Sunday, April 18, 2021

Blessed by Amy Harte

 “Anybody would think I was ill, the way you’re fussing. Get off to work and don’t be late picking me up! I don’t want to be in here any longer than I have to be.”

Emma leant into the hard pillow and folded back the stiff white sheet.

“Shouldn’t I wait until someone comes to see you?”

“That could be hours yet. Now sod off!” Emma smiled at him, “It’ll be fine, Ok?” she smoothed down her blonde bob.

Terry fumbled around in a carrier bag and placed a bottle of Lucozade onto the cabinet . Moving a plastic glass nearer to her, he scrunched the carrier bag up and shoved it into his coat pocket.

“Right then…good luck, see you soon darling. Do you want a drop of this before I go?” he asked, his hand poised over the Lucozade bottle.

“If I want some I can pour it myself!” she glared at him.

He rolled his eyes to the ceiling, “Ok. Give us a kiss then,” Terry leant across the bed and kissed his wife; pinched at her cheek. She watched him as he walked up the ward and waved as he disappeared through the doors.

Emma looked around her. Every bed was taken; mostly those who occupied them were sleeping. She checked her watch, just gone seven, she wished it was seven at night, and then she would know.

She wondered how long it would be before someone would come to see her. It seemed too quiet. She had expected Doctors and Nurses to be rushing around, catering for their patients’  every need. Some sort of emergency maybe; anything but this tranquillity. ‘Holby City’ this was not, she thought as she reached across for her magazine.

‘A mum at 52!’ was emblazoned across the front page of the Bella magazine. The reason Emma had chosen it.

“Fifty-bloody-two. I can’t wait that long!” Emma muttered as she opened the magazine. She looked at the index and flipped through the pages to the relevant article.

Before she could read the first paragraph, she heard footsteps. A young Nurse was smiling at her as she approached the bed.

“Settled in Emma?” The overweight nurse flicked over a page on a clipboard in her hand.

“Yes thanks,” replied Emma.

“Good. Well, I’ve spoken with Mr Payne and he will be up to see you around nine,” she stared  down at the clipboard.

“I’m Rebecca; I’ll be looking after you today.” Rebecca smiled, ‘If there’s anything I can get you just press the buzzer here Ok?” Rebecca puffed up the stiff pillow.

“Thanks,” said Emma.

“Tea then?” Rebecca asked as she peered at the open magazine at the foot of the bed and picked it up, “Fifty-Two eh? My!”

“Tea would be great thanks.” Emma said, feeling a little embarrassed at Rebecca noticing her reading material.

“Be right back.” 

***

The occupant of the bed next to Emma’s began to stir.

“I’m sorry if I woke you,” said Emma.

A middle-aged woman turned in the bed and rubbed her eyes, focusing on Emma.

“What time is it?” she croaked.

“Nearly eight. My name is Emma. I came in this morning. Are you Ok?” Emma noticed how pale the woman looked.

“I feel like shit to be honest with you. Let me wake up a bit,” yawning, she pushed herself up in the bed. As she stretched, Emma noticed her wince.

“Are you in pain? Shall I call someone?”

“No, it’s just the stitches. Still a bit sore. I’m Jo, nice to meet you Emma. So, what are you in for?” she asked as she pulled out a pair of glasses from their case.

Emma laughed, “You make it sound like we are in prison.”

Rebecca came scooting down the ward with the promised cup of tea.

“Ah, Good Morning Josephine. And how are we this fine morning? Tea?”

“Bloody awful and no, stick your rotten tea!”

“I take it you have met our Josephine, Emma. Here, nice cuppa for you.” Rebecca placed the saucer onto Emma’s bedside cabinet.

“Huh!” scoffed Jo, “You lot don’t know what a nice cuppa is! Take my word for it Emma, that will be your first and last, once you’ve tasted it!” Jo pushed her glasses up her nose with her middle finger and grinned.

“That’s just your opinion Josephine!”

Emma sat, enjoying the banter between these two women, and took a sip of the tea.

“Told you it was crap didn’t I!” Jo laughed.

Rebecca shook her head and walked away, smiling.

“I’ve had better I must say,” cringed Emma.

