My short stories are what they say on the tin. Short.
Sometimes, really short.
A few hundred words. Maybe fifteen hundred on a good day.
And they are also stories. As in made up.
Often I write about creepy, freaky, scary kids.
This story is about a kid.
But this one is true.
It’s about one of my kids.
And it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever written.
From my point of view, anyway.
Let me tell you a story.
I have poisoned my youngest son.
I’ve reached this conclusion very hastily, yes.
But the pieces fit.
See, no one gets up in the morning before me unless something is very wrong. And when I come down first thing to find the lights in the kitchen on in broad daylight and no one up and about, something is most definitely wrong.
For a few hours yet, I won’t know just how wrong that something is.
You see, this is a story of excuses, and how your denial of what is staring you subconsciously in the face can be explained away and diverted, if you want to stick your head deep enough in the sand or far enough up your own arse.
So, anyway, back to the Marie Celeste kitchen situation, with no one on board on a sweltering May Bank Holiday Monday morning.
Or May Day as we call it in Ireland.
As in mayday mayday, we are going down.
But before going down, I go back upstairs, to figure out who has been downstairs before me.
Prime suspect? My wife. Vivienne. Who meets me on the landing, not to confirm my suspicion but to tell me that Kane has been sick and was up during the night throwing up.
Kane. Our youngest. Of three, Separated by three and a half years from his brother, Erik, and one minute from his twin, according to the birth certificate.
My wife got to name his sister and opted for Freya – the Nordic Goddess of Love. I got to christen him and, for a laugh, went for the name of the evil twin, choosing not the biblical brother’s spelling, but The Undertaker’s brother’s one instead.
Couldn’t be further from the truth.
Not to say it’s the other way round.
But I digress.
So, yeah, shit. My initial internal response, quickly followed up by I’ve poisoned him. This has been an unseasonally, un-Ireland-ly, if we’re honest, scorcher of a weekend. And we have swapped our usual Saturday and Sunday indoor dinners – because we’re a family of creatures of habit – for outdoor grills of hamburgers and chicken.
Every time I barbeque, there’s a touch of paranoia. Am I cooking these enough? Am I burning them, is this chicken raw, is it even cooked at all? And so far, I keep getting away with it. But on this Monday morning, when a child who never gets sick, who is so averse to vomiting that he will swallow it down, who has the ability to stay absolutely still and calm and will any nausea to just leave his body, who is now on all fours on the bathroom floor in front of me, well of course I think my luck has finally run out.
I’ve poisoned him.
Already feeling guilty enough, and not wanting to publicly incriminate myself or point the finger of shame at myself, I stay with him until he thinks the demons have left his body and I help him to his feet, and in turn to his bed, where he keels over on to the mattress like a felled tree.
He’s exhausted by his stomach gymnastics and just wants to sleep now, so we leave him to it. But next time Vivienne looks in on him, his stomach pain has been replaced by a massive headache, and he is whiter than the bedsheets he’s sweating into, looking as drained as E.T. when Elliot finds him at the culvert.
That’s when we put two and two together and come up with nine.
Kane’s always been a divil for not drinking water and keeping himself hydrated when it’s hot the way it has been this weekend. He’s had heatstroke before and this is the way it manifests. So, that’s what we need to do, pump him with water after the fact.
Vivienne feels his forehead and he’s roasting. Well of course he is. It’s the old heatstroke, isn’t it? I nip out to the pharmacist and grab a bottle of Nurofen, dose him with a man-sized dose for a man-sized kid, and we try tuck him in for a reanimating snooze again.
It seems to do the trick.
We’re back out in the garden enjoying the Bank Holiday sun when, miracle of miracles, Kane ambles out into the garden a couple of hours later, still in his pyjamas, still a whiter shade of pale, but feeling like he might be able to eat something. Well it is almost two in the afternoon and he hasn’t had any breakfast yet. So that’s what he has. His breakfast. In the form of a bowl of corn flakes that he works hard on for half an hour at the patio table.
