A doctor entered the room and sat opposite Sarah and I. “Mr. and Mrs. Langston,” she began. “Your daughter has a large brain tumour at the back of her head,” she told us, matter-of-factly. “Wow,” I thought, stunned. “She’s quite poorly, so we’re transferring her immediately to a hospital who specialise in operating on paediatric brain tumours,” the doctor continued. I knew the news wasn’t going to be good, but I wasn’t expecting anything this dramatic. “How large?” I asked. It was a stupid question - of all the details I could have focused on, size was probably the least important. “It’s the size of a tennis ball,” she told me, undaunted by my stupidity. I reeled at that news: “The size of a tennis ball? Her head’s barely that size!” I thought. “You said a brain tumour? What does that mean?” I asked. At least, this time, I managed to focus on a more important detail. “Is it Leukemia, or something?” I continued. “Not, not Leukemia. But we do not know the exact details of your daughter’s illness. However, what’s important now is that we get Abi to a hospital who can treat her,” she told me. “May I see her before she is transferred?” I asked. “Of course.”

A nurse showed Sarah and me through to where doctors were busily hooking up all sorts of medical equipment to Abi. One of the doctors came and spoke to me: “These are all the necessary preparations for the ambulance ride. I’m afraid your daughter is a particularly poorly little girl so we need to make sure that everything’s just right so we can get her safely to her destination. Now, if you don’t mind, we have much to do.” His manner annoyed me at first. Didn’t he realise I was Abi’s father? But even in my turmoil, I realised that this man had no time for niceties. He was trying to keep my daughter alive.

Because I had cycled up to the hospital, even though I wasn’t in the best mental state to cycle on a busy road, while Sarah waited there for the taxi that would take us up to where Abi was being transferred, I biked home to throw in a bag some toiletries and a few clothes. My mother-in-law was staying with us at the time, and when I told her about Abi’s illness, I can vividly recall being annoyed by the look of horror on her face. But how else was I expecting her to react? That made me realise I needed to speak to my own parents, so I phoned them immediately and gave them the news: “Mum, Abi has a brain tumour.” Silence. So I continued: “She’s being transferred by ambulance to a hospital better able to treat her. A taxi is coming to fetch Sarah and me so we can follow Abi up to the hospital.” Mum managed a whimper: “My God, Andrew. How is Abi?” she asked. “Not very well, mum. I left her with lots of doctors making quite a fuss around her.” Silence again. Then, eventually: “How are you, Andrew?” “I’m in bits, mum,” I told her, letting out a small sob.

The taxi arrived soon afterwards, and we began to make our way, through rush hour, up to the hospital where Abi was being transferred. I got frustrated at the helplessness of being stuck in heavy traffic and began worrying that it might have delayed Abi too. Somehow, I still managed to have a bit of friendly banter with the taxi driver: “You support who? They’re not very good, are they! Your stadium’s rubbish too. In fact, West Ham’s away support is bigger than your home attendance.” On such gentle abuse does the British male bond. Indeed, the taxi driver and I got on famously well. And the small talk helped pass a bit of the time, even though my thoughts were entirely elsewhere.

We eventually arrived outside the A&E at the hospital. By then the weather had turned as foul as my mood. It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. We had been told to find the Children’s Critical Care Centre, but this place was huge and we were soon lost. So I ran back to A&E and asked a girl at reception for directions: “My daughter was transferred here recently,” I told her, frantically. “She’s been taken to the Children’s Critical Care Centre. Can you tell us where that is?” I asked. “Sure. If you turn around and go back outside, then turn left and go through some double doors a little way along” she began. I was distraught with worry by then, so I interrupted her: “My daughter is fighting for her life and the directions you are giving me are not making any sense,” I said, somewhat aggressively. “And it’s bloody raining. Could you please be a little more helpful?” I asked. Anger isn’t often the best way to get people to help, but the girl looked at me kindly: “No problem,” she said, and without another word, she took us through a couple of doors and onto the main hospital wing: “Take that lift up to the third floor. Turn left, you’ll find the Critical Care Centre not far up the corridor.” “Thank you,” I told her, remembering my manners. “Good luck with your little girl,” she said to me.

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