Patiently Waiting: A Short Story

I’d like to thank Rhona McAdam of Scotland for her short story submission “Patiently Waiting” a wistful behind-the-scenes look into the private world of a Mother and full-time carer. Based on true events.

Rhona McAdam is studying for a Degree in Creative Writing and English Literature at the Open University.  She found time to take this course and pursue her dream of writing after taking redundancy a few years ago.  She is mum to two adult children, one of them disabled and has written several short stories, including true stories about having a child with a disability. She enjoys writing crime and mystery fiction.  She also writes plays and is a member of the Citadel Arts Playwriting Group.  She lives in Edinburgh.

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Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash


Patiently Waiting

We are waiting for an ambulance.  After a week of various diagnoses my son is feeling sick, not eating, not drinking, and not taking his medicine.             

“I think you’d be better off in hospital.  Where we can find out what’s going on with you,” says Robert, his respiratory nurse. “Are you Ok with that?”

“Yeah,” Calum says.

      I look at him, long body propped up in bed, face the colour of curdled milk, and can only agree. He’s an adult now, but he needs support from me. He is disabled – not able to walk, not able to lift his arms, not able to scratch his head, not able to get out of bed without a hoist. 

      I have mixed feelings about him going to hospital.  I’m sure he has them too.  Yes, it’s the best place for him, to be monitored, tested and treated.  But hospital brings up the spectre of his ten weeks’ stay in the Sick Kids, with increasingly invasive procedures to help rid him of Pneumonia.

“There’s a place for him in the High Dependency Unit, better he’s there, they’re experts in the ventilation equipment he uses.  Good to get there during the day.”

     Of course, it’s not so simple to get to hospital; there is a layer of bureaucracy to get through.  The GP must be summoned.  When she arrives, she puts the peg like monitor on his finger, listens to his chest, takes his blood pressure.

      “Yes, oxygen saturation levels low, blood pressure low.  No problem going to hospital.  I’ll phone and get an ambulance sent.”

When she leaves, I hover by his bedside, helping him to cough (he has equipment for this – a vampiric hoover for the lungs). I glance out of the window at the sunlit street; parked cars are scattered about, plenty of room for an ambulance.   

     Two hours later, we are still waiting.  Bubbles of foam have been coming up from his chest.  This would be alarming if was you or me, but it’s the sort of cough he can have and as long as it’s white, and not yellow or green, he’s doing all right.  It’s oddly normal.

      My mobile phone chirps at me.  A voice says: “Hello, this is the ambulance service.  We are experiencing a very high demand just now.  We’ll get to you as soon as we can.  Has there been any change?”

     “No, no change,” I say. 

How bad to you need to be?

     “Phone us back if there is any worsening of his condition.”

Two hours later, we are still waiting for the ambulance.  The phone chirps again.  The conversation is repeated.  The coughing fits continue.  He’s only had a few hummingbird-like sips of fluid all day.  His medicines, in liquid form, come bubbling up as if from a blocked drain.

A further two hours pass and we are still waiting for the ambulance.  The phone chirps and I have the same scripted conversation.  Calum’s been in bed for a week; the sheets are starting to smell musty as if wet dogs have been sleeping there.  The coughing fits continue.  He’s given up on the sips of water.

    My back is getting sore, standing looking out of the window.  Why do ambulances seem to be all around when you don’t need them – their distant cries sounding from the bypass, screeching and bustling through town on a weekend?

    But we are still waiting.  The phone chirps again.  It is evening now; the sunset is blazing off the windows of the bungalow opposite, making shadows gather in the corners of Calum’s bedroom, my focus still switching between his face and the street outside.

     “Hello this is the ambulance service.  We are experiencing an unusually high demand-“

     “Have you any idea when one will come?”

“No sorry, no idea.   But let us know if your son’s condition worsens.”

      It’s only September.  What will it be like, trying to get to hospital in the winter?

