This book, and Webber's first award-winning book, Meeting Jesus, should be in the hands of every recruit, soldier, candidate, officer, and former officer - they and the Army will be strengthened as a result. Awarded 5 Stars
by Howard Webber.
FROM THE MIDST OF A STORM
(Written at the time)
Until recently we were a happy settled family: my wife Judy, Christopher aged nine years, Sarah eight years, Naomi eight months and a little one due in six months time to be a partner to Naomi. Three weeks ago Christopher was a bit poorly, but we were not too concerned. Two weeks ago things were a little bit more serious and our general practitioner referred him to a paediatric consultant at the hospital. Whilst I was at the hospital with Christopher, Judy was informed by phone that her blood screening test for spina bifida had given a positive result.
‘Don’t worry, your dates are probably wrong,’ they said, but we had made a careful and deliberate note of the dates, as the baby was planned. ‘Don’t worry, the other possibility is twins,’ she was told. But there is no trace of twins in either of our families. I came home from hospital to find Judy in floods of tears. I was angry that such a result had been given her over the telephone, yet when I made enquiries the following day, they were met with a denial that any such thing could happen. Asking for a reassurance that my wife had imagined it, and confirmation that the result was not positive, the ante-natal clinic refused to confirm or deny it.
We kept telling ourselves that it couldn’t possibly be spina bifida and yet we were not convinced. As that week progressed Christopher entered hospital for observation and more tests. Despite some pain, he did not seem too bad in himself. We brought him home for the weekend but had to take him back again Monday morning for further investigations. The pain he had been suffering increased quite dramatically over the weekend and by now he was having difficulty walking. He cried out loudly with the pain despite my efforts to carry him to the car with as little movement as possible. I stayed with him at the hospital throughout the day.
The following day I returned to the hospital to spend another day with him, at the end of which I went home for some food and to catch up on my work. I hadn’t been home very long when we received a telephone call from the hospital, ‘The consultant wishes to see one of you in the children’s ward at 6.30 pm tonight,’ said the sister. I explained that I had been there all day and would be coming in again in the morning.
‘The consultant is coming in from home especially. He needs to see you tonight,’ the sister then added, with a tone of urgency in her voice.
‘You are making it sound very serious,’ I said.
‘I can’t discuss it on the phone,’ she replied, so I assured her I would come.
Judy and I both sensed the impending gravity of what was to follow even though we could not imagine what it could be. Knowing the state Judy was already in regarding her own news, I asked Russell and his wife Honor to come and keep Judy company while I went to the hospital.
‘I’m afraid that Christopher has leukaemia,’ the consultant paediatrician said.
‘Leukaemia? My son?’ My stomach reacted as though it had been punched, and my head numbed suddenly at the same moment as though it had shared the blow; a numbness that remains.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Quite sure, though exactly what type of leukaemia has yet to be diagnosed. If it is the most common type then there is a good chance that it might respond to treatment and we might save him.’ I left the sister’s office bewildered and popped in to the ward see my little lad. He was both pleased and surprised at my unexpected visit at that hour. But I could not stay. I had to leave quickly for I was nearly choking with a grief that cried to be released.
‘How am I to tell Judy?’ I thought, as tears trickled down my face on my journey home: ‘If he has the most likely type of this disease, he has a forty-five per cent chance of recovery,’ the consultant had told me.
I had my feelings under control by the end of the ten mile journey home, but as I opened my mouth to speak, Judy’s eyes pierced my defences and the words tumbled out with the tears. My normally very quiet wife screamed in response to the news and punched the walls, something totally out of character, something I had never ever seen her do before. Honor, who had been keeping her company, broke down and wept as her husband left the room and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on and probably hide his own feelings.
We were devastated. The following day Christopher had to be taken the fifty miles to Liverpool where there was a specialist oncology unit in the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The paediatrician had advised me that one of us travel with Christopher in the ambulance. Judy wanted to go, but she also had an appointment at the ante natal clinic. She needed to discover more regarding that terrible phone call she had had the previous week. I phoned officer-friends at the next corps to see if they could drop everything to look after Judy and our other two children, and take her to the clinic as she didn’t drive. Judy wanted to be with her little boy but she needed to keep her clinic appointment. I wanted to be there for her, but also be there for our son. The following morning I said good-bye to Judy, Sarah and Naomi and drove to meet up with Christopher at the hospital. Judy felt torn apart . . . I felt torn apart . . . Sarah was confused and Christopher bewildered.
No sooner had we entered the hospital in Liverpool than cerebral spinal fluid, bone marrow and blood were taken from him.
‘I confirm that your son does indeed have leukaemia but it is the most common and treatable sort,’ the consultant told me a few hours later. ‘It will require an intensive regime of treatment and it will probably be three years before we can say that he has fully recovered and there is no sign of leukaemia cells. Even then he will need periodic check-ups. Ninety per cent of children make an initial positive response to treatment and get back home after three months, but of these, fifty per cent recover and the other fifty per cent regress, deteriorate and die in the months that follow.’
‘It can’t be true, not MY Christopher ... it’s not true ... it can’t be happening to us!’ I had thought that somehow they would discover that a mistake had been made with that initial diagnosis at the other hospital; that the results of the tests at this hospital would prove the other’s results wrong.
‘How do you want to handle this?’ asked the consultant. ‘Do you want to tell him or keep it from him?’
‘I can’t keep it from him. If the worst comes to the worse and he realised that I had kept the truth from him or lied, I would never be able to live with myself.’ With the consultant in tow, I popped into the ward and sat on the edge of Christopher’s bed.
‘What’s going to happen, Daddy?’ he asked
‘You know that you have been quite poorly?’
‘Well you have an illness called leukaemia. It is a very serious illness and some children have died from it’ (I felt that by phrasing it like this he might think of it as being a long time ago rather than something so recent as to frighten him), ‘but this doctor is very clever and is going to do everything he can to make you better, OK?’
‘Yes, Dad. That’s a lovely name.’
‘What is?’ I asked quizzically.
‘Leukaemia, it sounds like Luke in the Bible,’ he replied. Dear Christopher, he could make me smile even at such a critical and upsetting time. I was then called to the phone, it was my officer friend Paul who, with his wife Julie, were looking after the rest of my family.
‘Hi Howard, how are things with you?’
‘They have just confirmed that it is leukaemia,’ I replied.
‘I’m so sorry mate,’ Paul commiserated, ‘are you sitting down?’
‘I know, they’ve confirmed that Judy’s expecting a spina bifida child.’
‘No mate, it’s twins … (SILENCE) … are you still there?’
Part two follows tomorrow
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