Link to Chapter 12
There was a family gathering at my parents’ place in Northwood on the afternoon of Christmas Day. Emma and I had been there since the evening of the 23rd, and Becca had come out to join us as soon as the clinic closed on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. My father had received a chemo injection the week before, but his doctor had advised against him having another one at the beginning of Christmas week; apparently his white blood cell count was yet again not sufficiently recovered. When he told me about this, I could see that he was relieved, and I understood why. I remembered that the second and third days after chemo had always been the hardest for Kelly; if my father had received his Monday injection, he probably would have been very ill over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Emma and I went to the midnight service at the village church, and Becca went along with us. The church was almost full that night, and the vicar, who I now knew as Father Tony, preached his usual fine sermon, which seemed to hold even Becca’s attention; she had accompanied us to our church from time to time on her many visits to Saskatchewan, but I knew that she rarely attended when she was home in England.
We walked back to my parents’ house through the cold night air. My father and mother had obviously gone to bed, and Emma quickly excused herself to go to her own room. But Becca and I were drawn by the magic of the Christmas tree; we made hot chocolate for ourselves, and then went to sit in the darkened living room to drink it together. I plugged in the lights on the tree, and we sat side by side on the chesterfield for nearly an hour, sipping our hot chocolate and talking quietly. This was something we had often done during the Christmas season when we were younger, and we both enjoyed the renewal of our familiar shared ritual.
The next day Rick and his family appeared early in the afternoon; we met them in the hallway, exchanging hugs and handshakes and wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas’. Emma had been hanging a few extra decorations in the dining room when they arrived, and Sarah and Anna immediately joined her there. I could smell the whiskey on Rick’s breath and I knew he had already made a start on his Christmas drinking, but at that point in the day it seemed to have had little effect on him, and he chatted amiably with me as I helped him bring in his family’s presents and place them under the Christmas tree. Afterwards my mother served coffee from a silver coffee pot in the living room; I knew she only brought this pot out on special occasions, and Emma had helped her polish it the previous afternoon.
A little later two of my father’s brothers, Arthur and William, arrived with their wives, closely followed by my mother’s older sister Brenda. My father’s three siblings all lived in London, and I knew that my parents sometimes visited them over the Christmas season, but I guessed that this year my mother had invited them to come to Northwood for what might well be my father’s last Christmas. They were all dressed formally, my uncles in jackets and ties, my aunts in elegant dresses, pearls, and brooches; I had not seen them for years, and I made a point of sitting and talking with them. Emma had been upstairs in her room when they arrived; she came down a few minutes later, and when I introduced her to them, she immediately sat down and began to ask them questions about their homes and their families in her usual quiet way. At around four o’clock my mother brought in sherry and mince pies, and we opened our Christmas presents together.
There were fifteen of us sitting down for Christmas dinner that night; my mother and Becca had worked together on the turkey in the morning while Emma and I prepared the vegetables. The long dining table was dressed in a festive tablecloth and lit with candles in decorative candlesticks, and the meal was served on my mother’s best china, with silver cutlery and crystal glassware. In deference to the unspoken dress code I had slipped on a tweed jacket and tie; even Emma had apparently decided that this would be one of the rare occasions when she would wear a dress, and my mother immediately complimented her on it.
My father had stayed in bed until early afternoon and I could tell that even now he was not feeling well; he barely touched his supper, and contributed almost nothing to the conversation. Rick, however, had a lot to say. He had drunk several glasses of sherry at the gift opening and had switched to the wine with hardly a break when dinner began. His conversation was loud and intrusive, and many of his comments were off-colour and full of sexual innuendo. I could see that his wife and children were getting more and more embarrassed as the evening progressed. When the meal was over his three children escaped from his company as quickly as they could; Emma invited them up to her room, and they eagerly accepted her invitation. The adults took their coffee to the living room, but Rick took firm possession of one of the wine bottles and continued to drink from it until it was empty. Shortly after that, Alyson announced firmly that it was time for them to go home, and that she would be driving. The last we saw of Rick, he was following her out of the front door, making jokes about his bossy little woman. Shortly afterwards, my uncles and aunts also left.
