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When angels catch us – Madeline’s hysterectomy story

How do we know there are angels? Do we have our own special guardian angels watching over us? How many times have we almost entered into danger only to change our minds at the last minute?

Is this simply being lucky or has there been an unconscious inner voice warning us? I have truly believed for a long time that there are God’s angels watching over us and over the years there have been occasions when I have had warnings of some impending doom and thankfully avoided tragedy. Sometimes I’ve just had feelings or a “sixth sense” and the negative event still happened but somehow I had felt that premonition. Was this just a warning to prepare me? Was it just woman’s’ intuition?

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Perhaps the destiny could not be changed? I have heard it say …we can change our fate but not our destiny. Can families share a guardian angel? Can a loved one who has been taken from us on this earth be given the job of angel guardianship in the spirit world to an entire family whom they loved dearly?

The power of prayer should also never be underestimated and in my experience can provide enormous strength in major traumatic situations. These does not necessary have to be the prayers of the individual because it is my belief that we need the fervent prayers of others to carry us through these difficult times. I know when we were caught up in our family traumas’; I was virtually incapable of stringing coherent sentences together never mind dedicated prayer. I did try but my mind just could not hold the necessary concentration, so for that reason we as a family are indebted to the prayers of those family, friends and acquaintances who done the devout praying for us.

Any way the events that I now share with you are very real and happened within a three month period to three members of our family and although they were all very life threatening I truly believe that someone up there was looking out for us and minimised the awful consequences of such dramatic events.

Here are my recollections of lightening striking thrice……..

I had been troubled by menstrual problems most of my adult life and had seven pregnancies in total but unfortunately three of these ended in miscarriages. I always felt blessed in the four healthy children that I eventually had, even though those pregnancies too had also been difficult and not without their individual health scares. I knew my family was complete but even so, I could never contemplate getting sterilised, as I needed that security of still having the option available to us if and when the time was right.

The longing to have another baby never left me and many times over the years I had been relieved and disappointed that I had the birth control coil fitted as this took the decision and responsibility for my actions away from me. That all consuming urge to try again for another baby would at times be so overpowering but, which if I’m truthful was usually fuelled as a result of one too many red wines of an evening.

My poor long suffering husband Paul would have given me the world but even he would caution me on the possible problems and health risks of having another pregnancy and was very much of the mind that we should be thankful for what we have.

I could not consider egg donation as the little baby would still be a part of me but I had often said that I would gladly carry a baby in my oven for a couple who for whatever reason could not have a baby, as long as it was not genetically mine. I truly meant this and it’s with regret now that I didn’t explore this avenue further.

In August of 2006 I began to have more severe menstrual pain than normal and instead of the pain lessening after the period was over it had in fact gotten worse and I continued to have breakthrough bleeding. This was indeed unusual and although I would have been crippled during mid month with ovulation pain I now found this was with me constantly. I struggled on until mid September and I eventually went to see a female doctor who advised me to get an urgent scan and as the waiting list, even for an urgent scan was twelve weeks, she had asked me to consider a private consultation. Paul and I were going on holiday the following Saturday so I made an appointment with the gynaecologist for the week I was due home. I confided in my sister the following day at a wedding of a close friend and tried to explain how frustrating & debilitating this condition had become but I was naively hopeful it was a routine gynae problem, which could be easily fixed.

This planned holiday was to be our first trip away from the kids apart from the rare night here and there over the years, so a full week away for just Paul & I on a Meditterrian cruise liner was sheer luxury to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. I have to say this was the holiday of a lifetime and we enjoyed each others company so well that it was truly the second honeymoon that any happily married couple could wish for.

We fell in love all over again on that magical cruise and it was so refreshing and relaxing to do what you wanted, when you wanted without having to worry about the kids having enough activities to be entertained .We talked to them daily on the phone and emailed them each night with our adventures on board. This eased any guilt I had at going away without them. We enjoyed the company of two good friends whom we had gone on the trip with and made many new friends. It was a truly fantastic and unique experience especially for a couple who had chosen to live their lives and spare time around the needs of their children. It was liberating and reclaimed us as a couple.

Although I was in a lot of pain every day, I took painkillers to combat this, even though as a rule I would be very against taking medication.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if we had known what was in store for us in the few short months ahead I truly think Paul & I would have gotten off that ship and stayed in that idyllic setting of Portifino, an Island off the coast of Italy and hit the pause button on our lives…

I attended the consultation when I came back and a close friend accompanied me and was present when the doctor after having scanned me and a full examination gave me the unexpected and devastating news that I had, what appeared to be a huge cyst on my left ovary filled with endometriosis which had also caused damage to my womb. A full hysterectomy was the recommended medical procedure advisable. I sat in his office and attempted to absorb the news and whilst I was naturally relieved to know that he didn’t think it was cancerous I still had huge difficulty in coming to terms with what I had to face……..NO MORE CHILDREN.

Coming home and exploring the options with Paul and our eldest daughter Laura the decision sounded so easy and non-negotiable. My health was at risk and the likelihood of having another baby at my ripe age was neither really feasible nor practical and wasn’t I so lucky that this problem could be dealt with so effectively with surgery, which although major would be ultimately be for the greater good.

Common sense told me that this was the sensible option but what no one really understood was the overpowering sadness I was feeling, like a long jagged knife was twisting and turning in my heart. The acute realisation hit me that I would never again be able to experience the joy of being pregnant, never again be able to feel our babies kicking inside of me, never again having that one on one intimacy with your unborn baby, stroking your increasing enlarged belly and experience that deeply personal communication that only a mother and her precious unborn baby within her womb can share.

This is the exclusive private world where fierce protective instincts and deep maternal love truly began for me and to a certain degree you want your precious baby to stay in that little protected cocoon forever.

Then of course nothing of any value can compare to the ultimate prize, the exquisite pleasure of being handed your new-born into your arms for the first time after an almost certain painful delivery and know this was truly the bestest feeling in the entire world.

I knew with such clarity that I would never ever feel whole again!!!

The consultant had written to my GP and had requested that she remove the birth control coil in case in some way it was inflaming my condition. She was very reluctant to do this as my pelvic areas were still so very tender and sore and also it was not a recommended time in my monthly cycle. An appointment was arranged for the following week Wednesday25th October 2006 as a suitable date to remove this inturine device and meanwhile I got a date for my hysterectomy operation for 8th December.

I telephoned my consultant’s secretary to ask if the removal of the coil was absolutely necessary and she asked me if I was prepared to take a cancellation to which I readily agreed as my scheduled date would have left me very indisposed over the busy Christmas period.

Unbelievably the secretary rang back with a cancellation for the following Wednesday, the same day as I was due to get the coil removed by my GP. I remember thinking “this is a strange coincidence”.

I was filled with such fear going into hospital that week and was in awe that it was three weeks to the day that I had gone for my private consult with my gynaecologist and now here I was on the day of my operation. ‘Too much, too soon,’ were the thoughts going through my head. I had already cried a river of tears for the “no more babies” but now I was gripped with a paralysing fear as to what degree of pain I was to expect and what was the physical aftermath of the operation going to be like. I just wanted it to be over and I can honestly say that the waiting is definitely the worst part. I was inundated with text messages of support and I remember thinking this was something that I didn’t want to undergo but had no choice in the matter and if any of these well wishers were truly genuine they would take my place for the operation, or at least offer!

By this stage I had done thorough research on the condition of endometriosis and was armed with this new found knowledge that should help me make any decisions necessary. The control freak that I am didn’t want to be baffled with medical jargon. I had a pre-op chat with my wonderful gynaecologist who assured me that he would not be, in my words too scissor happy and would preserve my right ovary if possible to prevent me going into an early change of life. Counting the overhead lights on the corridor ceilings as I was being wheeled on a trolley on the way to theatre became very important to my sanity.

I was unable to joke with the porters as we bumped into walls and lift doors and the inevitable woman driver jokes and just wished and prayed it would all just happen quickly or, not at all.

I knew I had to stay calm for another little while and then hopefully I would be so zonked I wouldn’t care what was happening anymore. The nurse had just given me a pre-op sedative to help to relax me but it hadn’t had time to take effect yet or maybe I was just too anxious for any pill to calm me down.

Entering the bright lights of the operating theatre and seeing all the machines and staff dressed in their blue scrubs and confirming yet again my name, address, date of birth and my understanding of what procedure I was going to have was just so surreal. I could hear the whispered tones of junior staff being very sombre and respectful in the background. Was this for my benefit or was this in case they got a telling off from the big chiefs who were busy scrubbing up at the sinks?

The surgeons were laughing at some private joke and I remember thinking I was going to be at their medical mercy for the next few hours and my private inners and outers would be exposed to all and sundry present in that room. The reality of this ordeal suddenly just became too much for me and then, just as I felt that I was going to cry, I became blissfully aware of a wonderful floating feeling, I was there in body but definitely not in mind. Perhaps I was having the out of body experience I had read so much about! It was in fact the pre-op sedative starting to chill me out at last- if only I had been given that magic pill sooner.