“So, what you having done then?” asked Jo as she turned onto her side to face Emma’s bed.

“Exploratory Laparoscopy. It’s just routine,” said Emma.

“Only in for the day then? Shame. Thought I might have had some decent company for a while. This lot are bleedin’ useless!” Jo waved her arms around the ward and winced.

“What have you had done?” frowned Emma, disturbed that Jo seemed to be in considerable pain, and praying that she wasn’t going to say, “Same as you’re gonna have.”

“Been sterilized,” Jo coughed.

“God, why?”

“Why? Cos I don’t want any more bleedin’ kids and my old man won’t have the snip. I tell you, men! Biggest coward’s god put breath into.”

“How many have you got then?” Emma swung her legs out of the bed and sat on the edge.

Counting with her fingers, Jo shrieked, “Six of the little sods!”

“Oh, you lucky thing. That must be marvellous!”

“How long have you been trying for a baby then Emma?” asked Jo?

“We’ve been married two years, so…two years!” Emma laughed.

“Plenty of time yet then.”

Emma noticed a tall man come onto the ward, probably late forties Emma guessed. Dressed in a dark blue suit, holding a few papers in his hand he spoke softly to Rebecca. Emma saw Rebecca nod towards her. This was him! Her very own consultant. The one who would put her mind at rest.

Jo followed Emma’s gaze, “You under him? Payne by name…blah blah blah,” laughed Jo.

“Yes Mr Payne, is that him then? Doesn’t he look smart?”

Jo frowned at Emma, “Best you don’t worry about what he looks like and hope he knows what he’s doing! Only the other day, I was reading about this poor cow who…”

“Good Morning Ladies,” Mr Payne stood smiling at the foot of Emma’s bed.

Jo grunted and turned onto her back, pushing her glasses up onto her forehead, she closed her eyes.

“Mrs Kennedy…Emma.” He held out his hand as he slowly walked around her bed, “I’m  Mr Payne. I shall be performing your exploratory Laparoscopy today. Sorry we had to get you in so early but I have a very busy schedule as I’m sure you can imagine.” Emma shook his hand and to her surprise he sat very close to her on the bed.

“Now, what we are going to do is this. After we have had our little chat, you’ll have your pre-med, then you will be whisked down to my theatre where I shall have a jolly good poke about and see what is happening in there,” gently, he patted Emma’s stomach, “And then you will wake up! Now, how does that sound?”

Emma nodded. She had felt like this once before, when she was about six years old, sitting on Santa’s lap in his Grotto.

“Is there anything you would like to ask me? I see you have signed the consent forms. This is normal procedure Emma. The reason being, should I find anything nasty.” He got up from Emma’s bed and rested his hand on her shoulder.

“No, I don’t think so,” Christ, why couldn’t she say, “What do you mean ‘nasty’?”

“Right then, so I’ll be seeing you.” Mr Payne patted at the bed and walked away.

Emma sat patiently waiting for her pre-med. Butterflies were fluttering away inside her as she dreamt of the time ahead, when this would be over and she would have the sound knowledge that there was nothing wrong, no reason why she shouldn’t become the mother she so desperately wanted to be. Knowing Terry had come through his tests without a hitch, Emma just knew that it was a matter of simply waiting for ‘Mother Nature’ to take her course.

They had to be patient, that’s all.

It was Rebecca who came to give Emma her pre-med and told her to wait a few moments until it had ‘kicked in’ and then she would be ‘taken down’.

Emma wished Terry were at her side now. She needed a hand to hold.

She didn’t have to wait long before a hospital porter arrived to take Emma to the pre-theatre room.

She lay on the narrow bed staring up at the bright lights. Drowsiness came over her. She vaguely heard the anaesthetist say, “Ok, let’s do this,” as a needle was jabbed into her arm.

***

She opened her eyes and saw a blurred outline of the anaesthetist looking down at her.

“Welcome back Emma,” he smiled.

Emma blinked.

“I’m thirsty as hell,” she moaned, licking her dry lips.

“We are going to get you back up to the ward my love. Then you can have a cuppa. Got your vision back?”

“Yes.” Emma felt as though she had been in some terrible accident and was sure to die.

