Her father had still been in Emergency when she’d arrived at the hospital and she’d remained by his side until he had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and she had had the opportunity to speak at length to his treating doctor. Now she glanced at her watch, drawing in a sharp breath as she realised it was nearly nine o’clock and that Justin hadn’t been able to return home to his family since going to her place straight from work.
She looked down at her father, his face relaxed by unconsciousness into an unnaturally gentle expression and knew that he wasn’t even aware of her presence. She took his limp hand in hers and prayed aloud for him and then walked quickly out of the ward.
“It’s Claire isn’t it?” She turned to see the young medical officer she’d spoken to earlier walking along the corridor to the lifts and stairwells beside her. “We’ve just got the first of your father’s blood test results back - his blood’s thicker than I would have expected on his prescribed dosage of medication. How reliable is he in taking it?”
“Not at all reliable if left to himself - but I always watch him to make sure he’s swallowed it when I’m there.” A dreadful thought presented itself to her, “But I was away with work all Friday . . . and right now I just can’t remember about the rest of the weekend.”
The days had past in a haze of misery and she’d been unable to think clearly about anything at all . . . and had no recollection of whether she’d remembered her normal routine of watching him take his tablets when she brought him his meals. Surely she would have . . . but what if she’d forgotten?
They paused as the doctor pressed the lift button.
“I’ll go home now and look at the packets and check how many are gone,” she suggested urgently, her heart beginning to race with fear.
The doctor looked down into her stricken face, as she followed him into the lift, “No - that’s not necessary - if he’s been taking them regularly until the last few days it’s unlikely to have that much effect even if he missed a few.”
Her thoughts were in turmoil as he selected a floor number and then said a friendly goodbye when the lift chimed its arrival on the floor above. The doors shut behind the doctor and it was a few minutes until Claire became aware that the lift wasn’t moving and the closed doors held her trapped inside.
She’d always had an irrational fear of lifts and right now her brain froze as she tried to think what to do next. The emergency phone was on the opposite wall but she couldn’t bear to unclench her hands from the railing behind her or cross the floor to it.
I’ve got to get home, I’ve got to get home, she thought over and over, beginning to feel out of breath, but no closer to mastering the situation. Suddenly the lift began to drop and she screamed - imagining it would plummet to the basement - but caught her breath when it stopped just as suddenly and the chime sounded again. The doors slid open and she shrank back into the corner as a bed with a patient was thrust into the lift.
“Sorry, love - didn’t see you there!” the wardsman called out cheerfully. “But I reckon we can all squeeze in. Which floor are you heading for?” he reached over to the number pad, “Oh, you haven’t pushed any yet. Are you heading for the main entrance?”
Claire nodded, feeling so claustrophobic in the crowded lift that she could barely breathe. It seemed to take forever to reach the ground floor and for the bed to be manoeuvred out and by the time she’d escaped into the corridor she had broken into a sweat.
She began to walk towards the foyer when a sharp pain in her chest made her gasp. Her heart was pounding so fast it felt as though she must burst and the pain brought tears to her eyes and nearly made her faint. She staggered to a chair and collapsed onto it, doubling over, her breath coming in short, ragged gasps. She was enveloped by a sense of dread, a sure knowledge that she was dying, that any moment now her racing heart would stop completely.
“Are you okay?” A woman walking past had stopped in concern. When Claire didn’t answer she leaned in closer and looked at her for a short while before saying she would go and find a nurse or doctor to help her.
It took Claire a moment to take in what she was saying and then she dragged her eyes up, realising that if anyone came and felt her surging pulse they would undoubtedly admit her into Emergency and there was no knowing how long they would keep her then.
I have to get home, I have to get home to David, she thought desperately and staggered to her feet, knowing she had to get away before that woman returned.
She walked hastily to the front door, breaking into a run as she emerged onto the footpath. A car braked quickly as she ran out onto the crossing in front of it, stopping within half a metre of her, but she didn’t pause until she’d reached her van. She clambered inside and locked the door after her, huddling sideways into her seat as she became strangely aware that the pain in her chest was subsiding and she was breathing more easily.
