A Nightmare Phone Call

Our three girls finished school and Catherine and Abi moved out of the house to enjoy their first taste of independence. Catherine went off to look for herself in England. Abi moved into a flat walking distance away from our family home, and Nikki was taking a gap year working as a waitress and saving in anticipation of travelling.

One night at quarter to twelve, we got the phone call that every parent dreads. ‘Your daughter has been involved in a car accident.’

Michael and I threw our clothes on and raced to the hospital, straight through red traffic lights, hazards flashing, horn beeping. We screeched into the Casualty at the same time as an ambulance was drawing up. We looked, as they wheeled a bloodied apparition on the trolley.

‘That’s not Nikki,’ I said, relieved. Then I noticed the patient was wearing one of my jumpers.

‘It is Nikki,’ I screamed, racing after the paramedics. They tried to move me out of the way, but I managed to find my daughter’s injured hand. She couldn’t speak, but she was moaning, so we knew she was alive. But that was about all. Her face was full of glass and swelling rapidly. Her teeth had gone through her lip, and one ear was badly severed. There was blood everywhere.

‘We’re here, Nix,’ I tried to comfort her. ‘Try to relax while the doctor examines you. We’ll be waiting.’

We waited a long half hour, me in and out of the toilet, and Michael alternately pacing the floor wringing his hands, or sitting hunched over with his head in his hands.

Finally the doctor came out and said they were taking her to X-ray and from there she would go into the ICU.

Our other concern was her boyfriend, who had been driving the car. Apparently he had been unconscious when the ambulances arrived, and had been taken to a different hospital, because they didn’t know if he had Medical Insurance.

The diagnosis on Nikki was initially two fractured vertebrae, a ruptured kidney, a broken right ankle and a mutilated left knee, plus extensive cuts and bruising. While I remained with her, Michael drove through to the other hospital to find out how her boyfriend was doing. He returned later to say he had regained consciousness and had escaped with just a swollen hand. He was being kept in for observation after suffering from concussion.

For the next three days I stayed at Nikki’s bedside, rushing home late at night to sort out food and clean clothing for the family. I was very concerned that she was complaining of pains that did not seem to relate to any of her injuries. After five days with her back in a brace and both legs in plaster, they discovered she had developed a thrombosis in her thigh.

At that t Catherine was staying with my parents, so when I made the call to England to give them all the news, I was relieved that Catherine had family around to reassure her. Nevertheless, she caught the earliest plane back to be with her sister.

The accident affected Michael badly, and he would wait till we were in bed at night and ask questions like ‘What if she dies?’, questions I could not allow myself to even consider. Maybe it was easier for me, because I thoroughly believed in the power of prayer, and I knew Nikki would get better.

When she was moved into High-care, her friends came to visit her. Some stood in the doorway with utter shock and disbelief on their faces. Others burst into tears.

Just before the accident, Nikki had done a stint of modelling, so I had some current photos to show the plastic surgeon.

‘This is what she looked like last week, and this is what she must look like when you’ve finished with her’, I told the specialist. He managed to do an excellent job and as the scars healed, we saw Nikki’s beautiful face re-emerging.

It was the sudden change from being an active girl to almost complete immobility that had brought on the deep vein thrombosis in Nikki’s leg. But with her back in a brace and both legs in plaster, she came home after a couple of weeks, and I reluctantly returned to work.

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A trip to Hospital

One weekend I happened to be browsing through a magazine, enjoying a moment of unaccustomed idleness when I came across an article on cervical cancer and the need to have regular pap smears. It occurred to me that I’d managed to avoid those issues, any urges I might have felt to book an appointment with a gynaecologist being firmly squashed.

After Nikki was born, my doctor had cauterised some errant cells on the cervix and advised me not to have any more babies. It was not the sort of experience you wish to hold in your memory as it contained an associated smell of burnt flesh. So I filed it away, far away. After Edward was born I don’t think I had time to go back to the doctor for a postnatal check, so when I read the magazine article, I thought it was probably about time I made the appointment.

After having a baby it takes a long while to regain a measure of dignity and feel that your body belongs to you once again. One trip to the gynaecologist takes it all away in a matter of seconds. Anyway, I did it, and I thought that would be it for at least two years.

However, a day or so later I was shocked to have a phone call from the doctor himself. Not even his nurse. Him. He guardedly told me there were some ‘unusual’ cells in the smear, and he would like me to come in for a biopsy straight away.

I had an unpleasant feeling that the biopsy might not be fun and I was right. Say the word stirrups to any woman out of the context of horse riding, and she will immediately cringe and cross her legs.

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The second time he phoned I recognised his voice and the tone of someone trying to deliver bad news gently. He booked me in for a hysterectomy that same week, so there was little time to panic. In fact, I was mourning the loss of my uterus more than worrying about anything more sinister. Illogical really, because immediately after Edward was born my fallopian tubes had been tied by a doctor who believed my contribution to the human race had been excessive. But I always harboured a little hope that they might accidentally come untied, and every month I felt a small wave of disappointment that I wasn’t pregnant. The thought of losing that part of my anatomy did seem awfully final.

However, I was so busy making arrangements for the family while I would be in hospital that I didn’t think too much about myself. I was pretty healthy, so a few days in bed being waited on, might be quite pleasant.

I have a bad reaction to anaesthetics, so after the surgery I felt pretty sick. The day before I was due to go home, the doctor came into the ward beaming and said they’d got it all. I looked blankly at him.

‘There was no further malignancy,’ he explained. But I had already made that assumption, so I went home and moved all those articles of feminine hygiene into the girls’ bathroom, because I would never need them again. What joy!