Over the last 24 hours, countless doctors and nurses have asked, “So tell me what happened,” and I have to admit that I don’t KNOW what happened, because I’d left home at 6.30am on Mother’s Day to go to the second day of a Body Attack instructor training course. Yes. On the very morning when my family needed me most I was 40 minutes away – on the other side of Perth – learning to side-step shuffle with authority and direction. We were partway through learning about second-layer coaching (it’s a thing) when I saw my phone silently ring in my open bag. I panicked, because my phone would only ring partway through learning about second-layer coaching if it was bad news. A message popped up, from Paul: “Taken Ben to hospital. His asthma’s pretty bad. Can you ring please x.”
I snuck out of the training room and rang; Paul answered straightaway. “How bad is he?” I asked. “Pretty bad,” Paul said, “can you speak to the doctor?” The doctor came on. “Hello Ben’s mum,” she said with forced jollity. “How far away are you?” “I can be there in half an hour,” I said. “How bad is he?” “He’s very unwell, you should get here as soon as you can.” “Is it life-threatening?” Pause. “He’s critical. There’s a whole team of people looking after him, but he’s very unwell. Just come straight to resus when you get here, okay? See you soon.”
Two words that no mamma ever wants to hear: CRITICAL and RESUS. No. Never. I raced back into the training room, shouted something about ASTHMA and SON and LIFE-THREATENING and ran to the car. Or would’ve run, if the gym’s doors hadn’t been locked. Ran back, shouted something about DOORS and LOCKED and FUCK and ran out again, guessed my way to the freeway, rang Ben’s dad, and drove VERY, VERY fast to the hospital. YES, I got flashed by a speeding camera but NO, I don’t give a fuck.
Despite my roaring speed, that journey was the longest of my life. I assumed Ben would die before I got there. Excuse my pessimism, but I’m a mother, it’s what we do. All I could think about was the big fight we’d had the night before, after Ben had led Paul on a wild goosechase around the streets of Burns Beach, and I’d lost my shit because he wouldn’t apologise. I’m not the praying sort, but I made a deal with someone, somewhere that I would NEVER shout again if he was okay. I also said Ben could have his PlayStation back AND play it whenever he wanted to, but I might have crossed my fingers when I said that, ‘cos there’s no fucking chance. I was convinced that Paul would be waiting out the front of the hospital when I got there, shaking his head to say no, my baby boy didn’t make it. Because YES, I have a vivid imagination and YES, it was working overtime. Mainly I was trying to figure out how I’d tell my mum and dad, on holiday in America, that their first-born grandson – dad’s best mate, his golden boy – had had an asthma attack, and died, and I hadn’t been there to hold his hand.
Eventually, finally, after a lifetime of freeway speeding, I made it the hospital. I jumped the queue in the emergency department – MY SON’S IN RESUS! – and a nurse jumped to attention, opening the sliding doors and ushering me into – god – the resuscitation area, the same place I’d willed my grandad to survive after his stroke two years ago. Jesus, almost two years ago to the DAY. Ben was there, hooked up to god knows what, surrounded by god knows who, while Alice and Frankie slid across the floor on their tummies and Paul sat on a chair, looking ashen and shell-shocked. Well my friends, I lost it. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but it involved flapping, and gasping, and crying, and apologising, and thanking, and a bit more flapping. The doctor – the same one who’d phoned me – got me a seat, told me to sit down, and kneeled next to me. I think she may have held my hand, I can’t remember. “It’s okay,” she said. “He’s responded very well. He’s going to be okay.” Tears. Lots of tears. “You know,” she added, “this is not your fault. You have nothing to feel guilty about. You can’t be there all the time.” “You’re a mum?” I asked, although it was clearly a rhetorical question. OBVIOUSLY she was a mum. “Yes,” she nodded, “and I know how you’re feeling. But you don’t need to feel guilty. Your husband got him here in time. He’s a bit of a hero.”
Turns out, he really is. After I’d left home in the morning, Ben’d been fine – sort of – and despite a cough and a cold was getting his stuff ready for an 8am football match. And then, suddenly, he wasn’t fine, and couldn’t stand up, and couldn’t breathe (the big one), and went a funny colour. Paul loaded all three kids in the car – despite Ben gasping that he COULD STILL PLAY IN GOALS – and drove the seven-minute journey to the hospital. By the time Paul carried him into A&E – with the two littlest children following behind – Ben’s fingertips and lips had turned blue, and I’m not sure I really want to imagine what state he was in, if it’s all the same to you, but he was whisked straight through, and attacked from every angle, while medical professionals pulled curtains around his bed and tried to distract Paul from the life-saving venture going on behind them. I missed that bit. For better or for worse, I missed that bit, but I do know that Paul is too scared to go to bed now, ‘cos he keeps replaying it over and over, and I’m too scared to close my eyes in my hospital armchair, ‘cos I keep imagining it.
Hours and hours and hours later, after we’d been transferred by ambulance to the children’s hospital in the city, and Ben’s dad had come to visit, and Paul had taken Frankie and Alice home to bed, I went for a walk, still wearing the sweaty gym clothes I’d started the day in. Happy fucking Mother’s Day, I thought to myself, sarcastically, as I ordered chips and red wine for one at a deserted, miserable pub. And then God Only Knows came on, and I listened, and I lost it, because God Only Knows what I’d be without Ben, the little boy who made me a mum. And then I realised that I’d been given the best Mother’s Day present of all – from my husband, from the doctors and nurses at Joondalup Hospital, and from the 10-year-old who stood so fucking strong when asthma tried to knock him from his feet. That makes me the luckiest mother in the world, don’t you reckon? It’s a much better present than slippers, anyway.