Beginning to realise she was okay, a new fear started overriding the feeling of impending death. Now she was able to think about it more calmly, she remembered those same sensations from the darkest time of her life years ago, when episodes like the one she’d just experienced began happening more and more frequently until she had dreaded the start of each new day.
Oh, not again! Please, God, no! Claire began to cry, burying her face in her raised knees, I just can’t bear to go through all that again! Eventually the dreadful episodes had begun to lessen, until finally they had disappeared and after a few years had passed she’d been able to put it firmly out of mind. Now she felt as though she had been plunged straight back into that nightmare and the realisation terrified her.
Please God, don’t let it start . . . don’t let it start! she begged, trying to bring herself under control by telling herself sternly that she didn’t have time to waste in self-pity, but should be getting home to David.
Justin let her in when she arrived back home, but she waited until they were all back in David’s room to update them both on her father’s condition. After asking several questions Justin promised to call in and speak to the treating doctor the following day and then said he’d better be heading for home.
“Jenny dropped in a takeaway roast chicken dinner for tea - I put your serving in a container in the fridge, so you can heat that up now if you haven’t already eaten.”
“Thank you, that’s very thoughtful,” she replied, mentally assigning her portion to her brother’s tea for the following night, “how much do I owe you?”
“Don’t be silly, Claire - I wish there was more we could do.” He paused by the front door, “Was Cameron in at work today? I’ve been trying to get him on his mobile all weekend, but he hasn't returned any of my calls.”
“Yes, he was there.”
“What’s happening between you two, Claire? Jen and I were very worried when we didn’t see you at church yesterday and I can’t get on to Cameron at all, so we have no idea what is going on. Have you and Cam talked about whatever the problem is since Friday night?”
“I am very appreciative of you being here for David tonight,” she said stiffly, opening the front door for him, “but I cannot talk to you about Cameron. You’d better be getting home anyway - Jen will be wondering where you are.”
Justin sighed and looked at her sadly before saying goodnight and heading out of the door.
David was watching her from his seat at the computer when she returned to his room, his expression anxious .
“What happened to you tonight, Claire? You don’t look great now, but you looked absolutely shocking when you first walked in.”
She frowned at him. “How can you be surprised at that? I’ve just left Dad in Intensive Care!”
He shook his head, already typing out his reply. “No, we’ve been through this a couple of times with him before, it’s not exactly a novel experience for - ”
“But not when you’ve been here on your own! I should have just walked out of that meeting no matter what he said, and been here. I hate thinking of what could have happened to you.”
“You knew I was okay, Claire.” David was like a dog that wouldn’t be thrown off the scent, “And I wouldn’t have expected you to look so bad even if Dad had died in your arms tonight. What happened?”
Claire closed her eyes and breathed in slowly. She just didn’t want to weigh David down with her own problems - but he knew her so well that it was difficult to keep anything from him.
“It was a long, hard day and I got upset about it all, okay?”
“You didn’t look upset - you looked terrified. Like you wanted to run for your life.” When she didn’t answer he continued. “If you’re not prepared to be honest with me and tell me what happened, what can I do but imagine the worst?”
Claire opened her eyes and looked into his anxious face. It hadn’t crossed her mind he might put his own construction on things if she wasn’t open - and she knew he always worried about what might happen to her when she was out alone at night, feeling keenly the fact he could do nothing to protect her.
“It was nothing bad, really.” She crossed the room and sat down heavily on his bed, “I just had that chest thing happen again. It really frightened me at the time . . . I’d forgotten that it passes in just a few minutes - but I was perfectly fine afterwards.”
He stared at her for a few moments, his face serious.
“I’m so sorry Claire, I had no idea it’d been happening again.”
“It hasn’t been happening again - it was just the stupid lift! I was talking to Dad’s doctor and I followed him in without thinking. You know I hate lifts at the best of times, and I didn’t think to press the button for a floor myself, and after he got out the doors closed but the lift didn’t move. I thought I was trapped and panicked until someone else obviously requested the lift and it went down.” She shrugged, “It was pretty dumb, but that’s all that brought it on.”
