There’s so much I want to tell you about Elsa; she really is a great big sister and a wonderful daughter, always patient, never ever cross with Anna, always looking for fun, she’s an amazing little artist, she has a wonderful singing voice, loves rainbows more than anything in the world, she’s a great joke teller, is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met and is generally a lover of life. Elsa is also extremely patient with me as I can’t always do the stuff that Elsa wants me to do, even if I’ve said I would, because sometimes events with Anna just take over and generally that’s when I’m trying to stop Anna doing something dangerous, where she could harm herself, for example, climbing the fence/trees/the outside of the banisters, when we are anywhere near open water or walking along the street. I know it won’t always be like this forever, and with the amazing progress Anna has made, life has definitely got easier, but there are still those times when I have to put Anna’s welfare first. Last weekend however, it was Elsa that I couldn’t keep out of harm’s way.
So there we were, after my sunny evening of Prosecco on Friday we were in to the bank holiday weekend. We had such a lovely weekend planned of doing fun things with the children, and for the rest of half term as well. I was looking forward to it, riding high on the relief of getting the right school for Anna.
Sunday afternoon we were setting up the paddling pool and I was upstairs getting changed. I suddenly heard my husband shouting what I thought was ‘No’ out in the garden and what I thought was Elsa laughing hysterically, and I presumed that Anna had turned the hose on them both, I even chuckled to myself as it wouldn’t be the first or the last time that Anna had done that. How wrong I could’ve been. It was my name that was being shouted and Elsa wasn’t laughing, she was screaming.
When I got to the back door, Elsa was standing there covered in blood and I had a horrible moment where I realised that Elsa had severed her finger. Without a second to spare I grabbed Elsa and a tea towel and wrapped her hand it in it and drove to the hospital. The weird thing was that Elsa only cried for about a minute, she was pretty silent, pale and very wobbly and I think that scared me the most. I gave Elsa a running commentary all the way to the hospital, I think if I fell silent I wouldn’t be able to hold it altogether so I rabbited on and on, and despite the fact that she asked me more than once why I was talking so much, I didn’t stop.
It was only when I heard the words ‘near total amputation’ that the reality of what had happened kicked in. But Elsa was so brave. There were no tears and no drama and she handled the situation with such dignity I felt so proud, whilst feeling terrified of what the next few hours, at least, would hold for her.
I’m renowned for having really random things in my bag, such as tie wraps, radiator keys, you name it at one point or another, and I’ve probably had it in there. So there I was sat in a cubical in A&E with Elsa making random snowflakes and curly snakes with a pair of scissors and pad of paper I found in my bag, anything to distract Elsa for a moment whilst the doctors and nurses were tending to her hand.
Elsa needed surgery and fast, so once my husband could join us, after having safely deposited Anna at Grandma’s, we transferred to St. George’s hospital in Tooting. My Dad always used to say that when my sister’s and I were little, you could guarantee that a visit to A&E would always be on a Sunday afternoon, and usually on a bank holiday weekend. He wasn’t wrong, the Children’s A&E department really was packed out, there were two children fighting over toys, another child projectile vomiting in all over the waiting room but never have I seen a child with a saucepan stuck on their heads, which for some reason I thought A&E was full of before I had children. Despite how busy they were, two plastic surgeons were ready and waiting to see us. You see, I’ve always known it, but I don’t think we hear it enough, our NHS is truly amazing. I honestly don’t know how it operates, seemingly in chaos, with the sheer volume of people it treats on a regular basis in an emergency situation, but I cannot fault the treatment that we received at either of the hospitals we visited. I’ve no idea how many hours the staff had worked already but they were relentless in the care that they gave us and absolutely wonderful when explaining to Elsa what was about to happen.
Elsa knew that she had to go to the theatre for surgery, but on the way in to theatre, she said ‘I’m not sure I really want all those people looking at me sitting in the seats whilst I’m up there’, we’d been to the ballet the week before at Wimbledon Theatre and Elsa thought it would be the same theatre. Out of the mouths of babes!
