In sickness and in health: Who am I to go to pieces? I have to stand up and fight

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

The closest I’ve come to lying down in the road and not getting up since Nick’s accident was the night that he was moved to his second hospital. I arrived to find him in a high-dependency room with three other seriously ill men. Agitated and sweating – him as well as me – the place felt cramped and stuffy, with the moans of another patient adding to the feeling of despair. I swept the surgical curtains around Nick’s bed and sat in the blue-hued, fish tank-like light, quietly crying. Poor Nick, poor moaning chap, poor high-dependency dudes, poor me. After visiting hours finished, I sobbed my way home on the bus. I was too upset to call anyone and went to bed with an aching heart and a wet face. I woke up feeling steely. Who was I to go to pieces? If I thought Nick’s current situation was grim, well, the only person who could do anything about it was me.

I called a doctor friend to get some insider intel on the new hospital. He hadn’t been mugged off – it had a great reputation for his kind of injuries and it was, my doctor pal told me, common for relatives to feel dismay when out of the rarified world of ICU and into the hugger-mugger of a high-dependency unit. While he didn’t have specific contacts for me to chase up there, he said to make my presence felt. The squeaky wheel gets oiled. This squeaky wheel set herself in motion. She made a list and packed a bag.

A list is the last refuge of the columnist, but perhaps my inventory will be of some help to those doing a daily hospital dash. First up was a phone charger. The night of Nick’s accident, I’d left the office with a scant 40 per cent charge on my phone. As I paced the corridors of A&E for hours, cadging phones from police officers to call family and friends, I rued my carelessness. Then, of course, my phone. Not just to update everyone about Nick and to reply to text messages checking whether I’d topped myself, but to record every conversation I had (with their permission) with consultants and doctors. I took the fact sheet I’d made about Nick, a bumper pack of BluTack and an album’s worth of photographs to make his grim ginnel of ward  more pleasant.

I took clothes pegs, so that if we needed the privacy of the bed curtains once more, I could at least clip the fabric partway down to let some light in. A passive-aggressive whiteboard came next, with its own pen. Finding the right people to talk to in hospitals can be a Herculean struggle, so a message in CAPITALS next to the bed works wonders. Nice-smelling moisturiser for Nick’s poor hands and feet rather than the standard-issue aqueous cream, shower gel (I picked up one made by Nivea that claimed its blend of scents made people happy. I thought I’d give that one a go), toothpaste, Nick’s aftershave so that he smelled like him. A book to read to him, and one for myself when I was booted out of the room for him to be changed and dosed. I also took a smile and a cheery word, which I tried to deploy to the staff and patients rather than snarling and raging. As I set out that morning with my arsenal, I knew that whatever happened, there would be no lying down in the road – I had to stand up and fight.