I think it’s fair to say that December 2018 was a bit of a rubbish month for our family.
In late November, after 5+ years of searching, I finally bought and moved into my dream home.
2 weeks later, still surrounded by boxes and a ‘to do’ list that would make your brain ache, I got a phone call to say my mum had been taken ill.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was at work when my phone rang.
It was Mum.
At first, I didn’t answer as I was in a meeting.
The phone rang again – Mum.
The phone rang again – my brother.
3 missed calls and it suddenly twigged that Something Was Up.
I tried to ring Mum back but it went to voicemail, so I rang my brother and he told me Mum was in an ambulance on her way to hospital, having suffered severe chest pain while in a restaurant.
I hung up, hurriedly left my meeting and headed straight to the car, to meet my brother at the hospital over an hour away.
I couldn’t get hold of my mum (not surprisingly!) and had little information to go on, so all the way up the M6, I prayed for my mum and asked God to do something, to fix things, to send angels, to restore.
I finally arrived at the hospital and was ushered into a relatives’ room to wait for news. Eventually a nurse came to see me, told me that mum had suffered a heart attack but she was doing fine, sitting up and having a cup of tea. The relief that sprung out of me was like air suddenly escaping from a taut balloon.
She was ok! For now at least, our family would be ok!
My brother, who had just arrived, had somehow bypassed the dreaded relatives’ room and had been promoted direct to the ward, now texted me, ‘where are you?’.
I quickly scurried to the lift and headed up to CCU. True to form, mum was doing well, a bit shocked at how a lovely lunch with friends had turned into a cardiac emergency, but nonetheless, upbeat and positive about what had just happened.
The next question on everyone’s lips was, ‘who will look after dad?’.
Dad, for the record, makes the most of each day but has a neurological illness and relies on my mum to sort out the details of his life.
I didn’t have any overnight stuff with me (having jumped in the car without much notice) but I decided it would now be best to camp out at their house and help out, until Mum was better.
Little did I know what was to come!
This all happened on Friday and on Saturday, I suddenly remembered (with a jolt!) that on Sunday, I was expecting a furniture delivery for the new house. You know, the one I’d just moved into? Remember that?!
Most people would NEVER have forgotten such a thing, but when you’re knee deep in hospitals and emergencies, normal life stuff goes out the window.
In the unusual circumstances, Dad suggested that I rearrange the delivery for another day and instead go to church with him on Sunday, but for some weird, weird reason, that felt all wrong. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt like I REALLY needed to go to my home and wait for this delivery, as originally planned.
Early on Sunday morning, I headed over to my new home and waited for the furniture people to arrive. They duly turned up on time and just as I’d ripped the plastic off my new wingback chair, my phone rang.
Instantly, I could see on the phone display that it was a good friend of our family who should have been in church with dad.
It was 11.30am. Hang on. Church was still happening.
Something must be wrong.
‘I don’t want you to panic,’ said our lovely friend, ‘but dad is ill. He’s asked us to call an ambulance’.
Now, from years of living with my parents’ various health issues, I know one thing, if either of them actually asks for an ambulance, things aren’t good. Both are the stoic-don’t-make-a-fuss types! Gangrene, internal bleeding…you name it…they’d never want to bother a doctor!
As I headed to the car, with our family friend on speakerphone, I discovered that dad had got up to pray in church and had suddenly experienced extreme, crushing chest pain. It was so bad, they’d had to abandon the service (send the children out) and lie my poor dad on a row of chairs, until help arrived.
I am so, SO glad I didn’t have to see that. Somehow, I felt God had spared me that, by nudging me to go home to wait for my furniture. God is so good.
But once again, I found myself in a car, whizzing up to a different hospital. En-route, I was talking to the paramedics (hands free) in the ambulance, filling them in on my dad’s history. ‘Has he had another heart attack?’ I asked.
‘Looks like it’ said Joe, the hero paramedic.
When I arrived at the hospital, my dad was in A&E Resuscitation, looking pretty awful.
As I got close, I could see he was breathing and despite the oxygen and the scary bleeping machines, I could see he was dopey but doing ok. Trust me, going to see someone you love, on a gurney in Resus, is not something you really want to do.
The A&E doctor told me they’d had to restart his heart and I could see on the whiteboard by the side of his bed, they’d shocked him twice.
And then it hit me…flip! Mum (in a hospital 8 miles away) didn’t know what was going on.
How were we going to communicate this without stressing her out too?
Thank goodness for many years of PR training!
For the first time in my life, as I rang her mobile, I employed those skills on my mum. Ha!
Me: ‘How are you feeling today?
Her: Definitely better. What time are you coming today? Could you bring some grapes?
Me: Well, we’ve had a bit of an issue with dad. He’s not feeling too well and has been brought into hospital?
Mum: Oh nooo…what’s happened????
Me: Well, firstly, he’s in great hands and the doctor is content he’s doing ok…but it’s likely he’s had a heart attack too.
Mum: You’re joking?
Me: I wish I was. I really wish I was.
And so began the next few weeks of December.
I wish I could say that the recovery was plain-sailing, that everyone was home for the family-Christmas-we’d-planned in-the-new-house-I’d waited-years-to -buy, but that wouldn’t be true.
The reality is that the lovely Christmas tree went up, but instead of being celebrated, it spent most of the month, solitary on its own.
Instead, we celebrated Christmas around two Christmas trees, one in a hospital on the far side of Liverpool, one in a hospital on the far side of Cheshire.
I wish I could say that Christmas in hospital is full of magic and light and fairies, but that would also not be true.
Christmas in hospital kinda sucks.
Alternating between the hospital beds of the people you love, is no way to spend the festive season when (apparently) everyone else in the world is ‘hearts all aglow’.
But you know what? My Jesus was still there! My Jesus who totally understands abject poverty, fear, loss, sadness and everything else in-between, was there at every turn.
He was there when my mum came home from hospital, took a scary turn for the worse and had to be readmitted as an emergency.
He was there when my dad contracted a horrible chest infection and spent 2 days sleeping and barely communicating.
He was there when my dad was fitted with an in-heart defibrillator and while attempting to chat to the surgical team about Jesus, dad discovered his surgeon was actually a Christian and goes to a church we know well.
He was there when they both came home after the holidays, weak, not sure what came next, but determined to get better.
He was there when I had no idea where to turn, but found myself in the car, switching on some worship music and out of the speakers came a beautiful Michael W Smith song, ‘I’ve seen you move the mountains…I believe you’ll do it again’.
And move the mountains he did.
And no, everything wasn’t suddenly, magically ok. Recovery takes time. Returning to ‘normality’ after such a crisis can be a slow, winding path.
But we’re all still here. And if we’re all still here, it’s because God still has work for us to do. Just like the song, ‘I’ve seen you move the mountains’, he can ‘do it again’.
So no matter what you’re going through, no matter what lies ahead, God can ‘do it again’ for you too.