      My stomach is swirling with hunger.  I don’t want to start eating, in case the ambulance arrives – it surely can’t be long now – and it seems unthinking to eat a sandwich in front of him, because how must he be feeling?  He’s not eaten for a week, and he wasn’t eating very much before that. 



Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

Two hours later, the phone chirps again. 

“Hello, this is the ambulance service, we are still experiencing a very high demand.  Is there any change in his condition?”

     I don’t want to exaggerate.  After all I’ve seen him worse than this – hard to believe – bringing up waves of yellow gunk from his lungs (secretions, they call it).  In the intensive care department, lights low, machines beeping, wires attached, the tube down the throat ventilator, then the really bad one, the one that shook him at the same time.

“Yes, he does seem worse now, he’s very white, he’s breathing fast and his heart is racing.  And he’s had no drinks or medicine all day.”

“Ok, we’ll prioritise this call.”

It’s dark outside now, but the curtains remain watchfully open, and at last we see the blue light of the ambulance.  It parks outside, and two paramedics bustle in, all efficiency and kindness.

“What’s the problem?” one asks as she clips on a finger probe.

     I answer for him as I can see from his face that he is past speaking. “Breathless, coughing, being sick, not eating, not drinking, urine and chest infections,” I chant.       

They get a tank of oxygen, and fiddle around with a tube to get it through his ventilator.  We have a sign on the wall – Do NOT give oxygen without ventilation to this patient.   The ventilator whooshes and swooshes like Darth Vader in Star Wars (one of his favourite films).  I often wake up and listen for the reassuring noise in the middle of the night – he is still breathing.  A blood pressure cuff is squeezing his famine thin arm.

“Is his blood pressure usually this low?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Well it’s maybe just lack of fluids.  Let’s get him to hospital.”

      A trolley from the ambulance is clanked in and manoeuvred round his equipment.  He has an electric wheelchair, hospital style bed, ventilator, spare ventilator, cough assist machine, nebuliser, suction machine – the machines have multiplied over the years. 

     “He has a bed in the High Dependency Unit at the Western General,” I say. “Or at least he had, eight hours ago.”

     A look passes between the two women. “We’re really meant to take him to the Royal Infirmary if it’s a priority call,” one of them says.

     It’s not the fault of the paramedics.  There is no point getting angry at them, or the people on the phone.  It won’t help.  But what do you have to do to travel four miles to a hospital? 

The other paramedic must see the look on my face. “I’m sure we can manage that, we’ll take you to the receiving unit at the Western, not sure we can take you direct to the HDU.”

    “That’s fine.”  Relieved to be heading off at last.  To the right hospital.

We wobble along quiet midnight streets.  When we get there, the hospital is not busy; guilt creeps in – have we beaten a commuter like rush of non-urgent cases?

A nurse takes him into a searingly lit cubicle, scented with disinfectant.  I repeat my incantation. “Breathless, coughing, being sick, not eating, not drinking, urine and chest infections.”

She hooks him up to a monitor.  A Doctor comes in; she is pale with dark shadows under her eyes.  She rummages for a vein, puts a cannula in and draws blood from his arm.  The same incantation of symptoms.  An additional chant of his medication.  Colymycin, Mucodyne, Azithromycin, Amytriptiline.  I am fluent in the language of his illness. She orders a chest X-Ray.  We wait.

Time takes on a different dimension when we enter the bright rabbit hole of the hospital.  It seems suspended, controlled by the needs of other patients.  I want to complain about the long day we’ve had, but I can’t.  Because what sort of a day has the Doctor had?   She looks like she’s had an even longer one.



A bag of fluid is hung, it starts to drip down, and some pink returns to his cheeks.  Another Doctor arrives.  I chant the same symptoms, the same medication.  He’ll send someone to get him transferred upstairs soon.  We are creeping closer to the hospital bed which has hovered like a mirage in front of us for the last ten hours.

