Chapter 11 - An unwelcome visit
The knock on the door came as a surprise to Jane. The sight of Derek alone made her fill with dread. She opened the door wide, she only needed to look at his face, to know it was bad.
‘You best come in pet.’ He obliged kicking off his snow-covered shoes on the front wall as he did. They both stood in the hall, her hand resting on the hall stand to support her.
‘How bad is he?’ It was a question of hope.
‘He’s bad lass, he fell off the quay into the boat, he’s fair damaged his head, the doctors have him up at the infirmary, they’re going to operate.’ He stopped for a second, looking for some piece of hope to give her.
‘It was Dr Broad that came down to the docks.’ There was a moment of silence as Jane quickly collected her thoughts.
‘I’ll get Ted, Mrs Bivens next door will look after him. She’ll keep an eye out for the boys coming back from school, I’ll have to go round Albert’s parents and tell them.’ She was shocked but needed to formulate her plan of action.
‘Then I’ll get up the General’ (slang for the General Lying-In hospital or the Royal Infirmary in Bishopwearmouth) She caught his gaze; she knew he wanted to speak.
‘You don’t mind if I come with you, just in case you need me to do anything for you.’
‘Thank you, Derek you’ve always been both Albert’s and mines’ best friend, you know as far as we are concerned, you are family.′ He smiled at her the strain was visible on his face, his thoughts were clear to her, he was scared that she might blame him for the accident.
‘We would both appreciate your help... I know it would mean a lot to Albert to know you were there,’ She gave a slight smile, Derek stood to his full height again, he now had a purpose.
Hastily she prepared things, she put her Sunday-best coat on and getting Ted from the kitchen where he was playing, she put her front door on the latch to stop it blowing shut and went next door. Albert could hear the conversation between the two women, it was short and worried. She returned picking up her bag wrapped up as warmly as possible for the snow outside, as they left Jane stumbled slightly Derek instinctively supported her, she thanked him.
‘Put your arm through mine, you’ve had a bad shock lass, I’ll pull you along a bit quicker.’ She thought for a moment and agreed. Her footwear was not best suited to this weather, it would be treacherous going. Several window nets in the street twitched at this sight.
Before long they were crossing Garrison Fields with the wind and the snow cutting into their faces like needles. Derek strode out purposefully, as if made of marble, seemingly impervious to all that nature had to throw at him. Jane was thankful he had accompanied her. They reached the end of the field, and the comparative shelter of the rows of terraced houses, the biting wind was masked, the feeling returned to her cheeks it was as a fire had been turned on inside them as the numbness left.
The knocker clattered on the door; they heard a shout come through the house.
’I’ve got mi ‘ands full of washing - I’ll be there in a minute.’ They could hear her coming along the hall passage, talking to herself out loud.
‘Who on earth can this be? Stopping me on wash day, I’m soaked through now.’ The door swung open revealing Albert’s mother standing there, her blouse sleeves rolled up past the elbow, still drying her chapped hands with the towel half thrown over her shoulder, her hair pulled up on top of her head, now had, several locks which had become free with this morning’s exertions and were dangling on her forehead, she brushed them to one side with the back of her hand. She looked at them both standing on her doorstep, the colour draining from her face until she was as white as a sheet.
They went inside into the kitchen, where Albert’s mother stood quiet as Jane told her what had happened. She was shocked but resolute and asked what arrangements had been made for the boys.
‘Mrs Bivens, is going to watch for them returning from school.’ The conversation paused, Maud now began to talk.
‘I’ll go and get his father from work, you two best get up the hospital, we’ll be up shortly.’ another short pause and she continued.
‘Don’t worry about the boys as soon as we’ve been up to see what’s happening, we’ll go to the school and get the boys... It’s best they hear what’s happening from us... We’ll keep them as long as necessary.’ Jane thanked her, Maud escorting them to the door.
The last stretch to the hospital was a quiet one. They both hurried deep in thought, it was as the hospital loomed in front of them that she broke the silence.
‘I haven’t brought a thing he’ll need with me! He’ll need a change and some bed shirts.’ Derek didn’t say anything he just nodded in agreement at everything she said, there would be time for all this, he smiled inwardly to himself, the initial shock was giving way, she was beginning to organise.
The Royal Infirmary was run as are all hospitals by its Matrons’ and Sisters’, commonly referred to by the subordinate nurses as the Mad Mardi and her whirling dervishes. This was due to the nature and speed of her ward visits, which often left not only the nurses but the patients in a daze. Cross these matriarchs at your own peril. However, this strictness was an asset, in that all wards were laid out in a condition that were the King to arrive unannounced, he would not find fault.
It was thus that Jane and Derek arrived and having ascertained where Albert had been taken, they arrived outside the operating theatre. They introduced themselves to the nurses on duty in that area and were informed to wait; when there was news, they would be informed. They were directed to a long dark wood bench which ran along the wall, there was no cushioning and although there was a radiator near it, the traffic along the corridor always ensured there was a permanent draft from one avenue or another. They sat and viewed the scene opposite them were two large black rubberised doors with frosted portals which aided the viewer in knowing if there might be an obstruction on the other side.
For the first hour they sat alone, gazing towards the door, hoping that good news would emerge, but no news came, just the frenetic scurrying of nurses and doctors, they knew not even if these were the medical staff treating Albert or some other unfortunate. The time had ticked past midday and the hospital was in full bustle. Maud and Joe now turned up, hurrying up the corridor towards them, Joe still in his work clothes.
