During the weeks since November 21 I have been living in a parallel universe. It is a universe in which many readers may have dwelt: the world of life support in intensive care.
In mid-November my close friend Mil rang to tell me she was feeling odd. She was house-sitting for a friend and said she had ordered freshly baked soda bread in a new patisserie in St. John’s Wood but had begun to feel ill shortly after eating a portion of the loaf. I began to think that the bread had been destined for a Russian oligarch or Litvinenko-esque exile, as her symptoms were becoming severe. On day two she told me she was riven with fever and chills; I told her it was flu but she said she would see a homeopath. I growled. (A homeopath once almost killed me.)
On day three she left a message on my Ansafone unlike any she had ever left in all the years I had known her: “Carol, call me back. This is important.” I had a strep throat and was on antibiotics and could not go to her. It was late on a Wednesday evening but I rang her and she was incoherent. She said I needed to top up her cell phone and recited a series of numbers. I told her she was not making any sense and she hung up. Something was terribly wrong. I called Mil again and again over the next few days with no reply, but on Saturday a young man in the house in which she was staying answered her phone: She was in the hospital. “The doctors say it is 50-50. She is on life support at St. Mary’s.”
I stopped everything and went to the hospital. I was allowed into the intensive care unit by a young and charming doctor when I explained I was a close friend. What greeted me can only be described as a scene from a horror film. Mil was attached to every machine in creation and had obviously been bleeding from every orifice. She was the color of death. Her kidneys had shut down and as she had suffered complete renal failure was on dialysis. Like most people who live out their lives never having experienced catastrophic medical events, I had never seen a dialysis machine and remember uttering a sort of “auwgh!” sound. She required close to 100% oxygen, was on a ventilator, and was attached to an array of innumerable tubes and needles. Even the sight of my mother in intensive care before her death had not prepared me for this.