When we finally found the Children’s Critical Care Centre, a nurse led us to a paediatric intensive care unit, where I had to watch the medical staff prepare my daughter for surgery. There are no words to describe the horror at seeing a medical emergency unfold around your child. I’m still unsure why I was subjected to that. I wish they had shown a bit of discretion and stopped me from witnessing Abi fighting for her life.
After the medical team had rushed Abi into surgery, a nurse led Sarah and me into a room to meet Abi’s surgeon. “Before we begin, I must ask you both to sign some consent forms,” he said. That done, he carried on: “Your daughter arrived here not far from death’s door. She’s a very poorly little girl.” I was shocked to hear that. “She was in grave danger because her tumour was so large it was preventing her properly draining fluids from her brain,” he told us. “Thankfully, she is out of immediate danger because we have already drained all the excess fluid from her brain.” That brought me some relief, at last. “Furthermore, I don’t believe her tumour is malignant. If it were, I would have stopped the operation right there because I would not have been able to help her.” I listened, dumbstruck. He went on: “However, I believe your daughter’s tumour is benign.” I had no idea what benign meant, but after the turmoil of the last 24 hours, it sounded like some good news at last. The surgeon continued: “So I am going to carry on with the surgery and try to debulk it as best I can,” he said. He might be blunt, but I liked this surgeon. “The operation is going to take all night. Try and get some rest. My team will call you when we have some news.”
A nurse led us back upstairs and showed us to a room close to the ward where the medical staff would care for Abi. The next hour or so I spent lying on my bed, going stir-crazy. Then I took the only sensible decision any self-respecting British male should take under such circumstance; I went down the pub. If I’d have stayed in the quiet desolation of that room, I’d have worried myself into insanity. Sarah came too. I had the impression that she also felt that, if she stayed in that room alone, she might go mad with worry.
I ordered drinks and then sat down opposite Sarah. I thought Abi’s health scare would help draw us together. My feeling was that we needed to rally around Abi and put our problems to one side. “We have to be strong,” I told her. “Our children need us to present a united front. We should try and work things out.” Sarah shook her head: “It changes nothing,” she replied, coldly. “We should separate.” She couldn’t find comforting words, even then.
As the pub shut at 11 o’clock, I was back in the room before midnight. I spent the next few hours anxiously waiting for news. Those hours were dark and despairing, full of all sorts of fears and emotions that I hadn’t experienced before. I felt helpless and, in my mind, I began running through all kinds of silly scenarios. By 5 a.m., my nerves were totally frayed. Then the phone rang: “Mr Langston?” a nurse asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Surgery has gone well, Mr Langston.” I was elated. “That’s fantastic news. Thank you. When will I get to see her?” I asked. “Soon. We’ll call you.”
When Abi arrived at the hospital, her surgeon was in the midst of a seventy-two-hour shift and continued to operate on my daughter for another twelve hours. I am in awe of such dedication; I had spent the year before complaining about doing a seventy-two hour week writing computer programs for the games company I was working for at the time. I thought that was stressful, but he helped me put that into perspective.