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Just One Word, Just One Smile: Life and Love After an Aneurysm

Just One Word, Just One Smile: Life and Love After an Aneurysm

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Just One Word, Just One Smile: Life and Love After an Aneurysm

321 pagine
3 ore
May 14, 2018


Just One Word, Just One Smile – A Memoir

An empty-nester couple, Sue and Tony, are travelling independently through South America when Sue endures a brain aneurysm. No one chooses Bolivia – the poorest country in South America – for brain surgery, but Sue has no choice. Weeks pass in South American hospitals, waiting on surgeries that threaten the very life that they try to save. Eventually, Sue is well enough to be transported back to Australia and spend further weeks in hospitals. When Sue is able to return to her home, Tony’s new role as the carer of a person with a dementia-like condition is glimpsed.

“A good mix of heartfelt emotion and facts about stroke and associated recovery. It’s also a beautiful tribute to Sue that left me reaching for the tissues.”

May 14, 2018

Informazioni sull'autore

Tony Caplice is a full-time writer and social marketer who lives in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. He has worked in numerous administrative and managerial positions in the private, government and non-profit sectors. For five and a half years, he was the full-time carer for his late wife, Sue. This is his first book.

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Just One Word, Just One Smile - Tony Caplice


Chapter 1

The Storm

A rasping wheeze suddenly saturates the darkened room.

Are you snoring?

The lightness of tone that I am striving for lodges in the dryness of my throat.

Honey pie?



I snap on the light. Sue’s body is jerking and contracting and bucking recklessly. The rasping wheeze seems louder in the light.

Shit. Fuck.

This is bad.

Don’t panic. Keep your head.

You hang in there, my angel. I’m here with you.

Buck. Contract. Writhe. Hiss. Wheeze.

Shit. Fuck.

Get some help.

I pick up the bedside phone. I dial the number.

Bbbring bbbring.

Bbbring bbbring.

Bbbring bbbring.

Bbbring bbbring.

No answer.

Why is there no answer?

Have I dialled the wrong number?

Buck. Convulse. Whistle. Rasp.

Shit. Fuck.

Check the number. Yes, it’s the right number.

Dial again.

Jerk. Writhe. Hiss. Rasp.

Shit. Fuck.

Bbbbring Bbbring.

Bbbring bbbring. Bbbring Bbbring. No answer.

Why is no one there?

Shit. Fuck.

What do I do?

Sue’s cheeks hollow with each inhalation. Her cheekbones and jaw seem to be all that is stopping her cheeks from collapsing in on themselves.

Wheeze. Gasp. Her face has become a bellows.

Do something.

Put clothes on my naked body.

Go to the door and fling it open.

There is a door opposite. Number 20.

Knock. Knock. Knock.


Knock. Knock. Knock.


I take the three steps to the terrace.

I shout to the darkness.

Ayudame! (Help me.)

No response.

No movement.


Should I run down to reception?

Two minutes.

No, I can’t leave Sue.

Back to Sue.

Jerk. Buck. Rasp. Wheeze.

Shit. Fuck.

It’s OK, gorgeous, I’m here with you. You’re doing really well.

Sue’s eyes.

Eyelids wide open.

Pupils drawn back into her skull.

Dead eyes.

I need help.

The phone. Dial again.

Bbbring bbbring.

Bbbring bbbring.

Bbbring bbbring.

No answer.

Writhe. Contract. Gasp. Whistle. Dead eyes.

Shit. Fuck.

Do something!

Out the door. Number 20.

Bang bang bang.

Bang bang bang.

I shout to the number 20.

Please, someone help me!


Door number 20 opens slightly.

I see nothing, hear no one.

Do you speak English?

An elderly female voice replies that she does.

My wife is having convulsions and I need to get an ambulance. I have rung reception and there is no response. I can’t leave her. Can you go to reception and arrange an ambulance?

The elderly female voice agrees.

I rush back to Sue.

Jerk. Wheeze. Dead eyes.

Glorious one, help is on its way. It will be here really soon. You’re doing so well. You are so strong, my angel. Muy fuerte.

Her hand tightens in mine with each convulsion.

So strong.

There’s a light tap-tapping. I bound to the door.

A diminutive yet assured female in dressing gown and slippers tells me in a North American accent that the ambulance is on its way.

