13 December 2017

Some Party in Heaven part 3

spin OH NO! part 2

In twenty minutes the three of them were in the doctor’s waiting room.  Although they hadn’t to wait any more than ten minutes it seemed like an eternity to Phyllis.  She felt that all the others in there were staring at her.  They weren’t, but she thought they were.  She felt that everybody knew her baby ‘wasn’t right.’  They didn’t, but she thought they did.  If they all knew, why, oh why, hadn’t somebody told her?  Why had she not even caught it on herself before now?  It was a horrible sensation.

When the family doctor examined Thomas he was aware that Phyllis was jumping to all kinds of conclusions, possibly with some justification.  To clarify a potentially very worrying situation for everyone he made an appointment at the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn.  Here Thomas would be seen by the gynaecologist who had attended his birth, and a paediatrician.

Hertford and Phyllis returned home, still perplexed, but with the minor consolation that somebody else was going to advise them about their little Thomas.  When the young parents attended that appointment in the Lagan Valley Hospital, about two weeks later, the gynaecologist spoke to them first, “I will always remember the day Thomas was born,” he remarked.  “There was great excitement in here.”

“Yes, I remember that day well too!” Phyllis replied, struggling to force a smile.  “We are worried that there is something wrong with Thomas, though.”

Neither she nor her husband could have been prepared for the doctor’s response.

“To be honest, we suspected there was something the matter with Thomas, but we couldn’t be absolutely sure.  There was so much joy in both of your hearts we thought it best to allow you to take him home.  We knew if there was a problem with him it would become more evident with the passing of time and you would then realise it yourselves,” he admitted.  Hertford and Phyllis were dumbfounded.  They just sat and stared at each other and then at baby Thomas, totally speechless.

“There is a paediatrician here, an expert in children’s ailments,” the doctor went on consolingly.  “Don’t be worrying yourself unduly.  Thomas is a lovely little boy.  Everything possible will be done for him.”

The examination of Thomas by the paediatrician was the most thorough to date.  He tried to lift Thomas up, and observed his head movements.  He worked with his arms and legs and tested his hands and feet.  Throughout the examination Phyllis kept firing questions.  She was so uptight she was desperate to hear what the expert thought.  And sooner would be better that later.  “What do you think?” she would ask. “Can this be treated?” she would enquire.  While the examinations were being carried out, however, she got no answers.  The paediatrician was intent on his work.  He had to be sure of his diagnosis before he spoke.

When he did eventually comment it was merely to tell Hertford and Phyllis that he would like Thomas to be seen by a specialist in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.  He would arrange the appointment.  Thus the waiting, the worrying, the uncertainty, dragged on.

The specialist paediatrician in the Royal Victoria Hospital had Thomas admitted so that extensive tests could be carried out.  It was early June, and hot summer weather.  It was great weather for farmers but Hertford barely noticed it.  Indeed spring had merged into summer, but for Hertford and Phyllis one long anxious day had just blurred into the next.  The type of weather, or the time of day or night, had become an irrelevance to them.  Thomas, and his condition, had become an obsession.

On a Friday, in the middle of the month, after all the results had been collated, Hertford and Phyllis met the specialist to hear the outcome.  The final diagnosis.

“The scan has shown that a tiny part of the cerebellum is missing from Thomas’ brain,” the consultant explained.  That was the medical, technical bit.

Then came the hard part, the knock-out blow.

“As a result of this Thomas will neither be able to walk nor talk nor sit up unaided.  He will be both physically and mentally handicapped.”

The young couple were devastated.

Their eyes were open, but they were seeing nothing.

Their legs had suddenly become weak and shaky.  They were too numb to cry.

“We will want to monitor his development.  We will arrange another appointment for six weeks’ time,” the specialist paediatrician said, in a soft tone little louder than a whisper, before slipping silently from the room.  It hadn’t been easy for her either.

Hertford and Phyllis were left with their baby, their tangled thoughts and their heavy hearts.  They were both weeping now.  When they regained sufficient composure to allow them to return to the car, it was like an oven.  The summer sun was blazing down.  Thomas was placed into the back seat in his carry-cot.  The shattered parents still hadn’t spoken a word to each other.  They didn’t know what to say.  What could they say that would make any sense?  As the drive homeward began, Phyllis was besieged by a guilt complex.  ‘God is punishing you, Phyllis,’ her thoughts accused.  ‘He has given you this baby because you have gone and married an unsaved man.  You have backslidden and let Him down.  You know what the Bible says, ‘Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers…’  Only sobs stirred the stillness.  Their shared but silent sorrow was finding an emotional escape.

Hertford drove along with his elbow resting on the edge of the open window.  As soon as one cigarette was finished he lit up another.  Smoke drifted into the car and out into the shimmering heat.  His thoughts were about the rotten luck of it all.  ‘Four months ago I had a son and heir,’ he mused.  ‘But now what have I got?  And worse still, what can I do about it?  If I could turn every sod on the farm into gold I still couldn’t change a single thing.’

