‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 17

As Arthur was pulled away through the wide doors of A & E, the dark clamour within the huge hall made me dizzy. Disorientated by the smells, I sank onto the nearest bench. Thankfully, in the wide, formal space, as well as rows of seats there was a café, a bookshop and a flower-stand selling hopeful blossoms. Just as others did, I found I could accustom myself to waiting. What were we waiting for? If it had not been for tall figures in hospital whites and green-suited technicians dashing about, the place could have been mistaken for an airport concourse.

I Approached the reception desk and asked, “Which ward for acute cardiac admissions?”

A young and overworked receptionist glanced up, answering automatically, “Ward 15B, along that way, through that door, along to the end, and then take the lifts to the first floor,” adding, “Ask at the front desk for new arrivals…” She made it sound so matter-of-fact that I was calmed. Hospitals do that, I suppose. They numb everyone, even the visitors.

Shock made me slow. If I had thought about it, I would have crumpled into a small heap and howled. Somehow I made myself walk calmly, wait while the elevator pinged open, then shut, then carried me silently up the height of a single flight of stairs and opened to let me out beside a large expanse of glass.

“I just came in with Arthur….” I lobbed the words at the first nurse I found, who seemed used to enquiries from traumatized visitors.

“Yes?” she replied pleasantly, “Arthur who?” and I could not remember…

“Arthur…” His name hung painfully alone until thankfully, she supplied the gap.

“There is an Arthur Thompson just being admitted in bay 12. He’s a bit poorly, I’m afraid. If you come with me, I’ll see if they can let you…” She walked ahead of me, her fair head bobbing slightly in time with her stride marked with rhythmic squeaks on the polished floor. She thoughtfully indicated that I might like to take a seat.

After about half an hour, she came back and said, “You can see him for a minute, but I’m afraid, well…” Debating how much she could tell me, she finally dug out a bit of hospital protocol.

“Are you a relative?”

“I’m Arthur’s neighbour. I’ve known him for…” how long had it been? “I’ve known him a while,” I decided. “He and I…” I left it at that, because my eyes were filling with tears.

“You can see him, but please, don’t stay long.”

As quietly as I could, I walked over to the bay she indicated, carefully lifted aside the curtain and let it drop behind me. I was standing at the foot of an enormous bed, on the wrong side, so felt my way gingerly around and then finally dared to look up. Arthur’s face had disappeared beneath a mask which was making rhythmic pulling noises, softly blowing air around his head. His neck and chest looked as I remembered them, but so still.

Under a loosely thrown sheet, I found his fingers, the back of his hand already fitted with nodules and lines for monitoring vital signs… that hand. I swayed, held my breath, desperate not to topple onto delicate contraptions, not to lean and puncture some life-support web.

“Arthur…” I whispered, already dreading the summons to leave. I remembered my courage and spoke with quiet urgency.

“Arthur, hello darling.”  I waited, hoping he could hear, or at least know something.

“I really love you, you know…” I whispered. More loudly I repeated, “I love you so much. I’m sorry I was cross with you. So sorry,” I smiled, because that is what we do when we apologise, isn’t it? I waited, just in case something of him might be watching, weighing whether to drift up through the ceiling and home to his wife.

Glancing at my watch, I saw with alarm that it was nearly six. I retrieved my phone to check for a signal. I had to phone Elaine. “Arthur, I have to go now, but I’ll be back as soon as I can, I promise.”

Gently I leaned over and kissed him, cheek and forehead, though they wouldn’t have approved, likely. A sick man needs more love than a well one, I thought defiantly.

I stopped at the desk on my way out. “Can I visit Mr. Thompson again? Visiting hours?”

A harassed nurse said, “Well, weekends are a bit more flexible, really, so long as there aren’t too many visitors. Are there likely to be, do you think?”

“No” I mumbled sadly.

“I’m sure that’ll be fine.” She offered a sympathetic smile before turning away.

***

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