Counting backwards from ten was a welcome release…

I heard a lovely calm voice calling my name repeatable in my fuzzy head coaxing me to open my eyes and I knew the operation was over and I thankfully I had come out of the anaesthetic successfully. Relief flooded my entire body until suddenly I was filled with a burning sensation in my lower abdomen. The owner of that motherly soothing voice belonged to a caring theatre nurse who then gave me additional pain relief by means of a syringe drive and the journey back to the ward was just a drug filled haze which ended with me slipping into a welcome sleep safe in the knowledge the whole operation was not as bad as I had expected.

I woke up and was vaguely aware of my husband Paul sitting patiently beside me holding my hand and remember feeling so so sorry for him as it must have been very sad and difficult for him to watch your loved one so out of it. I kept pressing the little button on the syringe drive and was convinced that no pain relief was to be got from it. After Paul left I tried to go back to sleep but the pain was getting progressively worse and I asked the nurse if I could get something stronger for the pain as this device was clearly not working properly. She was unable to give me anything as I had not been prescribed anything else and to compound matters the machine set off a loud bleeping sound every few minutes all through the night.

Not only was I in excruciating pain, no-one else in this busy ward could get to sleep either because of this alarm, except for another hysterectomy patient who was blissfully sleeping with the aid of a pain killing injection that I also needed but couldn’t get. The morphine was supposed to be infused continually through this malfunctioning stupid syringe drive.

I don’t think I have ever felt such self-pity as much as I did during that long, lonely, pain filled night through into the morning when the cheery day staff came on shift. Thankfully one of the nurses was able to turn off the bleeping alarm and hastily agreed that I was in need of different pain relief and would get this sorted quickly.

My gynaecologist came to see me within a short time and explained to me that I didn’t have the endremetrosis condition that he had previously thought. What I had in fact was a large abscess growing on my left ovary which had attached itself to the wall of my bowel and the root of this was embedded round the birth control coil in my womb. He explained that a bowel surgeon was called to assist in my operation to remove this safely and he was confident that we had a successful result. He also explained that this abscess could have burst at any time and the consequences of this happening would have been fatal due to the poison, which would have instantly travelled into my bloodstream. A sample had gone for tests????

I absorbed this information as best I could but could not help thinking that had I not got that cancellation for the operation on the very day my GP was due to remove the coil I would not be here today. By removing the coil she would have inadvertently broke the root of this abscess and this would have resulted in my death.

What stopped this from happening? Why did I get a cancellation for that very day? Was this sheer luck or angel guidance from a higher level?

I truly believe that Divine intervention by means of God’s helpers, guided me to go to see that consultant privately and an inner voice urged me to ring up his secretary, which resulted in me having my operation on that fateful day.

“One can change one’s fate but not one’s destiny”

 COMING HOME..CONVALESCING & THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

It was probably too soon to soon to come out of hospital that Tuesday morning but it was Halloween and I wanted the kids to enjoy their fireworks display and not have to worry about me not being there for them. They had organised a sleepover and I knew my Paul would be stressed to the hilt at having to deal with six noisy kids and the inevitable madness that is normality in our house, never mind me not being there.

One of the conditions to being allowed home was the patient had to have proper use of bodily functions and I knew this was going to be difficult as constipation was always a problem for me, especially after an anaesthetic. In order to pass this condition I took a hefty dose of Laxoberal laxative the previous night, which I was certain, would give the necessary result. By mid morning I still had no urge to go so I reluctantly asked the nurse for another spoonful of this sickly sweet medicine and lo and behold I performed the task in question admirably but with major stomach cramps.

As soon as the doctor had finished his rounds and I had assured him I was feeling tickety boo and the rumbling in the jungle was indeed confirmation that the bowels were in motion I phoned Paul to come and collect me, to take me home as soon as possible.

I only paid lip service to the strict instructions from the ward sister to the do’s and don’ts of doing little or no household chores for the next six months. I thought this won’t really apply to me as I’ll be grand after a few weeks and anyway I avoided looking at her because she would know that I was not well enough to go home…..If only I hadn’t taken that extra spoonful of Laxoberal. I was crippled with excruciation, stomach pain.

We packed my incredibly many belongings from the ward with lightening speed and even though I was feeling very peculiar, we set off like a bat out of hell out of there. We got into the lift which was on the way up but at least it was en-route to freedom. I felt so dizzy and weak but Paul was carrying so much stuff that he had no arms left to catch me when I nearly passed out in the lift. A man standing behind me had obviously seen my swaying and caught me just in time. The lift had stopped at a floor and the kind man tried to encourage me to sit down on a chair for a moment. Alas the lift had stopped at the very same floor from where we had just escaped from, so hell would have frozen over before I was getting out there to be recaptured. We got to the ground floor and I duly sat down and willed the dizziness to stop. Paul brought the car to the front door and I was free. I vividly remembered with despair all the happier times we had left this hospital with our precious cargo of a brand new baby on board and now we’re taking the same trip home with an empty space inside me where my baby oven used to be!!!!!

The journey home was horrendous, as Paul seemed to have picked a shortcut that involved the most speed ramps in the whole of the city. I kept thinking my inners were going to fall out in the footwell of the jeep so it was with such relief that we arrived to the safety of home. Our son Rhys helped me down from the jeep and I allowed him to take my weight, as I didn’t trust my wobbly legs to carry me safely inside.

My eighty five-year-old mum arrived and onceagain was tasked with looking after the Dunlop’s. I felt really ill and weak but at least I could watch the Halloween festivities from my comfortable recliner chair.

Over the next few days I began to feel so much better and was feeling guilty at my wee mammy busying herself with cooking and cleaning and fussing over me with the energy of a woman forty years younger. She greeted all my friends & visitors with her wonderful warm hospitality and her wicked sense of humour. She was amazed at the amount of get well cards and floral bouquets that seemed to arrive on a daily basis and I too relished in the nurturing love that I was receiving from her and the good wishes from others. I was so grateful that our children were able to have their granny all to themselves and when she regaled them with stories from days gone by I too listened attentively and was filled with such admiration for this wonderful lady that I was so privileged to call my mum

On Tuesday the 7th November exactly one week since I came out of hospital my niece and her little baby came up from home to see me and I was so very touched at how she and many of the younger members of our family had visited, phoned or texted. We persuaded Martina, my niece, to stay until Laura and auntie Ann arrived in the evening and we all sat down to a wonderful home cooked meal that mammy had prepared.

I remember feeling so happy and contented at this cosy family scene and once again mammy started to entertain us with one of her many stories from her childhood and younger years. We were all so enthralled but also very moved as mammy began to tell us about the poverty and struggles her family had endured when her daddy had died very unexpectedly. She told us how she had to give up her work and move back home to help her younger brother work the home farm. It was with reluctance that Ann & Martina and little Erin eventually left us for their separate journeys home. We had all agreed it had been a lovely but very poignant evening. Laura went upstairs to get showered and dressed and prepared herself for picking up her boyfriend who was due home later that night. When she came back downstairs, I told her how lovely she looked and as she sat on the chair beside me we discussed how best we could celebrate Amy-Ruth’s birthday the following week giving my not allowed out circumstances.

We chatted and then Laura said “I love you mum” I replied: “Drive carefully pet ” and off she left happily for the airport………

THE DARKNESS BEFORE THE DAWN

It was 10.45pm when the phone rang just as Paul and mammy and I had been preparing to go to bed. I remember picking up the phone in the kitchen as Paul was locking the patio doors and mammy said, “Who could that be ringing at this hour of the night”. It was Mick, Laura’s boyfriend and he asked to speak to Paul. I knew with instant clarity that something was wrong with Laura but he just kept asking me to let him speak to Paul and not answering my question. I knew by Paul’s tone of voice that indeed something was very wrong and he left the kitchen and proceeded to the bedroom to take this important call. I could feel the panic rising inside me and hurried to the closet to put on a coat and go wherever it was that I needed to go. I remember lamenting, over and over in a strangled high-pitched voice that “something’s wrong with Laura”. Paul came back from the room having obviously got dressed in a hurry and confirmed that it was indeed bad news and that Laura had been involved in an accident on her way to the airport but initial reports seemed that it may not be too serious. Amy-Ruth had heard the commotion and was downstairs in a flash. Paul and I were hurrying out to the car and mum and Amy-Ruth were begging me not to be going to the accident scene but wild horses could not have stopped me. Laura needed me and I needed to be with her. It was as simple as that!!

That journey to the airport seemed to take forever and we spoke to Mick on the phone who tried to reassure us that Laura was conscious and the emergency services were now at the scene. I kept thinking how scared Laura must have been and I prayed that someone kind and reassuring had been with her from the point of impact until help arrived. The crash scene was further down the road than we had expected and when we eventually saw the amount of flashing lights in the distance we knew this was more serious than we had thought. The tailback of vehicles was so lengthy and I remember feeling so utterly traumatised that our daughter was up there and we were unable to get to her. Paul jumped out and ran to a lady police officer in charge of directing the traffic and explained we were the parents and she immediately radioed up to the scene and a police car was duly dispatched to come down for us. Paul pulled our car over to a lay-by and we started hurrying in the direction of the flashing blue lights. I was so scared and I kept apologising to Paul for not being able to run. We clutched each other tightly and as I hobbled and he held onto me we were filled with such fear and trepidation at what lay just ahead. We could see the pitiful glances from drivers who although were irritated at the traffic jam, had saw us and knew we must be relatives of the crash victims. A police car had by now reached us to pick us up and as we approached the ambulance we saw a forty-foot lorry in the middle of a field.