Rick’s children had asked if they could stay and visit with Emma a little longer, and Becca had agreed to give them a ride into Oxford later that night. It was after ten o’clock when she left with them; she was planning to spend another night at Northwood with us, and expected to be back in forty minutes or so. My father by now was pale with exhaustion, and my mother and Emma helped him up to bed while I cleared up and began to load the dishes into the dishwasher. By the time my mother came downstairs again, the dishwasher was already going and I was nearly finished washing the pots and pans in the kitchen sink.
“Thank you”, she said, coming over and kissing me on the cheek. “Emma’s gone to bed; she says she’s very tired”.
“You look exhausted too”, I replied, drying my hands on a towel. “Perhaps you should turn in pretty soon”.
“I probably will. Are you going to make hot chocolate for Becca and yourself?”
“Yes; would you like me to bring up a cup for you too? I’ll probably take one up for Emma”.
“That would be really nice”.
So while my mother went upstairs again to get ready for bed I boiled a kettle and made three cups of hot chocolate. I took two of them up to my parents’ room, said goodnight to them both, dropped the third cup off with Emma, and was just coming down the stairs when I heard Becca coming in at the back door. She was already in the kitchen when I got there, her coat thrown over the back of one of the chairs, pouring the hot water into the two mugs I had left sitting on the counter. “That rain’s going to turn to sleet during the night”, she said.
“Were the roads bad?”
“Not yet, but I think they’ll be slippery in the morning”.
“Hot chocolate by the Christmas tree again?”
She turned and gave me a warm smile, and for a brief moment the years seemed to fall away and I was looking at my baby sister as a little girl again. “I wouldn’t miss it!” she said.
We took our cups into the darkened living room, I turned on the Christmas tree lights and stoked up the fire, and we sat side by side on the chesterfield. Becca kicked off her shoes, drew her legs up underneath her and cradled her mug in her hands; “That was a bloody awful evening, wasn’t it?” she said.
“It certainly won’t go down as one of the better ones”.
“I’m thinking it’s time for us to do a proper intervention with Rick”.
I took a first sip of my hot chocolate; “What does that mean?”
“Well, it’s a classic technique; the purpose is to force the alcoholic to face the reality of his behaviour and motivate him to want to look for a solution. If it succeeds, arrangements will have already been made to put him into a thirty day treatment program at a facility, and we have several within easy distance of us here”.
“How does it work, this intervention?”
“It works best if it’s done on a weekend morning just after the alcoholic gets up, and before he’s had a chance to do any more drinking yet. What happens is that the people who are closest to him converge on him, probably at home. They sit him down, and one by one they tell him stories about the damage his behaviour has caused in their lives, so that he’s forced to face the consequences of his drinking. It’s also important to have a doctor there; it works best if it’s the alcoholic’s own family doctor”.
“That wouldn’t be you, then?”
“No; I’m undecided yet about my role in the process. I’d like to be the one who runs the confrontation, but I suspect I’m too close and too emotionally involved. I’ve got stories I can tell, but that’s not the same as being in charge of the whole thing”.
“Have you done this before?”
“I’ve run several of them for the families of my patients”.
“Seriously? That’s amazing; it must take a lot of skill. You’d want to walk a fine line between confrontation and condemnation, wouldn’t you?”
“Exactly. So what do you think?”
I shrugged; “You’re surely not asking me for a medical opinion; you’re more than competent to give that yourself”.
“But I may be too close to this situation to give an objective view; are things as bad as I think they are?”
“Well, sober evenings seem to be a rarity for him. If he’d been behind the wheel of the car tonight he could have been dangerous, and I’m assuming Alyson isn’t always available to be his driver”.
“I would think not”.
“So what would be the next step?”
“First, I’ll sound out Rick’s family doctor; I think he and Owen know each other a little bit. I’ll try to set up a meeting with him and broach the idea; if he’s willing to co-operate, and if he feels confident enough to do it, I’ll ask him to run the confrontation. Then I’ll talk to Alyson and the children, and some of the others who are close to Rick, and see if I can get them on board”.