But it’s too hot out here to eat. And the chairs out on the patio, they’re metal and he just can’t get comfortable on them. He stretches his shoulders and arches his back, trying to work out the ache.
“My back hurts,” he says.
“That’s all the puking you did this morning,” I say.
His back isn’t the only thing worrying him.
“I don’t think you’ll be going into school in the morning,” Vivienne says.
“What about my essay? It’s due in.”
“What about it? You should be thanking us. You haven’t even started it. Use the day off we’re giving you to do a good job on it. What you need now is a good night’s sleep.”
Indifferent, he gets up and heads into the living room and the cool shelter of the shade within
I lower my voice and say to Vivienne, “I wonder if that’s half the reason he’s like this, got himself into a state worrying over this essay.”
“And it’s made him sick? Sick as this? Maybe,” she says.
I find him a few minutes later, on my way to the kitchen with his half-eaten breakfast, crashed out on the sofa, his eyes in that are-they-open-or-are-they-closed limbo state and looking not at all comfortable, but in a position that seems to be working for him.
In the kitchen, after loading the dishwasher, I get sucked into a YouTube wormhole of tailgaters vs brake-checkers compilations. Next time I pass through the living room, to reclaim the reclining chair Vivienne has abandoned out in the sun, the only sign of Kane in the living room is the dent he’s left in the leather upholstery.
He hasn’t gone far though. The extractor fan is humming away in the downstairs bathroom. I can’t hear the usual soundtrack of UFC fight replays, but he’s in there for ages, which is normal, so I presume he’s on the road to recovery.
What I won’t discover for about another week and a half is that on the other side of that door, he’s not dreaming about being the next Conor McGregor, but contemplating death, and that the feeling of dread building inside of him is so strong, some force is giving him the idea that immediate death will be a better alternative to the experience he is about to have.
But I do not know any of that. So, I keep on right past the bathroom and head back to the garden again, pulling the chair across the grass, putting myself in an ideal position to squeeze the most I can out of the available remaining sunshine before it ducks down in front of the house and leaves us in shadow.
Life is good.
The only thing that crosses my mind now is the thought we can’t, and I won’t, I can’t, face another burger for dinner. I’m staring down the other end of the garden at the barbeque, contemplating cleaning it, but more contemplating covering it up and letting whatever is beneath the hood fester until I can nuke it next time we cook. That’s when Kane’s bedroom window swings open and Vivienne swings out of it like King Kong hanging onto the antenna atop the Empire State Building. “Can you come up here and take a look at something?” she asks.
I lumber into the house half-blind from the sunlight and only regain my vision as I make it to the top of the stairs.
Kane is in bed.
Quite how he made it back up here we will later think impossible.
“I want you to look at something,” Vivienne says. This usually refers to a handbag she’s trying to talk herself into or out of buying. Because nine times out of ten, I’ll ask her why, when she knows she’s only going to stick the thing up on eBay two days after buying it when the guilts hit.
But it’s not her phone she’s showing me. It’s Kane’s size 10s. His feet are sticking out from under the end of the duvet and she’s pointing at the marks on their soles.
“What are they? she says.
Kane’s not asleep, but his eyes are closed. Tightly. He’s in discomfort. Not interested in anything we’re up to, or curious as to what we’re doing in his room. He knows we’re there though, asks if we can close his bedroom door, that the sunlight coming through the window from the front of the house, across the landing, is hurting his eyes.
I do so, and then kneel down at the end of the bed to look at his feet, as Vivienne peels back the duvet and discovers more of these strange marks around his ankles. To me they look like pinch bruises. If you’ve ever caught the side of your thumb or index finger in a pliers then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Purple-coloured, pin-prick spots. Stupidly, or maybe not, I reach for the phone and look for similar images, quickly finding something that looks exactly like these things.
Apparently they’re a sign of leukaemia. But I keep my mouth shut. No way am I saying that out loud.
Either Vivienne has read into the expression on my face, or the contorted one on Kane’s. “We have to ring the doctor.”
I want to say no, am even forming the word on my lips.