***

Back up on the ward, she felt that there was a fist inside her lower stomach, punching at her insides. Tentatively, she pulled the sheets back and carefully lifted the smock they had dressed her in.

Emma gasped. What they hell had they done?

Frantically, she reached for the buzzer and pressed down continuously until Rebecca appeared through the curtains.

“Emma? What can I get you?” Rebecca stood staring at Emma, “I’ll fetch Mr Payne.”

Emma began to cry as Rebecca went away. There was a tube coming out of another incision to the right of her stomach and she followed this tube down to a cylinder at the side of her bed. This wasn’t right, it couldn’t be right!

Within minutes the curtain opened and Mr Payne appeared. He pulled a chair up to the bedside, placed a clipboard on his lap and folded his hands together.

“Emma. Are you feeling much pain? The anaesthetic is most likely wearing off now so we will give you some painkillers…”

“What have you done?” Emma sobbed.

“Emma, there were complications. You see, when I had a look at you I discovered your tubes were seriously infected. I am amazed you have not experienced any pain in the last few years. I had no alternative Emma than to remove them you see.”

“You did what? But I …” Emma tried to lift herself out of the bed.

“Please Emma. You have just undergone major surgery, I strongly advise you to keep still and get some rest my dear.”

Emma stared at him. She wanted to lash out at him. She wanted to hurt him, very badly. Did he not realise what this meant?

“It’s very unfortunate, I know. But I really could do nothing else. Your tubes were infected and severely damaged. Had I not removed them, I would surely have been seeing you in the very near future performing an emergency operation.”

“Go away.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said go away!” Emma fixed her glaring eyes on Mr Payne. He slowly got up from the chair, sucked in his cheeks and left the bedside.

The room started to swirl as Emma tried to reach for her handbag.

“Jo! Are you awake Jo?”

Jo opened the curtains, “Christ almighty!”

Emma pulled at the sheet and covered the ugly mess.

“My bag. I need my bag, can you get it for me. Get my phone out. I need to phone Terry. I need him here!”

A sob caught in her throat as Jo cradled her in her arms. This was not how Emma imagined the day to turn out. Far from it. 

***

Fifteen minutes later, Terry entered the ward. 

“Oh, Terry. I’m so sorry. I am so sorry.”

“Hey, come on darling. We’re not beaten yet. What’s happened?”

Emma lifted the sheet.

“Shit!” Terry stared at the blood-stained stitches across his wife’s stomach,

“What have they done to you? Oh my sweetheart, come here,” he pulled her closer into his warmth and planted kisses on her forehead, “It’s going to be Ok Emm. I promise you it will be Ok. I need to speak to that Mr Payne. I’ll be right back.”

“No, Terry! Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”

Terry waved both his arms above his head at Rebecca who was already watching the couple. 

She knew what he wanted.

Mr Payne walked briskly toward the bed and yanked the curtains shut.

“Mr Kennedy, I have explained to your wife that an infection and severe damage to your wife’s fallopian tubes came to light whilst I was carrying out the operation. Therefore what I have performed is known as a Bilateral Salpingectomy.”

“That doesn’t mean anything to me. Can you explain to us in a way we both understand please?” Terry leant his head to one side and frowned.

Mr Payne sighed, “Emma had a viral infection, and I had no alternative than to remove both the fallopian tubes. As I have also explained, had I not done so, she would have been in a serious position, in say, six weeks, six months, time.”

Terry swallowed hard.

“What caused the infection? How did she get it? How long has she had it?”

Emma fixed her eyes on Terry.

“As I say, it was a viral infection; we call it Pelvic Inflammatory Disease…” 

Emma interrupted the consultant, “I can’t have children can I?”

Mr Payne coughed and pulled out a handkerchief from his trouser pocket.

“Answer her!” Emma felt Terry’s grip tighten as he held her hand.

“No. I’m afraid not. However, the IVF success rate is extremely…”

“When can I go home?” Emma said quietly.

“I would like to keep you in for several days just to ensure that all is healing correctly. Then we shall review the situation.”

***

“Well, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise dear. I mean they can be a handful. And I can tell you this, if I had my time over, I would never have had any.”