We finally get to the High Dependency Unit at three thirty in the morning. It’s an hour later by the time I leave and look for the exit down an endless corridor – deserted, silent apart from a sucking noise from the ceiling.  I calculate how much sleep I could reasonably have before returning in the morning.       

The next morning there is a bag of neon yellow urine hanging beside his bed.  “That’s some infection,” the nurse comments. Bottles of H20, plasters, scissors, tape and syringes are lined up on the unit under the window.  The small room, glass walled at the front, is permeated by the tang of hand sanitiser.

“How was your night?” I ask.

     “OK. Can you put the TV on?”

     I fiddle about with the TV on the wall; find the switch hidden round the back.  The remote control isn’t working, and we are stuck with horse racing.   There are many sports he likes: football, tennis, rugby, wrestling,  but horse racing’s not one of them.  He rolls his eyes and sends me to find out if the nurse can fix the controller.  He must be feeling better.  The consultant comes on his ward round and he explains that the sickness was a reaction to the antibiotic for the urine infection. Things are looking up.

Two days later I walk up the long corridor, buzz for entry to the unit, use the hand sanitiser and turn the corner to his room. 

“He’s had a bad night, lots of coughing,” says the nurse.

I can see from the froth in his mouth that he needs to cough more.  He groans after I use the cough assist machine.

“What’s the matter?”

Calum’s not a complainer. He likes to chat; he’ll chat all day about films and TV shows, but he shuts down when he’s upset. I have to quarry past his facial expression to get to the problem.

“Sore chest.”

“Ok, let’s see if the nurse can get you something for that.”

The nurse gets a Doctor to prescribe pain relief.  A plate of pureed food arrives, looking like scoops of different ice creams, except they smell of chicken, potato and carrot. He is coughing so much he can only manage a few mouthfuls of food.  And I’m not sure he hasn’t coughed them straight up again.   I ask the nurse when the Consultant will come on his ward round.

“He’d normally be here by now.  What are your concerns?”

  “His cough, it’s much worse today than when he came in, and his chest is really sore – that’s not usual for him.”

“Ok, I’ll see what I can find out, but it’s only to be expected with Pneumonia.”

I look at my son.   His face mirrors mine.  Not Pneumonia.  We’ve been there before.

The Consultant is only at room two.  My son is in room eleven.  So we wait for the Consultant.  He comes at tea time, still trying to complete his mid-morning ward round.  I know from conversations overheard in the waiting room – “didn’t see the car coming”, “not long passed her test”, “induced coma” – (the reasons for the delay) that my son could be worse off.

My daughter visits, and I go to the canteen.  I walk past phlegm green walls (doubt you’d get that description on a Farrow and Ball paint chart) with wooden bumpers full of crevasses gouged out by years of flowing beds. Past a flock of smokers wearing dressing gowns, huddled outside the front door, underneath the ‘No Smoking’ signs.  More people in dressing gowns (at least stick some leggings and a sweatshirt on) perch in the café with their visitors.   Into my coffee I pray, let’s not go here again, let the antibiotics work, let this not be the end.  The phrase ‘life limiting condition’ is lurking in the back of my mind.  When Calum was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, life expectancy was eighteen years old.  He is now twenty seven.  I promise I’ll never be grumpy with him again.



But the intravenous antibiotics work, the waves of mucus recede, the fluid drains away from  his lungs, his heart medicine is increased and a tube is passed up his nose so he can get some nutrition.  A week later a permanent feeding tube is installed in his stomach.  He is sedated, but awake during the procedure, and he tells me what happened. 

“Just like when they do brain surgery on Grey’s Anatomy. I could see what they were doing on the screen.”

My daughter thinks the bottle of food hanging above his bed looks like pancake mix.  She is correct, but it must be doing him good because the chat continues non-stop.