Mostly, dumb hubris.
Our kids are eighteen, fourteen and fourteen. They have been to the GP a combined total of eight times. Of those, I remember one case of infant thrush, one of a five-year-old with tonsillitis, one skin tag, a couple of visits over teenage acne and I think a chest infection at some point around a decade ago.
As a rule, our kids don’t get sick.
And that rule was being tested.
“We have to call a doctor,” Vivienne said again, reading my displeasure and reluctance.
Getting hold of a doctor on a bank holiday is difficult. Especially when you’re not a regular patient of theirs. There are out-of-hours emergency GP services you can contact, but for some dumb reason each of them is linked to a practicing practitioner in the area and will not see you unless you’re a patient of record.
Which we are not.
Which means they listen to the symptoms we list in turn, make lots of thinking-out-loud noises, and then tell us to call them back if we have no luck with anyone else, that as he has what they term “a rash”, it might be worth them seeing him if all else fails.
It is 6pm now.
Two more phone calls to numbers that don’t pick up, then finally the jaded admin at an out-of-hours clinic in Naas, thirty minutes away, says that they might be able to see Kane at around 9pm, but to head up with him now, again making a tick-box reference to the rash and that maybe one of the doctors out there can take a quick look at it, see if it’s anything serious.
Kane is now asleep, his lips the same grey, blue complexion as his skin. But Vivienne overhears what the nurse on the line says and this makes her somewhat happy.
She gives Kane’s shoulder a little shake, as if she’s waking up a 5-year-old version of him for school. He has no idea what’s going on. We prop him up in the bed and tell him that we’re going to bring him to see the doctor, that they’ll see us now, that we need to get him dressed.
Usually, as with any fourteen-year-old boy, the prospect of being dressed by his parents should send him into apoplectic spasm, but he submits readily. I help him to his feet while his mam peels off his pyjama bottoms and guides his feet into a fresh pair of boxer shorts. He’s the same height as me, almost, and we’re face to face. So I have a very good view of his eyes rolling back in his head and said head flopping onto my shoulder. He collapses like a Jenga tower, slipping through my grasp and crashing to the bedroom floor.
I am speechless.
As is his mother.
I think I see him twitch, like he’s having some kind of seizure. But then he opens his eyes. There is confusion in them; he’s asking himself what the hell he’s doing on his bedroom floor with his underwear at half-mast and wondering how he got there.
Vivienne doesn’t ask about calling an ambulance. By the time I cop what she is doing, she is already talking to an operator who is going through the rundown of symptoms and asking her to stay on the line, explaining to her that there is one near the M50, twenty minutes away and now en route. In the meantime a first responder will be with us to ascertain the situation.
His arrival is heralded by Freya, who is watching the corner that leads to our street like a hawk.
I let the guy in, directing him to Kane’s bedroom and my son still lying on the floor where he went down. The paramedic orders him up off the floor, which I think is a bit strong. Must be his bullshit filter, I conclude. Kane tries to oblige, but it’s not going to happen. It takes the two of us to get him into a sitting position, where Vivienne goes through everything again with the medic, showing him the rash, and discovers how much more widespread it’s gotten in the last ten minutes. The ambulance itself arrives not long after and we wonder why none of them have bothered bringing any bags or first aid kits or anything else up the stairs with them.
They do not confer for long.
It takes the three of them to help Kane down the stairs and out to the ambulance. It’s double-parked outside our house and has attracted the attention of many neighbours, who have been drawn towards the siren and the flashing lights like it is a fucking ice cream van.
Only one of us is allowed into the ambulance with our son and I do not hesitate in stepping aside and helping Vivienne up the steps into the back, where they are already at work bursting open packs and prepping his arms for a battery of needles they are lining up like ammunition.
I vaguely understand the document I am being asked to sign and ask them what the hell we are dealing with.
“We don’t know. We can’t be sure,” the first guy who showed up says, “but he’s showing all the signs of meningitis. So we’re going to treat it like that’s exactly what it is.”
