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When chaos circles all around you, your mind has the ability to protect you by placing you on the outside looking in. From that viewpoint, we can experience an awareness stretching wide and panoramic. The meaning of life you have been searching for becomes a realisation, enlightenment, there is clarity. You will be exhausted by the scene, and yet still feel the effects of having been put through the grinder. There are endorphins at work. Washed clear of any negativity, a voice gives you the strength you need to merely stand. It whispers, ‘You do what you do – and you do it for love. When you open your mind and allow it to do this work, you will see a beautiful world.
Intensive care was situated in the basement, in the depths where the only lights are artificial and dim. There is an unspoken code of behaviour, you draw on composure to become part of this sterile serenity. Breathe, walk, stay calm. The nurse behind her station raises her eyes to acknowledge you are there. She smiles but will not say ‘Good Morning,’ those words would be wrong. Mornings are rarely good in her eyes. With deference, she politely understands; parents are here to be with their sick children. Some will be crying from pain and distress, some will die and not make it. These past two weeks I have heard their tears. I have watched parents sit on uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room trying to hug each other. Good mornings are difficult for the nurse to convey, she can only smile. I remember her as the nurse who asked me if I wanted to help her wash Megan in the mornings. She must have been a mother too. Only a mother would understand that need to be useful. She did that for me.
By the waiting room is a drawer full of gowns and masks, scrub your hands gown up. and secure your mask. My reflection in the mirror speaks uncertainty. When Megan opens her eyes, will she see me – her mum or an unrecognisable stranger? I need her to know I am there. I needed to know SHE was there. Today they were going to wake her. It has been over two weeks and her four-year-old body had been fighting alone with a cocktail of antibiotics, machines, tubes, beeps and hand-holding. This will be a good morning – because Megan is going to wake up.
We always knew she would come back to us. She looked at me, she had questions I could not answer. She could only speak with her eyes, the tube down her throat saw to that. I had written poems for her, on the afternoons I had sat outside on the grass scribbling in my notebook and wondering what I would say to her when she woke up.
Megan had a dolly who was sick – sick – sick, and we called for the doctor to be quick – quick – quick.
I had started to keep a journal, jotting down my thoughts. Writing poetry was something I could do to help her understand what had happened to her.
The doctor came and he shook his head, and he said to her Daddy, put her straight to bed. He wrote on some paper for a pill – pill – pill, I’ll be back in the morning with my bill- bill – bill.
An old children’s rhyme which I knew she loved. I adapted the words for her situation. I sat outside on the grass trying to find ways of helping her to make sense of what was going on.
But the ambulance came, with a blue flashing light, and off they went to hospital, in the middle of the night.
We gave her lots of magic medicine, machines and lights were beeping, We showered her with kisses whilst she lay still and sleeping.
I wrote as much as I could, poems about fairies in our garden, holidays in France and balloon rides over mystical places. I watched her eyes, I knew she was listening, Her room was bleak and sterile, Get well cards came and drawings from her school friends. My brother in law who was a musician sent cassettes of music he had composed for her to listen to. My sister came and stayed with me. We decorated her room with colourful cards and well wishes. Life from outside was coming in.
My routine had started. Every morning at 8 am. I was able to wash her and help the nurse. The machines became less frightening as I learned what each one monitored. I could walk back to the McDonald house for a rest in the afternoon. I had also borrowed a bike and this gave me some exercise. In the evening we were able to watch movies together, It was a long day but going back to the Mcdonald’s house was a refuge for me, knowing she was in safe hands. The other french parents would be bustling about in the kitchen preparing food, the french do this at mealtimes at any opportunity. The kitchen became the place, scrubbing vegetables to take their minds away from their children who were in intesive care. Often, for me, I would grab a sandwich, a bottle of wine and take to the confines of my room. I felt very alone and far from home.
Her Dad who was now living not so far away, with his new girlfriend would regularly visit and give me a break. It was hard for him, he had to work. Megan was lucky, unlike many children in the hospital, she had me there 24/7. I experienced the tears of many kids who hated seeing their parents leave. There were jobs to do, mortgages to pay etc. Some could only come once a week because they lived far away from Bordeaux. Joe and my eldest son Sam had gone back to Spain. I missed them both but for now, Megan had to take priority. She had a long way to go. Her kidneys were still not functioning and her toes and parts of her feet were starting to turn black.
I had read that children are in danger of losing limbs following meningitis. There were concerns that Megan could possibly lose her toes or even one of her feet as the skin was turning black. The surgeon decided he would like to take a look at her toes closely and an operation was organised to do this in her room in intensive care. She would need to be anaesthetised. I asked if I could be there and it was agreed I could watch the procedure. The surgeon smiled at me, ‘Regarde!’ ‘LOOK!’ He gently peeled back the black skin of her big toe to reveal the pink flesh underneath. Her toe was still alive. “We will look again next week,” he told me. From then on, they bandaged up both her little feet and we had to be patient.
Megan remained in intensive care. She still had a tube down her throat. The day came when they removed it and her first words were W-A-T-E-R. We were so delighted to hear her speak. When Joe her younger brother came to visit a few days later, she called him a Doe-Doe. I laughed because this is what she called him when she wanted to tease him. She was still the same child, the Devil Child we had nicknamed her. There were to be another two months in intensive care for Megan, however, we all agreed on one thing, The devil child personality was how Megan survived her ordeal. This would be her saving grace.
Part Three to follow. ‘Where are my Toes?’