‘How is he lass?’ The first words out of his mouth. She couldn’t tell him, she explained to them, they had approached several nurses, but were told that the doctor would see them when the operation was completed. Joe took Maud’s hand.
‘We’ll just have to wait a bit longer love.’ It was obvious that Maud was seething, there was something happening to her boy, and she wanted to know now, Joe’s intervention calmed her from marching straight through those black doors to get the answers she wanted. The only person who could give any answers though was Derek and so he had to recite to them the events of that morning. To his credit he left nothing out, taking the full blame for Albert going down to the boat alone.
There were no reprimands, no apportioning of blame, it would serve no purpose. They now sat in silence, another long hour ticked by, lunch time had come and gone, they had not noticed. They gazed towards the door, they new that behind this life might be gaining or ebbing, they had no knowledge of which. Several nurses went in and out, their anxiety steadily increased, after the second hour, Maud saw one of the operating theatre nurses leaving. She rose quickly and strode the few paces to her.
‘Excuse me nurse, I’m Mrs Burns, Albert’s mother and this is his father and his wife. We’ve been here for nearly three hours, would there be any news?’ The nurse stopped for a moment ready to rebuke her for interrupting her work, but alas, she could see the pressure they were under, and the determination that Maud had to find an answer.
‘You’ll understand that I’m not meant to say anything.’ She darted a look up and down the corridor as if the matron would sweep down on her like the apocalypse.
‘Well the surgeon believes he may have released the pressure that had built up, they’ll monitor him for another hour to make sure he’s stable. I shouldn’t be telling you this, the surgeon and Matron will talk to you when they’re satisfied.’ She thanked her and sat back down, each had leant forward intent on every word.
‘By the grace of god - he’s going to make it.’ Maud spoke for them all. Joe finished the sentiment, hoping not perhaps to tempt fate.
‘I dearly hope so, but we’ll have to have it confirmed by the Doctor, he’s still in the woods.’ They had been cheered by the news, but it was too soon to let down their guard. They now sat quiet, the only noises were those of the hospital; another hour went by, Maud Spoke.
‘It’s getting time for the boys to becoming out of school. Joe and me will take them home and get them some dinner, now you come straight round to us, if you get any news!’ She agreed she would.
‘Now if you’re not down ours, by the time they’ve had dinner, we’ll walk back up here, over Monkwearmouth Bridge, so we’ll not miss you if you’re coming back.’ They all agreed the route they would walk.
Jane and Derek now sat alone, one hour turned to two, they had not eaten or drunk anything since this morning. No beverage of any sort had been offered to them, they were feeling the strain. The door swung open and matron approached them. She could have been a poker player such was her face, no indication of the hand she was carrying. Everything, about her appeared to be starched including her immaculate uniform.
‘It is Mrs Burns?’ She addressed her as if she was at school.
‘Yes, and my husband’s partner Mr Beech.’
‘Please follow me; the surgeon will see you in his office.’ The tone was such, that as she stood, perhaps it was the lack of food or the uncertainty at what lay at the end of the command. She felt Derek’s arm steady her for a brief second.
They followed the matron into the surgeon’s office. He sat behind his desk, a tall rather suave figure and by the fragrance, you could tell that he had just finished his post operation ablutions. Placing his pen back in the inkwell stand he rose to meet them extending his hand.
‘This is Mrs Burns and her husband’s business partner Mr Beech.’ They shook hands and he gestured towards the seats in front of his desk. Matron stood to the side of them, observing all.
‘Well Mrs Burns we have had a modicum of success; I shall speak plainly so that you might ascertain the full picture of the procedure I have just performed.’ He broke off and observed them all for a second before resuming, his speaking plainly meant, that he would put his conversation into layman’s terms, so they might better understand it.
‘The fall your husband suffered was absorbed mainly by the head and shoulder, this has resulted in a fracture to the shoulder, which we have set satisfactorily by inserting a pin... The blow to the head has resulted in a fracture to the skull resulting in some haemorrhaging and the brain to swell.’ He stopped for a second to observe them. To let the information, he was imparting to them sink in. He knew they were in shock at all the information, so now it was up to him to deliver the verdict.
‘We have performed an operation to relieve the pressure in the brain, our first indications are that this is successful. However, the next forty-eight hours will be touch and go. I will be keeping Mr Burns under sedation for as long a period as possible, in order that the swelling may reduce. I must stress to you, that I am hopeful but cannot guarantee his recovery and in addition such was the trauma of the fall - that when and if, he does become aware - there may be damage caused by the swelling which may render him unable to perform his current functions.’
This indeed was a bombshell, Jane stared at the surgeon for a moment trying to grasp the situation and the information that had been imparted to her. There was nothing to say other than thank the doctor, whatever happened he had tried his best.
‘Thank you, doctor. for all you’ve done.’ It was again the doctor’s turn to move proceedings on.
‘Well Mrs Burns, Mr Beech, your husband has now been moved to a side room on one of the wards, so that we may keep an eye on him for the next few days. Matron, will take you along and you’ll be able to sit with him for a while.’ He stood up and shook hands with them. They thanked him for his efforts and Matron opened the door and escorted them from his sanctum.