Spanners, works. I know all about those at the moment. We’re out of hospital and back home now. I can hardly see for fatigue. I feel disgusting mainly because I’ve been living off a diet of Walkers, Snickers and vending machine drinks for the past two days. I’ve also done a lot of colouring. Isn’t colouring great? Colouring kicks ass. Arya and I spent most of our time colouring minions which means we used a lot of yellow, a lot of blue and I attempted to draw bananas that really ended up looking like bent willies. We met some lovely people. I was slightly resentful when she cleaned her plate of the hospital food and asked me to recreate such a dish at home. But she’s OK. Me, less so. Any time my Bailey babies get poorly, it’s always a little bit of a jolt, but most tellingly, it always transports me back to eighteen months ago when the biggest of spanners, the loudest of hand grenades came flying into view.
OK, back to the story, the Plan. I was about to pack in writing because there was just no time, no energy, no space to sit at a computer and think creatively. I was swimming in some awful pit of self-doubt that I guess comes with any creative process. All those stories, novels, little pieces of me….Souper Mum herself were just sitting there on my hard drive gathering dust. I’d sit down to drafts of novels and the saved document info would read ‘Last opened: May 2013’ (cue complete and utter glumness and declarations of failure). Close friends, Ned himself were champions and fans but even their cheers went a little mute. It was time to give up the ghost.
Then came November 2014. We had had Halloween. We had eaten a lot of sweets. It was a Friday, The Hound got up and complained about pains in his legs. Alas, a terrible ruse to get out of school and sit on the sofa all day and watch Umizoomis! I made him go upstairs and get changed. He complained further. I took his temp: 37.5. Borderline. OK, no school. I dropped the others to school. I set myself up for that day of Geo, Milli and Bot.
The rest of that day was horrible: vomit, fevers and just a very poorly boy. He ate very little and could hardly sit up. Like any other mum, I thought he had a sicky bug. I thought this time would pass. I cursed pre-school germs and little kids (like my own) who suck thumbs and always have their hands up their noses/in their pants. That night, he had a crazy high fever – he hallucinated and retched his way through it. Just a tummy bug, I thought. The next day, his fevers continued to go up and down but there was now a new symptom: a red lacy rash. I ran glasses over it like a crazy woman. It blanched. He threw up on the sofa. I told Ned we were taking him to A&E, something was up. Ned didn’t question it.
When we got him to hospital, events started to unravel. His fever was now in the low forties so he was admitted, they took blood and they pumped him full of antibiotics to cover all bases. It’s just a bug, I kept telling myself. He’ll be fine. He’s in a good place, they’ll give him the right drugs and it will be fine.
The problem was, it wasn’t fine. The Hound’s condition worsened over the next four days mainly because the hospital had no idea what was wrong with him. His fevers would spike dangerously high. He was hardly eating. His eyes were bloodshot, his tongue bright red. That rash he had was spreading to his torso and legs. Poo was literally foaming out of him like tar. Every morning, a doctor would enter the room and say ‘measles,’ ‘scarlet fever’ or ‘Kawasaki disease’ and Ned and I would Google and have a little sob together. Every time they’d think it was something new, they needed to take blood to prove this. This resulted in the boy being used like a human pin cushion. At one point, it took three army doctors to hold him down to get a needle in him. One doctor inserted a needle that missed the vein but pumped anti-virals into the surrounding tissue. A nurse friend told me recently, that would have felt like Domestos being poured onto his skin.
On day 5, my husband said he was reluctant to walk or straighten his left leg. It was one of his first symptoms. The doc asked him to walk. He refused. He went for a scan where he screamed in pain when the ultrasound technician opened up his hip. I went pale to hear him. Remember how the Hound speaks in monosyllables and doesn’t express his emotion freely? Well, turns out he should have been in labour worthy amounts of pain. Instead, he had just curled up in a ball and stuck it out. There was a collection of fluid on the hip. He had a septic hip. They would need to operate.
I got home that evening ready to have a quick shower and dinner and get back to the hospital when I got a call from Ned. We’re in an ambulance. They’re transferring us to Southampton for the surgery. What? Seriously? What? I’d been at the hospital all day, fit to drop. I was in no fit state to drive to another hospital an hour away. I also had a nine month old baby still breastfeeding and two other kids looking at me from the other room sobbing as they eavesdropped on the conversation. I gathered my other kids close to me to hug them and explain what was happening. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t leave. To get to my boy. To hold my boy. I collapsed in a heap. I got this, Ned said. He didn’t. As they wheeled the Hound in for surgery, he called me and was hysterical. Two of my favourite boys in the whole world were on their own. Heart. Broken.
So, what was wrong with the Hound? Well, the doctors of Southampton General found out he had an extremely virulent bacterial infection that had just overtaken his body and was starting to attack his hip joints and bones. He didn't catch it, it was just a very unfortunate invasive series of events. Had we not got him into hospital when we did, most likely we wouldn’t have been able to wake him the following morning. They gave him the right cocktail of drugs, they carried out a successful operation. We were in hospital for five days after that as he slowly reverted back to himself. He had some physio, started eating again, we watched the original Star Wars movie 27 times.
It wasn’t the end; far from it. We went back for routine x-rays to check the bone and the hip. On Christmas Eve, they found out that his thigh bone had been compromised and that he’d need another operation to drain any infection on the bone. He had that on the 29th December. He was on antibiotics for about six months altogether. For three months after his second operation, he was not allowed to run, jump and do all that stuff that four year olds generally love. For those three months, I watched every version of Power Rangers known to man.
I’ve never written this all down before and doing so is making tears roll into the keyboard. The Hound is awesome. He really is a little dude. He won’t eat mince and doesn’t like to wear jumpers but he rocks a mohawk, likes to wear loud Bermuda shorts, has the longest eyelashes ever and draws me the best dinosaur pictures ever. Don’t tell the others but his hugs are the best. Sorry, others. And in one small moment, he was nearly taken from me. That feeling is all at once terrifying but edifying at the same time. It changed me. It changed the landscape. I was taught I needed to find it in me to be brave, not be consumed by fear and what ifs, to solider through and come out on the other side. And who taught me that? The Hound, a then three-year-old boy.
Others too; because we spent a lot of time on children’s wards at this time. Sobbing, sleeping on camp beds, living off vending machines. During this time, we met some of the best people. Ever. Kids, really poorly kids who practically lived on these wards due to combinations of chronic conditions and repeated health problems. Parents who camped out with them, who had their shit properly together, who were reassuring and kind. Nurses. Doctors. Volunteers. The best sort of people, real life heroes whose energy and positivity was, for want of a better word, infectious. They make you re-assess all those times you’ve felt the need to sit there and complain and procrastinate about all those bad hands you’ve been dealt. Shame on you for being some self-pitying fool who stopped believing; you need to go out into the universe and put all your shit out there, all of it. Every last bit. Be kind. Participate. Find all those hidden depths. Shine. Be a little bit brave.
And so that is what happened. That was the hand grenade. And it was horrible. But at the end of it, I picked up all those pieces of me and built them up again to create a new fortified version of myself. At the risk of cliché, I decided to seize some days, carpe those diems, use the Force. YOLO, as those pesky youngsters say. One night, I realised it was time. I sat at my computer, resurrected Souper Mum and sent her out into the world. Go, my little pretty. Let's see what happens. First stop, the Accent Press & Woman Magazine Writing Competition.