“Thanks a bunch,” said Terry as he stubbed a cigarette out in the ashtray, “Charming that.”

“Well son, I’m sorry. But children have such a way of dominating your life that you tend to not have one yourself.”

Terry’s mother arranged the flowers she had brought for Emma, in a large vase in the middle of the dining table.

“What you have to concentrate on now dear, is getting up and about again. Then you can consider the future,” she stood back and admired the display.

“What future?” said Emma as she stared out of the window.

“It’s a cruel world Emma dear,” Joan pulled on her overcoat, “Only God knows why.”

“Please don’t start spitting the bloody Bible at me Joan! Maybe you would have me go to bloody church, press my palms together and pray for a bloody miracle!”

“Emma!” Terry leapt off the settee and stood over his wife.

“It’s Ok dear. I fully understand. I’ll let myself out.” Joan pecked at her son’s cheek and patted Emma on the shoulder, then left the house.

“There was no need to be quite so rude, Emm.”

Terry stood and looked at Emma, slumped in the armchair, still gazing out the window.

“I’m off down the pub. See you later, perhaps you’ll be in a better mood then.”

“Yes, that’s right, off you go. Go drink yourself to a standstill Terry. If that does it for you, then be my guest. But let me remind you of just one thing, and that is, when you come round from your drunken stupor, we still, will have no children.”

***

She heard the front door slam, and watched him, from the window. She carried on staring out of the window, searching for her crime. Slowly she opened her dressing gown and inspected the seven-inch scar. Still red raw, it spread in a jagged line across her lower abdomen.

She let her head fall into her hands. As she stared down at the floor she noticed part of a book poking out from beneath the armchair. She leant down and pulled at the book. The Oxford Dictionary of First Names stared up at her. She opened the book and saw, in Terry’s handwriting, 

Merry Christmas Darling, how’s about Oliver for a boy and Olivia for a girl? Terry

Xxx’

The telephone rang, interrupting her grief. She let it ring. She knew it would be her own mother and she knew what she would say.

“How are you today?” and “Have you given any more thought to adoption?” and Emma would want to reply with, “How the hell do you think I am today? The same as I was yesterday, and the same as I’ll be tomorrow. And I want our baby, not someone else’s!” Finally the ringing stopped. 

A few seconds later, it started again.

“I need to get out of here,” Emma said quietly to herself, “I need to get out.”

She pushed herself up from the armchair and climbed the stairs as an old lady of ninety might. In the bathroom, she sat gingerly on the edge of the bath. She turned both taps on and poured bubble bath into the running water. She watched the bubbles form and burst. Gently, she stepped into the warm water and let the warmth run over her body. She lay back and watched the scar drown beneath the bubbles.

After she had rubbed herself dry with a soft towel, she dressed herself in a loose fitting dress. Within the hour, she was ready to venture out. She took a deep breath and let herself out onto the street. 

She had no idea where she was heading and let herself wander, taking each step cautiously,

until she found herself in the local park. She sat down on a bench exhausted, and watched the browning leaves fall from the trees around her.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, there was always IVF. But where would the money come from? Terry wanted to re-mortgage the house, do anything in fact, to raise the money. But how many times would they need to raise the money? IVF was no certainty; Mr Payne had made them well aware of that at the outpatient’s consultation last week.

Spits of rain began to tap on Emma’s head; she looked up into the greying sky.

Wrapping her coat around her. She got up from the bench and gingerly headed back home.

***

She knew it was there. It was on route to her house, well sort of, it just meant walking the long way home. She stood outside the gates. Parents were chatting amongst themselves, waiting for their precious children to come out to take them home. She stared into the playground, litter was blowing in all directions, an empty crisp packet caught in the netball net.

They came streaming out through the gates. Running up to their waiting parents, arms open, satchels slung around their necks. 

Emma knew one wouldn’t be running up to her. Ever.

Emma didn’t notice the rain had got heavier as she pushed the key into her front door. She sat down in the armchair fatigued, dripping wet and swayed from side to side.

*** 

Friday night was still a shopping night. That had not changed. They sat in silence as Terry swung the car into the supermarket car park. He turned off the engine and got out, walked around to Emma’s door and helped her out. Still in some discomfort, Emma smiled up at him. 

