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Waiting For The Inevitable

Although I normally sleep soundly I didn't that night. My conscious and my subconscious were both still working at trying to take it all in. It was very comforting laying next to Anne, able to put my arm across here and kiss her cheek but the hard reality of it was that I was waiting for her to die. Every time I woke up I would look at her face, listen to her breathing and every time there was no perceptible change. She didn't have any need of life support for the time being. The nurses were exceptionally kind checking on me as well as Anne, making sure I was comfortable, one of them saying she didn't think she would fade away in those crucial first two hours despite what the surgeon thought. We agreed she was a tough old girl and wasn't going out of this world without a fight.

So it continued for two more nights. I spent the Monday and Tuesday nights in a chair beside the bed trying to sleep upright despite having never been able to sleep on my back but wanting to make sure Anne was never alone, sometimes one of the boys would join me, for 4 hours I slept in a room at the side while Martin or was it Rich kept the night watch. There was little change. I had the idea Anne would die and I could go back to Woolacombe to sit out at the front of the house looking over to the sea and hills we both loved and I could find the peace to try and come to terms with what had happened for a few days. As time passed I began to think about having to return to The Quest on the Friday, which we were due to leave at 10am, pack up Anne's and my belongings and return to Plymouth. I was uneasy at the prospect of having to leave the hospital for up to six hours.

Meanwhile there were day to day needs and, in the case of nicotine requirement, hourly ones. From 10pm to 6am the hospital front door was locked. It was easy enough to get out but getting back in was another matter. This was not helped by the lumbering security guard Mr William Goat-Gruff. Mr G-G was a keen pastie man as is common in Devon, he was famous for his position at the front of the queue at the hospital bakers every morning for his favourite local delicacy. When you get to control the front door this is easily manipulated. But when it came to letting people in over the night he was far less keen and fleet of foot. he would see my face at the door, give me a look common to dog walkers when they discover somebody else hasn't cleared up the mess in the main thoroughfare, and very reluctantly leave his tabloid, ITV Quiz and stand in front of the door to let me in. He obviously wanted a magic button to open the door, I wished he had one, but there was no such facility and so we became sworn enemies at a time I had a new love for my fellow man and tolerance for any indiscretions. Fortunately our battle of wills only lasted for two nights, after which I discovered there was a little outdoor area accessible from the wards where cigarettes could be smoked and mobile phones used, The Japanese Garden prevented fisticuffs. I spoke with one of the nurses about this unpleasant man. She told me that a few monthss back he had to have some blood tests. One of the nurses asked a colleague how he had got on and was told it was bad news, he was Ginsters positive.

Meanwhile, back at the car, 3 dogs were having to put up with very poor conditions. A Peugeot 407 SW has a fair bit of room but it was a very hot May in 2008 and they were used to having a house to roam and regular exercise. Chris from the transplant team had very kindly printed me a map of the area highlighting good dog walks and so I headed up to Dartmoor, Plymouth Hoe and other beauty spots at various times of the day or night where they could run around and waggle their tails. Anne's dogs seemed a bit puzzled as to why it was just me taking them out but once they got the smell of a Dartmoor pony or rabbit all seemed right with them. These times away from the machines that go ping were invaluable for me, trying to make sense of how something so apparently trivial had ended up this way. The early morning sun and wind up on the moor or along the water front was harsh and my heightened senses felt everything but I was still able to see beauty in new places and knew that life could still be good, it hadn't suddenly stopped. Throughout the days in Plymouth the dogs lived in the back of the car uncomplaining, grateful for treats, never barking or chewing in frustration or unhappiness.

One morning as I was about to walk into a lift in the hospital a man emerged wearing a pink vest with a rather splendid moustache. I tried not to laugh in his face and thought I must tell Anne I've just seen the only gay in the hospital, that being the kind of joke she would labour endlessly and share with everybody she saw for the next day or so. But I couldn't, it really hit home how hard it would be to realise that the one person in the world who seemed to share my sense of humour so completely was unable to do so any longer.

I had no spare clothes with me and so I went on a 4am shopping trip to Tesco for T shirts, socks and pants. I decided to pick up two sets of boules for £25. We had seen an identical set for £40 in Bristol on the way to Devon and Anne and I both loved a bargain. One of the kindest nurses in HDU reminded me very much of Sir Walter Raleigh in his physique and impressive Elizabethan beard so I referred to him as Sir Walter out of ear shot. Later that morning I mentioned to Linda my strange purchase. Being of the same mind set as Anne she immediately suggested my sub-conscious intention must have been to challenge Sir Walter to a game of boules on The Hoe. I laughed and laughed.

By the Wednesday Anne's condition had changed slightly. I would put my face up to her mouth and listen to her breathing and had got to know the patterns. There were times when the nurses thought, from experience, she was fading, then it would resume its steady rhythm. But that day it seemed a little shallower, her strength seemed to be fading. That night it was the Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, a game that promised to be a cracker, a special night in English football history. The reality was an apparently tedious game I had no real interest in and would leave every ten minutes or so to check up on Anne. I would look at the screen of the tiny portable but not really see anything, I just couldn't engage my emotions with something so unimportant.

The game over I sat next to the bed with the others, Martin rested his laptop on Anne and we watched the last two episodes of the second series of Gavin and Stacey. Anne and I had watched the very last episode several times together, the finest 30 minutes of British TV comedy ever. It might have looked rather irreverent to onlookers seeing us laughing away over Anne's declining body. But it was right, we needed to share that feeling of laughter over the Essex people's unwitting humour and potential for distraction in urgent situations one more time with Anne. I saw things in that last episode I had never noticed before, found more subtleties, all the while feeling Anne was sharing them with me. That far corner of the ward was full of the kind of feelings we always had together and when Smithy saw the baby and Nessa gave him that deep, loving look I cried and squeezed Anne's hand even tighter.

Gradually the others went off to settle down for another night. I spoke with the nurses and they believed that if Anne had any consciousness at this point she appeared to be suffering. her breathing was changing and we could hear labouring in her chest movement. A doctor came along and we decided we should give her morphine to prevent her from suffering, over the next hour they administered more in the full knowledge that this would ease her on her way.

The breathing turned into a regular noise that could only be described as sounding like a goose, Adam always called her Goose after Mother Goose, this was one last thing to laugh with Anne about. The noise got stronger, it was upsetting to hear, more morphine was administered, the nurse with me knew there wasn't much longer to go which I had already sensed. Just after 1am she would stop breathing for a few seconds, then start again. I would try and hold her without preventing her from breathing, keeping my head close to hers all the while the goose noise rising and fading. At 1.22am on the 22nd May 2009 there were a few softer breaths then it stopped. I held her spread across, told her one more time how much I loved her and felt the last warmth from her body. Then over a minute later she let out one last, loud breath which shocked me, then made me laugh at how she had fooled me. Anne had made me laugh one last time in her final ever breath.

Anne's Eulogy

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  1. So well written as always and the love you have for that lovely lady will live on ..Made me think of my loved ones that have passed 🙁 . Ikki_oo

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