I woke up Friday 1st March feeling very tired and groggy – I wasn’t breathing properly, and decided to phone in sick. To be fair I thought I’d be back on Monday, and by the end of the day I was feeling much better. I even joined in the Karaoke at my local – a first! I had never been in there before, the place is supposed to be dead rough and nothing but trouble. But appearances can be deceptive. OK one bloke fell over drunk whilst trying to leave the pub, but actual trouble? Nope. OK the people there weren’t exactly fashion victims, but then neither am I. The only thing that really bothered me is that, when I sang “Handbags and Gladrags” there was a slight feeling of discomfort in my throat.
And Saturday morning it happened! I woke up worse than I had on Friday, and with an ultra sore throat to boot, mainly from lots of coughing to move a build up of phlegm. I was wheezing, not nice at all. The weather was really cold, but even the two-minute walk from the entrance to my flats to the indoor shopping centre, which houses a supermarket, had me gasping for breath as soon as I tried to breath in the cold air. I saw the doctor on Friday 8th and he said I had bronchitis. He was going to sign me off the following week but I told him I had leave booked from 14th and was going to Malta for two weeks, where it would be much warmer! He was quite pleased, said it would help a lot. He signed me off up to and including 13th.
Death of a lovely friend
On the 14th I got packed and popped into the office with my sick notes. Early that afternoon, I got a phone call from the son of one of my facebook friends. She had died that morning. Certainly no-one made a fuss over her, she didn’t get on the front page of any newspapers. What really upset me more than anything was that we had been chatting on line only that Saturday and talking about arranging for one of us to cook dinner for the other after I got back from Malta. What was even more upsetting was that she used to be very difficult to talk to, there was a palpable amount of depression and defeatism going through some of the conversations we had, but by late last year, she had dealt with her demons, and was like new, mentally at least! She had thanked me for continuing to be her friend through the times when she had been hard work, and when I met her for a drink and a meal just before Christmas, she was wonderful company, more talkative, and a beaming smile on her face. At least my last memory of her will be a good one.
So off to Malta
All names used in this story are false but the people and facts are real.
I was aware that the friend I was staying with in Malta (Brenda) was not herself, had been ill and not going out, but on the 13th I had got a message from another friend of hers (Ann) to prepare me for quite how bad she actually is. And when I got there, it was a shock, to say the least. She rarely got off her sofa. I was aware that she slept on her sofa with the lights on, she even did that when I visited last year, despite being mobile. People have their demons and she likes to sleep in the living room with the lights on. But now she barely had a choice. Brenda could just about pull herself up to go to the loo, and that’s about as far as she ever got. Friday night I was still knackered from the flight but Saturday night I went for a drink with Ann to a local bar, where we were informed that they would have a live band for St Patrick’s the following night. We moved on to another bar, where another friend of Ann’s turned up, Connie, and we had a nice chat.
Returning back to the flat, I went to bed, but I had woken up before I heard a scream of “Help” emanating from the living room. Brenda had been unable to get up off the sofa, and had needed to go to the loo, with the inevitable consequence. I cleaned up the mess as best I could, but couldn’t find anything to clean between the floor tiles. Fortunately when Ann turned up later, she knew what to use. A window squeegee with a tea towel wrapped around! I told Brenda to call me to help her up before it was too late next time! Brenda told me and Ann to go and get some lunch and handed us €30. Once we were happy she was OK, we did!
We went to a Marina cafe bar, and Connie was sitting outside with Darren, her boyfriend, having a drink. We talked before telling them we were going in for food, did they want to join us. Darren wanted to stay outside in the sun for a five minutes, but would join us then. He never did. He was an odd character to say the least. That night, we had some fun at the St Patrick’s night do. After the music had finished, Connie and Darren walked in and stood next to the table where we were sitting. I suggested they sat down as they were making me tired! Connie did, and Darren walked away. Ann went to see some other friends, and a drunk Connie told me about how, due to Malta’s strategic importance, the place is overrun with spies, and people with a lot more power than they appear to have. As the evening went on, I realised that she was talking about Darren, and that she didn’t want to be with him but it wasn’t that easy. A feature of the two weeks I was there, was Connie trying to break up with Darren and eventually succeeding, thanks to Ann letting her move in with her.
Time for Hospital
On Thursday 21st, after a conversation with Ann, and another friend, Eamonn, we decided that we needed to get Brenda into hospital. However, we knew that she wouldn’t go willingly, but her health had visibly deteriorated over the last few days and it wasn’t good to begin with. That evening we got a doctor round. He took her pulse (too fast but very weak) and her blood pressure (extremely low) and decided that she would die if not treated soon. She wouldn’t go. It took hours of persuasion plus a threat by the doctor that he would do the Maltese equivalent of having her sectioned under their Mental Health legislation if she refused treatment. Apparently under Maltese law if a person whose life is at risk refuses treatment they have to give them a mental health assessment, and, if they pass it, they have to sign a statement, witnessed by a lawyer, that they do not want treatment. Unless this is done, anyone who failed to raise the alarm or give her the appropriate treatment, is guilty of an offence if the person dies.
At the 11th hour, 59th minute, Brenda finally agreed to go to hospital. Her exact words were: “Dave, can you put my trainers on for me and get my jacket”. Eamonn had to go to the airport to pick someone up off a plane. Ann was crying, feeling guilty – alternately for forcing Brenda into hospital against her will, and for not doing it sooner. At least when we got to the hospital Friday afternoon, they had given her a blood transfusion, and she seemed much better. But her blood count or some measurement had got down to 3. Apparently 7 was too low last year, so 3 must have been scary. I’ve no doubt that if we hadn’t got her there, I would have another dead friend before I got home.
No Rest For the Wicked
On the Saturday night, Ann and I met Connie in a bar, and Connie observed how tired Ann looked. She said she would take me to Marsaxlokk on the Sunday morning, so that Ann could have a lie-in. So we did. Whilst we were in Marsaxlokk, first Connie’s son went to Ann’s flat, still drunk from the night before, and creating. No sooner had he gone when Darren turned up there demanding to see her and screaming up from the street outside. Poor Ann, she never got her rest.
There were a few other things, but let me skip ahead to the last night, Wednesday 27th. It was the final night of the Band Club. Well, at least under the current proprietors. Ann had told Connie that we were there, and later, in walked Connie, with Darren! Oh dear, were they back together again? It certainly looked that way. It transpired, however, that Connie had gone to another bar to play pool, and he had appeared just as she was racking up a game. She decided to start walking, and he followed her. Given the route between the two premises, not wise, but Ann had a word with Darren and off he went. Apparently he denied making a nuisance of himself on Sunday. She stood up to him. She said that’s something she couldn’t have done before, but she feels much stronger now. I’m glad, she’s a good person and hopefully this new-found strength will give her a better life in future. I got back and into bed at 3:30am Thursday morning. I had to get packed, to the hospital in the morning, and to the airport in the afternoon. I managed to do all that, though I realised when I got home that I had left my manky old pair of slippers behind!