December 26th, 2003. I always describe it as the worst day of my life so far. It’s the uncertainty that gets you, isn’t it? Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can start to find a way to deal with it. But as we drove to hospital that morning, and sat waiting for Terry’s test results to come back, we had no idea what was in front of us. All we could do was guess, and, unfortunately for us, we had plenty of time to do it in.
We sat for over eight hours in that waiting room.
The results of Terry’s bloodwork came back after two of those hours, but the nurse on duty wouldn’t give them to us. “The consultant wants to speak to you about this in person,” she told Terry. “It’s the kind of thing that’s best said face-to-face.”
Well. That sentence alone told us all we needed to know. It’s like saying “you’re going to want to be sitting down for this,” isn’t it? And so we sat, and we waited, and we shook with fear – or I did, anyway.
I was sure it was cancer. Along with crabs and airplane crashes, cancer has always been my other big fear. It had torn through my family before, and I’d been waiting ever since for it come back for round two. Now I was sure it had. I remember going outside to call my parents, who were waiting anxiously at home, wondering what the hell was taking so long. “I’m sure it’s cancer,” I told them, “It has to be.” I wanted to be reassured. I wanted someone to tell me, “Don’t be stupid, of course it isn’t cancer, or anything else serious for that matter!” I wanted to be told that everything would be fine, but for the first time in my entire life, my parents couldn’t give me that reassurance. No one could. I think that knowledge aged me by about 20 years.
After that phone call, I went back to the waiting room and… we waited. The “waiting room” was really just a wide space in the corridor. I can still close my eyes and be back there in a second, so engraved upon my memory has it become. Its walls were covered with posters, all of which bore titles like, “So, your kidneys have totally failed!” and “Transplant: bet you didn’t see THAT coming!” It didn’t bode well. Where were all the fish tanks and soothing pieces of artwork you see in hospitals on TV, I wondered? Why the Wall O’Doom, which seemed to say, “Yes, your worst fears will come to pass: it happened to these people in the posters, and it’ll probably happen to you, too. By the way, have a nice Christmas!”
At the eighth hour or thereabouts, the consultant finally appeared and invited Terry into his office. “Would you like to come too?” he asked me. I couldn’t even answer him. I couldn’t think of anything I’d like less than to go into that room and be told The Worst. “No,” Terry answered, for me. “She should just wait where she is.”
I didn’t, though. As soon as the door closed behind him, I ran to the nearest bathroom and threw up. Then I returned to my familiar chair in that hateful waiting room, and I tried to prepare myself for whatever would come.
It’s strange, but in those final few minutes of my vigil, a strange sense of calm came over me – or maybe my body just realised it couldn’t panic any more. I found myself sitting there making plans in this strange, detached kind of way. I’d call work the next day, I thought, and tell them I wouldn’t be coming back. Terry had only been in his job for a few weeks, so there would be no sick pay to cover his loss of earnings: it would be up to me to support us both, so I would sell the house, and we would move in with my parents while Terry went through whatever treatment was necessary. I would do whatever it took to get through this nightmare, and I would try not to think too much about what came next.
The office door opened.
Terry stepped out, looking even ghostlier than he had to start with: something I hadn’t believed possible.
“He’s not finished with me yet,” he said, in response to my un-asked question. “He got an emergency call, he had to leave. He’ll be back soon, though.”
“And what did he say?” I forced myself to ask. “Is everything OK?”
“No,” said Terry. “Everything’s really not OK.”
And he wouldn’t say a single word more than that. Later, he explained to me that it was simply because he needed time to make sense of it in his own mind: and because he wanted to hear the rest of what the consultant had to say to him. At the time, though, I thought his silence could only mean that I’d been right, and it was cancer. Anything else, you see, I could have dealt with. I didn’t think I could deal with the C-word, and Terry knew that, so his refusal to even tell me what had happened could only mean one thing, and that one thing… well, it was as bad as it gets.
That’s why, when he finally emerged from the consulting room for the second time, and told me it was kidney failure, I actually felt relieved. Yes, relieved. I had spent the previous evening researching this. I had started to understand what “dialysis” was, and what a transplant would mean. And I knew that although this was bad, we would somehow find a way to deal with it.
And we somehow did.
So, December 26th, 2003 was the worst day of my life. But if it wasn’t for that day, then nothing else would have mattered, because what the consultant told Terry, behind the closed door of that office, was that unless he started treatment immediately, he had roughly two weeks to live.
Two weeks. Two little weeks.
It kinda put everything into perspective, really…