I’m two hours away from home in a hotel room when the phone rings at 6.15am. My daughter’s name flashes up on the screen. I know it must be serious because of the time.
“Don’t worry, Mum,” she says in a calm voice. “I’m in an ambulance with George on our way to hospital.”
Don’t worry? I’m already leaping up, throwing on my clothes. I’m meant to be talking at a literary panel later today but family has to come first. “What happened?” I say.
It turns out that George was making a strange noise in the night as though he was in pain. His breathing didn’t sound right either so my daughter and son-in-law phoned 111. The paramedics thought he ought to be checked. “I’m sure it’s all right,” says my daughter in the same calm voice. But I’m not fooled. She’s like me. When she’s worried about something, she doesn’t flap. (I save that for the little things like not being able to find my favourite lipstick.)
By now, I’ve got one foot out of the hotel room…
“And don’t think of coming back early,” she adds. “Honestly. I’ll let you know if there’s anything serious. We’re here now. Got to go.”
Oh dear. What do I do? There’s only one answer. Ring my husband.
“Hello?” he mumbles sleepily.
Whoops! I’d forgotten it’s not quite “get-up time” especially when he’s meant to be retired instead of acting as an emergency backstop for stepchildren and grandchildren. But he loves them as much as he would love his own. “She’s right,” he reassures me. “Don’t worry yet. You know what babies are like. Up one minute and down the next.”
You’d actually think he’d had them himself but our experience over the last three-and-a-half years has indeed proved that this can be the case. Yet what if it isn’t? We’ve been in intensive care before…
Twenty five minutes later, a message flashes up on our family What’s App. It shows George playing with a tractor – he’s completely obsessed by them – on the floor of A & E. “Been checked by triage,” texts my daughter. “Oxygen levels normal now but waiting to see doctor.”
I send up a prayer of thanks. But my chest is still beating overtime. The problem with being a journalist and novelist is that your imagination goes into over-drive when something like this happens. “Then what’s the point in going to church if you’re going to worry?” points out my husband who has just rung again. He’s right of course. It’s just not that easy.
Meanwhile, I’m pacing up and down my hotel room…
I can’t have breakfast because I feel sick. I’m not sure whether to ring the festival people and explain the situation. So I do the only thing that helps me calm down. I get out my laptop and start to write the next chapter of my novel. Writing takes me out of the world by putting me in another. When I moved house after my divorce, I was so scared at the prospect of being on my own for the first time in nearly thirty years, that I retreated into a corner and wrote a short story while the removal men packed up around me. But this is far more important. This is my grandson. It’s almost impossible to describe the love I have for little George and his sister. I would do anything for them.
In fact, enough is enough. Regardless of what my daughter has told me, I’m going to check out and get the first train home…
Then the phone rings again.
“We’re on our way home,” says my daughter. “They think it’s just a cold virus.”
Her voice sounds a little shaky now. I understand that completely. It’s often only after something happens that you allow your emotions to surface. As for the virus, it seems to me that this can cover almost anything nowadays. I’m still as confused by the term now as I was when I was a young mum. Nor did we have paramedics who came out to check up on poorly children. But surely this is a good thing. Again, as a journalist, I covered one too many stories about little ones whose illnesses went undiagnosed. Better to be safe than sorry.
“They have to be so careful,” points out my husband when I give him the good news. “They can’t afford to get it wrong. By the way, what time is your talk?”
Goodness! I’d almost forgotten about it. Luckily it’s not until the afternoon so I’m able to get back into a calmer state of mind. But I can’t help sharing my experiences with some of my fellow authors who are also there for the festival.
“My mum gets more worried than I do,” said one. “She’s always fussing about things that I don’t think are important.”
I think back to when I had George yesterday. He had a sniffle then and in fact – oh dear – I remember how he was slightly sick with colourless ‘gunk’. Should I have done something about it then?
“No,” says my daughter reassuringly when I call, just before I’m due to go on stage in front of over 100 people. “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Mum. Anyway, he seems much better now. Good luck by the way.”
I’ll say one thing. There was no time to be nervous. But when I finish my talk, I get a text from my daughter. “Let me know when you have time to chat.”
My heart starts to race again…
‘It’s OK, Mum,’ she assures me. “I just wanted to tell you about something really strange that happened in hospital. There was an old man on a trolley who didn’t look very well. But he caught sight of George playing and he caught his eye. The two of them looked at each other and the old man actually heaved himself up on his elbows and looked a bit happier. It was almost as if George had given him courage to face the future.”
Why not? Stranger things have happened. In fact, it sends goosebumps running down my arm in a good way. I do believe that we’re all put on earth to help each other as well as learn lessons.
And I can honestly say, hand on heart, that my grandchildren are teaching me more than I could ever have expected.