“Okay,” I think we both say, matter of fact, as if he’s told us our gas boiler is on the blink and that he’s going to try tighten this bolt to see if it will do the trick.
It’s twenty minutes more before the driver announces that they’re heading to the hospital with him, Crumlin Children’s Hospital, now. I fish my car keys out of my pocket and he tells me not to follow them, to give them a five or ten minute head start, that if I was to crash in my haste to keep up with them, they would be compelled to stop and come to my aid.
Vivienne goes with Kane and I retreat into the house before the onlookers can swoop in like vultures and peck at me for information. Or maybe I’m reading these people all wrong.
I can’t or won’t or don’t offer much up to Erik and Freya about what is going on. I hardly know, myself. All I know is that I will be heading to the hospital soon and that I will not be making dinner after all. Bizarrely I find some kind of comfort in that. I am cashless, so ask Erik to raid his wallet and order Chinese in.
All the way to the hospital, I am on autopilot. Listening to the radio. Not driving too fast. Going on as if all is well. I do have the presence of mind to call the clinic in Naas and tell them we are on our way to Crumlin and that it looks like Kane has meningitis. They want to thank me for the update. I want to say fuck you and thanks for nothing.
All the way to Crumlin I picture myself in the position of supportive husband, being there for Vivienne and holding her hand, doing all I can to be there for her. But when I arrive into the emergency room where she sits calmly, where ten medics are sticking needles into every one of Kane’s limbs, searching for veins in his hands and feet, inserting lines into his carotid and femoral arteries, I am the one who breaks down, crying in a way I haven’t since-
I can’t remember.
I don’t cry.
Except for goofy shit, like Spock’s death at the end of The Wrath of Khan or the during the lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Thank God we came in the ambulance, I think. “Did you see the waiting room out there?” I say to Vivienne. “Packed”. The scars of Bank Holiday shenanigans and the scourge of waiting times in Irish hospitals.
We watch for twenty minutes, listening to everything and hearing nothing as nurse after doctor – we later discover the ones we thought were nurses were doctors and vice versa – tell us what they are doing and that they are still not one hundred per cent that it’s meningitis they are dealing with. They are taking vial after vial of blood out of Kane and he is awake the whole time answering all their questions lucidly.
It will dawn on us in the coming days how very little we, as in we parents in general, know about meningitis. We’ve all heard about the symptoms – the neck pain, the sensitivity to light, the headaches, the rash (some of us don’t piece them together until it’s almost too late) – but we know fuck all about what that the infection is actually doing.
But we’re about to find out.
It seems to be all going swimmingly here in the emergency room – one of the nurses or doctors or doctors or nurses has mentioned a couple of days’ stay, maybe four, in the hospital at least – when a new doctor enters the room.
And now I know things are about to head south.
Unlike the rest of them in their scrubs and trainers or overalls and aprons, she has on a bright summery, flowery dress and is talking about where she was with her kids and family when she got the call.
She got the call to come in on her bank holiday off with her family.
Someone fills her in on who we are and she glances in our direction a couple of times. She comes says hello and then flits around reading charts and whispering in people’s ears and having them whisper in hers.
Ten minutes pass, then she asks if she can have a word, guiding us through the door and out into the hall.
The conversation she has with us is one-sided. When she asks us if we understand, we say that we do, even when we don’t. Some sentences, she doesn’t finish, signalling with her eyes for us to read between the lines.
The one-sided conversation goes a little something like this:
“We are 99.9% certain that Kane has meningococcal septicaemia.”
So some form of meningitis I think, like they said.
The “ococcal” bit makes me think of streptococcal, so some pretty nasty infection. And I know septicaemia is not good. Blood poisoning, I’m pretty sure.
“It’s the most serious form of meningitis,” she says.
“Okay,” we both say, nodding.
It’s all we’re qualified to do.
“I know this is going to sound strange, with him in there sitting up, conscious and answering questions, but he is very sick.”
We’re still nodding. She looks between us and leans forward, lowering her voice. “He is very, very sick.” She pauses. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I know exactly what she is saying, and manage to say yes, even though my bottom lip is trembling uncontrollably.
