Before all this kicked off we took Thomas & Mia, in-vitro, on our annual family holiday. This year we had decided to navigate the Cheshire ring on a narrow boat, something none of us had ever done before. As usual for me, I had planned an itinerary that was in hindsight too much. In order to complete a successful navigation of “The Ring” we had to reach a certain point by nightfall each day or our mission would fail.
We collected the boat at around 2pm one late Sunday in August but by the time we were allowed to get going on our own, it was pushing 5 O’clock. We set off at full speed (4mph) and made good headway. As the captain I started to get a feel for the boat and pushed my luck cranking it up to a scary 4.5mph. Then 2 hours in we came to our first lock which was unfortunately set against us. We moored up and took a good look around scratching our heads. Although we had done the lock drill we were scared and nervous. We decided to wait until a boat came along and maybe a more experienced boater would help us through. No-one came and dusk fell and we stayed there staring at this seemingly unbreachable barrier. As the light finally failed us we retired for the night defeated, desolate and with frayed tempers. We may just as well have been facing the doors to Mordor, our voyage seemed doomed.
On Tuesday 16th October, my strength finally ran out. I was fed up of driving to hospitals. I was fed up of seeing little Tommy have setback upon setback. I was fed up of feeling useless and a spectator as the wonderful people kept our tiny children alive. I woke up with an upset tummy hoping it was merely indigestion as a bug would almost certainly mean I shouldn’t visit the twins. Jo dropped Lilly at playgroup and headed off to the hospital. I stayed in bed watching Jeremy Kyle and Homes under the hammer feeling sorry for myself and more than a little miserable.
Eventually my Imodium, Paracetamol & Ibuprofen kicked in and after a few gassy exchanges and a hot shower, I felt well enough to attempt a visit. When I got to the hospital it was a pretty poor show on my part. The play worker, Helen, took Lilly off and I sat in the anteroom with a brew, failing to do the Times crossword again. As I improved I eventually made it through to see the twins but endeavoured not to hold either of their tiny hands in case I was catching. Tommy had gone back onto his oscillator for ventilation which has the distressing side effect of vibrating his entire skeletal frame. By now we knew he was in the throws of a pretty bad infection and we had discussed ”outcomes” again on Monday with the consultant. Although this conversation was positive, it was visually clear he wasn’t doing very well. Internally I began to fear the worse.
In a vain attempt at normal life we returned home for sausages. Upset at what we had both seen, plans were made for Lilly to have a sleepover at Grandmas no 6 whilst Jo and I would return to the hospital to keep watch over Thomas and Mia. As is our new routine, Jo rang the unit to check on Thomas only to discover that this time they were about to ring us.
An X-ray had determined the source of his discomfort to be a ruptured bowel. It had to be operated on and it had to be operated on soon. Bolton doesn’t have a specialist neonatal surgical team so he would have to be transported to St Marys in Manchester. We were frightened but as always the medical presentations made by the doctors were clinically precise. His viability was being severely compromised, this had to happen. When the transport team arrived it became clear that they are the Marines of neonatal nurses. The qualifying criteria for this special branch was to parachute in behind enemy lines and bring back hostage neonatal babies back alive or possibly a special exam I told myself. Immediately they got to work, their reassurances seemed to come with an ounce of bravado. “Call that a sick baby?”, “We’ve seen worse!”. We liked the cut of their jibs.
Soon Thomas was loaded into the battery powered Travelubator ® and stabilised. We followed them out to the ambulance where a significant amount of crying between me and Jo may have occurred. “We drive fast but steady, don’t try to tailgate us” said the marines and with that they were on their way to St Marys. The brown-mobile readied we managed to keep within eye contact until we hit the end of the M602, then like moses crossing the Red Sea (except for the sirens and flashing lights) they cut a path through the mild traffic leaving us in their wake. At The Campanile we finally lost sight of our son.