They both so loved their little Thomas, who knew nothing of their distress.  He was sleeping peacefully in the back seat.  The young parents both felt so sick.  They felt in some way ‘let down’ by somebody or something.  Neither of them was quite sure by whom, or by what.  It was going to be hard to talk about, too.  How were they going to tell everybody?

It was Phyllis who spoke first, when they were almost home.  Her opening remark was a kick-back against God.  “Why? Why? Why”” she agonised.  “How could there be a God who could let something like this happen?”

Hertford had no time whatsoever for God.

“What are you talking about GOD for?” he retorted fiercely, more from frustration than anger.  “What has HE got to do with anything?”


When they arrived home that Friday evening Hertford and Phyllis each contacted their parents who had been waiting anxiously for news.

On hearing the final result as described by the hospital paediatrician, and sensing how upset their children were, Tom and Ethel Blakely and Ford and Jean Arnold came down to the house immediately.  They wanted to hear everything, every single word the doctors had said.  They didn’t want to miss a thing.

Hertford and Phyllis found a sense of relief in pouring out their hearts to their sympathetic parents.  It was great to release their pent-up emotions into understanding ears.

Everyone was so sad.  So sorry.  The muted conversations lasted on into the evening and then on into the night.  Nobody wanted to go home.  Nobody wanted to go to bed.  Everybody felt they should say something but were never quite sure of what would be a suitable or sensible thing to say.  Conversations consisted of clipped sentences interspersed by sighs and tears.  Many cups of tea were poured, only to remain half-drunk and cold.  Nibbled biscuits lay around.

There was a strange eerie feeling about the house.  It was as though something had just started to die.  It was like finding the first petals of a treasured rose bloom lying rain-spattered in the mud.

In the weeks that followed Hertford and Phyllis went through the trauma of explaining the situation about Thomas to their wide circle of family and friends.  They seemed to relive that hot June afternoon in ‘the Royal’ at least once every day.  It came to the stage that it was like a drama which they had performed so often that they knew it perfectly.  Both of them had their own particular lines off by heart.  The acquired ability to recount the story in its most minute detail didn’t bring any consolation, however.  Each explanation was an emotional trial.

It was the care and sympathy of friends and family which meant so much to the young parents.  They all loved Thomas.  They doted on him.  As the sense that they were being borne along by the genuine, heartfelt concern of others enveloped Phyllis and Hertford, they gradually, slowly, came to terms with the word, and concept, ‘handicapped.’  It had not been easy.  It was like recovering from a long and debilitating illness.

Things steadily began to return to normal.  Normality meant something different now, though.  Hertford was back in the yard and on the tractor but he felt compelled to make little excursions back to the house every now and again.  He just had to check that his wife and son were both OK.  Perhaps he expected there to be a dramatic and sudden improvement in Thomas’ condition.  A miracle perhaps?

It didn’t occur.

For Phyllis, normality meant adapting to a new routine, an entirely different lifestyle.  Her little Thomas had to be taken each week to Craigavon hospital to be exercised.  These weekly visits to hospital proved to be a double benefit to her.  Firstly, she realised that she didn’t have the only physically and mentally handicapped baby in Northern Ireland.  There were others, just like Thomas.  Other parents were coping with the same dilemma.  This was comforting.

The second  way in which these hospital appointments helped her was that she came in contact with well-informed and caring nursing staff.  They always had time for her.  She was able to pour out her heart to them.  She could share all her worries and concerns, however minor.  Phyllis always received a kind and considerate response to all her queries.  This made her feel better.  Indeed she began to get the impression that she was in a certain sense privileged to have a child like Thomas so that she could learn all these things.

Putting on a brave face in public was what Hertford and Phyllis discovered to be by far their greatest challenge.  Taking Thomas to visit friends, especially those who had normal children, was tough at first.  They faced up to it with a smile on a quivering lip.  The eye that sparkled with pride was occasionally misted by a tear.

People were really understanding.  It was never so painful, second time round.  Thus when the young parents began to recognise that Thomas was accepted for just who he was, by family and friends, they felt more content.  It inspired a degree of confidence in the flagging, flattened soul.

Hertford and Phyllis had to be happy for Thomas.  They couldn’t be anything else, after the initial shock and then the gradual coming to terms, for he in himself was such a happy child.  Wrapped up in his own little world, Thomas was oblivious to the anxieties of the world of adults.  He just chuckled and bubbled his way through every day, blissfully unaware of the concern of his loving parents and interested family circle.

When they had become reconciled to the fact that Thomas would always be unable to do the things most other children did, but that he was special, very special, in his own particular way, a question cropped up in the mind of his parents.  They were both worried about it as individuals.  Then they shared it with each others.  The medical profession assured them they shouldn’t have any need to worry about it.  That didn’t stop them being apprehensive all the same.  Often, as they lifted their baby, or fed him, or drove him to or from his exercise sessions, it drifted like a bad dream into, and around, their minds.  It threatened to destroy their shared vision of a big happy family round a big homely table.

It was simply this.

Could it happen again?

Noel Davidson