Sunday 27th January 2013
I can hear Calum tossing and turning in the bed next to me. After a while I turn on the light between the two beds and sign, ‘Are you alright?’
‘I am a little bit nervous.’
As we have been asked to be on the ward at seven in the morning for Calum’s operation we have travelled down to Cambridge the night before and are staying in a room on the biomedical campus. Calum has also informed me that ‘under no circumstances’ does he want his mum sleeping beside him on the ward the night following his surgery. I can take a hint. Tomorrow night I will retreat to this room again whilst he stays on the ward.
Whether either of us will get any sleep, tonight or tomorrow night, remains to be seen. Up until this point I have been the one unable to sleep at night worrying about the consequences of the operation and whether Calum will later come to regret it. He, on the other hand, has always seemed remarkably insouciant. Now, here at last, I feel oddly calm. It’s done, the decision is made and I am feeling strangely relaxed. Not so Calum:
‘Will it hurt?’
I look across at him. I can’t lie: there will inevitably be discomfort. It’s not as though he is going into surgery ill and in pain. Calum is perfectly healthy. But I have to reassure him:
‘You remember me telling you about when I was in that accident in Oxford? ‘
He nods his head.
‘I was in pain when I was wheeled into the theatre but pain free when I came round.’
It’s not quite the same, though, is it? Calum will be going in pain free. But he’s already changed the subject;
‘Why do they call it a theatre?’
I grope around for an explanation:
‘Well, you know the old Roman and Greek amphitheatres with the tiered seating for spectators? I think in the first operations (I try not to think of a surgeon sawing through a limb before the invention of anaesthesia) students used to sit on the seating…’
He’s looking tired.
‘And look down at what was going on below.’
‘Turn the light off please.’
Oh, why did I have to conjure that image up? Now I’m feeling anxious again. Calum, on the other hand, seems to be settling down to sleep.
I jump – someone is banging on the door: I sit bolt upright. No: it’s a door banging somewhere. Just as I am finally drifting off the noise comes again – four loud thumps in quick succession. Great – it’s a boiler – and it appears to be housed in the cupboard adjoining our room. In the quiet moments between the booming I can hear the gentle, regular breathing of Calum. He is fast asleep now. I certainly won’t be, however, if that noise keeps up. One good thing about being deaf: you have undisturbed sleep. One bad thing about being deaf: you don’t hear the fire alarm.
How did we get here? The past few months have passed so quickly. Having Christmas and New Year in between our last hospital appointment and now did not make the passing of time any less frantic. And then, only last week someone remarked, ‘Ah! So it’s only a week until the operation?’ And I had replied, ‘No, it’s weeks away!’ But it wasn’t.
Where did the time go? I think back to our last appointment just before the schools broke up for the Christmas holidays. Calum’s assessment had been completed and we were to hear the implant team’s decision. We arrived ten minutes early and, much to our surprise, were called in ten minutes early. So, even before our designated appointment time, we knew their decision: it was agreed that Calum would benefit from implants. I remember seeing the beaming smile on his face and then hearing proposed dates for the procedure: early January. What? So soon… But Calum had GCSE exams in the first half of January so the 28th was suggested. And now here we are.
The rapid thumping noise from the boiler comes through the wall again. Now I am wide awake and see the events of the past six months laid out as though placed, at intervals, along the winding yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz: Calum announcing his decision he wanted to be assessed for an implant, me requesting an assessment appointment but assuming we’d be knocked back and Calum, from seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly trying to vocalise words; something he had never done or been able to do before.
Watermelon: I am remembering a late November evening when I walked into Calum’s room to tell him that I was going to prepare some fruit and would he like apple and banana or orange and apple? All our conversation is through sign language but Calum turned to me and without removing his fingers from his computer keyboard said,
I stop in my tracks. Watermelon, did he just say watermelon? I know we have been downloading diagrams from the internet of where the tongue and soft and hard palates are positioned to make different speech sounds but to say this…
‘Did you just say watermelon?’ I sign.
He nods and says it again, ‘Watermelon.’
‘You want watermelon?’
‘Yes’, Calum signs, ‘It’s my favourite fruit!’
This is news to me but, not to be outdone, I pull on my jacket, push my feet into my boots and grab my car keys. If Calum has made the effort to practice how to say watermelon when he can’t even hear what he is saying then I am going out to find him one. I drive to the Co-op. I know this is probably a hopeless quest as their most exotic fruit usually consists of shrivelled pomegranates but I can’t face the bright lights of Tesco without a certain level of armour plating. I can’t believe it: the Co-op doesn’t just have one watermelon they have a whole shelf full and they look quite luscious with a deep green sheen. Watermelons! In November! It’s no easy feat picking up a watermelon with just one arm but somehow I manage to manhandle a specimen into a shopping trolley and then into my car boot. Back home I brandish a large carving knife above it wondering which Catholic saint to pray to for assistance. (When I’ve lost something it’s Saint Anthony, when I can’t find my glasses it’s Saint Lucy). I decide there probably isn’t a patron saint of watermelons (although there probably is one for knives), shut my eyes and slice downwards. Nothing falls on the floor. I open my eyes; a near perfect third wobbles on the bread board. I make short work of the chunk carving it into delectable pink wedges leaving a faint fingernail white edging where I have chopped away the green skin. I arrange it on a plate and rush up to Calum’s room.
I place the watermelon beside the computer key board. The smile drops from his face.
‘But I thought watermelon was your favourite fruit!’ I sign indignantly.
He looks up and his sheepish expression says it all: watermelon isn’t his favourite fruit. Calum thought if he named a fruit that we didn’t have he wouldn’t have to have any fruit at all. Slowly he takes a piece and, with resignation, begins to chew.
Other memories: Calum having his hair cut. Calum had grown his hair long at the end of primary school and lately had been attempting to grow it long again. But, given that he would have to have small sections shaved behind his ears in readiness for the operation and knowing that he would not be able to wash it for two weeks following the operation he had reluctantly agreed to have it cut.
The boiler next door is thumping against our wall again. I run my hand through my own chopped hair. Two weeks following Calum’s visit to the barber I shear through my own hair with an old pair of dressmaking scissors. Oddly, my husband doesn’t seem to notice my sudden change in appearance but Calum does, immediately.
‘What have you done? Why have you done that?’
‘Well, you had your hair cut.’
‘But yours looks a bit,’ he’s thinking of how to put it politely, ‘odd.’
Why did I do it? ‘Well, if I’m going to grow my grey out you can’t do that with long hair,’ I explain.
The real explanation is more complex: It’s a reaction to feeling out of control. We are on a runaway train and I don’t know where we are going or even who’s driving. In some strange way, cutting my own hair off has brought a sense of relief. It’s gone; I feel lighter.
‘When will it look nice again?’ Calum asks.
‘I don’t know.’
Another time he asks,
‘How long will it take me to learn how to speak?’
‘I don’t know. You will have to learn how to listen first.’
‘How long will that take?’
‘I don’t know.’
How long, how long? Nobody knows.
It is now half past three in the morning and the boiler is still thumping. Somehow I manage to fall into a deep sleep and there in the distance is a large, green watermelon rolling slowly, yet relentlessly, toward me. As it rolls it thumps across the wooden floor; thud, thud, thud. It’s far larger than a normal watermelon: it’s as tall as a bus. It’s only a few feet away from me. Alarm bells start to ring everywhere; wild, clanging alarm bells. In shock I awake. My alarm clock is ringing.
6:00 – Monday 28th January.
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