Olivier’s sejourn in hospital

olivier with grandson Andre, stepson Tyson and his wife Vanessa

Husband is helpless in hospital following a harrowing dash by road from our island home to the regional Victor Harbor hospital at 6am this morning.
Waves of fear washed over me as I gripped the wheel driving in darkness, one eye on the road, the other on the body stretched out on the laid-back seat moaning in agony alongside me.
I recognised that level of pain and remember that same sound when I broke my ankle one morning on my stone steps in the late 1990s.
Olivier is consumed with pain until the doctor in Emergency administers morphine. He is admitted to a hospital bed, but when I insist that his oncologist be informed because he has spinal cancer, he is taken by ambulance to Ashford Hospital in Adelaide. It is a dramatic moment to watch your beloved bundled into an ambulance, but I have no choice but to race home to grab a few clothes and toiletries, and follow him.

The pain began last night, when Olivier said ominously “I think I have done something to my back.’’
The back pain gripped him, wrung him out and refused to leave him despite two rounds of pain-killers, a hot bath and a glass of brandy. But, he refused to take an ambulance and somehow slept. (I did note that he, who never wears pyjamas, dug out a new pair, still unopened, and put them on). I think he knew this pain was something serious. When he awoke it was still dark. He could barely put one foot in front of the other for the pain.
It is a shocking thing, how pain disables and how it has reduced this proud, strongly built man to a delirious state.
From Ashford’s Emergency Department, where he is unaware of anything, he is transferred to the oncology unit, where nurses – in pairs – administer morphine for 24 hours. He asks for more the moment he becomes conscious. The mind plays cruel games as I imagine everything that could possibly go wrong. Total disability springs to mind and I snuff out the unthinkable. All I can do is sit and pray that he will recover from whatever has happened to him.
Monday dawns a beautiful June day, but he is wheeled off to have an MRI of his spine to see if the cancer has progressed. I begin to fear life will never be the same again for him.
Tuesday, I order a wheelchair and an Access cab for the disabled and take him, on his insistence, to visit the neurosurgeon who discovered his cancerous spine in January. He has waited a few months for this visit and won’t get in until August if he misses it. He is in dreadful pain the whole time – an hour in all – and I fear he will die until he is back safe in his hospital bed once more. However, he has a new generation drug for his chronic neuralgic pain in his left forefinger. Another pain-killer added to the regime.
Alarmingly, he still cannot walk without a walking frame and a young female physiotherapist accompanies him as he painfully progresses down the passageway.
Afterwards, the pain ebbs away with a cocktail of painkillers and he drifts off to recover in sleep. He does not eat, so I eat his meals and stay with him.
I don’t dare leave for fear something will happen to him in my absence. So, I sit here in the corner of the room on a lay-back chair and read the daily paper, telephone relatives and SMS friends – and wait for the oncologist, an Indian-born specialist, to arrive.
It is interesting how we human beings adapt to extraordinary circumstances once a routine is established. Each day, I arrive by 10am and stay until 8pm, and as the week progresses, I slip downstairs for a Hudson’s brewed coffee each afternoon. It is surprisingly busy in a hospital room watching a parade of nurses minister to husband. They make an interesting international army of charcoal uniformed bodies who care, who take his blood pressure, his temperature, his sugar levels and dispense pain-killers.
Most nurses are very young and many are from neighbouring Asian countries. One older nurse says she is Chilean. They all wear smiles and carry kindness with them into the room. There are a few male nurses and Robert, an older male nurse, is a constant over our 11-day stay.
Adult children come and sit with him and other relatives also visit. Thursday I meet a friend for a quick lunch close by. And so time, passes and husband slowly recovers.
I relax and observe this other world, hospital life where we find ourselves.
. The 30-bed oncology unit, Marion Ward, is full and our peace is broken constantly with the hacking cough of a patient nearby.
“He must have lung cancer,’’ says Olivier.
Next door, there is a noisy Greek tribe, who have a Greek Orthodox priest in attendance. A sign on the door says “10 minute visits only’’, but the family stays on for two days. Then she is gone and an older male patient has taken her place.
I think to myself that she has probably died.
I am delighted when a bright, young woman, serving meals, reveals herself (behind the white head net) to be a former classmate at my sewing classes. I know Olga’s story, shared on those Monday mornings, that she was a Russian bride, who met her husband on the Internet. And yet, after eight years here, it seems a happy ever after story. “Fancy seeing you here,’’ she says in her difficult English. “But not in these circumstances, hey,’’ she quickly adds when I introduce my husband.
On day 6, I return home to gather more clothes and in my absence my bold son gets permission to take his step-father out for coffee at Hyde Park.
“We would like to take him to Glenelg because it’s my birthday,’’ Tyson tells the charge sister.
“Heavens no!’’, she responded, but he quickly modified his request to “two streets away’’ and reminded her that the oncologist had agreed.

Visitors pepper the long weekend and on Tuesday, day 10, his own oncologist returns from overseas and examines him. “Olivier has fractured a bone in his back and it is probably caused by the damage to the spine,’’ he says.
We had imagined that the four-day road trip to Lake Eyre on rough roads had not done his cancerous spine any good. But then I remembered that on the Saturday morning, Olivier had turned our double bed mattress.
“Whatever are you doing that for?’’ I had asked, alarmed, when I had found him leaning against the upright mattress.
I had helped him flip it back onto the bed, but in retrospect, I think the damage was done in that one act.
We are so thankful that he has not been left paralysed and he knows that he will not be able to lift anything heavy again.
In the words of a friend, “The only things you can move now are your eyelids!’’

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