‘if’ I had COVID-19 then I could not call for a taxi or ask anyone to drive me – so I drove myself, which was silly as I drove up on the pavement twice. I was in a foggy mental state.
Once home I curled up with Lottie and cried. My world was falling apart, and I was on my own in the house and could not look after myself, let alone Lottie.
The NHS message came through two days later saying
OMG what do I do? First thing was to cancel the funeral and the flowers and the printers. The local funeral directors George Scott took everything in hand and dealt with everything in the most patient and diplomatic and compassionate way. I had hit the wall at 100 miles an hour and all I wanted to do was hide under the covers.
As I was not eating there was no need for food. Then the horrors began. I ached all over – lower-back pain first – then it moved up my back. I had absolutely no energy even to get out of bed to feed the dog or spend a penny. My breathing was very laboured – no taste, no smell and simply thinking I just want to be with David, so I don’t care if I live or die.
Never having travelled to Borneo in real life – for two days I think I was there. I was feeling really yucky so took two Paracetamol and climbed under the covers. I remember waking and I was sopping wet. My nightshirt was so wet I could wring it out. My hair had droplets dripping off the ends. It felt like I had climbed into a bath of cold water with my clothes on and climbed straight into bed. Mobile calls went unanswered. My poor sister from Dublin did not know if I was alive or dead. Some friends discussed getting in touch with social services. No one knew what was happening, only Paul and the funeral directors.
I was looking to the ceiling the light, which consisted of five glass upside-down domes. Suddenly out they came one by one – large black smiling spiders – they began to build a web ladder and then climbed down this with outstretched legs. They pulled me out of bed and carried me up to the light as we danced around the light fitting singing ‘Ring a Ring a Roses’. I was not scared.
Obviously being in ‘lockdown’ things were beginning to become a whole lot more difficult. Friends rallied round with food parcels – all left by the door. Zena brought proper home cooked meals especially my favourite cauliflower cheese. There were lots of flowers, chocolates, Baileys, soup and bereavement cards galore all mixed up with get well cards and masses being said for David. My head was very foggy, and I scanned the cards without really seeing the words or who they were from.
Having woken from the ’Borneo experience’ I went downstairs only to find at least two days of doggie poo in the lounge and dining room along with dried in wee – when and how this happened I do not know. Obviously, I was letting Lottie out for a wee I’m sure! Poor darling not only had she lost her best friend in the whole world – her daddy, David – but what the heck was happening to her mummy?
I had not eaten for 10 days and had not been to the toilet properly in all this time. I telephoned the doctor and explained… he sent a prescription to the surgery where another great friend went and picked it up and dropped it by my door.
I recall maybe day six or seven, I lay on the cold bathroom tiles and sobbed because I could not go to the toilet. Eventually the prescription worked.
My oxygen levels remained around 88/89 so Paul insisted I telephone 111, which I did. After going through all my symptoms they gave me a two-hour window frame and said an ambulance would be here.
In this time, I was able to pack an overnight bag and got some wonderful friends to come to pick up Lottie. I did not know what lay ahead or for how long I would be in hospital. At Least the funeral was on hold, which was some relief.
Arriving at Bournemouth Hospital in the evening we waited until a bed could be found. Maybe about 15 minutes. I was taken to the Acute Medical Ward where everything happened so fast. I went for an X-ray, followed by a scan followed by oxygen levels and blood sugar levels.
I was then transferred to Ward 14 – the other side of the building by two male members of staff. I was given my own room. I even had my own en-suite toilet. Various tests were being carried out even throughout the night with blood thinning injections in my tummy – so you not much sleep. But I did feel safe and I felt I was finally in the right place.
The following morning, I was feeling much better and even looked forward to some porridge. I slept a little better, by doubling my sleeping pills.
Everything kicked in around 11am with everyone doing their rounds. There were more tests and lots of questions and form filling. Then came the news that I had to move to a ward next door, which was a bay of six beds – the reason being they had a gentleman arriving and they did not want to put him in with the ladies. So off I was wheeled to a much larger ward. They should have had a sign over the door like they have in Harrods Department Store: ‘You are now entering another world’.
With three beds on the left and three beds on the right, I was put in the middle on the left. They wanted a better oxygen reading so were going to inject into my wrist. The young nurse said, “This is really going to hurt.”
I said “why are you telling me this?” To which she replied, “It’s true – it really hurts.” I said “Who needs a nurse like you around? You should be telling me it’s NOT going to hurt.”
