In August 2021 my mother went to hospital for a routine blood test and mentioned to the doctor that she had some difficulty breathing. The medical staff had a poke and prod of her and then kept her in – she had pneumonia. For two weeks the staff tried a variety of different treatments to try and get a handle on it as it creeped deeper into her lungs. Towards the end of those two weeks Sister A was called to the hospital, taken to one side and told to prepare for the worst.
Mum was moved onto a respiratory ward – essentially a Covid ward at that time. It soon became pretty clear that try as they might, Mum had no immune system left to galvanise.
My Mum was a stroppy cow – it is one of her gifts to me – and she wasn’t grasping that she was dying. She was simply not having it. I asked for a Consultant to come and explain it to her. Mum still wasn’t getting it – not because she hadn’t heard it – but because it must be very hard to understand that someone has told you that you’re dying when you’re sat there, very much alive and you’re not ready to go. So I explained it to her again; that there were no more antibiotics to try and that in forty eight hours all treatment was going to be stopped. I still wasn’t sure that she’d heard everything or understood. When a nurse appeared with “something to make her more comfortable”, Mum asked if it was morphine. The nurse confirmed it was, and I knew then that she understood.
On 31 August, I left for the evening with Sister A. I told my Mum that I loved her and went into the little room outside her room to take off my PPE. We were called back at 4am on 1 September as the nurse on duty thought Mum as going to pop off then. In fairness she didn’t know my mother, and she clung on for over twelve more hours before she finally let go. Sister A and I sat, holding her hand. It took days and nights for the image of her face to fade from my mind.
The hospital gave us three blankets that they had put on my mum’s bed – specially knitted by volunteers so that people had something to keep when having lost a loved one – the last thing to touch them. They gave us six little knitted hearts, also knitted by volunteers, to give to each of her six grandchildren. And they gave us a print of her hand, and a lock of her hair.
Over the course of this period, Sister B and family had Covid making it’s way around each of them. She was trapped in her house, with her three children, one of which was a four month old baby. My brother in law had had to shield somewhere else. Regular readers may know that my brother in law was having treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia at the time, so his life quite literally depended on him being kept safe.
Sister B had called Mum regularly to try and talk to her. Mum’s hearing wasn’t great, so it was quite a challenge. No doubt to the bewilderment of her neighbours, I spent a lot of time standing in the shrubbery on her front garden after hospital visits, talking to her through the front window to update her as to what was really going on. She kept putting her Covid test result up against the window so we could examine the two lines and see (hope) if the test line had faded any; it didn’t. At least not in time.
On the evening after Mum died I drove back to Sister B’s house on my way back to the motorway, as I had done often. Once again I stood in the shrubbery. I left the blanket, the three hearts, the handprint and the lock of hair. I put my hand on the glass. And instead of the tap of the Covid test on the glass, on the other side, was my sister’s hand.
Three months later, almost to the day, my sister lost her husband to AML. I couldn’t help at various points throughout my brother in law’s illness because of the pandemic. And I couldn’t go when he was dying because one of my children had Covid and we decided that tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy was more than we could bear. So I stayed home. I never did test positive.
Last week I took some flowers to my Mum’s grave with my nephew, who is now coming up on his second birthday. A few weeks before it had been what would have been his father’s forty third birthday. I try not to go too often because I don’t want his memories of our days together to be of his aunt standing in cemeteries crying.
I wish my experience had been exceptional. Because if it had been, there wouldn’t be people up and down the country now who can recount very similar experiences to mine, and number in their thousands. There wouldn’t be people reading this thinking “that’s very similar to what happened to me.” And all of that, every agonising, crushing part of that would have been easier for all of us, if those making the rules had not only been taking the piss out of all of us, but then had the absolute brass neck to lie about it.
As I watched The Privileges Committee yesterday, I did not observe any semblance of understanding or responsibility. Just a person trying desperately to get out of the massive hole that they have dug themselves into whilst others frantically try to distance themselves. And then Olivia Rodrigo’s song wafted into my mind. Famously performed when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade if you need to google it. Not Shakespeare, but perfect, I think, for this.