God how sorry she felt for him, more so than she felt for herself. Her heart ached for him. He seemed to have aged ten years in just ten weeks. His dark curls no longer shone, his bright blue eyes, no longer bright. A constant look of fatigue etched on his face.

Eventually he would leave her for someone who could give him what he longed for. She knew it and she dreaded it.

They wandered up and down each aisle, both tossing into the trolley their favourite things. Then they reached the ‘baby’ aisle. Terry pulled at the trolley and went straight on to the next aisle. He placed an arm around Emma.

They emptied the shopping onto the conveyor belt at the checkout and Terry saw a young woman walk towards them with a child sitting up in the trolley, she joined the queue. Terry smiled at the child and it began to cry. Emma swung her head around as if someone had called her name. The crying got louder. Terry looked the other way, watching a young man pay for his goods in front of him and Emma. The child’s crying turned into a scream. Emma looked at the mother of the screaming child.

“Can’t you shut it up?”

“What did you say?” frowned the young mother.

“I said! Shut it up!”

“Emm! Love, leave it,” Terry held onto Emma’s arm pushing her forward down the checkout.

“Well, I mean! If they can’t control them, they shouldn’t have them!” Emma flustered as Terry began to throw their shopping into carrier bags.

The child stopped screaming and gazed at Emma. Its tear-stained face broke into a smile. 

Emma flinched.

“That’s seventy-eight pounds and forty pence please.”

Terry handed the cashier the money as Emma held the child’s stare.

“Emma. Come on love.”

Emma snapped back into reality. She looked at the shopping, now piled back into the trolley all bagged up. How did that happen? Had they paid? She looked questioningly at Terry.

“It’s ok love. Come on.” He nodded his head toward the exit doors.

Emma turned back to the young mother, “I’m so sorry.”

Terry guided Emma through the checkout and out of the store.

Back in the house, unloading the shopping, Terry stopped passing items to Emma. She looked up at him from the fridge door.

“What?”

“Emm, I want you to think real hard about what I’m going to say, love. Real hard Ok?”

Emma took the carton of juice from his hands.

“What? What is it?”

Terry looked down at his feet and moved from one foot to the other, “I think it might be a good idea, worth thinking about anyway, that you…umm…seek some kind of help. Professional help I mean.”

The carton didn’t split open as it bounced off the floor.

Terry added, “It’s not uncommon you know? Loads of people seek professional help from the proper quarters at times like these,” he knelt down and picked up the carton of juice.

“See a shrink you mean!”

“No, not at all. I don’t mean…”

“You think I’m losing it? Going off my head?” Emma placed her hands on her hips, “And exactly what do you mean by times like these Terry?”

“Look Emm. It’s a suggestion Ok? I’m trying to salvage something out of this cruel blow. I know we can’t afford the IVF. I know that. I’m not stupid. But maybe one day…Look, all I’m saying is for God’s sake let’s not lose each other as well!”

It was enough. Emma faced him as they stood in their kitchen, realising the depth of one another’s pain and anguish.

***

“And so, I would like to finish off this pathetic attempt at a speech,” the crowd laughed, “by thanking my beautiful Emm for the past ten years. And for putting up with me and I want her to know, I am looking forward to the next ten!” The crowd got to their feet and clapped Terry as he bent down and kissed Emma.

The music started up again and the crowd took to the floor. Terry pulled at Emma’s chair and they too went to the dance floor. He wrapped his arms around Emma’s neck as they swayed to the music.

“I should be the one thanking you for putting up with me Terry,” Emma nuzzled into Terry’s shoulder, “All those years of hell I put you through.”

“It’s over now Emm. We got through it. Ok it took some time for us both to adjust, but we did it. I’m happy and healthy Emm, and as long as you are too, then we have all we need.”

“Seeing that psychiatrist made me realise something very important that I had missed.”

Terry stopped dancing and stood back and looked at Emma.

“You want to tell me what it was?”

Emma stared at him, “I got it wrong.”

He frowned at her, “Got what wrong?”

“I believed that having a child was a blessing. To be blessed, you know? But I was wrong, because it’s you. I’m blessed to have you."

© Amy Harte

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