We lapsed into silence, and for a few minutes the only sounds were the crackle of the wood fire and the ticking of the old clock on the mantlepiece. Eventually she sighed and said, “Let’s change the subject. You and I haven’t had too many Christmases together in the past twenty years, have we?”
“The last one would have been the Christmas before Kelly died. That was another awful Christmas, wasn’t it?”
“How are you and Em doing this year?”
“We’re doing okay”. I took a long drink of my hot chocolate, and then set it down on the coffee table in front of us. “It’s been a different sort of Christmas for us so far, but mostly good”.
A comfortable quiet descended on us again, and we sat there for several minutes, enjoying the lights of the tree. Out in the hallway the grandfather clock chimed eleven o’clock.
“You must be missing the Reimers”, she said softly.
“Did you talk to them before coming out here?”
“We called them after lunch on Monday. I was on the phone with Joe for an hour and then Em talked with Jake and Jenna for another hour. Of course, she talks to them on Instant Messenger quite a lot, too. We called Will and Sally yesterday; I haven’t talked to them for a while. Krista and Steve and the kids were there too”.
“Emma seems to be basically enjoying herself these days?”
“I think so; she’s made some friends at church, and she’s enjoying some of the people she works with at Marston Court. And it’s been a real help to her to get some sense of direction with her nursing training”.
“How about you?”
I shrugged; “There are lots of things I miss, but I’m not sorry to be spending Christmas with you, Becs. For that matter, I’m not sorry to be here with Mum and Dad, either; somehow I doubt if we’ll get another Christmas with him”.
“He looked awful today, didn’t he?”
“Is he all right? No”, I corrected myself, “I know he’s not all right. I guess what I’m asking is, is there something unusually wrong with him tonight?”
“I don’t know, Tommy, but I’ve got my suspicions. If he still looks the same tomorrow, I might ask if he’ll let me examine him”.
“Not especially, although it’s all bad news at this stage, if you know what I mean”.
“Let’s change the subject again”. She looked across at me with a smile and said, “Do you remember the first year we came down here during the night?”
“You were eight, and I was home from university”.
“I couldn’t sleep with excitement about Christmas, and I came to your room and woke you up…”.
“I don’t think I was very pleased to be woken up, as I recall!”
“But you were so nice about it; we talked for a while, and then we snuck down here as quietly as we could. You turned on the Christmas tree lights just like this, and we sat and watched them for a while”.
“Actually, we sat and watched them ‘til you fell asleep, Little Becs, and I carried you back up to your bed”.
“Did you? I don’t remember that!”
We both laughed softly, and she drained her mug and set it down on the coffee table. “It was always such a comfort to me when you came home for Christmas”, she said quietly; “That’s how it feels this year, too”.
I smiled at her; “You’re in a pensive mood tonight”.
“I am, aren’t I? I looked around the dinner table tonight while Rick was keeping us all entertained, and I thought, “ ‘Tommy and Emma have a point. It might be better to call the whole thing off and just go to church!’”
I laughed again; “We don’t spend the whole Christmas season in church.”
“No, I know. I was glad to go along with you last night, though. Whenever I came home from visiting you and Kelly and Emma, I always resolved to go more, but then my life seemed to swallow me up again, and my resolutions seemed to evaporate into thin air”.
“The busy life of a doctor”.
“I’m so busy, Tommy, and I hate it, but I don’t know how to stop. You’d have thought that losing Mike would be a wake-up call for me, wouldn’t you? But I don’t seem to have learned much from the experience”.
“Well, it seems to me you’ve been slowing down a bit since we came back”.
“Yes, I’ve been trying to, but I still can’t escape that sense of being driven”.
“It’s a Masefield family disease; we’ve all got it”.
“You’ve found the cure for it somehow, though”. She stifled a yawn, and said, “Well, I think it’s about time for me to find my bed”.
“Yes, I think I’ll find mine too”. As she got to her feet I took her hand and said, “Listen, Becs, about church”.
“If you’d like to go from time to time, you’d be very welcome to come with Emma and me”.