“Did anyone help you?”
Claire sighed, wishing he wouldn’t make such a big thing about it. “A woman asked me if I was okay, and offered to get help - but I was alright after that and just came home.”
He seemed to be thinking for a while then said, “Don’t try to solve it on your own this time, Claire. Let me help you, we’ll work through this together.”
“There isn’t a “this time”!” she retorted, jumping to her feet. “It was just because of what happened in the lift. It won’t happen again.”
“If you won’t let me help you, why don’t you talk to Jenny or Justin? They’ll know what to suggest, and I know they’d do anything for you.”
“The Muxlow’s are the last people I’d talk to about anything! And I don’t need any help - everything’s fine!” She walked quickly to the door, “If you don’t need anything just now, I’ll go and pack a bag to take in to Dad tomorrow. I might give his room a good clean too, ready for when he comes home.”
Taking her half of David’s beeper with her Claire went upstairs, working furiously to keep her mind from dwelling on everything that had happened. When she’d organised her father’s clothes and toiletries into a suitcase, she went through his room like a whirlwind, dusting and vacuuming and finally changing all the bedclothes.
I’ll show David he doesn’t need to worry about me - I’ll prove that I’m perfectly okay! she thought, moving into the lounge room and giving it a thorough workover. She was just pushing the heavy lounge suite back into position when the buzzer in her pocket sounded and she ran back through to David’s room.
“What’s wrong?” she asked urgently, her heart pounding as she waited for him to type out his answer.
“Sorry - I didn’t mean you to come running. I just wondered if you were aware of the time.”
Her eyes flew to the clock and she grimaced. It was already past midnight. “Oops - I suppose I got a bit carried away. But you know how Dad complains whenever I try to clean up around him - I wanted to take the chance while I could. I’ll just put things back together and then I’ll come and help you get ready for bed.”
She rushed back to the lounge room and bent down to shove the lounge into place. It began sliding and then stopped suddenly as one of it’s feet caught on the carpet and Claire felt a searing pain run up her lower back, making her draw in a sharp breath.
She pressed her hand quickly against her back and gingerly straightened, angry at herself for making such a foolish move. You idiot! You know better than to bend like that, she cursed herself and was relieved to feel the pain begin to ease after a few minutes.
Returning to David, she wheeled him into the bathroom but the moment she bent to lift him the pain returned. Gritting her teeth hard and twisting slightly to change her position she managed to get him into the shower chair, but had to squat awkwardly instead of bending as she showered him.
By the time she had him dressed and ready for bed her face was dewy with sweat from the effort of trying not to wince every time she had to move her back. As she tucked him in he reached out to her, trying to pull her close. She carefully knelt beside his bed and he lay his hand on her head and closing his eyes, began to speak. She knew he was praying for her, even though only God could properly understand his words.
“Thanks, David. I love you,” she whispered when he had finished, unable to trust her voice enough to say anything else.
Climbing into her own bed a short while later she began to pray too, but as her pleas for help came, so too did her tears. It took her a long time to find a position where her back was not too painful and she was thankful that despite the discomfort she was so exhausted, physically and emotionally that for once sleep came quickly.
An agonising pain in her chest jolted her awake only an hour later and as she gasped with hurt and fear all the evils of the day that had passed flooded into her mind. Cameron’s hateful words . . . the way she had let David down by not being home before him . . . that horrible moment when she’d thought the lift was falling . . . her father’s stroke . . .
What if it was all my fault, she cried, stifling her sobs in her pillow, the terrifying pace of her heart making her mind and body nearly numb with the throbbing, what if I didn’t give him his medicine?
She flicked on her light, unable to find any peace until she knew. Creeping quietly so as not to disturb David she went through to the kitchen and emptied all her father’s tablets onto the table, counting them and trying to calculate how many had been taken.
The numbers began to swim in her mind as she desperately sorted them into piles representing the days . . .but with no record of when each bottle was started she couldn’t work out the answer, and she knew no way of clearing her conscience. Her head dropped to the table in sheer hopelessness as she gave up fighting the despair which was engulfing her.
© R Brown 2005