This is a long one so why not listen to the audio version?
“Mum, I really liked your article about France and I am looking forward to reading your next one”
Somewhat surprised that my daughter had read my blog, as none of my three kids ever follow what I write, I must admit I was left feeling a little baffled. I am not surprised they do not read my ramblings, apparently, it is normal, what could I write that would possibly interest them? However, If I was to dig deep into why I write the stuff that fills my blog pages, it is probably for them anyhow, which I understand may seem pointless to them at the moment but I do have my reasons. When I researched my Great Grandfather a few years ago, I felt sorry I had not sat down with my parents to talk about our family history. My research was teaching me so much about who I was. One day in the future, they may not have me around to tell any stories. that is why I write.
As teenagers and young adults, we focus forward on the lives that we want to build for ourselves – our parents, well, they are just not that interesting. I get it, I really do.
So what was in the article that could spark the interest of my nineteen-year-old daughter, who was usually more interested in what clothes she was going to take to Uni and the latest make-up ranges? Her reaction was out of character until it dawned on me.
The article mentioned her older brother and was a story detailing a holiday I had taken in France with him, a couple of years before she was born. Firstly suspecting a little jealousy on her part, since for as long as I can remember they had this competitive nature between them. I found this funny at times, amusing me to the point of joining in their game, allowing them to use me as the goal post. I really do not mind, especially when their elder brother pitches in. It is not that they want to be my favourite child, it is that they do not want the other sibling to be.
“If you want Mum, you can write about the time I had Meningitis” she went on to text me Was Meg saying it was her turn to feature in my obviously non-interesting blog? Perhaps, but she does have a great story, and I would be honoured to tell it. One day she may write down in her own words what she remembers.
As a small family of four and two cats, we all share a sense of humour. None of us resides in the same house together anymore, except for the cats, who have no reason to leave home and really do not care about getting attention so long as somebody, anybody, gives them food. Our family has been changing and the responsibility has begun to shift. My kids are aiming to position themselves, they have all reached adulthood, are totally independent and Mum, me, who always held the reigns, has had to let go. It is fun to watch which one of them leaps into leadership and wants to be seen driving the old ship or fleet forward. They complain if they need to do something, that is normal. We are still a family that is for sure, however many miles exist between us.
Nicknamed the Devil Child by one of her brothers, Megan May, Joyce, Birch, was the daughter I had always wanted. However I knew from the moment she was born, when her baby eyes showed defiance and determination, this little girl was going to be a force to be reckoned with. She was born in France in the small town of Angouleme and I was a mature Mum. There were twenty years between Megan and her elder brother.
She entered the world when we were in the middle of doing a restoration on a French Farmhouse. Not the best time to have a baby. We were a busy household and in her first couple of years, she was surrounded by builders, sawdust, cement mixers and paintbrushes. She slotted into our life with ease, she had to. The little rosebud cherub that I had dreams of buying black shiny patent shoes for in Paris, stuck out her chin and was happier playing in her wellies and the mud. Unlike her brothers who were only too aware of consequences when they were naughty. We only had to give them a stern look and threaten no TV, this cheeky little devil child would lift up her chin, clench her fists and give me some attitude that said, “Yeah go on try me”! We showered her with love and met her demands explaining to her in parental terms. “Be a good girl Megan” then saying it again, somehow she would manipulate us all to get what she wanted.
We did not have time for tantrums so she just screamed louder to get us to hear her. I once caught her scratching Joes name into a table so he would get into trouble. ‘I just saw you do it’ I would say to her, ‘No JoJo did it she would reply. And so the competition began.
In 2005, Our lives changed again. We had sold the french farmhouse and I had moved to Spain with the kids following the breakdown of my relationship with her Dad. It was amicable and we arranged for her to spend school holidays in France. She had only been with him for a week when I received the news every parent dreads. She had contracted Meningitis. Her dad had called to say that she had a cold and he had put her to bed. When he had woken her to take her to the toilet, he noticed brown marks on her arm and called the doctor.
My son Joe and I had already left to spend a month visiting friends in the UK. I had driven down to Teignmouth to attend a BBQ. We were just tucking into a feast when her Dad called. “We have been trying to trace you, Megs is in hospital, they think she has contracted the bacterial form of meningitis” He then asked me to talk to the doctor who told me that they thought she was ok, I did not need to come and they had given her something to bring down her temperature. I was allowed to speak to her. “Mummy I am scared,” my four-year-old daughter told me in a weak voice.
‘We will call you if there is any change’ her Dad told me. “Keep your phone on.”
Un-nerved by her voice I tried not to worry, telling myself she was in good hands and anyhow, she had already been vaccinated against this disease when she was tiny. But when I called back the next morning expecting to talk to her, she had been transferred to Bordeaux children’s hospital in the middle of the night. Her condition had deteriorated. As this nightmare un-folded, I immediately drove to Bristol and caught a plane direct to Bordeaux. It was the most difficult journey I had ever made in my life. When I boarded the plane and turned off my phone, I did not know if she would still be alive when I arrived there. Sitting in that plane seat, I prayed, I even visualised her healing, surrounded in a bubble. If someone had said jump up and down in mud three times, I would have done it. I would have done anything. I think any parent would. I met her Dad at the hospital and he told me we would be unable to see her as they had her in intensive care and they were attaching tubes to her. When we did eventually see her she was hooked up to wires and machines, her little body was bloated. Overwhelmed, I leaned against the young women Doctor and pleaded with her not to let my daughter die.