I remember asking the police officer with incredulity “Please tell me she didn’t hit that lorry” Then we saw our precious wee Laura……………..

Our darling daughter was lying on a stretcher in the ambulance and her head and neck was encased in a protective brace, her arm or wrist was clearly broken, some glass wounds to her right hand but she was conscious and able to talk. And not a mark on that pretty face. In fact she kept saying to me “mum what are you doing here, you know you’re not allowed out, you’ve just had a hysterectomy” I was so relieved to see her looking comparatively okay but I could see her lips were quite blue and she seemed to be struggling to breathe. There we all were, an ashen faced Mick, his mum and Paul and I and numerous emergency teams and there was Laura apologising for the inconvenience of it all. The ambulance was ready to leave but did not allow me to travel with her so we reluctantly kissed her goodbye and left to follow the ambulance. The police officer that delivered us to Laura was waiting to take me back down to the car again as the others started to walk. I asked him if I may get her personal stuff from her car and he told me he thought Mick or his mum had already done this but brought me over anyway. I was totally unprepared for the sight that beheld me, as her car, which she affectionately called Lola, was just a mangled wreck. The entire bonnet and front of her wee car had been pushed inwards and upwards and it was only then that I realised how powerful the force of the impact must have been! I was so glad I had seen Laura first because if I had been shown that car before seeing her I truly would have been convinced that she had been killed outright. How did she ever come out of that car alive?

Some one must have been looking out for her. She had picked a fight with a forty-foot lorry and was now on her way to hospital. Clearly this was no minor accident and I was consumed with fear that her injuries were not quite as superficial as they may have appeared to be.

On our way to the hospital we phoned home and tried to be as positive as possible to my wee mammy and to Amy-Ruth. We explained that Laura was in much better shape than what we thought possible and they should go to bed and try to get some sleep. Somehow I knew it was going to be a long, long night!

On arrival at the accident & emergency part of the hospital Laura had already been brought in side and was being treated immediately. Paul had spotted the driver of the lorry recognising him by his uniform but I did not. He had a head injury but apparently got released from hospital after getting examined and treated accordingly. Paul told me of his presence but it didn’t occur to me at the time that he should perhaps have enquired about Laura’s condition. Maybe the driver didn’t want to say anything in case it somehow apportioned blame, or perhaps he was afraid of incriminations at this highly emotional time.

Clearly it was an awful, unfortunate accident and no-one sets out to cause such things. These questions could be answered at another time!

Almost immediately we were introduced to John in charge of the trauma team and he informed us that Laura had a punctured lung which had now collapsed and he was going to have to insert a chest drain to take away the fluid that was gathering in her chest cavity and also they would try to pull the left wrist into some shape. Unfortunately she had already had pain relief and for whatever medical reasons that had been explained at the time, but just can’t remember these painful procedures would have to be carried out as soon as possible without any additional pain relief.

We were all allowed in briefly to see her and I explained as best as I could what was going to happen to her. She had asked me if this was going to be very sore and I answered as honestly as I possibly could that I didn’t really know the degree of pain involved in this procedure. I was very aware of the deepening purple colour in Laura’s lips and how laboured her breathing was and having expressed my concerns to John he assured me the chest drain should relieve this problem.

We all sat outside the hospital and each of us were shocked to the core at the almighty screams of Laura as a hole was pierced through her skin under her arm and the surgeon moved some of her broken ribs out of the way in order to insert the tube. Our hearts broke at her distress and agony and the pitiful animal like sounds that seemed to echo through the entire hospital. A mother undertakes a duty to protect her child from pain & harm but there I was absolutely powerless to stop this happening to my child. Paul & Mick just looked horrified at what was happening but equally could do nothing to help except question the reason she wasn’t getting more pain relief. Just as the screams stopped there was a collective sigh of relief from all of us only to hear them again as her wrist was obviously getting pulled into place. I remember Mick’s mum Anne saying “at least that’s the worst part over”. I had nodded my head sadly and tried to wipe away the tears that had been spilling down my cheeks like a torrential rainstorm. I couldn’t shake the nagging worry that this ordeal was far from over.

I had a quick word with the surgeon John just before we were allowed back into see her and I asked him if he was going to do any CT scans to check for any internal damage. He seemed to think that this would not be necessary but that his boss had just arrived and would make those decisions. He was hopeful the chest drain would have the desired result of relieving the breathing problems.

He told me to leave the worrying to him…If only I could!!

Laura was severely traumatised when we got back into see her and I could understand why it was aptly named the “trauma suite”. She kept crying and trying to explain how painful that had been for her. I assured her we could hear her pain from outside but tried to calm her down to stop her breathing becoming even more distressed.

The nurse had told Laura that she needed to insert a catheter to check her urine content & output so everyone left the room except the nurse and I to coax and persuade Laura that this was an necessary evil which although would be extremely embarrassing should be relatively painless. When this delicate matter had been dealt with Laura began to worry about work and made me promise that I would ring work the following day and explain what had happened. I readily agreed to this and I think Laura was of the misconception that she would be in hospital overnight but could probably be back to work in a day or two. I didn’t want to put her off this notion so I stayed silent. Several people had been coming into the room from time to time and checking the monitors including John’s boss. I knew by their discussions that they weren’t happy about something and I was asked to leave the room again in order for them to re-examine Laura. Once outside I relayed my fears to Paul and it was with weird relief that we were then told that Laura was going for CT scans as I had requested…

This was what I had wanted in order to rule out any internal injuries.

We were brought into a waiting room which was a little more comfortable and advised that the results of these would take approximately an hour. Mick went to the car to snooze, Paul put two chairs together and Anne and I remained silent lost in our own private worlds until John the bearer of important news came back in to speak to us.

I knew instinctively that whatever developments he was going to share with us was not going to be good and when we were all together he explained that the scans had showed up a broken bone in her neck as well as a number of broken ribs but there was a “slight concern” at a tear in her chest cavity area and that the hospital had already been in touch with the main hospital in Belfast who would direct the operations from this point onwards. The Royal Victoria Hospitable has an excellent reputation and the team there having examined her scans via the wonder of modern day technology, had requested that further scans should be taken and there may be a possibility that she would be transferred there depending on the outcome.

Mick had a job interview early the following morning or rather as it was now 3am it was in a few short hours time. So it was agreed that he and his mum should go home as these further scans could take hours. Anne and Mick went in to say their good-byes as Anne also had a very early flight to catch to Spain. I explained to Laura exactly what was happening and off she went for the more in depth chest scans!

Paul and I went back up to that room for the long wait of these results and I had walked outside to have yet another cigarette. On my way back inside I met a friend that I had known for years but yet could not remember her name. She had known there was some type of emergency but was now horrified that it was our Laura.

She had overheard the doctors on the phone talking to the main hospital in Belfast and knew the situation was not good. It was only when she remarked the state of my mucky slippers that I realised I was still in my pyjamas. In my rush to the accident scene it hadn’t even occurred to me to change out of them into more suitable attire. It seemed so frivolous to care but I must have looked a pathetic sight.

When John came back into see us I clutched Paul’s hand so tight that his blood supply must have been in danger of stopping. John explained that the tear appeared to be in her aorta vessel and she was going to have to be heavily sedated for the journey to the RVH for her own safety. This was to remove any stress or strain from her heart and the experts in Belfast would have better facilities. I had instinctively known all along that there was something not right and as the panic built up inside me again I didn’t dare ask the question that me as the control freak I am, who needed to know everything couldn’t ask. I just didn’t know if I could cope with the answer. Could this medical problem be fixed?

I needed to stay calm for Laura and so as we went into see her again I painted the smile back on and tried to reassure her that these were just precautionary measures. Several medical staff was now in the room and there were all sorts of people linking Laura up to machines and tubes and needles were getting inserted in various places. This increased level of activity just heightened my knowledge that we were now entering a perilous and dangerous period. We were at everyone’s mercy.

It was very crowded in that room and I constantly tried to stay out of the way but was determined to stay with Laura to keep her from panicking too much. Paul had to leave this room on two occasions and as I saw his face go very pale I knew he needed to get out of there. I went out to see him a few times but bless him he was just a broken man struggling to cope. I appeared to be the epitome of calm but appearances can be so deceptive and I’m sure I would have won an Oscar for my acting as Laura was getting prepared to be sedated. At one point she really did panic as the oxygen mask was put over her face and she felt it sucking the air out of her lungs rather than helping her breathe.

Up until this point I had been very proud at how well mannered and courteous and calm our daughter had been, So to see her now so agitated at a time when she was in need of the minimal stress possible alarmed me grievously. I asked if she could not be sedated like I had been, by means of an injection and it was agreed that this would now happen. Paul had returned to the room and we both kissed her and told her we loved her dearly and to enjoy her lovely snooze and we would see her shortly.