Finally, it is time to go home.  I join the queue for the disabled parking spaces.  They are guarded by a barrier, and like hospital beds, someone needs to vacate a space before another car can get in.  I get to the front of the queue and park on the stop line.  There’s a gap before the barrier to leave space for ambulances to exit.  I read a book on my phone.  I wait for an hour.  An hour and a half. There’s no point getting grumpy.   Then two cars drive past me, right up to the barrier, blocking the ambulance exit.  What?  Can’t they read the signs?  I’m not putting up with this. The stress of waiting, patiently, for three weeks, is about to burst, Alien-like, from my chest. So much for never being grumpy again.  The first woman pretends she has done nothing wrong. 

“That guy,” she says, “said you’d just been sitting in your car for an hour.”

  I look round at a translucent-skinned man, cackling and coughing over his joke.  I finally understand road rage.  I resist pulling the woman out of the window of her car, and point out that I’ve been sitting in my car for an hour, because I am in a queue.  For the car park.  Which the sign says is full. 

The woman in the second car says she didn’t realise, was just trying to pick up her Dad.  I say I’m picking up my son.   I want to say I bet he’s worse than your Dad, but realise we’re all in the same situation.  These people have frustrations and worries I know nothing about.  The second woman reverses back behind my car.

The first is allowed through the barrier. Then told to re-join the back of the queue.  Serves her right.  But I need to concentrate on being grateful my son is getting home. 

And at home I even manage to be less grumpy, most of the time, despite the frequent requests for help with his Xbox wrestling game. As we return to our normal routine of ignoring his condition as much as possible, I think about how the National Health Service is stuck together with patience stretched like old fitted bed sheets.

Of course, that was before the virus struck, before the hospitals were full, before people were fighting over tinned tomatoes and toilet rolls, and before we applauded every night for the nurses and doctors.  It would be good to think we’d get a more responsive Health Service after all this.


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Fractured: A Flash Fiction Story

I’d like to thank Alison Ogilvie-Holme of Canada for her flash fiction submission “Fractured”, a poignant, sentimental story of love and loss.

Alison Ogilvie-Holme is a mother of identical twin daughters who are now six years old. She lives in Brockville, ON, Canada, and began writing and submitting stories over a year ago. Many of her stories involve different aspects of motherhood, particularly the challenging parts. She is drawn to exploring characters who are perfectly flawed (much like herself). Her words have appeared on such sites as Down in the Dirt, Ink Pantry,  and Fat Cat Magazine, among others. When not writing or playing referee to her daughters, Alison enjoys taking long naps.

“Often, it seems that society has a cookie-cutter image of a what a ‘good’ Mum should look like, act like, and think like. In admitting our flaws and uncertainties to one another, I believe that the act of mothering becomes more authentic. We are all individuals, and therefore, mother our children differently, to the very best of our abilities.” ~ Alison

This story was previously published in the Fairy Tale Issue of The Writers’ Cafe.

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Photo by Danielle Dolson on Unsplash

Fractured

“And they lived happily ever after. The end.”

Annabeth shuts the book and leans over Iris, placing a kiss on top of her damp forehead. She is running a fever and will surely wake up overnight when the medication wears off. It pricks Annabeth’s conscience to know that Iris will cry out for “Daddy” until she remembers that he no longer lives here. Norah, on the other hand, has always been partial to her mother.

But lately her daughter is holding a grudge. She kisses Norah’s cheek and notes with frustration that she too is becoming hot to the touch. Another day off work is not an option. Should she call Jack? He would drop everything and come home in a heartbeat.

After turning off the light, she sits down in the rocking chair. She is bone tired. Rain pelts the window and she listens to the rhythm of water tap-dancing on glass; fluid but fierce. Slowly, Annabeth feels herself drifting away from reality. Deep within the recesses of memory, a narrative takes shape.

Once upon a time there was a little girl with corkscrew curls and a smile as bright as the star atop a Christmas tree. Her parents called her names like Princess, Angel, and Baby Doll. More than anything in the world, the little girl loved to sit on her father’s lap and play the piano while they sang together in harmony.

