‘Don’t die, Dad.’

A hot morning with the threat of thunderstorms ahead for the wedding day of my third daughter.

Such a strange time we’re having.

Weddings tend to be tumultuous affairs; at least in the preparations, and then on the day after all the work has gone into making the day happen, we get to event and it’s jubilant.

We’ve had the additional strain and relief of somehow getting my husband to the wedding between antibiotic infusions.

The hospital is treating him four hourly and it takes at least 30 minutes to get one dose through his system, first the antibiotic followed by a flush through with sodium chloride and water. Then they can unhook him, leaving the cannula in place and covered with a sock to reduce the chance of further infection.

My husband then has three hours, give or take, to go downstairs for a cup of tea so that he doesn’t go crazy cooped up in a hospital ward all day.

Last Tuesday I took him to the hairdressers. He was overdue for a hair cut and needed one before the wedding. His first trip out of hospital doors in over a week and he was exhausted an hour or two later when we arrived back on the ward.

Today’s is a much bigger outing given my husband will travel to the wedding to be part of the ceremony and give his speech – a short one, and now included within the ceremony as he may not last long enough beyond photos and into the reception before he needs go back to hospital.

It’s exhausting to think about. It’s exhausting to put together these two clashes of life requirements: the liveliness and celebratory nature of a wedding and the call for quiet and rest in relation to a life threatening illness.

But we’ll do it.

We’ll put them together and the one will colour the other. The one will feed off and nurture the other; the one will add a complexity and colour to an experience we’ll never forget.

When my husband first fell ill, when he sat shivering with the fevers brought on by this wicked infection that had crept into his blood stream – only we didn’t know it yet – I told him, ‘You must not die. Not now’.

The words of Les Murray’s poem to his father, Last Hellos, ring out in my ears:

‘Don’t die Dad, but they die.’

In this instance though, my daughter’s father has not died, and he will be there at her wedding with all the humour that is a feature of his personality, the humour and irreverence, and also the sincerity and authenticity that is a part of him, and we will celebrate this wedding with confidence and hope into the future.

By the end of today, it will be over and any images that accompany this post will give a taste of the day with all its colour.

For now, we’re on the brink of something new. And with it I hope my husband’s health will be restored.

He told me yesterday, he’s looking forward to doing things again, by which he means using his hands to make and mend.

He’s a craftsman and a man of many talents. It’s too soon for his hands to lie idle for long.

A wedding and a recovery, all in one.

One day, in years to come, my husband will die – as will I – but it’s too soon now.

A short history of hospital

In 1975, in the months after I first met my husband, he was admitted to Cabrini Hospital in Malvern, for elective surgery on his hand.

He told me the story then of how he had suffered an injury on the football field years earlier when he dislocated his thumb.

It popped back into place but was extremely painful at the time and then made worse when one of his teachers, a Christian Brother, decided my husband had been insolent one more time than was tolerable.

Out to the front and hands out, palms up for a caning, only this time the impact of the leather strap on my husband’s then adolescent upright palm set the dislocation from a temporary ailment into one that was fixed.

Thereafter, whenever my husband so much as picked up a bottle or some other heavy object, his thumb slipped out of place.

In that same year 1975, his doctor told my then husband-to-be, he needed surgery to correct the damage.

And so it was for the first time, I found myself visiting my new boyfriend in Cabrini Hospital.

On each of my visits, he joked about turning the picture of the founder of the nuns who then ran the hospital, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, to face the wall. And whenever he did so, another nun walked by and turned it back.

In those days, rules were strict, visiting hours were absolute and a trip to the hospital, even for a non-patient, was quite the ordeal.

In 1975, my husband was hospitalised for only a few days and glad to be released.

Nine years later, I was back in this hospital as a patient myself to have our second child, and since then two more. (The first was born at Margaret Coles House, the maternity wing of the Alfred Hospital, which closed down years ago.)

Life in a maternity ward is different from life in a general ward or any other ward at Cabrini.

In 2004, during a routine colonoscopy at Cabrini, my husband suffered a heart attack and wound up in the cardiac unit there. He did well, recovered and many years have passed until a couple of weeks ago.

A bug crept inside my husband’s body and made its way into and through his blood stream in search of vulnerable places, including an old shoulder wound from over thirty years ago when my husband hurt his rotator cuff.

The wound healed but the scar tissue, or whatever developed there, was a good place for this bug to visit.

It also travelled in search of metal. At least that’s what the doctors said. In this instance, the leads to his pace maker.

This time two weeks ago my husband was still home but beginning to feel ill. He had not slept for three nights.

‘Bed rest and Panadol and in time it’ll settle down’, the weekend doctor had said.

But two days later, we visited my husband’s regular doctor and the situation became more worrying as she took blood tests, which picked up that the enzymes for his heart markers had risen.

Off to hospital he should go.

That Tuesday, I dropped everything in the form of babysitting my two grandsons after school, left them home with their dad, and took off to pick up my husband from home and then on to Cabrini, a trip we’ve made so many times before.

It has taken since then for staff to diagnose the nature of the infection, a common garden-variety bacterium.

It lives in all of us, in our noses, our ears, our eyes, on our skin and is fine, but not if it gets inside your bloodstream.

Hence the need for those fierce antibiotics.

Bucket loads of antibiotics and in time all will be well.

I measure our visits to Cabrini as markers along our lifetime.

A dislocated thumb, the birth of babies, and a heart attack, followed by a bug invasion. There was also the time I broke my leg in 2010 and spent three ghastly nights in Cabrini.

I have written about this elsewhere.

And the picture of the founder of the nuns no longer graces the individual ward walls, only one huge image in the foyer.

While a crucifix still finds its place high above my husband’s bed, a reminder of his location.