Paul then left but I stayed within earshot until I was gently asked to leave while she was medically ventilated. Pacing round and round in circles outside for an eternity I kept saying to Paul the same thing that I had said earlier. “The goal posts keep being moved”. He tried to reassure me that Laura was strong and she would come through this but I said “Paul, You can’t promise me that.” The ambulance was waiting outside and eventually we could see movement inside alerting us that she was on her way out. The double doors opened as her trolley was getting wheeled out but suddenly the doors closed again and a hive of activity began to happen within that room.

People were rushing in and out but no-one was coming to see us. We devoured every face to see if we could get any scrap of information but there was nothing. Eventually John came out and explained that Laura’s blood pressure had dropped considerably and the decision had now been taken to dispatch an Intensive Care ambulance from the main hospital in Belfast and a team of medical professionals would accompany her on this treacherous journey.

My stress levels were now at breaking point and as I now no longer needed to put on an act for any one I allowed the tears to flow unchecked as Paul and I clung to each other for support. The special ambulance arrived within a short space of time and again we waited for our wee girl to come through those double doors with her special medical entourage.

Just as she was coming out, my bowels which hadn’t performed since my Laxoberal episode in the hospital ten days previously, decided now was a good time to work. I couldn’t believe it as I hobbled into the toilets with one hand clutching my abdominal wound and the other hand holding my bum cheeks tight for fear that this almighty dam was going to burst its banks before I reached the loos. Talk about crap timing (no pun intended) but I speedily finished the necessary deed and got out just as she was being gently put in the ambulance. We followed the blue flashing lights up the motorway and it was very surreal knowing that was our wee Laura inside until we turned off the slip road to pop home for a quick and necessary change of clothes.

Arriving home we were met by my poor wee mammy who had stayed awake waiting for news and in our absence had known things were not going as well as they had appeared. We filled her in with as much information as we thought necessary without wanting to frighten her and I changed out of my blue spotted pyjamas into more suitable clothes as quickly as possible. I remember not being physically able to swallow the cup of tea that she had hastily made for us but gratefully accepting a packet of ciggies as I had smoked my entire packet during the night. We knew we had to kill half an hour as directed by the ambulance staff so we gave mammy a list of instructions that needed to be relayed to the staff in the next few hours. It was now 5.45 am.

We arrived into RVH Belfast and I said to Paul “at least when we get here she will have been woken from her medically induced slumber, and the experts will have done their tests and she’ll be grand.”

Even as I said those words I knew they sounded false but we needed hope. As we entered the building I saw the huge pile of morning papers lying sprawled out belonging to our good friends the newsagents and wished dearly that we were at our own shop with only that concern to deal with.

We buzzed the intercom of the Intensive care ward and on identifying ourselves as the parents of Laura Dunlop a very nice nurse came out to talk too us. She began the conversation with “Do you realise your daughter is very seriously ill and I’m so sorry for you both but as a parent myself, I can reassure you she is in the best possible place here and she has secured the last bed in regional intensive care.”

As lovely as that nurse was, I remember thinking that the best possible place was for our daughter tucked to be up in bed at home or in her boyfriend’s house but certainly not here in an intensive care ward.

We were told to take a seat in yet another waiting room but this time one could see the difference in the facilities. Long waits were obviously the norm and soft chairs and tea and coffee making facilities and the sympathetic posters of support groups hung very gently on the walls.

This was a world, so very far apart from our wonderful, happy, safe, wee family world that we had now found ourselves been thrust into

I knew and understood immediately what we had become that terrible night, what was a maybe, hopefully not, but a definite possibility that we would become the parents of daughter killed in a road traffic accident. How could we face this, never mind deal with this. This was the nightmare that every parent dreads. More tests to follow, May Our God help us!!!

It was just before seven in the morning when that same lovely wee nurse came out and told us that the battery of tests were still inconclusive and I remember her asking us what religion Laura belonged to, if any, and I had a thought that if we were to ring our parish priest he would not know who Laura was. Was this nurse preparing us for the worst? This thought was to trouble me deeply as time went on. I went downstairs to make a very difficult phone call, the first call I had decided to make since this whole nightmare had began.

I rang Laura’s biological dad’s number who lived in England with his new family and whom Laura had a reasonably good relationship with and whom Paul & I had a cordial one and at this early hour of the morning I had dreaded making this difficult but necessary call. Mary, Paul’s wife answered (yes I did marry two Pauls) and explained that Paul was in the shower and she would get him to call me back. Something in my tone of voice must have set Mary thinking, apart from the fact that in all the time she’d known Paul I had never rang at this ungodly hour. I explained the best I could and as Mary is a nurse I knew she could comprehend and try to convey to her Paul the enormity of the situation.

I then spoke to Paul and he was so beside himself with worry that he was going to try to get on the first flight back home to be there for her.

When I got back up to that exclusive waiting room that was supposed to be our private sanctuary, Paul & my phones’ were ringing non stop with concerned family and friends who having just heard the news were worried and wanted to show support. We just told it as best as we could but the main undertone we both got was the slight grievance as to why we hadn’t rang anyone earlier. We both agreed that at no time during that long and traumatic night did Paul or I contemplate ringing others. . We had each other, dealing as best we could in the most strenuous circumstances. That had been our time and our grief and we had needed calm and quietness to try to understand what was happening. In our defence, I don’t think Paul nor I were capable to see outside the box, out of the horrific circumstances that was surrounding us at the time and mammy and Mick’s mum knew therefore it was entirely up to them to be the bearers of bad news during the night as they saw fit…….

I wanted the world to stop, until I knew she, my precious, beautiful irreplaceable, Laura was safe and secure, with me, always & forever by her side…Until that would happen my life was worthless. Any one who knew me truly, understood our unique mother & daughter bond was indestructible and everlasting and without her I was an empty vessel. Maybe it was because for so long it had been just her & I alone against the world and of course I loved all my children passionately but I Madeline, could never survive without her, Laura!!!

Laura had been in the Echo chamber checking this tear in her chest area for quite a while and the experts were still deliberating on the precise location of the tear in this vital heart area. My only understanding of it all was that the aorta vessel was responsible for bringing the blood either to or from the heart and it was like trying to put air in a punctured tyre for it only to come straight back out again. This was the only thing I could explain to the many, many well wishers who were trying to come to terms with what they were just hearing. Her other injuries whilst severe were not life threatening. The news of the accident had spread like wildfire and I was totally amazed at the speed of the grapevine. Of course most people had heard half-truths and exaggerated versions of her injuries mostly including major facial scars to her beautiful face.

It was 9.15 am when this wonderful new nurse came out and told us the most fantastic news that the questionable tear, was in Laura’s thoracic vessel and not her aorta vessel as was thought and although not good, was not life threatening. Tests had also shown that she had broken her C3 bone in her neck, collar bone and at base of spine and the spinal experts were now with her, but confident that she had been well protected from moving at the accident scene and long term damage was hopefully minimal.

The collapsed lung, broken bones in her arm neck, back and ribs seemed to me now so minor in comparison to what might have been.

Laura was not going to die!!!!Yipee……………

I was ecstatic with relief and I’m sure that her work colleagues and boss and loads of other family & friends must have thought I was a crazy lady when I fulfilled my promise to ring them. They were traumatised by the news and there I was minimising everything but I had just spent the longest night of my life in the terror that this precious daughter was not going to make it. Now, the news was good at last and I wanted to celebrate this miracle. I remember ringing a close friend who had been at the hospital earlier and telling her “our Laura’s out of the woods”. She thought the worst and came running and was highly surprised to find Paul & I in the canteen having coffee and smiling. We had been through a nightmare and the good news was now heavenly.

We were allowed into see her shortly after and although she was still ventilated had been wakened from her medically induced coma. She was very disoriented and scared but was able to write things down on a clipboard that her lovely nurse had hastily provided. Paul became very traumatised at the volume of machines that surrounded her but I was perfectly fine, so he had to leave the room again as his face went a very peculiar shade of green. The main concern that Laura had was the fact that she was naked, as is customary in Intensive care, so I promised that, as soon as the ventilator came off her, we would get that minor detail sorted as soon as possible by getting her clothed…

Paul wanted to take me home but I knew that the volume of calls & visitors would keep us longer than I would want so he agreed that we would go to the nearest shopping centre for Laura’s personal requirements. I have to say this was the most bizarre outing that I had ever had to do, as Paul and I trawled through Dunne’s stores in search of suitable pyjamas and toiletries. Laura’s new expensive “La Senza” bra had been cut off her in the trauma suite and she had complained terribly that of course it had to be her very best, so a Dunne’s bra was going to have to do. We had just gotten to the check out when I realised that I had forgotten a toilet bag and asked Paul to go find one for her.

I apologised to the lady behind me for the delay but she had assumed that I was in labour by my purchases and needed to get to the hospital ASAP. The irony was not lost on me that my swollen post op belly and my unconscious need for holding every thing in place in the tummy area, suggested this probability. This concerned lady could not have possibly known that we had almost just lost our precious child, never mind just had a hysterectomy and never could be back in the maternity ward.

Arriving back to the hospital I had just spoken to Laura’s bestest ever friend who lived in London and tried to reassure her all was now okay.