That evening my partner and I prepared ourselves for bad news as her vital organs were all showing signs of breaking down. We stood in the corridor watching as 11 doctors came in and out of her room each time looking at us and muttering the words ‘C’est Bon.’ (It’s good) she suffered three heart attacks and was hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine. I was floating in this mist of confusion.What was happening could not be real. This was the worst night of our lives and nothing could have prepared us for this chaos . The female doctor stayed with her. I asked her how long she had been on this shift.
“29 hours,” she said. ” I promise you I won’t leave her until she is stable.” She must have been working since Megan had arrived the previous night. There are true angels in life and this young woman was one of them.
“It is my job,” she said but it is more than that. This woman was saving my child’s life. How can that just be a job?
Fortunately, that night they were able to stabilise her and we were given a small room to sleep and rest. My daughter was now in a coma and would stay that way for the next two weeks.
At four o’clock the next morning I strangely woke with a smile on my face. I knew she had survived through the night. Feeling anxious, I walked down the corridor towards intensive care in those early hours and I was able to go and sit with her. I could not touch her or cuddle her. I could only look on as her short life hung on to the fragile thread of survival. She looked serene on the outside, peaceful and sleeping yet I knew that inside her little body, now pumped full of antibiotics, there was a battle going on. I knew my daughter and her strength of character. “Keep fighting Megs, I know you can do this.” Holding her hand I felt her fear, but I also sensed her anger. Could it be possible I wondered that she was able to hear us – if she was screaming out, wanting to tell us that she was not going to give in to this nightmare. “This was one hell of a way to get 100% attention Meg. I’m here and I am not leaving your side,” I mouthed to her.
Friends and family gathered around for support, The doctors warned us that she could be in hospital for a few months. This evil disease swept through her body like a storm rapidly doing damage where it could. Blisters appeared on her body and sepsis set in. Poisons battled with her immunity causing inflammation throughout her body. She was facing the danger of blood clots and organ failure as oxygen was getting blocked from reaching her vital organs. Kidney failure was the big worry and she was continuously hooked up to a dialysis machine. The hardest part for us as parents was that we felt so helpless. Her Dad and I had gone through our own battles. This all seemed so petty now. Megan became our priority and this job of protecting her fell heavy on our shoulders. Putting our trust in her doctors we knew there was a waiting game to be played out, but we were soon to realise this was no game. We were facing a huge test, one that we needed to pass. we drew on every positive thought we could muster. We picked ourselves up knowing there was a huge task ahead. If Meg’s was fighting like crazy then we were here to cheer her on. It was never about us, it was about her survival. We were convinced she was here to stay so all negative thoughts and fears were shut away and out of sight.
When your child is so sick, you do not want to leave their side, but thanks to our friends we were able to understand that the best way to help her, for now, was to make sure we had somewhere to stay, a meal inside us and the ability to get some good rest. The McDonalds Trust, a charitable organisation supplied a house within the hospital grounds. We had a room and a bathroom and a communal kitchen. All our personal needs were catered for and this was a godsend. We were able to meet other parents who were in similar situations, chat and share meals. Our room had a direct telephone line to intensive care which was invaluable. We could rest knowing that her doctors could reach us at a moments notice. Setting up an email to report on her progress helped us to focus. This also stopped family and friends from constantly calling us. During those first few days, I would jump every time the phone rang. Would there be bad news on the end of the line? My son Joe had flown back to Spain to stay with his elder brother and I resigned myself to the fact that I would stay in France until she recovered and I could take her home.
It helped to write those emails every night. Her eye flickered today. I would tap on the keyboard. The little things that we do every day in our lives that we assumingly take for granted, I would find myself conveying with a sense of joy. We hung on to good news like it was a celebration, however insignificant it may seem. This became my first lesson. How miraculous life was, hanging precariously over us all swinging like a pendulum between life and death. We should all be grateful to wake up every morning, to feel the sun on our faces, to breathe air and to feel our bodies move. Love was pouring in from everywhere and it was making us feel blessed.
And then, there were the moments of despair. her toes started to turn black because of her bad circulation. We rubbed her feet to keep them warm. We eagerly waited for her to pass urine which seemed to take forever, praying for her body to work. Chaos was all around but then there were messages.
When chaos consumes you, events beyond your control, disable you and there is overwhelming helplessness, our minds have a survival strategy, I really believe this. Some will say it is the universe or even God but I believe it is built into us as humans. We develop a sense of awareness like our eyes are being stretched wide open and our ears pick up on every sound. Our senses are on red alert. Then like falling from the sky or sent up from the depths of the earth, we can see and hear the messages as they present themselves. They come with such clarity and reason. One evening after spending the day with Megan, I sat on the concrete balcony outside my room in the McDonald house. I sat on the cold paving slab and looked out. The sky was grey and the building opposite was grey and lacking in any beauty. The cold street at the back of the hospital was empty and silent. I looked down at my feet and there was a small daisy, growing up between the paving slab. It was defying all the odds, No soil, green grass or garden, no water, no light, no love. Just stretching up and surviving. We can do this I thought. Life will find a way. Megan will find a way.
Joe and his brother came to visit and both had to be prepared before they could see her. The shock of seeing their sister worried me.
“Have you warned the doctor?” Joe said, I looked at him, puzzled.
“She is going to be very angry when she wakes up”
“Would you like to be here when she wakes?” I asked him. He shook his head.
Kids say it as it is.
Coming out of her coma was going to take a few days and the Doctors took great care to monitor her. At that point it was hard to tell if her brain had been starved of any oxygen and she had suffered any brain damage. I felt positive and went along with Joe’s theory that by next week we were going to be dealing with an angry child. A little girl who was going to wake up, with a tube down her throat and her arms tied to the bed so she could not pull any tubes from her. I had no idea what the next few days would bring. I wanted my fiesty little girl back and I hung on to this thought.
Part two of this article will be available in a few days.