“I might just do that. It’ll seem a bit different going to church in a school hall, though. I imagine it’s pretty far removed from what we had last night; is it like your church in Meadowvale?”
“In some ways it is. Mind you, I have to say I’ve taken quite a liking to Father Tony; when I’m here, I look forward to his sermons”.
“Well, I’ll think about it; you know I still have lots of questions. I know you found faith, but it still seems to be really difficult for me”.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for me, too, but having friends to share it with is a real help”.
I got to my feet, and we made our way quietly up the spiral staircase. At the door of my room, she kissed me and said, “Goodnight, Tommy”.
“Goodnight, Becs; see you in the morning”.
The following morning, the morning of Boxing Day, I woke up around seven and got up to go for a walk shortly afterwards. I quickly discovered that Becca had been right in her prediction about the weather; the rain had turned to sleet and wet snow overnight, and the streets and pavements in the village were slick with ice. I had to walk slowly to save myself from falling, and the few cars that passed me at that early hour of the morning were crawling along at a very slow pace.
It was about nine o’clock by the time my mother, Becca, Emma and I sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat breakfast together. Becca was due back in Oxford later in the day to go on call; however, during breakfast the situation changed. My mother got up part way through the meal to answer the telephone; after a moment she came back into the kitchen and said, “It’s for you, Tom; it’s Owen Foster”.
Out in the hallway I picked up the phone and said, “I hope you’re calling to tell me you’re staying home today”.
“Yes; the police aren’t advising travel, at least until mid-afternoon”.
“That’s good; stay home and enjoy your family”.
“Well, I may actually stay home and go on call. If I’m in town, that would make sense, so why don’t you tell Becca to stay where she is, and I can cover for her for the next twenty-four hour period”.
“Okay. How was Christmas at your house?”
“Messy; we’re not the neatest of families at the best of times, and masses of gifts just bring out the worst in us. How about you?”
“We had a lot of company yesterday – two of my Dad’s brothers and their wives, and my Mum’s older sister, along with all of us. But my brother got drunk, and it got very awkward and embarrassing”.
“Becca thinks it’s time for us to do a full-scale intervention with Rick”.
“Does she? She’s got a remarkable flair for that sort of thing, you know”.
“She’s not sure she wants to run this one, though; she’s afraid she’s too close to the situation”.
“Ah – yes, I can understand that. Anyway, Tom, I should go; I hope you have a better day today”.
“Okay; take care, Owen”.
My mother was pouring coffee when I went back into the kitchen; she looked up and said, “Everything all right?”
“Owen was going to come out and visit his Dad and Mum today, but he says the police aren’t advising travel so he’s going to stay in town. Becca, he told me to tell you to stay where you are; he’ll cover for you for the next twenty-four hours”.
“That’s a shame; his kids will be disappointed if he gets called out a lot”.
“He seemed pretty definite about it”.
She nodded; “That’s Owen!”
We spent the next couple of hours quietly, visiting and reading. At around eleven my mother went upstairs to check on my father; Emma had brought her guitar down from her bedroom, and she had just begun to play a song quietly when my mother came back into the room. “Becca”, she said, “could I ask you to come and have a look at your Dad?”
My sister looked up from her book; “What’s the trouble?”
“He seems to be sweating and shivering a lot. Also, when he tried to get up he felt quite dizzy, and for a moment there I thought he was going to faint”.
Becca got to her feet; “My bag’s in the car; just give me a minute to go out and get it”.
“Can I help?” Emma asked her.
“Not at the moment, thanks, Em; I think I know what’s going on already, I just need to check his vital signs”.
Becca got her medical bag from the car and went upstairs with my mother, while Emma moved over to the couch beside me. “I hope they don’t have to take him into Oxford this morning”, she said; “Those roads are pretty bad out there”.
“Becca will make the right call, one way or another”.
After about twenty minutes Becca came down to the living room again. “We’re going to have to get Dad into the JR”, she said; “He needs to go on antibiotics, and he also needs a blood transfusion”.
“Low platelets?” Emma asked.
