‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 19

Two hours later the telephone rang. It was Alison saying, “You know what I’m going to ask, don’t you?”

“Yes, Elaine can stay with you for the day, and yes, pasta will be fine for tea. See you about seven?”

Hanging up the phone, a fresh wave of tiredness swept through me. A rest on the sofa would be good… When I woke I felt disorientated. Glancing at my watch, unbelievably it was only twelve o’clock and I was ravenously hungry. I felt my way to the kitchen and gulped peppermint tea, as well as pitta bread with hummus. An apple, a banana and a packet of crisps for added calories, and I felt suddenly greedy and wanted to cry.

Cautiously, I got to the car and turned on the radio. But the cheerful, nostalgic hits from 1976 and 1988 seemed to be all about boogie wonderland, so I clicked off the noise as I turned into the vast hospital car-park. Finding a space near the main entrance, I walked to Ward 15B, trying to resist the urge to break into a run. Skipping edgily past trolleys, walking sticks and slippered women shuffling ever-so-slowly, I got to where I thought I should be.

The bed beside which I had stood so penitently last night was empty, the sheets tucked neatly down, plastic curtain folded firmly out of the way. Somebody was speaking. I realized the voice was mine.

“Where is… Can… Excuse me…?” Back at the reception desk I stood, slightly mad, behind a queue of people.

“Can you tell me where Arthur Thompson is?” I managed.

“You were here yesterday, weren’t you? I’m sure he was transferred.” She flipped through a ring bound folder, consulted a screen.

“Yes, he’s been moved to the ground floor. Ward 3B. Just take the lift, dearie; you look as if you…”

Fleeing along the corridor, I stopped abruptly at the head of the stairwell. About the second step down, I remembered that stairs were much too slow. My feet did their best, one quavering step at a time. I followed signs over my head, arrows on the wall and lines on the floor. There, now, Ward 3B was right in front of me. I asked again at the desk. “Yes,” said a dark-haired nurse with an open, smiling face, “He is just along there, third bed on the right.”

As I was running with my walking stick, I slipped, righted myself, trying not to smile like an idiot. He was here, not dying.

“Arthur?” My voice erupted loudly into his bedside space, breathless with running and dread. “Arthur, Hello.” I tested the words gingerly as I saw the line of his body neatly tucked beneath the sheets, his head lying up on several pillows, lifting his face away. My arms I placed lightly on the curve of his body, watching the lift and fall of his chest.  I watched each sign of movement as a mother might watch for signs of life in a young baby. Each repeat was precious, a sign of continuance and bravery.

Consoled, I retrieved a splay-legged plastic seat from the end of the ward. Seated by his bed, I found the long fingers of his right hand and held them, carefully and lightly, then firmly. A cup of tea appeared at my elbow. I sat back for a change of position. At one point his breathing became very laboured and irregular and then gradually calmed again. I sat near, glancing outside when the sun occasionally threw a particularly bright beam of afternoon light towards us.

Murmured conversations drifted around the other beds; a loud repeated question, an answer thrown back reluctantly. At some point, Arthur turned his head and opened his eyes, anxious to see. His gaze met mine, and he smiled for a moment before his eyes closed and he slept again.

It was getting dark outside. The ward seemed to glow brighter and more intrusive, conversations sounded organized and purposeful as time drifted towards the evening meal. I closed my eyes, dozed and sent a prayer over my recumbent lover and then quietly stood, finally, easing out my aching arms and legs, releasing tension from my shoulders. I knew that there were things to be getting on with, beds to clear and tidy, routines for the hospital as well as at home, so I kissed Arthur firmly on the mouth, whispering, “I’ll be back to see you again, soon,” and began the long walk to the outside.

“Are you okay, dear? You’ve been sitting there an awful long time.”

“Thanks, I’m fine,” I answered politely. I gestured vaguely towards his bed. “Can you tell me whether…?”

“Well, we should see an improvement in the next few days, fingers crossed. Would you like me to see if I can track down the doctor on duty, see if he would have a word with you?”

“That would be lovely–” the wrong word, out of my mouth before I could stop it.

“Have a seat for a moment, I’ll see if I can page her for you…” and she moved away, bending her neck sideways to murmured conversation. “Mrs…?” A discreet cough jolted me out of my dreaming. “Anderson,” I answered automatically.

“And you are – a relative of Mr. Thompson?”

“Not actually. I’m his neighbour.” I looked up into an absurdly young face. She must have been about thirty, though if it hadn’t been for the exhausted pallor, the blue shadows beneath the eyes, I would have put her age nearer seventeen. She made an effort to listen, as I explained that Arthur had no relatives living nearby and that I was his friend.

“Well….” She was weighing up what she might tell me as she took a seat beside me, a gesture that reduced me to tears. She ignored me politely as I dashed them away.

“Mr. Thompson has already been very lucky. He had a cardiac arrest, as you know, but as he has got this far, his chances of a recovery are improving all the time. He is stable, which is hopeful. We are keeping him mildly sedated to minimize stress and are watching his progress.” She spoke so kindly, pausing so that I might hear what she was saying, before waiting for me to rise and steering me more purposefully towards the exit.

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