Elsa is the bravest little girl I have ever met. I’d held it together all day, I would’ve let her down completely if I’d been a sobbing mess, Elsa needed me to be strong, but as the anaesthetic started to take hold, and Elsa’s eyes started to roll, and the anaesthetist uttered the words ‘she won’t be aware of you anymore’ I lost the ability to be the strong one and I crumbled. I don’t think anything can prepare you for that moment, the feeling that everything is suddenly out of your hands, you feel so helpless and the waiting game begins.
I’m not good at waiting for anything, so I think I probably wore my shoes down pacing the corridors that night, I always thought it was a myth, but when there’s nothing to do, the only thing to do is to keep moving. But oh the relief when we were called back in and Elsa were starting to come round. One of the first things she said was that she wanted to see her ‘perfect’ sister, which was Elsa’s main priority, despite everything that had happened to her and how she felt; all she wanted was to see her sister. In that moment everything fell in to perspective. Elsa was safe. She was disorientated and vulnerable, but she was safe.
Elsa spent the night in hospital and at 2am she was sitting up in bed, being offered a very special choice of what she wanted to eat and 5 minutes later she was eating jam on toast and a pot of jelly. Elsa couldn’t believe it and she made sure that the nurse knew that this really was the ‘best midnight feast ever’. You see Elsa is a rainbow chaser, she seeks the light even at the most difficult of times, no matter what is going on, she finds the good in everything, never stays fed up for long and is back on a mission to find some fun.
There was a huge thunderstorm raging outside and at 5 floors up, we had ringside seats and Elsa was absolutely fascinated. After a few chapters of the Magic Faraway Tree, Elsa finally drifted off in to a fitful sleep at 3am, but I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t switch off so I sat up with a cup of tea and watched Elsa sleeping and the storm outside raging.
In the darkness, my thoughts suddenly turned to the events of the previous week in Manchester and all those children who won’t be going home and all of those who are still in hospital. It seems impossible to me to fathom the spectrum that we live in; whilst some people are hell bent on ending the lives of others, there are those extremely brave individuals who make it their purpose in life to do all they can to keep others alive. I have always had the utmost admiration for first responders, everybody in the emergency services and those who work in our hospitals.
The ward was busy and noisy with all sorts of ages of children being tended to throughout the night and the staff worked relentlessly to make sure everyone was comfortable. It made me think of all the parents and children that spend more nights at hospital than they ever do at home, keeping an endless vigil over their poorly children. Children that have had more operations and general anaesthetics than they can keep count of. I’ve always been amazed at the strength of parents in such situations, but I also know I’d do the same in a heartbeat.
It’s often the positive attitude of children in such adverse circumstances that I find so overwhelming. Children are far more resilient than we often give them credit for. Elsa has always been older than her years, but she handled everything in such a grown-up manner I find myself having to constantly remind myself that she is only 6 years old. The only time she got really upset was when it suddenly dawned on her that she may not be able to draw for a while, and it’s her most favourite thing to do in the whole world.
Thankfully we came back home on Monday and only time will tell if the operation has worked or not, there’s a 50% chance it will and so we hope for the best. So we’re home, Elsa is in good spirits now and we’ve had a good half term, albeit completely different from the one we’d had planned.
It’s certainly another experience to add to our roller coaster of a life this past year. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s to roll with the waves, because if I tried to continually swim against them I’d be wasting valuable energy. You have to roll with them, not to the point of consumption, but in the knowledge that there will always be a moment, however brief of respite, whilst you gather yourself together and brace for the next wave. Sometimes the length between the waves is longer and sometimes it’s relentless. That’s life, plain and simple. Not sugar coated, rose tinted or like a fairy tale. Life isn’t straight forward, it’s messy, it’s complicated and often bewildering and sometimes just plain hard, but I’ve learnt to keep it all in perspective and take a leaf out of Elsa’s book and chase rainbows wherever and whenever possible.