Time passed and the little girl was replaced by a burgeoning young woman. The parents noticed that she seldom played the piano or sang anymore. Her bright smile had started to dim, like a dark day in the month of January.

”What has changed, princess, to make you so sad?!” the father asked.

“Everything!’ she replied ‘You lied to me. I am not beautiful or talented or special. I am nothing!”

“I wish you could see what I see.” her mother whispered.



Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

Eventually, the young woman found her way back to the piano. She pounded her truth into the ivory keys as her voice exploded with raw, unfiltered emotion which could not be contained in a pretty little music box. Word of her abilities spread throughout the land, and soon, people gathered from far and wide to watch her perform.

At a recital one evening, she spotted a young gentleman sitting in the back row. Throughout the performance, her eyes kept searching for him as if pulled by an invisible compass. Disappointment gripped her when she looked up to discover the empty chair. After her closing number, she darted to the dressing room at once and there he was, waiting.

“Hello…My name is Jack. I think you have an amazing gift.”

He was beautiful, she realized up close, far more beautiful than she would ever be. In that moment, she understood with absolute certainty that she would follow him anywhere. They soon became inseparable and wed within the year. When the young woman learned of her pregnancy, she was overcome with sudden emotion.

“Whatever is wrong?” asked Jack, taking her hand.

“What if the baby comes between us?” she sobbed.

“Nonsense! This baby will bring us even closer together. Trust me.”

The birth of Norah was just as Jack had predicted. She was a delightful baby; full of smiles and giggles and playful mischief. Norah had inherited her father’s gentle disposition, making her a very easy child to love.

In a couple of years, the young woman learned that she was expecting again. As if on cue, she began to cry and reached for Jack’s hand.

“What is it, darling?”

“What if I cannot love this baby as much as Norah?” she sobbed.

“Nonsense! You will love them both, differently but equally. I promise.”

Nine months later, Iris charged into their lives. She filled every inch of space with limitless curiosity and determination, forever reaching out to touch the world and squeeze it in her pudgy, little hand. They instantly fell in love with her.

By the time the young woman learned of her third pregnancy, a newfound calm had settled in. For she now understood that a new baby is always a new beginning, a chance to love again.

On the day that Elliot was born, the nurses placed him in his mother’s arms to let her cradle him once before saying goodbye. Annabeth wanted to cry, to scream at the top of her lungs and breathe life back into her beautiful baby boy. But somehow, she had lost her voice and all her tears had dried up. Not even Jack could save her now.

Annabeth awakens and slips out of the room, making her way into her own bed. Somehow, the girls have managed to sleep for hours without interruption. Perhaps a night’s rest will help to fight off infection, eliminating any need to phone Jack. Relief is tempered with mild regret. How she would love an excuse to hear his voice right about now. Instead, her mind returns to Elliot in short order.

Although her son is never far from thought, something feels different tonight. The memory seems sharper, more focused, as though she held him only moments before. Grief washes over her afresh. Tears that have lain dormant for the past year come rushing to the surface at alarming speed. She surrenders to an emotional tsunami, her body wracked with waves of bittersweet sorrow.

At last, she is able to cry for Elliot and the life he never lived, for her daughters who prayed for a baby brother and then stopped praying altogether, for Jack, the eternal optimist turned cautious realist. And finally, Annabeth weeps for herself – a mother learning to navigate the lonely culture of loss.

    



Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog. You can read more stories HERE and if you’d like to submit a story for consideration to be published, please visit our submissions page.

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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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What The Looking Glass Reflects: A Flash Fiction Story

I’d like to thank Leah Holbrook Sackett for her flash fiction submission “What The Looking Glass Reflects”, a melodramatic tale with an intriguing atmosphere. Reflective and relatable, yet fantastical and surreptitious.

