Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?
Sitting outside the hospital in the car park, I knew once we got out of the van things wouldn’t be the same again.
It had been a long week that brought us to this point. By my side throughout Dave tried to prepare me for what was ahead. Having some experience of impending death he knew the shock that awaited me. Seeing someone you love and care about fade away to nothing is not an easy moment to prepare for.
Slowly we made our way towards the entrance. Opening the door, we walked in. Climbing the steps, each movement bringing us closer to the greatest shock of our lives. Unable to anticipate what was waiting, unable to imagine what I was about to behold, I moved unconsciously towards the Intensive Care Unit in St. Vincent’s Hospital.
This week was the longest week of my life. Starting on Sunday night in Galway and ending Saturday evening in Dublin. Who’d have imagined that answering the phone on Sunday would change my life forever?
It was a normal Sunday evening. We were watching rubbish television and enjoying the end of our days off together before we had to go back to the reality of the weekly rat race. At the time I was working in a factory – best described as a hole in the ground where my purpose was to hit a peddle with my foot and then hit a counter with my hand: oh the joyous fulfillment! To say I hated it would be an understatement.
The phone rang. Grace was on the other end. Delighted to hear from her, I asked how she was. She said that she was in Galway and would it be ok if she stayed with us for a few days. “Of course,” I said. It had been sometime since I’d spent quality time with Grace. The opportunity to have her in my life again was one that brought happiness and excitement.
We had been very close when I lived in Dublin. Since moving to Galway, some of my friendships had faded away. Others were still there but not as close or as intense as they once were. With Grace I always felt we would be friends no matter how present we were in each other’s lives. I remember her saying this one sunny day while eating lunch in Stephen’s Green.
Dave and I drove to town and collected Grace from Dominick Street. She wasn’t herself but I didn’t notice this: I was just so happy to see her. I wanted her to know Dave and to be part of my life in Galway. I wanted her to feel at home with us and to feel she could come and stay whenever she wanted.
That night we ate buttery toast, drank tea, and talked like old times. Only there was a difference: her concentration was fleeting. One minute she was on one topic and the next she was elsewhere. She seemed more childlike than I remembered: she was nervous and fearful and speaking about being followed and trying to escape judgment. To comfort her through the night and help her sleep calmly we allowed our youngest dog Mini to sleep with her – Mini was delighted with this job! Grace felt a connection to Mini and Mini’s presence seemed to ground her and distract her from the voices she felt haunted by.
The next day we realised that Grace wasn’t the Grace I once knew. She was still in there but had been consumed by demons. The demons of tragic experiences that scarred her beautiful soul. Demons she tried to conquer but inevitably would conquer her.
Walking along Silver Strand beach on a windy January afternoon she began to cry, asking for help she cried out, “Please stop, I’ve been through enough.” As a child she had been abused. As a teenager she had lost her brother – her best friend – in a freak accident. She was always in control of herself and aware of her past. She acknowledged what happened with her granddad but felt that she had dealt with this and that it was no longer bothering her.
One day in 2004 it started to bother her again. So much so she couldn’t function in reality. So much so she ended up in hospital drugged out of her brains – not the best treatment for someone dealing with trauma. I later learned that this hospital experience was extremely frightening and traumatic for her. She could hear people screaming and roaring throughout the night. This wasn’t the place for her. She didn’t feel the hospital was equipped to support her in the way she needed.
On the beach I was alarmed at what she was saying. Alarmed but understanding. She said that they wouldn’t let her go. She had a route to follow and she had veered off course. And now they were going to punish her. The ‘they’ she was referring to were in her head.
We spent some time walking through the breeze allowing the salty air sweep through our hair and wipe away Grace’s tears. All the time I was thinking ‘how can I help my friend?’ Hoping to find the answer on the beach, I listened to the sea and watched the wild waves hoping that an answer would come to me.
On our way home Dave and I agreed it was time to intervene. We drove to a counsellor we knew. June spent some time talking to Grace. After the session she pulled Dave and I aside and confided that Grace was psychotic and at high risk of committing suicide. She recommended that we bring Grace to hospital and have her committed immediately. Then June handed Grace back to us and let us leave.
(I haven’t forgiven June for this. I try to. But it isn’t easy. We went to her for help and she let us down.)
That evening we headed home and enjoyed a delicious meal together: Dave is a talented cook. Afterwards, he slipped out for a while to investigate the process of committing a person to the psychiatric ward of the Galway hospital.
Sitting outside in his van, he reflected on the process we were about to embark. He struggled with what we were about to do. So much so he couldn’t do it. From his van he rang the psychiatric unit and was informed that non-family members couldn’t have a person committed.
He returned home and we spoke it through. We then spoke to Grace and told her our concerns and how June had recommended she go into hospital for a while to help her rest her mind. She wouldn’t hear it. I was upset that this was happening to my friend and that I was thinking of putting her into hospital – I know Dave felt the same way. She reassured us that she would go back to Dublin and sort herself out.
Tuesday morning, on the way to work, we dropped Grace off at the bus stop. She was on her way back to Dublin.
