The tragic twist, part one

After eleven days in Sheffield, Elodie was transported by ambulance back to a hospital in Leicester. And Paul drove home. It was almost strange to have him there, after what had seemed like such a long absence. Once we’d confirmed that Elodie had arrived, we drove to the hospital to visit her. She was in a huge room with just a few other cots around its edge. She looked settled and happy. The nurse looking after her showed us around. It felt like we were a big step closer to getting her home.

Over the next few days, Paul and I took it in turns to spend the morning with her; the other one coming in for a short visit with Joseph and Paul’s mum in the early afternoon. On his first visit, Joseph looked at her, stroked her and kissed her a few times, then pointed to another cot and said ‘Can we see that baby now?’ I think he thought we could choose which one to take home.

On one of those afternoons, we gave Elodie her first bath. The nurse said she would probably scream when we lowered her into the water, but she didn’t make a sound. And she stretched out her long legs, which had been scrunched up, frog-like, since she was born. I saw how long she was, despite her low weight.

Elodie wasn’t on any medication or monitoring by this point. We would be free to take her home as soon as she put on some weight. So every time we fed her, we tried to get her to take as much milk as possible before she fell asleep with the effort of it all. And every time we left her, we willed her to grow in our absence. We were close now; we could feel it. We believed that things were going to be all right.

One evening, I asked Rachel if she wanted to come in with me to visit. She hadn’t seen Elodie since the day she was born, when she looked – and was – very poorly. I knew my sister was desperate to see her new niece again, but she’d been busy with her own baby and recovering from her C-section. She jumped at the chance to come with me, so I picked her up and we made our way to the hospital.

It felt like ages since we’d had a proper conversation, because things had been so hectic and we were both getting used to being new mums again. We caught up on that journey, talking non-stop. I felt like I’d got back something I hadn’t realised I was missing.

When we arrived at the hospital, Elodie was sleeping. I picked her up and put her in Rachel’s arms and watched the two of them together. I thought about how much Joseph loves my sister, and felt privileged to see the start of this new relationship.

All in all, it was a lovely evening. But on the way home, Rachel told me she had a terrible headache. Neither of us had any painkillers with us, but I had a bottle of water. She sipped from it, clutching her head in her hands. I was worried, but she told me she would be all right, and we finished the journey in silence.

When we were a minute or so from her house, we came across a fire engine in the middle of the road, and one of the firemen signalled for us to turn around and go back. The only other way to get to her house involved going back on the dual carriageway we’d just left. I could see that Rachel was in a lot of pain, and I got her home as quickly as I could. Shortly after, she sent me a text saying she was in bed and had taken painkillers and that she loved me.

Two days later, Paul’s phone rang at 4.30am. I heard him say that we would come straight away, and when he hung up, he told me that it was Scott. He told me that Scott thought Rachel had had a stroke. That he was waiting for an ambulance, and needed us to look after the boys so that he could go with Rachel to the hospital. We got dressed and Paul woke his mum to tell her where we were going and ask her to look after Joseph. We arrived at Rachel’s house five minutes after the call, and the ambulance was there, about to leave. Scott jumped in and we went into the house. I picked up Jay and held him close, because it was as close as I could get to holding my sister.

Something in all the chaos must have disturbed Louie, because we heard him call out a couple of minutes later. Paul went up to him and told him that his mummy was poorly and his daddy had taken her to see a doctor. Louie likes to have his back rubbed to help him go to sleep, so Paul tried that and then came back downstairs. A few minutes later, we heard him call out again. I passed Jay to Paul and went upstairs. ‘Do you want me to rub your back?’ I asked. ‘Paul tried that, and it didn’t work,’ he said. And so I sat on his bed and we read stories and he asked me questions about Star Wars that I couldn’t answer, and we waited for morning to come.

Paul took Louie to nursery when it was time. He’d also phoned my parents, who’d gone back home to Worcestershire about twelve hours previously after staying for the two weeks that had involved the births of their two new grandchildren and my first chemo session. By the time they arrived, Scott had phoned me to confirm that Rachel had had a massive stroke, and I told my parents that while they stood just outside the house, and the three of us held each other in a hug that didn’t quite work. Paul sent us off to the hospital, assuring us he’d be all right with Jay. And we drove there, saying very little. There was very little to say.

We phoned Scott when we got to the right ward, and he came out into the corridor and my mum hugged him and he sobbed. Only two people were allowed to be beside her bed, so we took it in turns. She was asleep, mostly, but now and then she would say a few words. She asked, repeatedly, for a cold compress. She asked Scott to run her a bath. She said that she needed to take her pain medication.

I thought it was going to be all right. She didn’t look like her face had fallen and her voice wasn’t slurred. The medical team didn’t seem to be concerned about her in an urgent way. They told us that we had a long recovery time ahead of us. Probably months rather than weeks. It was terrible, but it wasn’t devastating. Not yet.

Because we couldn’t all be in there at the same time, Mum and I crossed the hospital to see Elodie. The neo-natal nurses said that she could finally go home, and I was given her discharge letter. A doctor talked me through all the things that had been wrong with her, and it was a sharp reminder that we’d been very lucky. I called Paul, and he said he would head in so that we could bring her home. I went back to Rachel, to say goodbye. I held her hand. ‘I have to go,’ I said, ‘because we’re taking Elodie home.’ Immediately, she responded. ‘Good.’ ‘I love you,’ I told her. ‘I love you too,’ she said.

And so, we took our little girl home and photographed her and opened the presents that had been accumulating since her birth, which I’d refused to open until she was home with us. When Joseph came home from nursery, he was delighted. ‘My baby sister isn’t in the hospital any more,’ he said. ‘She’s at home!’ It was bittersweet. It should have been a time of pure happiness, but I couldn’t shake the sorrow I felt about Rachel. The worry and the fear were strong, and they overshadowed everything else.

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