“That’s right”. She turned to me and explained, “It’s another side effect of the chemotherapy. A low platelet count causes anaemia, which is why he almost blacked out earlier on when he tried to sit up. But the fever comes from an infection he’s picked up; his temperature is very high. I’m going to call an ambulance; it’s a lot safer for them to drive him in to Oxford right now, rather than one of us risking the roads. I’ll go with him in the ambulance, and Mum wants to come with me”.
“Right. You want us to stay put?”
“It seems the safest thing to do right now. Later on if the roads get better I’ll ask you to drive my car into town, and Emma can follow in yours. But meanwhile, you’ve got my mobile number, right?”
“So you can ring me if you need to, but bear in mind that if we’re in the hospital I won’t have it turned on”.
Twenty minutes later Emma and I watched as my father was carried out of the house on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. My sister and my mother squeezed in beside him; the paramedics had heard Becca’s diagnosis on the telephone and had brought some antibiotics with them, and as the doors of the ambulance were closing Becca was already preparing an IV drip. Emma and I stood on the doorstep of the house as the ambulance pulled off down the driveway; I put my arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the top of her head.
“Funny sort of Christmas, eh, Dad?”
“Would you like some lunch?”
“Now, there’s a good idea! What shall we make – cold turkey sandwiches?”
We worked together in the kitchen for a few minutes, cutting bread and slicing up cold turkey. We had just sat down to eat when the telephone rang again in the hallway. I raised my eyebrows and looked at Emma; “Some day, someone in this house is going to buy a cordless phone!”
“You sit still, Dad”, she replied, getting to her feet; “I’ll get it”.
She slipped out of the room, and I poured myself a cup of tea. I was just raising my cup to my lips when I heard Emma calling from the hallway, “Dad!”
I was on my feet instantly, recognizing the note of urgency in her voice. Out in the hallway she was standing holding the phone, anxiety written all over her face. I put my hand on her arm; “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Eric; he says there’s been some kind of car accident. Uncle Rick and Sarah have both been hurt”.
I took the phone from her; “Eric, it’s Uncle Tom; what’s up?”
“My Mum told me to ring you at Grandma and Grandpa’s. There’s been a car accident. Dad was driving Sarah over to her friend Amber’s house, and it sounds like there was some sort of collision”. Eric was speaking quickly, his voice a little high, and I recognised immediately that he was frantic with worry.
“What do you know for sure?” I asked.
“Not much. A policeman came to the door a few minutes ago to say that they’d both been hurt, Sarah especially badly; they were being taken to the JR by ambulance. Mum went to the hospital right away; she told me to stay here with Anna and to let you and Auntie Becca know what was happening. Uncle Tom, can you drive us over to the hospital, please? Anna’s really upset and I don’t know what to tell her when I don’t know what’s happening myself”.
Emma was standing beside me, and I angled the phone so that she could hear what her cousin was saying. “Okay, Eric, we’ll come over right away”, I said. “You need to know that your Grandpa has been taken to the JR this morning as well, and Grandma and Auntie Becca went in with him”.
“What’s the matter with him?”
“He’s got a severe case of anaemia and a very high fever”.
“This is an awful morning all round, isn’t it?”
Emma spoke into the receiver. “Eric, have you and Anna had anything to eat?”
“No, not since we got up”.
“It’s going to take us a while to get to you; make yourselves a sandwich and a cup of tea”.
“Good idea”, I said. “Emma’s right; the roads are extremely icy out there – I expect that was part of the reason for your Dad’s accident. We’re going to have to go slow coming over to you. So you keep busy making tea and getting something to eat, and we’ll be along just as soon as we can”.
“Thanks, Uncle Tom. I’ve got to ring a couple of other people too; Mum asked me to get hold of our other grandparents in Scotland”.
“Okay. We’ll be there as soon as we can, Eric. Bye now”.
I put the phone down and looked at Emma. “Better throw those turkey sandwiches in a bag”, I said; “I’ll get the travel mugs from the car”.
The afternoon was still grey as we drove north towards Oxford; the trees and fields were white with frost, the icy roads almost empty of traffic. Beside me in the car Emma was using her mobile phone to try to reach Becca, but there was no answer; we realized that she must already be in the hospital with her phone turned off. Eventually Emma left her a voice mail; “I hope she checks her messages soon”, she said.