I was so delightfully and pleasantly surprised to find our daughter Amy-Ruth and my sisters Ann & Mary, niece Martina & her dad Kevin waiting for us in the relatives room. They had just wanted to show their support and although I had strenuously said I didn’t want anyone up at the hospital, I was now filled with such an enormous feeling of gratitude & family love…… Amy –Ruth especially had packed a hospital bag with wisdom beyond her years, paying more attention to detail than I did as Laura’s mum had, right down to extra blankets for her in case she got cold in hospital… bless her.

Having spoken to Mick, who had now arrived red eyed and traumatised about the sequence of events that had happened since he had left Antrim Area Hospital several hours earlier, Paul & I agreed to go home for some well deserved rest. We slept for a couple of hours and went back up to see Laura who was now moved down to the less serious, high dependency unit. Her progress over the next week was fantastic and although not without terrible pain, she was moved to a main ward and started the slow road to recovery. She had been moved into a ward with very elderly people with dementia and this was in itself a horrendous experience for her. She was an older child in an adult ward. Getting home was of primary importance. She was inundated with visitors and well wishers and it truly did my heart good to see how highly regarded and loved Laura was to so many people young and old.

In the end Laura, Paul and Mick tricked us into getting her home early and what a wonderful surprise it was for me and wee granny to see our wee pet walking into her home wearing pyjamas and Paul’s Mace fleece after her horrendous ordeal. Laura needed to have her Mick with her, and after eight years together Paul and I understood this need to be together so Laura asked her wee granny’s permission and us for them to spend the night together. We were only too happy to give our approval.

Laura saw photos of the mangled heap of tin that had been her precious, wee car and she too was in awe that she had come out of it alive. The general belief from all of us was she must have had a guardian angel guarding over her in that car that night. It was not Laura’s time to die yet and she had made it through with help from prayers to the man above and his angels. Fate stepped in to make sure her destiny was as it should be.

There must be great and exciting events in store for Laura in the future.

This horrendous nightmare was over but I knew bad luck comes in threes so I knew something else was waiting to happen. Perhaps a broken bone or two for one of the rest of the family….

LAST BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST

Amy-Ruth was late at getting up that Saturday morning and in fact I had to waken her at noon as I was going to work at one p.m. She told me that she didn’t feel so good but couldn’t really pin point what exactly was the matter. I went on to work but told her to phone me if she needed me as I could be home within five minutes. I came home at four but as I was going to Carnlough for the night I had to pack my bags quite quickly and the wee pet helped me as she usually did. She was still feeling not at herself so it was no surprise later when Paul told me she had vomited at the smell of her Mc Donald’s take away at six p.m. I advised Paul to keep an eye on her temperature and not to let her get dehydrated and it was probably that tummy bug that was doing the rounds every where. I kept in touch with Amy-Ruth herself by text and when I rang the following morning she had told me she had been up several times through the night. I sympathised with her and felt really sorry for her but I was not unduly concerned at that stage.

We arrived home early in the afternoon and I could tell she was just poorly and miserable and just wanted mummy to cuddle her on the sofa.

I had a wee doze myself and texted one of my sisters in law to say I would probably not sleep tonight… Little did I know prophetic that would be…

At nine o’ clock I phoned her friend’s mum who is a G.P and who normally gave Amy-Ruth a lift to school to tell her she had bad vomiting and wouldn’t be going to School. She too had said about the bad bug that they also had in their family. Although it was now just over the twenty four hours since the vomiting had began I was still not unduly alarmed at this and in fact the raging temperature was a more pressing worry.

I said to Amy-Ruth that I would want to check her for a rash as I routinely did when any of the kids were poorly and I was going to have to insert a suppository in her back passage to try to get the temperature down. She begged me not to do the latter so I was side tracked into explaining that this was an embarrassing and a little uncomfortable, but very effective method. She remembered Lucy having to get this done during the previous summer and I tried to pacify her by telling her Lucy was a drama queen and that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it might be. We agreed that I would give her one hours grace but then needs must. Our daughter Laura came home at ten and I told her that I was unhappy at Amy-Ruth’s condition and my fear that she was going to take a fit with over heating. She checked her and was also horrified at the violent vomiting.

I got the suppository and the rubber gloves at the ready and went back to her room at 10.25 p.m. Just before I did the needful I asked her if I could check her for a rash. As I pulled up her pyjama top I noticed a red blotchy rash on her tummy and trunk and I was trying to work out what on earth this was and thinking it was a heat rash, I pulled up her trouser bottoms and I saw these dark red , purple coloured pin prick marks on her toes and feet especially the ankle areas. I could feel the panic rising in me and hurried to the kitchen to get a glass for the rash test. I called to Laura to do it with me as I could feel the fear gripping me and was unsure I could do it properly. We both checked and agreed it was not going away. I ran to the phone and phoned Theresa my friend who is a G.P and luckily as she lived so close she said she would be as quick as she could. I ran into our room and wakened Paul as I hurriedly dressed. Rhys our son went to the front door to await Theresa and sure enough she was there within a few minutes. Theresa agreed she didn’t like the look of this rash and told me she was going to give her a shot of anti-biotic to be on the safe side. Even in the short time this took we could see the bruising darkening and travelling like a forest fire. It was now seven minutes since I had seen the rash. Looking back I would have to say that Amy-Ruth was remarkably calm but disoriented and allowed Laura to fix her hair and put on a dressing gown for her going to hospital. Theresa offered to come to the hospital and although I was so very grateful I felt we had put her out enough already but she assured me that she was more than willing to come so we set off very quickly, hoping & praying it wasn’t meningitis.

Paul drove behind as we travelled in Theresa’s car and I had telephoned the children’s’ hospital to say we were on our way in. Amy-Ruth started to drift off into sleep and I remember asking Theresa if the injection she had gave her would make her sleep but she told me not to let her and it was necessary to keep her awake. Ignorance was true bliss on my part but as the car started to speed closer to the hospital I could feel the knots in my stomach tighten like an iron vice at what might lay ahead.

As we got to the entrance of the accident & emergency Amy-Ruth walked inside holding my hand and clutching her precious teddy bear Ruth and met eye contact with a gentleman who was striding towards the exit.

Perhaps I had watched too many TV hospital dramas but I was sure that there would have been a team awaiting us and gave the reception her name and date of birth as quickly as I could and hurried inside where we were sent to triage which determines priority patients. It was now approaching eleven o’ clock, half an hour since I had spotted the rash. Theresa expressed her concern at the urgent need to get fluids into the child’s body and immediately set to work putting I.V fluids into her arm and was joined quickly by another doctor and several of the nursing staff. At that moment I handed over all my maternal responsibilities to Theresa and these skilled medics and placed my complete trust in their abilities.

As I watched in horrific silence, I noticed that the hospital doctor was trying unsuccessfully to get blood out of a vein in Amy- Ruth’s arm. This puzzled me and I tentatively asked Theresa why this would be…

I will never forget to my dying day, her face as she gently told me that It was indeed meningitis with septicaemia and that Amy-Ruth’s wee organs were now shutting down and this was the cause of no blood coming out. I remember saying, “she’s not going to die, is she?” and Theresa saying “we’re doing our best”……….

I stumbled out of that cubicle to where poor Paul was sitting with all our coats, bags and dressing gown and told him he had better come in. He immediately went to stroke his wee daughter’s head and tried to stop her from slipping into the coma which was now very imminent. He kept asking her to count the number of fluid syringes that were going into her veins in an attempt to keep her focused. I squeezed into a corner and felt utterly useless as I kept wringing my hands in a bizarre attempt to make this hellish nightmare stop. I could feel the bile rising from my stomach…

I had to escape from that claustrophobic room there and then!!!

I went outside and phoned Laura and then Eileen and I was aware of my hysteria as I tried to tell them the terrible news that our wee Amy-Ruth was fighting for her life inside that cubicle. This child needed all the prayers she could get to win this battle and although my knowledge of this disease was limited, I knew it was a killer. We had got to the hospital so very quick and she had that emergency injection at home so how could she now be dying. We were in a hospital so; surely to God they could fix this. I remember trying to have a cigarette as I groped in my bag for a lighter and a stranger giving me his lighter to keep , how surreal was this?

I went back inside and tried to keep my panic under control as I watched the proceedings from the bottom of the bed. I called her wee name but knew she was now going on a long journey, where only she could go alone

The consultant anaesthetist had arrived and remarked that he had already saw this child earlier but we all assured him this had not been possible until he asked if she had walked into A&E. We agreed she had, but we never got to find out what exactly was it about Amy-Ruth that caught his eye in that busy Sunday night’s waiting room. She too remembers seeing him but again doesn’t know why exactly. Some of our family members had arrived and been brought into the relative’s room and I went into talk to them as Amy-Ruth was getting prepared to be moved upstairs to Intensive Care. Theresa and Paul joined us and I kept beating myself up about the fact that I hadn’t checked her earlier for the rash but Theresa assured me that it wouldn’t have been there earlier. I knew that I would find another, even bigger stick to beat myself up with instead.

How did our child get this dreadful disease? Who was to blame? Could she survive this? Will she lose limbs or even some of her faculties?

