In Sickness and in Health: Waking up to my 4am witching hour of worry

Earlier this 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

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The Independent Online

At 3am, it’s bone cancer. That’s my dad’s go-to nocturnal anxiety, anyway. He’s not usually a worrier, but come the wee hours of the morning, his thoughts turn terminal. Bone cancer is his catch-all phrase for the things that barely cross your mind in daylight but rear up to their full height in the dark. At teatime, a niggling pain is a sprain. Pre-dawn, it’s far more likely to be malfunctioning cells dismantling your health.

I have had ample time to think about his theory. Although I have been lucky since Nick’s accident, in that I have always been able to face my food – sometimes, in that respect, a falling off of interest would have been beneficial to my being able to fit into my clothes – and I have found getting to sleep as straightforward as ever, I’ve also been waking up to worry.

My witching hour is 4am. That’s when either the cat jumps on my head to signal the start of a new day, or my bladder decides it wants to be rid of the remnants of the old one. Settling down after a feline head butt and/or a trip to the loo, I get to work. There’s plenty of raw material. Nick, always, is first on the anxiety agenda. He’s coming to the end of his time in hospital – the next step will be a specialist residential home. How will he cope? What sort of life will he have? Where will it be? Will he improve in a more comfort-orientated environment or will his hard-won gains fall away?

As I feel my heart-rate race, I tell myself to think about something else. What’s a nice, soothing thing to contemplate at horror o’clock? Money! How will I afford the hotel rooms and petrol money I’ll need to get to see Nick frequently? How will I cope with what Nick owes on his credit cards? What happens if the bathroom window needs replacing? I try to breath deeply. This won’t do. I attempt to empty my mind, but I hear the whisper of a four-letter word. Work.

What if I lose my job? How can I explain to my colleagues that I’m doing my best, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of the monstrousness of Nick’s condition and the whirl of work? At this point last night, I reminded myself, with a hollow laugh, of an interview that I had just read with Harriet Green, the chief exec of Thomas Cook, who, apparently, eats 4am for breakfast. Here it is devouring me.

Think nice thoughts. Think nice thoughts. I think about my lovely stepdaughter. I think about being invited to her birthday party and being welcomed by her mother. I think about being so grateful for that, and that I have Mia in my life. But if Nick’s confusion and distress slays me, how on earth is she going to carry on coping? When there’s no more money for child maintenance, will she be OK? Stop!

I lean over and open the window. Poor Nick can’t even do that. I’m lucky to have this body, rounded though it is with comfort food, that responds to what I ask of it. But what about the mole on my side? The one that’s been itchy? Is it the first sign of skin cancer? At 4am, of course it is.

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