My stay in hospital ended up taking two days and two nights and involved two blood transfusions and an iron infusion all of which took hours to seep into my bloodstream.
I’d only ever experienced a hospital stay when my children were born, and back then I was so in love with my tiny new humans that I didn’t really even registered the fact that a hospital stay is basically one long desert of waiting – with food, coffee and medical treatment forming little oases in the lonely landscape. Sadly, my fantasy of fluffy white pillows was dashed – I only had one (blue) pillow (with a scratchy pillowcase) – but this was compensated for by the coolness of my remote control bed (the potential of which Youngest Son spied with delight when he visited me)
I also discovered that time moves differently in hospital from everywhere else. On the ward I was on, nothing was rushed, and there were no timetables. My day-to-day life is governed by times – the time I have to get up, the time I have to wake the kids up, the time they have to leave for school, the time I go to work, the time the kids get home, the time I get home, the time I cook the tea, the time I can collapse with a glass of wine…. all of this didn’t exist in hospital. There was a clock on the wall, ticking inexorably round, but the time it showed wasn’t relevant to anything that was happening. I had a slightly muffled sense of being in a vacuum, of being isolated from the outside world, of things that are vitally important in normal life being of no relevance in this Other World of hospital.
In this serenely strange world, things that would normally press upon my consciousness (like when E would pay some money), seemed distant and almost dreamlike. The only thing that I remained concerned about was the kids. I knew Oldest Son would probably be oblivious to my absence, but I thought Youngest Son would fret and I wasn’t at all sure how Youngest Daughter would feel about me not being there. She didn’t pick up her phone, or answer a text for almost the whole time I was in hospital, but when I did speak to her she seemed subdued but ok, so I told myself that I was worrying over nothing and that they were all fine. But, when I was waiting to be discharged, reality broke into the sheltered Other World I’d been living in. Youngest Daughter sent a message to our family group chat apologising for the state of the house and saying she’d had a ‘manic episode’ and panic attacks the night before and had kicked doors and thrown stuff around.
I called her immediately, and asked what had happened and how she was. She was calm by now and told me that she’d freaked out because she was so worried about me being in hospital and anxious without me in the house. She also told me that she’d sent loads of angry texts and voicemails to E’s phone. I asked to see what she’d sent, but she was clearly so upset and embarrassed by what she’d said that she didn’t want to show me. To add to her embarrassment, despite her obvious distress the night before, E hadn’t responded to her. He’d ignored every single message.
I was gobsmacked. This is a kid that is still struggling with her mental health. Just fifteen months ago she took an overdose. Forgetting for a moment that he’s her Dad, surely as an adult, as a human being, hearing and seeing the kind of messages she was sending, should have been enough to spark concern? Surely, even if he didn’t want to speak to me or her, he could have let someone know (Oldest Daughter, his family, anyone) that she was struggling? How could anyone get that volume of angry and distressed texts from someone (let alone their own daughter) that they knew had tried to take their own life and do nothing?
To be honest, I’m still struggling with this one. I know he’s paid no child maintenance, I know that all the evidence suggests that he doesn’t really care that much about his kids, but I still can’t quite get my head round the fact that he could ignore another human being in such distress. It reminded me of Oldest Daughter’s words a few months previously: “just when I think Dad can’t lower the bar any further, he crawls under it”.
I got home on Friday afternoon, with a prescription for industrial grade iron tablets, to be greeted by a delighted and relieved Youngest Daughter, a kitchen covered in boot marks (where she’d kicked the doors), a threatening letter from the Secured Loan Company (E had clearly still not paid them or answered their calls) and the answer to the question ‘what would a house look like if left in the care of three oblivious teenagers for two days?’.
Within half an hour it was as if the strange Other World of the hospital had never existed. I was reading the letter from the Mortgage company and trying to work out if they were sending Bailiffs to visit me, whilst checking my bank accounts to confirm that E hadn’t paid anything for this month either and picking up the pieces (physical and mental) of Youngest Daughter’s distress the previous night.
Later that evening, after hearing about Youngest Son’s day in detail, after being given a rare hug and a bar of chocolate from Oldest Son, and as I anxiously looked over at Youngest Daughter (who had gone from high with happiness that I was home to a sudden low) whilst reassuring Oldest Daughter by text that everything was well, I realised that I am pretty much all these four people have. That even though the kids might spend most of their time in their rooms these days, and that I might feel surplus to requirements a lot of the time, that me just being present in the house anchors things. They’d been ok without me being there for a couple of nights, but it had been unsettling for them. It sounds stupid, but the sense of being alone, of having no parental back up, that I’d had in A&E two days before, was consolidated. I realised that E hadn’t just walked out on me, that, in every way that mattered, he’d walked out on his kids too and that it really was just the five of us now.