“I know this doesn’t make sense right now,” she says. “But what happens, especially with children, is that they maintain.” She holds her hand out level in front of her, like it’s an aeroplane. “They’re fine, they’re fine, they’re fine, and then-“ She plunges her hand into a nosedive.
“What’s going to happen now is we’re going to transfer him to Intensive Care…”
She says something else, but I’m somewhere else.
Today is Monday and we’re in a hospital. I’m now picturing it being Thursday and us all in a church. Intensive care? Again, how the hell did we get here?
“You can come with us, of course. If you can just wait here while we prep him, we’ll be about ten minutes.”
Doctor Summer Dress ducks her head back inside the door and it closes behind her. This is not really sinking in. The waiting room for casualty is down the hall and kids clutching their wrists or arms are coming and going, eating bags of crisps or wiping melted chocolate from their faces.
None of our kids have ever broken a bone. But I’d gladly go in there and snap Kane’s arm right now for an ailment a bit… simpler.
Those ten minutes become twenty. Become thirty. And then forty. We talk utter trivial shite to each other to pass the time, reading the instructions on the wall for how to wash our hands properly over and over, wondering out loud what the hell is keeping them at every two-minute interval.
We text home to make sure the other two have eaten.
And then the doors do open, and out he comes on a gurney, with more hoses and tubes sticking out of everywhere, but still awake. I think he sees us, but the guys pushing him aren’t stopping so he can make small talk.
ICU is just one floor up. And as there are five of them with him, they need all the space available in the elevator.
We take the stairs and reach the landing on the first floor right as the elevator doors open.
The nurses come out of the car like sprinters out of the blocks. One of the doctors peels off, as they basically use the gurney as a battering ram to gain access to ICU. She comes over and gives us another small update on what they’re going to do, shows us down the hall into ICU as the team sprints – and I do mean sprints – ahead. She stops to show us the family room, the kitchen, the tea and coffee making facilities. I’m thinking I really don’t give a fuck about any of this, that I don’t want to move in, that I want to get out of here as fast as fucking possible with my wife and son, thanks very much. Never occurs to me for a moment that she’s stalling, that the reason they wheeled into the elevator calmly and then out of it thirty seconds later in a stampede of panic is that the nosedive Doctor Summer Dress told us about happened as soon as the elevator doors closed.
Kane’s blood pressure had crashed through the floor.
He had gone into kidney failure.
See, this is what I had never heard about meningitis, or what doesn’t trickle down through the ether to you. Or at least this bastard version of meningitis perhaps. Once it gets up and running, it spreads throughout the bloodstream, quickly infecting and attacking everything in its path.
Which means all of your organs.
Like the skin, the biggest organ.
The rash, the purpura, the pinch-bruises? That’s it going to work attacking it. That rash is not a rash at all. Those spots, those bruises, are haemorrhages. And they’re not just on your skin. In Kane’s case, they’re everywhere. Forming all over every organ.
The kidneys’ job is to clean the blood, but Kane’s blood is so poisoned and toxic that they are overwhelmed and quickly shut down.
Side note: in the lead up to long weekends as sunny and hot as this one, the airwaves, as usual, have been full of warnings about open water, for everyone to be cautious around rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. Doctor Diversion needs to go join the rest of team, so she shows us to a waiting area where we interrupt a couple who look a little bit further along the grief and trauma road than us. Tear tracks scar their cheeks. Their eyes are a bloodshot mess. Their eleven-year-old daughter was pulled unresponsive from the bottom of a lake two counties away. She is alive but unconscious. It’s late, we’re tired, and I have to bite my lip to stop myself blurting out something to them about possible brain damage. The four of us swap our stories so far. When we’ve run out of common ground, we look at the pictures on the wall, out the window at the wards across the black, empty playground and try not to make eye contact, willing someone to come and either update us or escort one of us in to see our respective child.
They get called in first.