We followed the nurse upstairs and waited outside in the waiting room in what seemed déjà vu, same scenario just a different time & place and different child. The nurse explained that there would be a lengthy wait before we could see her, in order for the necessary machines to be linked up to our precious daughter. We just nodded our heads sadly and declined the kind offer of tea or coffee. I had hoped that we could see Amy-Ruth before she was ventilated but that was not possible as her medical needs dictated that this had to be done immediately. We eventually were allowed into her isolation side ward and saw our wee pet surrounded by all sorts of high tech machines and monitors with wires that seemed to be going in and out of her little body in all different directions.

Having seen Laura in a similar state, this did not disturb us as much as it might have done for other distraught parents, but I remember having, just this surreal feeling that in such a few short hours we were now here in Intensive Care and not at home. The feelings from Paul, Theresa and I were just that of overwhelming sadness when we saw wee Amy-Ruth, and tremendous belief that hopefully this terrible disease had been caught in time. However it was explained to us that we now had a waiting game to play and the next forty-eight hours would be crucial. The meningitis and septicaemia infection were already raging through her wee body like a tornado and the antibiotics that she was now getting could only fight against this to an extent. The rest was going to be up to her & her Maker.

Basically Amy-Ruth had a battle going on inside her and medicine & machines could do their bit by keeping her alive and help fight off new infection but, she was at the mercy of God and his angels as to what outcome she would have. Patience was a virtue that I had never been blessed with, so, how could we ever wait that length of time to know if she was going to first of all survive this and live, then deal with the consequences of living through & after this dreadful, deadly disease.

Paul & Theresa left around 3 am and I went outside with them and we talked quite calmly about all that had happened. I watched them leave the car park from my vantage point at the top of the steps, I saw their separate car lights beneath me and I waved but alas neither of them saw me. I think the enormity of it all then hit me with such a force that the stuffing was knocked out of me like a thunderbolt. I slumped down on those cold, damp, stone steps and wept and wept like never before. I was alone in my grief and I allowed those tears to fall violently without having to worry about anyone having to console me. I had to be strong to get through this so my outburst would discharge that immediate grief and recharge my batteries to face whatever was to follow. A couple of ciggies later and the nicotine comfort to my battered emotions that it provided, helped me go back up to Intensive Care where our wee child lay comatose.

I began the first of many numerous walks up that black & white corridor which was painted in a child friendly curve but which bizarrely I called inside me “the yellow brick road”. Before the end of this nightmare I would get to know every crack and dent in that tunnel of hope & despair.

As that, long, wintry, night wore on, Amy-Ruth’s condition worsened with the ferocious battle being fought inside her. I trusted the wonderful wee nurse who had told me earlier that, Amy-Ruth wasn’t her worse or her best case but she now had to give her the drug Dopamine to support her blood pressure. As she hadn’t needed to give her this before, this heightened my worst fears. I saw with alarm that her temperature had risen to a dangerous level of 40.4 degrees which the nurse quickly acted upon with medication. This fever had reached a peak, a ferocious battle that could only have one winner, one gladiator. Was she strong enough? She had an unhealthy diet and didn’t nor couldn’t eat properly. I hoped that all those carbohydrates she had eaten would now give her strength.

It hadn’t the same frenetic intensity of activity that Laura’s nightmare had, just a slow motion version but I, as her mother felt terribly inadequate at my inability to do nothing which to me was much worse. I just kept doing what I do best…Telling her over & over how much I loved her. I had a room within the intensive care unit but was unable to use it to sleep as even there, I was too far away from her. I sat in the chair beside her bed but although my body was tired my mind refused the respite that a doze never mind sleep could bring. Every movement or development that happened in that room was questioned and absorbed by my non medical brain. One doctor had came in and asked what other members of the family had been in close contact with Amy-Ruth during the previous few days and had prescribed precautionary antibiotics for the entire family . Sometime, during that long lonely night a member of the Public Health team had rang and I had explained that three other children had sleepovers in our house but I would ring their parents first thing in the morning. Although I did this, I have absolutely no recollection of ever speaking to these parents. However, I do remember having this terrible feeling of guilt, like admitting your child having nits and having to inform the school, but on a much more serious scale as if our house was unclean and harboured germs. Their children were in danger also…….

The new morn was a welcome relief but in reality didn’t change things.

I wanted to fast forward to forty eight hours from then but couldn’t and got caught up in the minute by minute changes in her status and when the doctors came in to do their rounds, I left her room as instructed but watched and waited like a hunter, pouncing on it’s prey as soon as they came out of her room. I needed to ask very important questions.

Was she going to live? Did she have meningitis with or without meningococcal Septicaemia? Can you treat this successfully?

My darling Paul had arrived very early and had dealt with the never ending phone calls that had subsequently came and he also was at his wits end at the unnerving wait & see game at play.

As a poker player he has nerves of steel but this was a game of chance that had the odds stacked against us. We both became immediately involved with practical matters and yet again we made a great team of working together in difficult and now desperate times. We feed of each other’s needs, him and I, he’s my strength and five minutes later I’m his rock. We know each other so well that we don’t even need words to communicate. That bond that harnessed when we were just friends has always been our anchor, the solid foundation on which our union is built upon. It had stood us in good steed in the past. We’ve had more than our fair share of ups and downs in our lives’ journey, but now together, we had to be strong again in the face of adversity. We had lost our babies before to miscarriages but I had always felt, that that was how God had planned it and that we should never fly in the face of God. But now, no never, could we contemplate losing our kind, wonderful, precious Amy –Ruth to God. We had born her, loved her, reared her, we needed her….she was so much an integral part of us as a family. We could never, ever, be complete without her………

That morning was horrendous and we dealt with it as best we could until, our Laura came and Eileen, who had gone to Carnlough to bring up granny Nora arrived and they both took all calls from us and dealt with practicalities as need be… This was a huge, welcome relief for both of us.

Laura, an accomplished communicator had taken a call from my mum who had informed her that a faith healer was on his way up to see Amy-Ruth and Laura had gently suggested that her mum, me Madeline, wouldn’t want this but her granny insisted. Laura knew this was inappropriate but did ask Paul & I who both immediately said definitely… no way! Laura rang her granny back within minutes to tell her that under no circumstances was this faith healer to come up, no matter how good his reputation, we did not want his services, at the moment. Perhaps in a few days when we got over the shock maybe we would change our minds. Mammy, having asked this man’s wife to ask him to come up could not now cancel this request out of misplaced loyalty even though we as Amy-Ruth’s parents did not want him there. Our wishes were not as important as saving face!!! This man did come up and he insisted in getting into seeing our daughter but one has to remember this was an Intensive Care Unit and nobody but us parents and Laura as a carer were allowed in. It was only after we had cross questioned him did we give our consent into asking for special permission for him to get in and put his “healing hand’s” onto our child’s head. Did he help heal Amy-Ruth? We don’t know, perhaps he did. Who are we to doubt? Someone certainly saved her!

The rest of that day and the following days are just a haze except for a few memorable periods. One of these was on that Monday evening when I had went outside with my sister Ann & my friend Maria to have a much needed cigarette. I had just lit it when I spotted our Parish Priest Father Dan arriving, so I quickly handed over the lit ciggie to one of these non-smokers who went to put it out. This was a crime to a smoker like me and I took puff after puff in quick succession, then Fr Dan came over and instead of putting the cigarette out as I had intended, I held it during our entire introductions. At one stage I even accidentally blew the smoke in his face. The slagging I got from those two afterwards was truly deserved but when I get nervous I do go a bit silly and behave very bizarrely..

We went upstairs and Paul & I gladly brought our priest into see Amy-Ruth who had been a favourite altar server in his church. The beautiful service he gave that night for our wee girl was very touching but I had an unnerving urge to laugh when I saw big orange tears falling down Laura’s cheek as a result of the medication that we had all been given. I have to say that I had thought wrongly about Fr Dan on the night of Laura’s accident as in not knowing who we were, but now, he was very much up there, in my admiration & estimation and supporting our faith.

Each day was like “groundhog day” the same place, the same routine, the same endless messages of support which were of great comfort to us but didn’t really change our reality. As the nurses attempted to reduce her life support medication during the Tuesday night her little body had become distressed which was a set back as we had gone past that crucial forty eight hour bench mark. Early Wednesday morning when as always I was washing her little face and tenderly talking to her, I broke down and begged her to give me a sign, any sign that in the depths of her coma that she could hear or feel me with her. At first I thought I had imagined the slight pressure on my finger but when I asked her again to do it Amy-Ruth definitely responded. I was the happiest mum alive and couldn’t wait for the doctors to come in and tell me they were switching off the machines and let her try to come back to us on her own. Paul was also ecstatic at the news but did caution me not to get my hopes up too much, of course he was right as the consultant said she was still too poorly to consider this. I had noticed her little mouth had broke out in cold sores but I was totally heartbroken when we had came back from lunch and Laura informed us that the child now needed a lumber puncture to rule out viral meningitis. This involved heavy sedation in order not to hurt her, but it also meant that she was no longer in her own wee coma but a medical induced one, so the three of us knelt down to pray .The hospital had asked us if they could take a photo of Amy-Ruth for their magazine so bizarrely this happened shortly after the spinal procedure. I lay my sleepy head down on the bed and said to Laura “wouldn’t it be great if she could just wake up”

I thought I must have been sleeping for hours when Paul burst into the room and told us she was coming round and had recognised him, her dad. In fact I had only dozed off for a couple of minutes but this fantastic news just made the adrenaline kick in and I had those boots on in seconds…

I rushed up with Laura to see this wonderful sight. All our Birthdays’ & Christmases’ had come at once and we kissed and hugged Amy –Ruth and told her how much we all loved and missed her. We gently tried to figure out if her main senses were working as in hearing, sight, touch, smell and speech and we were filled with such tremendous relief to have these confirmed. I felt my emotional cup overflowing with gratitude to God and his angels at our daughter’s salvation. My mum and my sisters arrived at that most glorious time and I was on such a high that they could share this wonderful experience with us, and as they each tip toed into see her for a few short moments, I almost burst with pride as she knew each one of them and tried to talk in her hoarse, raspy voice which was obviously very sore and raw having just had the ventilator removed. We were all just so overcome with wonderful emotion.

