When Wriggles was very sick (one of the many times) at around 21 months old and ended up going home tube feeding, I remember our consultant sitting down with us at some ungodly hour in the morning as he was working through the night after his shift had ended trying to keep us out of PICU, which he succeeded in by the skin of his teeth.
"This will rock your confidence as a parent," he told me softly.
He was full of empathy-as a senior specialist consultant he had seen our situation too many times before, held the hands of so many parents and was so well practised in delivering news, good, bad and wait-and-see. He might not know what it was like to be on our side, but he did see us parents pale and aghast in our pyjamas, he saw us hysterical, terrified and for us lucky ones he would see us dancing on air when discharge finally rolled around, albeit sometimes going home with more equipment than we had gone in with. He knew stories like ours only too well and whilst he was the first to admit magic answers are few and far between he did have better knowledge and instincts than some.
He was right, in a way. It did shake me, but the truth was that life goes on. I had to get to grips with tube feeding very quickly which was rather consuming and for the next few months that took over our lives. Wriggles recovered from her umpteenth respiratory infection and went back to cruising the furniture as if none of it had happened. We came and went to Outpatients and had a few more admissions after she began struggling with an unspecified virus but nothing like on that occasion or the times before.
What neither I or our consultant could have foreseen was that she would get that ill again, and not just that ill, but far worse and wind back up in PICU aged 3 years old. November 2013 passed by in a daze and when we got home, I was too full of adrenaline to even begin to process it and too consumed with caring for a little girl still very weak from being so poorly. We got caught up in the whirlwind of Christmas and I began to think maybe I was just that good at getting on with life that I had moved on from the admission and that my rational brain knew that now we were out of hospital and back to full strength, that was all that mattered.
Of course, that is what matters. But life, and the human brain, is not that simple. Bad memories do not just neatly file themselves away and sit there locked in a box unless told otherwise. At the end of January, Wriggles started to cough. She started to become ill. I nervously clocked up the increasing frequency we were using inhalers and took her temperature hourly, loading as much Calpol as I could down her tube. As I rocked her daily whilst she tried to catch her breath between coughing, I was consumed with an onslaught of memories of the amount of times we had been in this position before. Uncalled for memories flashed in front of my eyes, ambulances, resus, nebulisers, feeling sick with fear, pacing hospital corridors, midnight dashes to a&e, medical jargon, drugs, more drugs, mounting terror that my baby was ill... No matter how many times I told myself that she wasn't a baby anymore, that this was just a cold, that things change, things are different, I just couldn't shake off that feeling of fear that something was wrong; that we had seen this too many times before. The moments I wasn't looking after her or feeling dreadful myself were spent trying to battle through what felt like an indefinite fog of flashbacks to fraught days and nights. The past, it appears, is never really too far away.
And it is now that I think of his words, first said to me over eighteen months ago. So much has happened, good and bad, but it feels like they are coming home to roost. The anxiety I once felt and thought I had conquered is looming in the corner of the room like a grotesque spectre. I question things I do; things I don't do. When I think of the present and future I feel overwhelmed at the uncertainty then instantly selfish when others cope with far more. Where as a few weeks ago, I accepted them blithely saying that our recent PICU was just "bad luck, one of those things", at this moment I can't trust that. The rational part of my brain is trying to be pragmatic and reasonable but feels like it is getting shouted down. Even as the cold is subsiding, the comfort I get when I hold Wriggles close is tarred by the faint wheeze my ears catch.
Lets just get back to normal, rational brain says, it will be easier then.
And a voice echoes, but who knows what normal ever is?