It was -7c in the night but now morning is here and the frost lies scattered like ashes. It’s Thanksgiving Day.

beat-beat-breathe. beat-beat-breathe

In the early hours I held her hand, bones wrapped in bulging veins and parchment skin. She closed her eyes and asked me every thirty seconds of that blue-light half hour to inject her with something that would knock her out.

How could I? I am not a nurse.

beat-beat-breathe. beat-beat-breathe

They’re not coming. No one is coming.

I promised they would because if I believed it then maybe she could too but the only thing she believed in right then was agony. Agony without rescue.

beat-beat-breathe. beat-beat-breathe

She wanted to know where her zimmer frame was but it was propping open the door, eagerly listening for the doorbell. I smiled and assured her that she wouldn’t have to walk for the privilege of blue lights and made sure to tuck a packet of malted milk biscuits and her favourite cardigan into her overnight bag.

beat-beat-breathe. beat-beat-breathe

Though the nurse’s initial phone call had brought a twinge of fright, I was not afraid. Help was coming though I wasn’t sure she believed it.

Again and again I reminded her, until she began to ask not if they would arrive but when.

beat-beat-breathe. beat-beat-breathe

Then the green jackets arrived, one looking perpetually startled and the other with beautiful golden curls.


That’s what your heart is supposed to look like.

But MI and AF and ischaemia followed by a muddle of words I’d never heard before began to coil themselves round the hundreds of wires and collapsing veins scribbled across the body of the butterfly-hearted lady.

And the RGN kept asking if we should give her some oxygen and the veins kept collapsing and the paramedic kept scowling at the ECG machine and I kept standing by the bed, out of the way because she was frightened and had begged me not to desert her.

silence. beat-splutter

She was so pale.


And then she was gone in a flash of green and blue and I wished I could go with her so that she wouldn’t be alone. None of us noticed that the milkman had already been and gone.

The staff nurse explained ECGs to me as we waited for the doctor’s call. She reckoned oxygen would ease some of the problem and morphine would ease the pain. But morphine would only slow her already drooping heart rate.

She’s ninety-six with DNR and an ongoing chest infection she said.


The doctor phoned. He was so loud in the 3am stillness that I could hear him talking to the nurse from where I sat. He said the same thing she had: we can only make her comfortable. I let the nurse tell me anyway. It’s her way of processing things just like writing is mine.

Deep down, I hoped that the son would realise that he couldn’t just go back to bed.

It’s funny how you instinctively know when you have entered into someone’s last hours. Even stranger is that it does not bother me.

The morning run was busy but we made good time and clocked out as if it had been a regular night.

I had walked in the door, taken my jacket and shoes off, and put the kettle on before the calmness evaporated. I sat on the kitchen counter and cried as the winter sun rose over the Pentland hills.

Lord, I need to toughen up.

No, I thought as I watched two magpies playing in the tangled branches.

No. A puppy was gallivanting through a tumble of frosted leaves.

No. Some sparrows chittered animatedly nearby.

May the day never come when it doesn’t bother me. May I always know to hold someone’s hand and speak softly to them. If ever I am too much of anything, may it not be too tough but too tenderhearted.

My prayers turned to the butterfly-hearted lady and the son who loved her. Today will be hard for them.

beat-beat-breathe. beat-beat-breathe

It was -7c in the night but now the morning is here and the frost lies scattered like ashes. It’s Thanksgiving Day.

*Against all odds, she was up and eating the next morning. However, a few days later the butterfly-hearted lady passed away, wrapped in morphine and a red cashmere cardigan.*

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