It is indescribable and extremely difficult to articulate into words how we all felt that night except for this fantastic feeling that we had just won life’s lottery of love, family unity, sheer joy & immense thanksgivings.

Our phones went red hot at the hundreds of happy texts that whirled through cyber space to us, as the magnificent news spread like a tsunami of love and good wishes to her & all of us as her beloved family.

I had planned to stay with her all night as always but as she was now moved out into the main Intensive Care ward, I was aware that I was in the way, so I availed of the little room for sleeping for the first time. I had asked the nurse to come and get me at any time and as promised she came at one a.m. and said Amy- Ruth was frightened and distressed, I hurried up to her and calmed her down as only I could and stayed with her all night. She begged for water but as she kept throwing up, the nurse advised me not to give any more. As she drifted in and out of sleep I was aware that all was still not quite right and at one stage she kept asking for her mummy and as I answered she said “you’re not my mummy” I was aghast but then I realised I had my back to her and she could only see the nurse who was administering medication to her to get her temperature down. I reassured her of my being there and she relaxed into another wee doze.

As morning came she asked me what day it was and when I told her it was Thursday she shook her head and disbelieved me. She attempted to sit up in the bed and asked the nurse the day’s date. When the nurse answered it was Thursday 18th January she went into floods of tears and when I tried to comfort her thinking it must be a shock to realise you had lost recollection from the previous Sunday she explained that she hadn’t bought her sister Lucy’s birthday present, ….. Kind, thoughtful Amy-Ruth.

The doctors came and saw her and as her high dependency level had been lowered she was deemed ready to be transferred to a normal ward in order to release a much sought after Intensive Care bed. We thanked the nursing staff profoundly and followed our daughter into a very noisy , busy, ,large ward.

It was so very different from the quiet, peaceful, serene surroundings that we had just left but we were so glad that she was moving in the right medical direction. We put up her cards and surrounded her with her belongings and expected her to recover gently from her traumatic experience in due course in this children’s’ ward.

As the day wore on her temperature, vomiting and diarrhoea became more and more violent and I was getting increasingly concerned at her delirium and listlessness. Our other children had came up to visit briefly and I had to attend to their individual needs, especially Lucy our youngest who had to have a birthday party without us for the first time but her aunties and Laura were going to sort that all out. I reassured Lucy and our son Rhys that all their needs would be met as best we could and they left quite contented. My pressing worry was that wee daughter who was far from well and was upstairs without me. Sure enough I was told by a friend of the family that she had to call a nurse whilst I was downstairs with the other kids when Amy-Ruth tried to get out of bed and clearly in a confused state wanted to go home. I knew we couldn’t expect the high degree of attention that we previously had but I instinctively knew that Amy-Ruth was very, very unwell. The house doctor was called but I was not happy with her assessment that she might have picked up a bug in this new ward in the few short hours that she was there. It had been only twenty four hours since she had a lumber puncture to diagnose possible viral meningitis and we still had no confirmation as to what strain of the disease she really did have. She was being treated for meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia and now viral meningitis also.

Paul had arrived at this stage and knew that if I was extremely concerned then there must be a problem and as I pointed out the danger signs to him he too became alarmed, especially her eyes rolling to the back of her head. I went downstairs to phone Theresa knowing that Amy-Ruth’s daddy would take care of her and begged Theresa the G.P. to look up medical journals in case Amy-Ruth had a rare form of the disease that she wasn’t being treated for. I knew she was still very seriously ill but now she wasn’t getting her medical needs treated appropriately. I needed to do whatever it took to save her! It would mean bruising some medical egos.

This need to do everything possible for our daughter empowered me to request another meeting with the doctor in charge who had tried to reassure Paul in my absence that all was under control. That doctor was wonderful and agreed with Paul, that my mother’s instinct was more valuable than anything else and Amy-Ruth was indeed too unwell for a general ward and would be moved into a specialised ward ASAP.

The new isolation ward was right next to I.C.U. and was a welcome quiet haven from the noise that had disturbed her so badly in her fragile state. Even here she kept asking us to turn the noise down but it was all in her wee mind as the wonderful nurse just tried to make her comfortable.

The vomiting and diarrhoea was still horrendous and the catheter seemed to be not working so I asked for this to be removed. As this was being removed I held onto her hand and assured her that her daddy couldn’t see her privates but was holding her other hand and the sheet as a curtain. Her screams as the pain of this procedure was carried out were awful to listen to and I was acutely aware that as an adult it was painless but to a child even this thin tube was invasive. I looked down at the heaving, sobbing shoulders of her poor wee daddy who was unable to stop this pain for his wee chicken. Amy-Ruth kept asking me if I thought she was going to die and even though I kept reassuring her she wasn’t going to die, she was convinced of this as the night went on and on and on. She told me of her memories that she had during her coma whilst in intensive care and I was disturbed by the vivid intensity of her recollections but also comforted by her deep faith in God. All Paul or I could do was be there for our child and Paul went home very late but knew that we had a big mountain to climb before she would ever get better again. Yet another long night became morning and she was still very delirious but thankfully the fever had broken. I went to phone her daddy but I couldn’t as we had so many text messages and missed calls from good intentional well wishers that I decided that we needed to focus on Amy-Ruth and ourselves for now and needed to be allowed to do so. We had to take some necessary action.

I appointed Laura, my sister Ann and Eileen to be the go betweens for the families and my friend Maria to be the point of contact for friends. I was very adamant that we would be un-contactable for the remainder of the day but if possible I would like Father Dan to revisit Amy-Ruth. Paul and I just stayed with our child all day and we both were extremely alarmed by her anxiety and paranoia levels and tried our best to reassure her.

The wonderful consultant had came back to inform us that her meningitis strain had been officially confirmed so she was getting the appropriate treatment and medication. Only time and tender loving care could heal her battered emotions and scarred mind. We sat and prayed with her as she had requested and our great friend Maria joined us for support.

Fr Dan came up to visit as promised and he spoke quite candidly to Amy-Ruth and told her she had been at the gates of heaven but that God had sent her back because it wasn’t her time to die. He told her that she would grow up and have children of her own and she should stop worrying about dying and should say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of life.

We are indebted to Fr Dan for that sincere and forthright advice as it helped sanity to return to our wee child’s troubled mind.

The long road to recovery could now begin for Amy-Ruth and although she was still very anxious she no longer spoke about dying or about her memories of being in the coma. She has always been a holy wee child and her respect for Fr Dan was so great that she could take his advice solemnly.

She did write a little poem of thanks to Jesus for being alive. She allowed me to keep this heart felt prayer and I will treasure it forever. Her anxiety levels were still very high and when I would walk her daddy down to the car she would allocate me just seven minutes round trip and would phone me if I was seconds from deadline. This was unnerving but such a pleasing task.

The next few days were filled with an endless task of trying to get her to eat proper food and needles going into veins which were now collapsed. The wonderful doctors felt her pain and hated searching for new sites each night. Her final anti-biotic was due for Sunday evening and I asked if we could possibly get home as I wouldn’t leave Amy-Ruth in hospital but needed to be home for our youngest daughter Lucy’s 10th birthday. The doctor understood my dilemma and agreed to the early release. We had a hiccup before we left as no vein site could be located to allow the last important dose of medication but it transpired that she already had the necessary seven doses. We heard the magical words that we longed for,

“You can take your wee daughter home”

We gathered all her bits and pieces together and hurried off before anyone could change their minds. We knew it was too soon for her to be released but I knew she would recover quicker in the sanctuary of her own home and I had a fair knowledge of any warning danger signs to look out for.

It was exactly one week to the day since we had left home with Amy-Ruth at death’s door and now together we arrived home to the absolute joy and delight of our family. There was even a family welcoming party to greet her which was so much better than the planned limo that I had been trying to organise to bring her home in style. Lucy was especially delighted that we would all be there to celebrate her 10th birthday the following morning with or without her presents which of course we had arranged from hospital thanks to Eileen and Laura.

I was so relieved to be able to be there for both of these precious children. A mother cannot divide her love but has to make decisions based upon individual needs and I was so delighted that I didn’t have to make that choice. That wonderful phrase that we read about so many times is so very aptly true. “There really is no place like home” !!!!