It is two thirty am. But time is meaningless. Priorities are all over the place. Kane was wracked with anxiety over the essay assignment he would now not be turning in a few hours from now. On board the same anxiety ship, I am composing an email to a colleague about a campaign of TV commercial scripts I am now most likely not going to be rewriting in a few hours, as planned, as promised last Friday. Vivienne asks me what I’m doing. I’m too tired to lie. She should be angry – I expect her to be angry – at me writing fucking work emails while our son is ostensibly dying, but she just nods. “Oh.”
We don’t hear Doctor Diversion come back down the hall. She pads into the room like a medical ninja and gently sits herself down on the arm of a chair, closing the door behind her, even though the place appears to be deserted, and she takes a deep breath.
This is when she gives us the lowdown about how the virus attacks the organs and the system overload that brought Kane’s kidneys to their knees. She also repeats the same words Doctor Summer Dress said. “He’s very sick. He’s very, very sick.” We do the dumb nodding thing again and she asks us if we have any questions. Vivienne says she has only one, but she doesn’t want to ask it.
“Well then don’t,” says Doctor Diversion. “Because I would have to answer it.”
She disappears and then reappears a genuine five minutes later with the same stealth, and says that can we go in and see him now.
As we scrub up and pull on overalls, she explains to us what condition he is in and what we will see when we enter the Intensive Care Unit, but when the airtight door to the room he is in slides back like something out of an outbreak movie and we’re ushered in, we are just not prepared.
There is so much equipment surrounding him, he is practically cocooned. He is bloated terribly, from all the fluids and antibiotics he’s been pumped with over the previous six or so hours. There are two stacks of tape deck-sized machines administering drugs gradually through a network of hoses and pipes into his polluted bloodstream.
Tears streaming down my face and losing the fight to stop myself from sobbing, I look at all of the equipment. It’s like a factory in here.
I’ve seen dialysis machines before on the telly.
He is on dialysis.
He is on fucking dialysis.
His skin is yellow, from the kidney damage I silently assume. His eyes are in this unnerving, half-open state, the whites of them yellow too. Kane’s always had a fast heartbeat but the numbers on the readouts make no sense, twice what they should be. Alarms keep sounding, but nobody seems to be too perturbed.
The most upsetting sight of all is that he is literally bouncing up and down in the bed like a scene out of The Exorcist. We’re told he’s being oscillated to aid the ventilation. The mask and the hose, I was ready for, but this thing just looks barbaric.
“He is a very sick boy,” someone says.
Yeah, no fucking shit.
I don’t know where to look or what to do. This is like being on a shoot. So much machinery, lighting and wires everywhere, that no matter where you stand you are in the way. But the technicians and nurses work around us all the same.
At some point during the night we are shown to parents’ quarters where we can rest.
Thinking I will struggle to sleep, I pass out immediately and wake to find Vivienne in the same position she was in when I said I was just going to rest my eyes.
In twenty minutes our other two kids are going to be getting up for school.
Erik is four weeks away from doing the Leaving Certificate.
Freya is about to take her summer exams.
We are going to, and do, retain some sort of normality for the duration of this thing.
We decide to try get home before they leave the house.
This is the first day of not a two or four-day spell in the hospital, but what turns into a four-week one.
For anyone who does not know me personally, I’ll give away the ending now and tell you that Kane makes a full recovery, but it is a long, drawn out process.
The first week passes lightning quick.
Every time we return to his room in ICU, there is another triumph.
One less tape deck on the stack of electronic drugs dispensers.
Every day and a half, one less big scary looking machine, the first of which to go is the oscillator contraption.
I swear, even though we are only double-digit hours in, as soon as I see that thing gone, I am convinced Kane is going to beat the infection, or “insult” as the Head of Infectious Diseases will call it. Consultant after consultant come to chart his progress in that first week, all very impressed at his strength and the speed with which he is recovering, saying this but eyeing the various screens and surreptitiously looking for the signs we cannot see, examining the lesions, most of which have coagulated around his joints, his feet and hands, pinching and squeezing.
