If you’ve been looking at the BFLI blogsite or Facebook page the last couple of days and wondering where I’ve been, the answer is to hell and back.
Through it all I told myself I wasn’t going to cry until Tracey was okay. I was determined they’d be tears of joy.
What started as a guilty treat because all our kids were farmed out deteriorated into something far worse than greasy take out.
What started as a sharp pain in the stomach while we waited in the KFC drive through Tuesday afternoon has seen Tracey deteriorate until she was literally fighting for her life.
What started as a suspected muscle tear quickly deteriorated through a diagnosis of constipation then suspected cancer until my wife was being rushed from Gympie hospital through to Nambour in the back of an ambulance while being given blood because it transpired she was leaking all her own into her stomach cavity from an aneurysm on her small bowel.
To make matters worse, she fainted in the hospital and gave her head a crack on the wall, apparently injuring her neck.
But I still wasn’t panicking. I have faith in doctors and modern medicine and science in general. ‘There’s never been a better time in the history of our species to get sick’ is something I’m always saying.
“Are you following us down?” the ambulance driver asked me once Tracey was secured in the back of his vehicle with another paramedic and a doctor and a lot of bags full of red stuff. I nodded. “Well, don’t try to keep up. We’re moving under lights and siren.”
That gave panic a foothold.
I raced up to my car and took off down the highway. I don’t know how many of you have been overtaken by a fully lit up ambulance knowing someone you love is inside fighting for their life, but for everyone who hasn’t I can tell you it is surreal.
On arriving at Nambour I was shown up to a waiting room. The news wasn’t fantastic.
“It’s touch and go,” I was told. “She came in very unstable. You can’t lose and replace that much blood without consequences.”
I was still holding it together. Calls to keep family up to date and messages to close friends gave me something to do. I refused to give free reign to my emotions because I wasn’t going to entertain the idea of losing her. I did, of course. Constantly. But I also constantly demanded I think about something else.
“There’s no way she’d trust me to raise our kids by myself,” I told anyone who’d listen. As I was the only person in the waiting area this was, perhaps luckily, restricted to hospital staff, most of whom I’ll assume have had a thing or two to do with mental illness so they let it slide.
Fortunately I’m the king of distraction, as evidenced by the size of our folding pile, but I could feel myself ready to burst.
Looking back I think maybe the universe was paying attention. Or maybe the hospital has a Patch Adams who steps out of the shadows every now and then as a diversion. Either way it worked.
A banging/rattling noise made me look up from my phone. Through the glass I could see a perplexed man on the other side of the door which keeps everyone out from the procedure rooms. While I watched he rattled the whole structure again then stood back and frowned. I could seriously see the cogs turning.
He half turned, spotted the sign saying ‘swipe here’, or similar, and jiggled the mass of cards hanging around his neck in that general direction.
There was a buzz, after which he stepped forward and tried the doors again. This time they gave way and he triumphantly stepped through as the doors clicked shut behind him.
Dressed in his ‘scrubs’ and with his hair in a sort of bandanna, he gave off the impression of being a doctor. Until he looked awfully perplexed again.
“Do you know where the theatres are?” he suddenly asked me.
“Downstairs?” I told him. I’d been told if the keyhole procedure didn’t work Tracey would be taken downstairs to theatre where a second team was already waiting to open her tummy and deal with things the old fashioned way.
“Yes, but how do I get there?” he asked me in a manner which suggested he expected proper answers, if you please.
I pointed ever so slightly to his right.
“You could take the lift?” I suggested tentatively.
He turned his head to where I was indicating.
“Oh,” he said, clearly surprised. “I did not see them.”
And then he was gone.
Which I remember thinking at the time was a really good thing, because I couldn’t get the image out of my head of him standing in theatre facing a wall and demanding to know where the patient was.
It did the trick. This was my first genuine smile in several hours, and though I felt guilty about it, I was also grateful for it – as I was grateful for any chance to push away what the pessimistic part of me saw as inevitable.
The keyhole surgery to stop the bleed by lodging tiny coils on either side of the damage went really well, right up until the moment it didn’t.
A coil went the wrong way and lodged in a main artery. Fortunately they retrieved it, but not before a blood clot formed and the artery had some damage. Now the artery was closed and blood was cut off from the bulk of her bowels. They had eight hours to fix it but no vascular doc to mend it all.
So mid operation they hooked her to some machines on wheels and she got a free chopper ride to Brisbane (she’ll be pissed she didn’t get to enjoy that) where another team of experts were on hand to make an incision into the artery to remove the clot and then patch things up with a bit of vein from her leg.
At this point she had lots of blood back where it should be and the leak had been taken care of. But with all this blood being a problem stuff, part of the bowel was looking ‘unhealthy’.
I didn’t care about that. Only that by some miracle, and a whole lot of science and medical cleverness, she had survived the night.
Things were left to settle and then they took another look inside.
Before her second operation today I’d been warned of the possibility of a colostomy bag, either temporary or permanent. She didn’t need one, although they did take a couple of chunks out of her bowel.
“It can be a bit of shock when you see her with all the tubes,” people have told me at every turn. I’ve been assuring them next to the shock of all this being necessary at all, the sight of medical equipment is not worrying. In fact, I want them to bring in one of everything for her.
Then I saw Tracey lying there with all these wonderful machines surrounding her and a nurse totally focused on the bags of fluid going into and out of her. It was a joyous sight and I don’t think Tracey looked more beautiful to me even on our wedding day.
“How is she?” I asked.
“She’s doing well,” the doctor said, coming over to talk to me. Her voice was calm and encouraging and I wanted to hug her for that. Except for Patch Adams, hers were the first eyes I’d seen which didn’t look nearly as worried as mine. “Her pulse and blood pressure are up but we’re working on that: we’re giving her more fluids. Sometimes it can be from pain and the fluids help. Otherwise there are medicines to help get it back down.”
My eyes might have leaked a little bit when I saw Tracey, and they certainly would tick all the criteria to qualify as happy tears, but I was and am determined to save most of my crying for when she finally sees me. That’s the moment I’m needing. That’s the moment I’m holding out for.
But I could feel myself giving in to the emotions this roller coaster of panic has created.
I needed a Patch Adams moment again, only I had to find it in myself. Fortunately I am, as I say, the king of distraction.
“I suppose everyone asks if you’ve got the machine which goes bing?” I asked rather stupidly.
“No one’s ever asked me that,” the nurse grinned. “You can if you want.”
And so I did, and I got to laugh for only the second time in 24 hours. Only this time I wasn’t feeling guilty about it. We’re so close now. Not out of the woods entirely, but we’ve found the path. They think maybe tomorrow they’ll bring her out of this sedated slumber.
You might think I’m a little silly to hold it in until Tracey wakes up, and maybe I am being unnecessarily stubborn, but the simple fact is I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather share what will be one of the happiest moments of my life with.
Can I just please throw out a big thank you to all the medical staff involved, from all the surgeons to the nurses, at each of the hospitals, and to the paramedics and the chopper pilot. You saved her life, each and every one of you in that chain, and this family is in your debt. Again, thank you.