They thought this was really funny and in a way so did I because I thought she was joking. After all I had a cannula in my left arm and a bigger one in my right. I had been a blood donor for over 20 years, so a needle is a needle, right?
A lovely young male nurse was one side of the bed, she the other, just to be prepared I gripped the side of my bed with my left hand. Normally I don’t cry out in pain, but OMG this was like no other injection. As I almost died with the pain – what do you think came on the Hospital Radio Bedside? – of which I am a member for over 30 years – ‘Things can only get Better’. So now I’m thinking ‘merde’ I think it’s going to get a whole lot worse.
What was to follow was: the elderly lady to my right cried out like a banshee throughout the night. It was most distressing, and I had no earplugs. The lady opposite was screaming out for a banana at 1.30am in the morning and saying, “I want it now.”
Things did not improve the following morning. The older lady to the right of me kept pulling off her oxygen tube and when I saw blood I knew had to get the nurses’ attention – none of these patients were able to get out of bed – at least I could disconnect my oxygen and move around. I was beginning to think that the ambulance guys had taken me to a mental hospital by mistake because then all hell let loose.
The lady opposite wanted a bedpan and started to climb out of bed and though I tried to tell her to stay in bed while I fetched a nurse, she began to scream, “I want a bedpan and I want it now!” Oblivious of my offer of help, she climbed out and fell to the floor. Next, six members of staff closed the screens around her bed and a blue blow-up bed was brought into the ward as they did their very best to contain this emergency.
The staff managed to get her back onto her bed with great efficiency. They were brilliant. When the screens were opened there, she was lying there in her bed like lady muck. I wondered who she was in real life and put her down as some high-flying CEO of some big company. Amazing how things like ill health can bring you down to size. My thought also turned to the young male nurses having to bring commodes to elderly ladies – it all seemed so wrong. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.
The same nurse who told me my injection would hurt was on duty. She was very pretty with corn plaits wound up on the top of her head. She was the daughter that every mother wished to have – apart from telling the truth about my injection. We spoke of Covid and how she had to wash her hair every day. And more importantly she told me she had to pay £7 each day to park at the hospital. Oh boy my blood pressure nearly went through the roof. How unfair it this? I began taking notes… like I went into hospital with COVID-19 and came out with a bee in my bonnet.
She then went to attend to a little sparrow of a lady who looked about 100 years old. This little old lady wanted to get out of her bed. Whilst this young nurse held her hand and tried to reassure her that she would stay by her side and not leave her, the lady was almost punching the young nurse and trying to climb over the rails of her bed to get out. It began to look like a boxing match. Eventually this amazing brilliant young nurse brough calm. I will never forget her for as long as I live – it had to be a ‘calling’ – she was so suited to her job. I would like to thank her from the bottom of my heart for showing such warmth and compassion at such a difficult time. I have always loved and respected nurses – some of my friends are nurses – but you don’t get to see them working. If I’d had to choose an angel on earth that day – it would have to be her.
After three days in hospital, I no longer had Covid – I was clear. Obviously, I had suffered most of it at home. This was great news because now I could pick up where I had left off, although at the same time I dreaded what lay ahead. Having sorted out David’s obituary and what songs and verses and who would be invited, I was able to forget about Covid for a while and concentrate on David and all the planning – the funeral was now rebooked for 4 December. Plus, I needed to get Lottie home.
We had to re-do the order of service sheets and re-order of the flowers, but in the bigger scheme of things this was nothing – I still had Mount Everest to climb.
So, here we are in January 2021 (when I wrote this) and my smell and taste have still not returned. My energy level is getting there. My muscle mass has not fully returned – being in bed for almost 13 days along with steroids which all have had an effect on my health. I still have a lung nodule and when I wrote this was waiting for a follow up appointment to check this out.
Trying to deal with life without David and then COVID-19 makes 2020 the worst year of my life.
But I’m usually a half-full-glass type of person and I try to count my blessings. After all, would I swap my situation for another’s? Would I heck.
I think of all the other people out there who are older than me, on their own and living in fear – how frightening it must be for them.
I’m playing by the rules – I don’t see my family. I don’t get to hug my lovely grandchildren Noah and Isla. I keep myself to myself and do two small local shops each week. I walk Lottie daily, which helps both of us.
2020 has been such a difficult year – not just for us here in the UK – but all over the world. I try and look for the good in things and I can only hope that when people in the future look back on this time – that they too will realise – that this is when we woke up to realise the important things in life, such as family, friends, and looking after our planet. Without these – life is not worth living.
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