That evening a storm hit the west coast. At Salthill the waves were massive. They rose up over the rocks and pounded down onto the main road. What a sight! It was like the sea was fighting back and reclaiming the land. An eerie panic ran through the city and all factories closed early. On our way home we drove by the sea to take in the power and beauty of the evening.
At home we pottered about as normal: dinner, soaps, tea, chat. I remembered I’d sent a text to Grace a few hours previously and had not yet received a reply. So I rang her. No answer. Then I rang again. No answer. Feeling that something wasn’t quite right, I rang her mother. I told her about Grace’s time with us and I relayed my concerns. Her mother tried to reassure me that everything would be fine and that Grace had behaved like this with other friends recently. I accepted her comfort but still felt unsettled – maybe it was the weather but something seemed amiss.
Two o’clock that morning my phone rang. “What did she take? What did she take?”
“What? Who is this?” I said half asleep.
“It’s Brid. They are trying to get Grace to wake up. They need to know what she took. Do you know what she took?”
“No. Maybe. She said she’d been collecting pills for some time. Paracetamol. I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
That night Grace was taken to hospital. After my conversation with her mother, Joan had tried to contact Grace but unfortunately failed. She then rang Grace’s flat mate Brid. When Brid returned from work Grace was in bed. On Joan’s prompt she checked her and found that she wasn’t asleep. She rang for an ambulance. Joan and Grace’s dad then made their way from Limerick to Dublin.
The days that followed were a blur. She was awake. Everything was going to be fine. Everyone was relieved. Life was good again.
Then everything changed. Kidney and liver transplant became the focus. She wouldn’t survive without a transplant. Very quickly things had gone from possible recovery to transplants. (Transplant at twenty-five years of age. A transplant needed as soon as possible or else.)
Then the phone rang. A tearful man said, “You need to come to Dublin.” I listened but didn’t want to hear. Between the lines he was saying: ‘You need to come and say goodbye.’ When he said it again and again, I let go of the fear and embraced the necessity of the situation. It had been some week and I needed to be there, for her, for me, for the time we spent together, for the relationship we had, and for whatever other many reasons that were running through my mind.
Dave drove. It took three hours. I’d made a similar journey once before: my Granddad died in December 2002. I remember going home knowing that I was going home to say goodbye to him. It was a difficult journey but I knew it was time. He had struggled with cancer for some time. The cancer was brutal and had slowly destroyed him. He had had a great life filled with love, golf, and socialising. Although it was sad and I still miss him today it was time, he couldn’t fight the cancer any longer.
Driving back for Grace, a part of me believed that unlike my Granddad Grace would make a miraculous recovery. I knew from her father’s urgency in beckoning me to Dublin that things were bad but I still held hope in my heart that God or whoever would sort this mess out and give my Grace another chance at life.
Each signpost indicated Dublin was getting closer and closer. Dave held my hand, squeezing it in reassurance, no matter what we were facing we were facing it together.
Arriving at ICU we stood together. The doctor said only one at a time could enter. I went in alone. I washed my hands and put the cover over my clothes and allowed myself to be guided through the unit. I tried not to look at the people in the ward but it was impossible. Each bed housed an elderly person who was near the end of life. The sense of death surrounded me and as I moved closer and closer to Grace I began to feel the false hope and confidence, which had brought me to this point, disappear.
At the end of the unit, alone, stood Grace’s bed. Wires and machines were hooked up to the bed. She wasn’t like she’d been at the start of the week. Now she was punctured with tubes and apparatuses to keep her alive. Her parents were by her side taking in their daughter’s every moment. I stood at her bed and tried to take it all in. I tried to see my friend; the friend who had brought so much fun and love to my life. I tried to see the nights we had danced like fools at The Palace Nightclub; the nights we’d spent laughing through our work shift at The Olympia; the chats about boys who weren’t worthy of our time; and the comfort, reassurance, and support we had given each other over the years. It wasn’t easy. What lay before me was a shell of that girl. It was her but not the real true Grace anymore. I quietly prayed hoping that what was before me would change and she would be revived to the vibrant, loving, outgoing girl I knew her to be.
After a few moments feeling unsteady I made my way back to Dave. Outside ICU on the corridor of the hospital I felt myself fall into Dave’s arms. I cried and cried. Not knowing what to do we started to walk down the stairs. In the foyer we met Grace’s brother. Together we sat and had some tea. We talked about Grace and what might happen. Grace’s brother disclosed that Grace had taken hundreds of pills. She had begun the process long before she landed in Galway. She had begun a process of slowly chipping away at her liver so that when she decided to take the overdose there would be no coming back.
Shock hit hard. Sugar was needed to prevent Dave and me from fainting. We took in the news. The shock of how deeply in pain she must have been to go to such lengths was beyond overwhelming.
Leaving the hospital my phone rang again. The moment had come and Grace had passed. I was distraught but grateful. I was grateful to her for allowing me the chance to say goodbye.
There were a slew of emotions to follow but in that moment there was some peace.
(anger, confusion, loss, pain both emotional and physical, guilt, questions, regret, a desire to go back and change the events, force her into hospital in Galway, not let her leave us that morning…)