Leah is an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.  This is also where she earned her M.F.A. Her short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Leah’s debut book of short stories “Swimming Middle River” was recently released by REaDLips Press.

Learn about Leah’s published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.website

Follow her on Twitter: @LeahSackett

Facebook: @alicewonderland.leah  

Instagram: @alicewonderland.leah

LinkedIn: @LeahSackett


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Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction by Nancy Stohlman

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

What The Looking Glass Reflects

Carol liked to stand in corners when she was anxious. It calmed her down to tighten her focus on a dried drip of paint, the seam in wallpaper, or a crack in the wall of the visiting Professor’s house. Her husband was a professor of History at Sweetgum University. The booming emptiness of the house, like a quarry, played on Carol’s nerves. It reminded her of the children she could not have to fill the large house. Her body was not agreeable to the arrangement of keeping a tenant for more than 3 months. This, too, made her anxious. If she were to dwell on the idea of a baby too long, it required a Xanax and a corner to calm her down.

Staring into the back of William’s head while watching a loud Sunday football game was also a trigger. Around 4:30 in the afternoon, each day, that was a trigger. The upside was she had tried many corners in the house and had a rating system based on her sense of urgency. The corner in the small dark dining room with light filtering through the blinds was one of her favorites. She liked this one because she could look askance out the window as if cheating at some game. She also liked the lovely wisteria color paint that deepened and lightened based on the time of day. The corners became her friends, and she talked to them. Softly, of course, lest Will catches her again.

The first time Will caught Carol standing in a corner was in the bedroom with the blue scrollwork wallpaper. It was just outdated long enough to be trendy with that shabby chic look. She liked to trace the scrollwork with her fingertips. Caught-up in a particular favorite curly-que, she did not hear Will coming. Carol stopped her whispering and froze. She could feel Will staring at her back. With a great effort that made her eyes sting, she turned to him and said, “It is just the most lovely design.” Will agreed and ushered her from the room. The next morning the corner was filled with a large, gilded full-length mirror made from Sweetgum. She must have spent one too many times in the corner. She wondered how Will got it into the room while she slept, her head hammered from that one glass of wine. The mirror was enormous with a giltwood frame from floor to ceiling. It was carved with five-point star leaves. Her anger with Will for filling her corner was ebbing.

Perhaps a mirror makes a better coping mechanism. This mirror may be just the therapy Carol needed. Sure, it was just another crutch, but you need a crutch sometimes. She climbed out of bed and followed the details of the carvings. She smiled, a little smile though it was, at herself with the glow of her face in the flattering daylight. With the heat of the day on her face, Carol climbed back into bed and was soon napping. She woke from lilting, little giggles. Of course, no one was there, but a single gold stud earring and her wooden knitting needles were resting on the bedclothes. It was as if someone had gone about snatching her things just to return them as gifts.

As late afternoon set in, Carol sat in bed with a book and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. She must have dozed off because she woke with her hand in a puddle of melted ice cream and the pint on the floor. It was growing dark. Moonlight was on the heels of the fading day. It filtered through the window, creating little dancing lights upon the looking glass. It was almost as if there was movement inside. Quietly, she tiptoed to the mirror. It was swimming like water, and a small chubby face and arm reached out of the glass beckoning Carol to enter. Carol froze in awe at the visage of a cherub, a baby in the looking-glass. Inviting her into an orchard of Sweetgums. Abruptly, she heard Will enter with the dull thud of the front door. When Carol turned back to the mirror, it was solid. “NO,” she cried and slammed the palm of her hand against the mirror. There was a heart-breaking crack that ran through the mirror and disappeared in ripples of reflection. With bloody palm and bare feet, Carol entered the looking glass. Will ran up the stairs to his wife’s cry of “NO.” The room was empty. No one was home.

    


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Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog. You can read more stories HERE and if you’d like to submit a story for consideration to be published, please visit our submissions page.

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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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