Having already spent more tax than we have ever paid in via your NHS, the sheer magnificence of St Marys still came as a shock. This brand spanking new purpose built cathedral of health is simply stunning. I paused momentarily to admire the terracotta tiled exterior, seen previously on last weeks Grand Designs riverside project. We admired the sculpture and the gawped at the outpatients department and its many child occupation devices. The gut feeling was one of we are in the right bloody place.
By the time we arrived at Thomas’s new home, it was the wrong side of midnight. He was not only unscathed by the journey he was positively revelling in the attention he was getting, flirting outrageously with the nurses. For the first time in nearly a week he looked happy and settled. We met the Italian surgeon who was on shift and putting my recent Alfa Romeo experience to one side, we were instantly reassured. “We doa this kinda stuffa all of de tima”, said Dr Antonini adjusting his Armani gowns, “You are in de a righta place”. The relief was unbelievable. (Apologies for casual racial stereotyping)
Ronald MacDonald House being full, we were shown to our bed in the Phil & Julie Neville suite and retired for the evening, surprisingly relaxed.
The next day commenced with a chat with the surgical team who presented what they were going to do, what they might find and the associated risks. When Jo broached the subject of death, the response was a kind of, “Oh we hadn’t considered that, well I suppose it could happen but unlikely…”. This was what we needed to hear. And that was that really. Thomas was readied, we said goodbye, more tears flowed and then he was off to theatre. (Timescale compressed for storytelling reasons). We went for a walk, ate, drank, slept. Then at around 15.15 came a knock on our door. Thomas’s operation was over and the surgeon wanted to speak to us in private.
The short walk to the counselling room was the longest walk of my life. Every eventuality entered my brain then holding tightly to Jo the atmosphere was punctured with a “He’s fine” from the surgeon. An extensive Q&A followed but the the upshot is he had some holes in his bowel and a blockage. They tried to clear this obstruction but it ruptured so they hacked out the bad bits and patched it all up. Basic plumbing really. Thomas shouldn’t ever miss the bit he’s lost and the body will hopefully recover fully. Obviously buggering about with a baby this small is never risk free and the operation and how he deals with it may reduce his survival rates and have an effect of his long term health. The big news is though its day 13 and he is still alive and kicking, another potential serious hurdle dealt with.
Now before all this unnecessary madness manifested itself logistics were already tricky. With this turn of events they became a bloody nightmare. Thomas will remain at St Marys for at least a fortnight. Mia is of course in Bolton hospital, 16.5 miles from her brother which is up to 1 million heartbeats away in twintime® (depending on traffic). We live in Bromley Cross, Lilly goes to Eagley Infants and we have barely seen James for a fortnight. The money is running out, so I need to return to making hand crafted television sooner rather than later and my parents fly out to the middle east next week to visit my uncle John, my mothers brother, on a long planned trip. Jo has risen to the challenge as always and we have produced a paper schedule which appears to function. A further layer of complication is added as Jo can never be more than 3 hours away from an electric breast pump and a milk freezer as she is responsible for producing the marvellous medicine which will eventually take Thomas and Mia back to full health.
We have a lot on our plates it seems but it’s not the first time we have accepted a hardy challenge.
The following morning on “The Ring”, we arose early, took on that the gates to Mordor and nailed it first time. Over the course of the next 7 days we navigated 92 locks including the notorious Marple Flight which has ended the dreams of many lesser crews. We travelled over one hundred miles and took our boat through the heart of Manchester. We grounded the boat in Monton, removing ten tons of shit from the propellor along the way but the important point is we returned it back safely and on time, stronger for the experience and all changed for ever in immeasurable ways. When The Bolton Browns are faced with dilemmas and problems we sometimes get a little down, we sometimes look at them and think how will we get through this? But we ALWAYS get up fighting and life will NEVER defeat us. That said, if Thomas and Mia are somehow sentient enough to read this blog, 3 months of stable cruising will suit us just fine, love Mummy and Daddy x
Thank you all again for you kind words and support, especially The Nevilles and all those who donated to help make St Marys & our NHS something we can all be proud of. Lots of love Ian, Jo, James, Lilly, Thomas & Mia x x x