We arrived at Rick’s house in Cumnor Hill around one o’clock. Eric and Anna were ready for us; by the time my car had come to a complete stop in the driveway, they were already emerging from the front door, wrapped up warmly in winter coats and scarves. They climbed into the back of my car, and Eric said, “Thanks for coming”.
“Have you heard anything else from your Mum?” I asked over my shoulder as I reversed the car out of the driveway.
“Were you able to get through to your other grandparents?”
“Yes; they’re going to start out this afternoon some time”.
“Where do they live?”
As we drove into Oxford I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw that Eric had his arm around his little sister; after a moment Emma reached back and took her hand as well. I kept my eyes on the road ahead; traffic was beginning to get busy despite the slippery conditions, and I guessed that the lure of Boxing Day sales was prompting people to brave the slick highways.
“What exactly happened, Eric?” Emma asked.
“We were late getting up, and Sarah had an invitation to a birthday party at Amber’s house today; she lives up in Wolvercote. Dad had already been drinking this morning, and Mum had said when she got up that she would drive Sarah to Amber’s. But Mum was in the shower and Sarah was making a big fuss about being late, so Dad said he would drive her. I tried to stop him; I told him he should wait and let Mum drive her over, but he laughed at me and told her to come with him, and so they went. I should have tried harder, I know I should…”
Emma twisted in her seat to look back at him; “I’m sure you did everything you could”, she said.
“But if only they’d waited until Mum got out of the shower…”
We were almost at the J.R. when Emma’s mobile rang. She grabbed it immediately and put it to her ear; “Hello”, she said. She was silent for a moment, obviously listening, and then I heard her explaining to Becca what was happening. After another short silence she handed the phone to me; I kept one hand on the wheel and held the phone to my ear with the other. “The road’s still a little slippery, Becs”, I said; “Driving with one hand’s not a good idea”.
“Come to the Trauma Unit”, she replied; “That’s where they’ll have taken them; it’s on the north side of the hospital, and there’s a car park right there. Dad’s in good hands now, and I’m going to leave Mum with him and come to meet you there. Wait for me in the reception area”.
“Okay; see you in a minute”.
It took me a few minutes to find the car park for the Trauma Unit, and a few minutes more to find a spot in it to park; apparently the JR was a busy place on this Boxing Day afternoon. Once inside the main doors, I looked around helplessly; people were walking around or sitting on chairs scattered about the reception area, and lines of people were waiting at the reception desks. Eric looked around desperately, still holding Anna’s hand; “How are we going to find them?” he asked.
“Becca told us to wait here”, I replied.
A moment later I saw her emerging from one of the doors to the units. She saw us immediately, came over and folded Eric and Anna in a hug. “You two come with me”, she said; “Your Mum’s on one of the units, and I’m going to take you to her”. She glanced up at me and said, “Sorry, Tommy, they’ll only allow immediate family; I’ll come back as soon as I can and let you know what’s happening”.
I nodded reluctantly. “Right then; I guess we’ll wait here”.
Emma and I found seats for ourselves in a corner of the room; there was a fake tree in a plant pot beside us, and a small end table scattered with magazines and newspapers. “Shall I try to find a coffee machine?” she asked.
I shook my head; “I’m good for now, but you go ahead if you want some”.
“That’s all right; I’ve had enough”.
We sat together quietly for over an hour, with only the occasional word between us, scanning the magazines and newspapers but paying only scant attention to the stories and photographs. I tried to stop myself from continually checking my watch; the numbers seemed to be changing with excruciating slowness. A couple of times during the hour I got up and paced silently around the room.
Eventually Emma got up and went outside for a few minutes; she was finding the atmosphere stuffy, she said, and she needed a breath of fresh air. She had just returned and taken her seat again when I looked up and saw Becca coming across the room toward us. I immediately stood up; “Any news?” I asked.
“Sit down”, she replied, “and I’ll fill you in”.
