It’s been about a week of nothing but Tracey and hospital posts, but then it’s been a week and a bit of Tracey being in hospital and recovering, so what to do?
The good news is she continues to defy my pessimist’s imagination and do well.
So well, in fact, she managed to make it with the family to Qld Parliament House Annexe last night for the official renaming of CareFlight to LifeFlight. In fact, it turns out we were sort of the guests of honour, which I didn’t expect when they asked if we’d like to come along.
“And if one of you would like to say a few words about your experience with us last October, that’d be great,” said Ian from LifeFlight.
Tracey nominated me, because, “I did the hard yards to get us invited.”
So I stood up and said ‘a few words’. For someone who has historically avoided public speaking, I sure had a lot to say.
We did good. I only stuffed up half a dozen or so times during my speech, only two drinks were spilled on the previously nice carpet by my kids and the phone Miss6 was playing on only went off twice during other people’s speeches, including the Premier’s. I’m calling it – that’s a win, people!
I must say, it was surprisingly enjoyable hobknobbing with the decision makers of our state government, and even more surprising to find them much more talkative than what you’d think from the world of ten second sound bites they usually communicate in. Everyone was there to support LifeFlight and it was great, although odd to have our family singled out so often during the night by people as though we did something special, instead of it quite obviously being the other way around.
If you’re at all interested, this was my speech, much of which was repurposed from the blog for the night. There’s supposed to be a video of it somewhere which I’ll add to this post just as soon as I locate it and make sure I don’t look too much like a knobber:
When I was asked to come and speak here I was a little nervous. I’m not a lover of public speaking.
But the thing is, I couldn’t say no to this opportunity because I think we all need to speak up for services like LifeFlight. They’re just too important to sit quietly by and hope someone else is making a good case.
Where we live, you can hear the LifeFlight helicopter when it comes and goes from the Gympie hospital.
It’s loud. It’s unmissable. It’s wonderful.
It means someone is being given their best chance of surviving some horrible ordeal.
When Tracey got her free helicopter ride, statistically she had a 10% chance of survival. An artery had burst in her stomach and, because it’s so rare a thing in someone her age and the symptoms aren’t cut and dry, she’d been diagnosed as having constipation, and after a scan, with suspected cancer.
It was neither. It was an aneurism.
For two days she’d been bleeding internally and the laxatives weren’t fixing it.
I have faith in doctors and modern medicine and science in general. I believe we’re extremely lucky in this country to have a system in place to help people, regardless of their economic or social standing.
‘There’s never been a better time in the history of our species to get sick’ is something I was always saying when people came into the bank I worked at up until last year. It gives you something to hang your hopes on even when things look their worst.
And when Tracey collapsed in the emergency department of the Gympie hospital it was the trigger they needed to understand what the problem was.
“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. They’d be giving her blood the whole way to Nambour. I nodded at the driver. “Well, don’t try to keep up,” he said. “We’re moving under lights and siren.”
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 hospital, 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.”
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. It could be fixed, they said, but they didn’t have a vascular doctor.
Mid operation they hooked her to some machines on wheels and she got a free chopper ride to Brisbane.
Mid operation. I didn’t even know it was possible.
You might think, given Tracey is here tonight, this was pretty much the end of the story. It wasn’t.
Unfortunately, even with everyone’s efforts, much of her small bowel had been starved of blood for too long and had started to die. Plus, even after cutting and pasting what was left, they’d found even more perforations. Then an infection set in. “We’re not encouraged by what we’ve seen,” her surgeon told me. “Usually we’d remove the bit of bowel in question, only she doesn’t have enough left for us to take more.”
I went home to Gympie and gathered everyone into the lounge room. Looking up expectantly, our five youngest kids sat amongst members of our extended family. Their older brother and sister, their grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins.
“This has been the best weekend,” grinned Joshua excitedly. The kids had been farmed out to family to give me a chance to be with their mum.
His two cousins nodded agreement from a short distance down the lounge. They love each other, these kids, and I love them for it.
All the kids looked at me expectantly. Excitedly.
I took no joy in knowing I was about to hurt them to their core.
“You guys know your Mum’s been sick,” I started. “Very sick. And you know she’s had a number of major operations. The thing is, guys, she’s done so well. She’s really been fighting. She shouldn’t have made it past the first night. It’s only because your mummy is so young and fit she’s made it this far. She really has amazed everyone at the hospital. But the thing is I am going to take you guys down to Brisbane today to see her.”
“Is she awake?” they wanted to know.
This was killing me. I was about to destroy the worlds of these beautiful children Tracey and I have made and intuitively sworn to protect. While the smiles of these five little kids sitting amongst the family got even brighter and more excited at the prospect of seeing their mother, I could feel the unspoken support from the adults in the room and I was so grateful they were there with us. “The thing is, Mummy isn’t doing very well. She’s fighting though,” I added, because, by God, she was. “And she’s got an amazing team of doctors and nurses looking after her.”
The faces of the older three children took on questioning expressions. They finally sensed what was coming.
“Is there anything else they can do?” one of them asked.
“No,” I said, hating myself.
“Is she going to be okay?” another wanted to know.
This was it.
And then the scene in front of me collapsed.
Children screamed and wailed, and adults swept in to support and comfort them. It was dreadful. It was heart wrenching. It still cuts me up.
But…as you can see…it did work out okay.
You know that thing I said I say about there never being a better time in history to be sick? Now I have evidence, because for Tracey that’s truer than ever. They asked if they could use Tracey in a trial where they did blood tests every half hour to monitor the maximum dosage of antibiotics her body could handle. Naturally, I said yes. And it worked. It beat the infection which was ultimately going to take her.
Tracey was 36 days in ICU and nearly three months in hospital all up, had ten operations and by the time she left was down to 90cm of small bowel and had two bags on her belly.
But, by the skin of her graft, she made it.
It was hard for our family – well, not so much for Tracey, she slept through the worst of it – but I wouldn’t change a thing for fear of changing the wrong bit.
You might think, given our journey, that LifeFlight had only a small part to play in this. But we’re here tonight because if LifeFlight wasn’t a thing, Tracey wouldn’t have made it through that very first night.
When you think about what LifeFlight do, you might be tempted to say they fly sick and injured people to hospitals. Even that they do it quicker than an ambulance on the road, or safer and smoother, and leave it at that. And to a point, you’d be right. But it’s not the whole story.
What they actually do is give parents a chance to get their child back, and wives their husbands, brothers their sisters.
What you, you magnificent people at LifeFlight, and you, you wonderful people who support them, have done for our family is to give me my best friend back, and our children their Mum. You’ve actually changed their childhood. You’ve changed their lives.
All because you keep LifeFlight in the air.
So, from Team Devereaux, we just want to say thank you, and I hope when we’re back home we’ll continue to hear the sound of people being airlifted to where they need to be.
We were so very chuffed to be asked to help out at the name changing and to give our perspective on how this organisation can change lives. Plus, rather wonderfully, I got to buy new clothes, because apparently a geeky Pokemon tee, jeans, Vans and a Stormtrooper belt wouldn’t cut the mustard. I have to say, I really do like my new shirt and pants, but somehow I now own pointy suede shoes with a matching belt. They were on a super dooper special, so I’m hoping they’ll come back into fashion before I have to do another speech somewhere and wear them again. It happened with flares and paisley, so there’s a chance.
On a more serious note, we’ve donated to LifeFlight and I guarantee we’ll continue to do so. RACQ and other corporate partners help support them, as does our State Government, but they need every cent they can get. As my family can attest, it’s money well spent. Here’s a link if you’d like to consider helping them out in some small way: LifeFlight Donations