In Sickness and in Health: The missing S, assorted other letters, and so to bed…

Here's the final part of my post-accident alphabet

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The Independent Online

Last year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident.

Writing an A-Z was always going to be a bit of a risk for me, given that I have to go through the entire alphabet to work out which letter goes where. So I’m sorry, but not surprised, that I left out S. To me, S now stands for a small object that has a big role to play: a straw. Straws let thirsty people with minimal control over their limbs drink without ending up wearing their beverage. Shaky hands that might not be able to cope with gripping a cup can handle a straw, and a straw is more dignified than a beaker with a lid and a spout. When Nick found eating difficult, he’d usually be able to suck a yoghurt through a straw, and he ate quite a lot of soup that way, too. Straws: I salute you.

U is for unbelievably insensitive comments. I’m sure the people who’ve said things that make me wince didn’t mean them to wound, but it’s hard not to feel sensitive when life has changed so much. “He never cries when you’re here”, one nurse told me. Great, thank you, I’m so glad to know that my husband is inconsolable when I’m away working. “But he’ll eventually get back to normal, though, won’t he?” is a question that I end up answering in such a way as to make the person asking feel better, trying to put a spin on things so that they don’t cringe away when I tell them the truth.

V is for vending machines, brightly lit wunderkammers that promise so much. At best, they’ll provide the hungry hospital visitor with unhealthy sustenance, provided that said visitor has remembered to bring some change. At worst, they gobble up money and leave snacks hanging in midair, tantalisingly, and expensively, out of reach.

Some wags online have redrawn Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with an addendum for the digital age: wi-fi. And I have to say that an internet connection for patients and visitors would improve the psychological state of both. If I could go back and give myself advice it would be to buy a wi-fi dongle.

X is for x-ray, particularly the one that Nick was meant to have during his time in his third hospital. By this point in his recovery, he was sufficiently communicative to make it clear that he didn’t want to hold still for the X-ray machine, which frightened him. He shouted the place down until he was wheeled away.

Y is for yellow and black bags, which were used to contain anything tainted with biological unpleasantness in hospital. Green bags were for patients’ possessions and, on one ward, strangely textured red bags were used for laundry (the bags melted during washing). In the care home, there’s a different spectrum that I’ve yet to fully grasp.

Zzzz (well, z was always going to be a tricky one). It stands for sleeping. Apart from the odd time when I managed to cram myself into Nick’s bed for a nap, we didn’t sleep together (not in that way – that’s for another column) for nine months. I was so nervous the day before I was due to spend a night in his room, because I didn’t know what to expect. I was happy to find that falling asleep and waking up next to the man I love hasn’t really changed, even if, my God, the circumstances have.