I know what they’re doing, because I’ve been doing what everyone, including me, says not to, hitting Google. I’ve read horror stories of children who have lost digits or limbs due to the lesions merging into one another and killing the nerves in fingers and toes.
There’s one finger in particular, his ring finger, that looks like it’s been accidentally hit with a hammer, bruised black and blue. That’s the one that gets the most attention, the one I stare at, willing to get its shit together.
For some reason it’s two days before one of the nurses thinks to tell us that he isn’t in a coma, just sedated, that he can hear us if we talk to him. That sounds like shit to me, so I ask him if he can, and he nods.
I ask him if he’s in pain, if he knows where he is. Etcetera.
He nods. He nods again.
Still being on ventilation, he cannot speak. And even though they are decreasing the amount of sedation drugs he’s on, he still cannot open his eyes. Movement returns slowly. Rudimentary sign language is his only form of communication, and he uses it mostly to ask what time it is, pointing at his wrist.
Kane is taken off the ventilator on Friday. He tells us how he had convinced himself, feeling as sick as he had in his darkest moment, in the downstairs toilet while I lounged in the back garden sunning myself, that he had cancer, and how it was a huge weight off his shoulders in the back of the ambulance to hear the paramedics say it was only meningitis. He tells us of waking at one point, discovering the ventilator hose down his throat, seeing himself surrounded by masked medical staff, and believing that he was in a Star Wars movie. One of the staff nearby overhears him saying this and corroborates his story, in so much as it took three of them to restrain him as he tried to get out of the bed and pull out all the wires and lines.
He is released from ICU and goes onto a ward after the weekend. It’s a couple of days before he will eat anything. From recovering at breakneck speed, everything brakes to snails’ pace. Strength and movement are in low supply. When motion does come, it’s restricted to one side of his body, or at least is much better on the left side than the other. Being a fully qualified gobshite, I put that down to him being left-handed. The consultants I mention this to do not, thankfully, laugh, but instead send him for an MRI, wondering aloud if he might have suffered a stroke in those first couple of hours that will leave permanent damage. That turns out not to be the case. They do not find clots; they find what they call white spots. That’s what they look like on an MRI, but they are basically the same lesions he sports on his skin, and they are affecting the speed at which he is regaining his motor skills.
This is relayed to us by a neurologist who tells us that it will be six months before he is able to return to any kind of normality, and at least that before he can even consider returning to practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or mixed martial arts.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but much better than the alternative situation we could be in, right?
“Fuck that,” Kane says, looking at us as soon as the door closes behind her. “Six months? No way.”
It is May 15. He has daily appointments here in the hospital with physio and occupational therapists, and although he may not be able to lift his head off the pillow, raise his hand for more than five seconds without breaking a sweat, or possess the strength to push their hands away when placed at the bottom of his foot, never mind sit up, take a drink, eat corn flakes or go to the toilet without help from one of us, he sets himself a goal of being back in the gym by July 15.
It’s good to have something to aim for, isn’t it?
Even if it just makes him feel hopeful.
But what the hell do I know?
Three weeks later, he does go back to the gym, albeit on a walking frame, just to meet up with his teammates and prove that he is alive, having mastered the act of walking under his own steam.
Three weeks after that, a fortnight ahead of schedule, he returns to the gym, this time without the frame and with a kit bag, and begins one-to-one, twenty-minute training sessions twice a week.
Three weeks after that he returns to the hospital for a check-up and is given the all-clear.
At this stage, he is dressing himself, eating, drinking, walking , running, cycling, kicking, punching and choking sparring partners out, operating at about 85% of his usual capacity.
It is four and a half months since Mayday.
It is now. As in right now.
The plane has pulled out of its nosedive, levelled out, and is climbing back to cruising altitude.
Fully discharged from Crumlin Children’s Hospital, today he visited with an external physiotherapist.
When she pressed the palm of her hand to the sole of his foot and asked him to push against her, he kicked her off the bed.
In March we will return to Crumlin Children’s Hospital to see that neurologist.
Looking forward to seeing how that turns out.