Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Elaine stood over my shoulder, watching my every move. She'd been there from the second I knelt down beside her husband Carl. She watched every chest compression, heard every rib as it cracked loudly beneath my hands. And as she watched and listened, she told Carl's life story. 

"He lost his leg last year. Diabetes, you know. Awful disease. But he didn't really look after himself. It was probably his own fault in the end." 

She watched as two more crews entered and made a little room for them and their equipment. Then, as we worked in streamlined silence, she continued her story. 

"We're a rare couple we are. Carl from Jamaica and me, a working-class white girl from the East End. When we got married, back in the sixties, my parents swore to write me out of their lives. They never visited, we never visited them, and eventually we didn't even speak. There was no such thing as racism back then. It was just black and white. And no mixing."

She watched as someone stuck a needle in his arm and started to give him fluids and drugs. 

"When the grand-kids came along, suddenly they wanted to visit. But only if Carl wasn't home. So I told them they could choose. They either accepted our family as it was, or they couldn't be a part of it. It was the toughest decision of my life." 

She watched as a tube went down Carl's throat, allowing us to help him breathe a little more. 

"Our friends stopped being our friends. Blacks and whites each going their own separate ways, all of them turning outwards, away from us, instead of rallying around us and learning from each other. We were left with no family, no friends. It was just us. Carl and me and the kids." 

She watched as the first of the shocks jolted Carl's lifeless body off the floor, the unnatural jerk phasing her just a little, throwing her narrative into a brief silence.

"Is he going to be OK?" 

"We're doing everything we can for him, but at the moment the signs aren't good." 

"He's a fighter you know. He'd have to be, putting up with what we have. We've had to fight for everything. Over the last few years, though, we've finally been winning that fight. Mixed couples are all normal now, aren't they?" 

She watched another shock violently wrack his body and begged him to keep fighting.

"I love seeing them. Walking through the park, doing the shopping, wherever. And those beautiful children. Remind me of my own kids when they were little. Not that my kids aren't beautiful any more!" 

She watched as half an hour later, we stopped. Carl lay where he fell and Elaine knelt next to his head, her story told, muttering in silent prayer.

"Maybe," Elaine said after watching us clear up, "I'll write our story one day. Be good to have it written down once I've gone too, then someone else can tell our story." 


Andy in Germany said...

Thanks for the story: I'm collecting peoples stories from around here as well so we don't lose them as the older generations die.

Nurse and Hospital Stories said...

"I'll write our story one day. Be good to have it written down once I've gone too, then someone else can tell our story."

And you had written it here, eh. A very good story of love and strength. Hope he gets well. :)

Peny@scrubs free shipping

Anonymous said...

I'm crying in the pub as I read this. It's a good look. Carl and Elaine. Best love story I ever read.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that. It caught me by surprise and brought tears to my eyes. A poignant vignette of the quiet heroic strength of everyday people all around us. And the dignity and grace bestowed by love.