Thursday 12th November 2009
Gestation: 6 weeks, 6 days
One year ago.
My phone goes again. I take it out and look at the screen. I see a picture of Suse’s laughing face, a grin on our wedding day. I take a deep breath.
It’s another one of those calls. I can sense it already. Of course, the reception is bad. But even through the noise, I get it.
“I’ve…” Cry, sob, sigh, crackle.
“One more time, honey?”
“And…” Another sob, another sigh.
“Look, this line is really bad. I’ll ring you straight back.”
I hang up the phone and dial.
“I’ve got an ectopic, Mark.”
“What?” My world spins anticlockwise.
“It’s an ectopic. They missed it on the earlier scans, or they couldn’t see it.” She trails off.
“Where are you?”
“East Melbourne. At the ultrasound clinic.”
“So what now?”
“Kath wants to see us.”
“Are you all right? I can get a cab over there if…”
“…No, I’ll drive over to you. I’ll pick you up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Is that safe?”
“Don’t start, Mark.” My world keeps rotating. “Can you meet me?”
“Of course. I’m gone. They’ll cope. I’ll meet you whenever you want. You say when.”
“I’ll ring when I arrive.” She hangs up.
I look around the room, like I’ll find an answer. I head out.
“Are you ready for your next patient, Mark?”
“Ummm, I might be a moment, Raelene.” I walk out of the front doors of the clinic, and then straight back in. I lean my head over the desk. “Raelene, I’ve just found out my wife’s got an ectopic,” I whisper.
Her mouth opens wide, before she closes it again.
“Say no more, everyone is gone.”
“Thank you.” I walk out the door, leaving everything behind.
* * * * *
“Well, when an ectopic is this size, we can usually get away without surgery.”
“Really?” we both say.
“Yes,” Kath continues, “we can use methotrexate. As a drug treatment rather than a surgical one.”
Our glamorous obstetrician sits back in her chair. I think about methotrexate; a drug for cancer, severe arthritis, refractory inflammatory bowel disease and other such conditions that, simply, will not respond to kinder things. My mind whirls like a top. It’s today’s trick.
“With a Beta-HCG less than 3500, and a sac smaller than 3cm, methotrexate is our preferred option,” Kath purrs.
I shake my head nervously. I list my apprehension about side effects, like they’re pending humanitarian disasters. I’m Woody Allen in a title fight; laying out each concern with a feeble punch. She absorbs each blow without even flinching. Eventually I give up.
“What do you think, hon?” I say, turning to Suse.
“Have I got a choice?” We both look back at her. “I mean, really. This pregnancy has to end, right? I have no choice in that, do I?” She sighs, pinching at her eyes. “And if this might save my tube, then we’ve got to do it. Don’t we?”
We all sit for another moment.
“So what do we do?” I ask.
“It needs to be done through the public hospital. You’ll be admitted downstairs through Emergency, and then you’ll go up to Oncology. It’s just a single shot.”
Fittingly, they don’t deal with dirty drugs like methotrexate privately. We have to go and wait in Emergency for the public doctors to hand over this grubby injection.
* * * * *
We stand at the Triage Desk, a man in front of us.
“Is this Emergency?” he asks.
“Yes, it is.”
“I’ve got a problem with my abdomen.” He points, lifting his kaftan and lowering the front of his tracksuit pants as he does.
“This is a women’s hospital.”
“Oh,” he says. He walks away. One of his thongs falls off.
“Can I help you?” the Triage Nurse asks.
“Hi,” Suse says.
With that, another man pushes in front of us.
“ ’Scuse me,” he bellows, scratching at the scabs on his arms, “Can I get through, please?”
“You just interrupted this lady,” the Triage Nurse says, cranking her bitch-voice up to nine.
“Oh sorry, love.” Scabby Man goes to touch Suse on the arm. I slap his hand down.
“Just ask your question, mate,” I say.
“Thanks, mate,” he says, turning to the counter.
“Do you know any of the patients in the Department?” the Triage Nurse asks.
“Nah, I just want to be in the vicinity of someone pregnant.” We all raise our eyebrows. For me, it’s in response to him knowing the word ‘vicinity’. “But if you could point me in the direction of me partner, that would be great.” Scabby Man laughs in my direction, rolling his eyes, picking at crusts. It’s the ‘all-women-are-stupid’ eye roll. I smile thinly. He wears a blue singlet, revealing a variety of Asian symbols tattooed on his arms and back, unaware that they announce to all of Vietnam that he’s a cunt.
“If you would just wait, sir, I’ll be with you shortly.”
“No problem, no problem. You guys feel free to go first.”
Suse smiles, and then begins to tell her story. She uses the right emphasis on the word ‘ectopic’, she highlights her level of pain, and she appropriately mentions her recent bleeding. Throughout at all, Suse remembers the rules of engagement.
“You won’t have to wait too long,” the Triage Nurse promises. As we walk to the seats, Suse winks at me.
We sit. The waiting room is empty, bar one other person. That woman is very pale, blending in well with the wall. Scabby Man is eventually let through.
“How’s your pain right now?” the Triage Nurse asks again.
“Oh, not great,” Suse replies.
We sit for three whole minutes. Suse reads an old magazine, while I try to make out the breathing wall opposite, finally seeing her yellowed teeth as she smiles.
“Come through, love.”
* * * * *
First stop is the ancient porcelain scales.
“Wow,” I say.
“Aren’t they magnificent?” the nurse proudly replies. “They’re from the old hospital.” Suse is weighed in quarts, which are converted into bushels for simplicity. She moves to the tape on the wall beside, which measures her in centimetres. The old and the new.
We are ushered to Cubicle Six, to commence our vigil. For a while it is novel; it takes Suse fifteen minutes to even lie on the bed. Eventually another nurse walks in.
“I’m here to take some blood.”
“We already did that upstairs.”
“Oh, right,” the nurse replies. “Where exactly?”
“At the private lab on the second floor,” Suse says.
“There’s more than one lab?”
So they say.
* * * * *
We sit and wait. We talk. We check emails on my laptop. We talk some more. And we listen.
Within earshot, in an unseen cubicle, a woman is in pain. It quickly becomes clear that she is in labour, is carrying too much fluid, and has battered veins following recurrent blood tests.
“I could really do with a fucken’ ciggie and a Jim Beam,” she says with emphasis.
“I just don’t understand why you need all these tests,” says a man.
“This has nothing to do with you!” shouts another unseen female.
“Yeah, all right, all right,” says the man, defending himself.
“Scabby Man found his partner,” I say to Suse. She nods.
“So just remember, that this has nothing to do with you!” the screaming continues. “And mind your own fucken’ business! ’Cause you’ve got shit for brains!”
Everything goes quiet for a minute, before Scabby man appears outside our cubicle. He stands there pensively, scratching. He looks across at us, like we might be able to help. We look away.
“This is my business!” yells the unseen man from the cubicle. I look at Suse, frowning. This isn’t Scabby Man in the cubicle; this is another one. There are two Scabby Men in the same department. Cast from the same crusty mould.
“You’ve got shit for brains and you know it!” squeals the second woman.
Everything goes silent. After a couple of minutes, the conversation starts up again, labouring on about everything else but that. Fluid Lady starts to talk about her fear of needles, and the excruciating pain of the blood pressure cuff when it blows up around her arm.
“What does she think child birth is going to be like?” Suse asks.
I look back, and shrug.
And all the while, Scabby Man stands there scratching.
TO BE CONTINUED…
* * * * *