We took our seats, with Becca on the couch opposite us. “Rick’s got a broken arm and a broken leg”, she said, “along with several broken ribs. He seems to have a mild concussion but the team isn’t worried about that too much. One of the broken ribs appears to have punctured a lung and that’s a major complication. Also, he had a lot of alcohol in his system, and that’s not helping”.
“And what about Sarah?” Emma asked; “Is she all right”.
Becca shook her head. “It could have been a lot worse, but it could be a lot better too. Her pelvis is broken in two places, and she also sustained a major blow to the bottom end of the spinal cord”.
“Oh my God!” Emma exclaimed; “does that mean…?”
“I’m afraid so. The good news is that it wasn’t high up, so she won’t be a quadriplegic, but it’s bad enough as it is. At the moment the team isn’t sure whether they’re dealing with a complete or an incomplete injury; post-traumatic swelling makes it a bit difficult to see for sure. As far as they can tell, the damage seems to be in the area of vertebrae T12 and L1, which means the bottom of the thoracic region and the top of the lumbar region. Lumbar damage means loss of sensation and control over the legs; lower thoracic damage generally means loss of control of abdominal muscles, but with Sarah’s injury being at the very bottom of the thoracic region, I suspect the loss of control will be minimal”.
“But she won’t be able to walk again?” Emma asked.
“Depends on whether the spinal cord has only been damaged, or completely severed; that’s what I mean by a complete or incomplete injury. The team won’t know that for a while”.
“Is she conscious?”
“Not at the moment; she’s still in surgery. She was conscious when they brought her in and she was in lot of pain”.
“Poor Sarah”, I breathed, seeing her in my mind’s eye walking across the beach at Skegness with Emma. “Becs, what do we know about the accident?”
“I don’t know a lot about it myself; I suspect there’s a policeman lurking around here somewhere who could tell us more. I do know that if Rick pulls through he’ll likely be facing serious charges – driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, and dangerous driving causing death”.
“I’m afraid so; the driver of the other car was a woman in her mid-twenties who was killed instantly on impact”.
“So did Rick lose control on the ice, or what…?”
“I don’t know; I don’t even know what he was doing behind the wheel of a car”.
“Apparently Sarah was really upset about being late for a friend’s birthday party, and Alyson was in the shower, so Rick said he would drive her to the party. Eric tried to stop them, but Rick just laughed at him, and off they went”.
She looked across at me, and I saw the pain in her eyes; “I just knew something like this would happen, Tommy; I knew it was only a matter of time. Why the hell didn’t I do something about it sooner?”
I shook my head; “You can’t blame yourself, Becs; it’s not an easy thing”. I looked across at Emma; she smiled at me as bravely as she could, but I could see in her eyes that she was shaken by the news about Sarah. I reached over and took her hand; “Are you going to be okay?”
She nodded; “Can we go and see them?” she asked Becca.
“Not yet. As I said, they’re both still in surgery. Why don’t we go over to the other side of the hospital and see if we can find Dad and Mum? We can come back in a little while and check on Sarah and Rick again”.
Later in the evening Becca and I stood silently at Sarah’s bedside; Alyson and her children were in with Rick, and my mother and Emma were with my father. Sarah was deep in a drugged sleep, with IV lines leading into her arms, bandages around her head and neck, and instruments beside her bed monitoring her vital signs. She had obviously hit her face against something in the accident; she had two black eyes, and cuts and bruises on her cheeks and chin. She looked small and helpless in the bed with all the machinery surrounding her.
Becca took Sarah’s hand in hers; “Tommy, would you say a prayer for her, please?” she asked in a small voice.
“Yes, of course”. I closed my eyes and tried to order my thoughts, but I was conscious only of the sense of helplessness and fear. “Dear Father”, I said, “I really don’t know how to begin praying for Sarah. Please bring her safely through all this, please help her to be able to walk again, and please help her family too, because they’re pretty shattered by what’s happened. And…”, I paused, and then continued, “please heal Rick too, and help him to want to be free. In Jesus’ name, Amen”.
“Amen”, my sister whispered. I felt her arm go around my back, and we stood there in silence for a long time, listening to the beeping of the heart monitor and watching Sarah’s steady breathing as she slept.