In the unfolding drama of every day my own loss can sometimes disappear. I enjoy those times, and for all that the challenges that I face every day are distressing, I like the all consuming nature of the activity. It’s only really in the emptiness of my own bed when I wake in the middle of the night – which I do without exception at 2.30am - that my nightmare takes on proportions that I cannot manage.
Yet today these two separate lives came crashing together when we had to deal with the death of a young child.
Our support teams had been making their normal round of visits when they were asked to visit a home that had until then been thought to be unoccupied. Usually they would wait for the police or a social service support person but they tried the door and found it open. The group was made up of seven kids and one adult and they had been delivering food and making social visits to their regulars when one of those people had mentioned that they thought there was still a family in the top flat of the building. Up until that time we had believed it to be empty as another neighbour had said they had seen the family leaving at the beginning of the outbreak.
James Osbourne, the leader of the group had entered the flat and found the mother and the father both dead in their beds. A young child – 4 or 5 yrs of age - was lying in the living room still alive but obviously suffering from severe malnutrition. James had called me and I had rushed round immediately after I had phoned the ambulance service. As I made my way round to the flat part of me kept telling me to take my time – my legs were heavy and reluctant – if only the ambulance could arrive before me.
As I turned the corner my heart sank as I saw no sign of an ambulance – I hadn’t really expected it – the emergency services were still overwhelmed, even though the outbreak was slowing down. I’d dragged myself upstairs and found the kids waiting outside on the landing – at least James had kept them out.
When I entered the flat I was met by the stench of rotting human flesh (it’s a smell I now recognise only too well). James was sitting on the floor trying to get the child to drink some water but it was obvious that there was so little we could do. James passed the boy to me and I sat there stroking his matted blond hair from his forehead as I and lied to him that everything was going o be alright. James was relieved to leave the house and went downstairs to wait for the ambulance. I sat there for nearly two hours speaking and stroking as the boy lay there in my arms. He stopped breathing very peacefully - as if he’d simply forgotten to take another breath. I laid him on the sofa, kissed him on the forehead and went to leave the room only to be drawn back to wait beside him until the ambulance eventually arrived.