How did our child survive this dreadful disease intact with the added peril of septicaemia? What made me check her for a rash at 10.25 pm as it was just starting and not 9 pm as intended?

What made Dr Theresa always very adamant in carrying that life saving antibiotic in her medical bag? She had said just the day before to a member of her family that thank God she had never needed to use it.

Perhaps it was her Destiny that she would save Amy-Ruth!!!!

AFTER-SHOCK

We were all so relieved to be back on familiar, home ground that none of us really took time out to absorb the enormity of what had really happened to us as a family unit. Naively I thought that we would all just bounce back and get on with it as we had all done before when the going got tough.

I totally devoted all my energy into the healing of our daughter Amy-Ruth that the rest of the family nor me didn’t really factor in the immediate aftermath. Amy-Ruth had terrible, blinding headaches which made her violently sick which worried me terribly. The Meningitis Trust assured us that as she had such trauma to the mengies in the brain that the inflammation would flare up for anything up to a year, so at least we knew what to expect physically. The emotional back lash was by far much more difficult to cope with, as the intensity and sheer fear of everything just seemed to take over not just Amy-Ruth’s day to day existence but mine also.

I did everything in my power to constantly reassure this precious child that she was safe, loved and en route to good health again but could only hug her thin, fragile body tightly when the huge heart rending tears would tumble down her pretty wee face and shuddering sobs would rack her wee insecure, body and mind. It was my job to make things okay for her and now I was helpless as I was unable to promise her that this pain would stop.

This fear of everything and overwhelming need to protect my family in which capacity I felt I had failed to do, begin to consume my entire existence. Although I appeared to function within our family and to the outside world I myself became more and more disassociated with reality and more and more immersed in my guilt at what I could have done differently. I existed in a very strangely removed place, it was as if I was watching a third dimensional movie in which I saw everything going on all around me but I was not really involved even though I had a major role as a leading lady in all this drama. One’s mind is a very complicated organ and when feelings and emotions like I was experiencing were let loose it became an extremely, dangerous, self- destructive weapon.

I kept recalling night after night the beautiful, dream that I had in hospital whist Amy-Ruth was in her coma. I had watched in my mind a video of her being born, her first steps, her first day at nursery and then primary school and all the wee milestones in her life.

The major difference was that now it had a tragic ending and I was powerless in my dreams to change the ending to a positive outcome. Those negative dreams crept into my reality and try as I might I couldn’t banish them from my tortured mind.

The aftershock of mine, Laura’s and Amy-Ruth’s traumas were hitting me so hard that I was now reeling from the “what might have been”???

I remained locked in that traumatic frightened prison cell of my tormented mind for the next month or so, not feeling in touch with any reality except for a constant, searing, knife like pain in my chest area. It was so painful even to breathe that I was convinced that all my smoking had finally caught up with me. I eventually went to see my doctor on the advice of a wonderful councillor named Ann, whose services were provided by the Meningitis Trust.

I had reached my meltdown point and had finally admitted my pain and guilt at my perceived inability to protect my family from danger. This admission of misplaced guilt then opened the flood gates of tears which refused to subside. The constricting pain I had in my chest was now excruciating and I genuinely fought a losing battle as the long overdue sobs wracked and reverberated through my entire body. I was powerless to stop this outpouring of grief and desperately tried unsuccessfully all that day to contain my confused, overwhelming emotions.

My doctor was extremely alarmed at the depth of my despair but I reassured her that this was not the acts of a depressed mother but those of a normally sane mother whose paralysing fear was that I was seriously losing the plot and needed a quick fix medication in order to cope.

She prescribed me with an anxiety reducing sedative but cautioned me that it would be a one –off prescription. This was as strange for me as I have always had an aversion to taking any form of nerve tablets and believed they were for the weak willed but now here I was practically begging for some. I was so petrified of losing the plot in case the men in the white coats came to lock me up in some institution, giving my then fragile mental state.

The tears continued all that day and evening and I struggled in vain to try to explain to my beloved Paul as to why I was crying so hard, when we had so much to be thankful for. I think that was the most complex part to come to terms with. It was very difficult to accept the enormity of all the horrendous happenings that we had come through in the past few months and then reconcile them with the need to give thanks to God for our lives.

I eventually fell asleep onto a tear stained pillow and woke up the next morning feeling something different but not really able to figure out exactly what it actually was. All that crying had somehow released that iron force on my chest and I was able to breathe again without constraint.

My councillor explained that I had, had all these pent up emotions which I had never allowed myself to express and now had released a dam which had burst its banks.

My body was telling me that It was absolutely vital to off load this long overdue, emotional burden in order for Amy-Ruth and I to begin to start to heal physically & emotionally.

In the end I only ever took a few of those relaxation pills and on hindsight I could now tell you that my terrifying meltdown was also my salvation.

I could not even trust my own judgement on day to day matters and as I handed over my tight motherly reins to all rest of my family I withdrew further and further into deep , dark feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

I went into work and done as much as was needed at the time but I was so aware that I was not playing with the full deck that I was so terrified of being exposed as an impostor who had taken over Madeline’s body.

I wasn’t to know that at the time but I had asked for and gotten help from professionals just in time and thank God the men in the white coats didn’t come for me as I had feared. I listened and learned and read recommended self-help books and cherry picked any relevant advice. I did come to understand the chemical reactions in my body which were major contributors to my high state of anxiety. I had been subjected to such a long running period of intense stress, from being told of my operation until the present. My body had become so accustomed to producing such high levels of adrenaline that it now seemed the norm. I interpreted this as fear and my body’s antenna was on full state of alert in case of any more disasters. I now had to break that cycle of crippling fear which was so psychologically ingrained in me over the past few months. I was afraid of everything, danger lurked around every corner, I was afraid of even life itself.

I was encouraged to write about my feelings and I came to realise that my mind was constantly buzzing with the memories of what had happened so by my putting these into words I was helping myself to accept what had happened and freeing up space in my cluttered mind.

Hence these rambling memoirs which I would read over and over in order to make some sense of it all. This repetitive reading also allowed me to look at the sequence of events in Amy-Ruth’s illness in a more objective manner and I could see for the first time that there was nothing more I could have done that night than I had already done.

I had read that guilt is like Ivy, once it begins climbing up a tree, its little sucker roots dig in tightly, its strands tightly cling, and it won’t relinquish its hold. It’s hard to let go of guilt, because guilt won’t let go of you. The feelings of guilt that I had for imagined wrong doings were preventing me from valuing my important and vital role in her still being alive in getting her urgent medical help as quickly as I did.

I took on board the need to be more positive and the need to let go of the negative emotional baggage I’d been carrying and to start to take personal responsibility for my own health and emotional stability.

I couldn’t have done this without the love and full support of my husband, children & close family members and valuable friends to whom I chose to confide in.

My wonderful wise, councillor Ann with the creaking gate and the beautiful pink azalea shrub has played a huge role in my return to emotional well being. She encouraged me to confront difficult issues, and whilst I didn’t always agree with her concerns I did take a step back and look at them differently. I am indebted to her and to the Meningitis Trust for this help. I shall miss her witty and relevant self- affirmations that helped to guide me down the right road again and in Ann’s words, “Isn’t it great that although you were on the wrong road, you could get back on the right road again?”

Huge thanks must go to all the hospital staff involved in all three of our traumas. Heartfelt thanks to Fr Dan who reinforced our spiritual faith at a time when it was needed most, eternal gratitude to Dr Theresa for acting so quickly and undoubtedly saved Amy-Ruth’s life. Their individual vocations to help others is evident in their chosen professions.

Our young lady, Amy-Ruth is recovering brilliantly and almost back to her lovely, adorable, cheeky wee self. She has come a long, long way!

Laura has made a full recovery and is looking forward to a bright future and determined to appreciate the things that really matter. I have come out of that grey colourless place and wonder at the beauty of life. I have found such joy in seeing new life and colour and to everyone’s amazement including my own, I have a new hobby of gardening.

Nurturing new baby plants into bloom and gently coaxing life into seemingly lifeless plants has proven to be very therapeutic in my new found appreciation of the wonders of love, life and nature.

Above all, my most fervent thanksgivings are to, Our Almighty God and his Angels for permitting and helping us to still being here on this earth.

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in my own words book coverNow available on our online store and all other online book store’s. In My Own Words: Women’s Experience of Hysterectomy is full of many other real-life stories from women the world over.

Other people’s stories help women feel less isolated. They show that they aren’t going mad, missing the point or stupid.

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Linda Parkinson-Hardman

Transformational coach and founder of the Hysterectomy Association. Professionally I'm an information scientist who specialises in the adoption and engagement of digital technologies. I am a writer and author of nine books to date, and I've edited a further seven; phew what a lot for a Thursday afternoon :-)

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Truely inspirational. What an amazing story. So pleased there was a happy and meracous ending. I’m in tears of happiness and relief. Makes me really appreciate what I have. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Madeline, that was the most heart felt amazing story I have ever read! I was totally drawn into ur world n couldn’t stop reading! Thanku for sharing it and I hope the angels continue to watch over you and your family! You are obviously an amazing woman and are truly blessed with ur family and friends! You should write books you clearly have the knack for story telling! God bless! X

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