I take her hands in mine and thank her, tears staining my cheeks.

She nods in acknowledgement, turns and goes through door number 20, closing it lightly.

Buck. Rasp. Bellows. Dead eyes.

The ambulance is on its way, beautiful lady. You’ve been so brave. Keep on fighting, angel. Help will be here soon.

The jerking seems to be less intense. The wheezing more shallow.

Is this in response to my words? Or is her body giving up on her?

Shit. Fuck.

Be calm.

She needs you now more than she has ever needed you.

It’s OK, gorgeous. The medical people will be here soon.

Is she all right on her back?

Or should she be on her side?

I remember something about the recovery position, but what is it?

Contract. Whistle. Dead eyes.

No. She’s doing OK as she is. Just leave her be.

Trust her instincts. She was in this position when these convulsions started.

Or should I move her?

I just don’t know.

Help will be here soon, my angel.

Hurry up.

Is her breathing lighter than it was before?

Where are they? What’s taking so long?

It must have been hours.

Wheeze. Twitch. I can’t look at her eyes.

Shit. Fuck.

Where are they?

What’s happening?

You are so strong, my lady.

Whistle. Twinge.

In some ways, she looks as if she’s approaching the most intense of orgasms – back arched, struggling for breath, body totally consumed with what is happening to it.

But there is no smile of fulfilment, nor eyes dancing with delight.

For either of us.

Buck. Rasp.

Shit. Fuck.

Where are they?

Bbbring bbbri.

I answer it quickly.

A voice tells me in Spanglish that the ambulance is here and to bring the patient down.

She can’t. She is unconscious. She is having convulsions.


They don’t understand.

How can I make them understand?

I don’t know enough words.

Sleep is dormir. But that doesn’t describe what’s happening. It sounds as if we just can’t be bothered – she’s just a bit tired at the moment.

Shit. Fuck.


She can’t walk. Caminar.

I muster my best Spanish.

Ella no camina. Emergencia. Coma. Rapido.

There’s a muffled conversation in Spanish at the other end of the phone. I can’t catch any words, let alone the meaning.

Shit. Fuck.

Eventually, the voice returns.

Hello. OK.


They’re here, beautiful. They’re on their way up.

Shit. Fuck.

I hope they are.

Jerk. Rasp.

Tap tap tap.

The concerned face of Nurse Blue Smock appears at the door.

They’re here, angel.

Nurse Blue Smock walks purposefully to Sue’s side.

Buck. Gasp.

She looks intently into Sue’s eyes. Dead eyes.

She has a rapid conversation in Spanish with the short man who stands beside me, his biceps bulging against the white short-sleeved shirt that he wears.

The night receptionist hovers ghost-like near the door.

Nurse Blue Smock lightly touches Sue’s wrist with her fingers. She is taking her pulse. Where is her medical equipment?

She has none.

And no stretcher.

Shit. Fuck.

I’ve just got to trust them.

Muscles gestures to me that we are to lift Sue on to the blanket. The night receptionist helpfully translates by repeating the gesture.

I look to Nurse Blue Smock. She smiles placidly.

Contract. Wheeze. Those dead eyes.

Come on, then.

We’re going to lift you up, Sue, and take you to the ambulance. It’s OK, you’re safe.

I hope so.

We each take a corner of the blanket, Nurse Blue Smock and I at Sue’s head.

Lentamente. (Slowly.)

Out the door we stagger.

We stop so that I can pull door 18 shut.

We cross the terracotta-paved terrace to the top of the stairs. We stop again.

Muscles gestures that he and the night receptionist will lift their end high so that Sue will remain flat.

What’s the Spanish word for stretcher? I can’t remember. I don’t think that I have ever learnt it. Why would you?

OK. Vamos. (Let’s go.)

We make our way down the stairs, elephant-like. Each step carefully placed, wary of the danger to our precious cargo.


Past the dining room door.

We’re half-way there, darling.

We stop outside the double doors that lead to reception. We rest.

Buck. Whistle. Dead eyes.

Sue’s head rests on my feet.

It’s OK, beautiful. We’re at reception, and we’ll have you into the ambulance and at the hospital in no time at all. You have done so well.

The other three are in reception.

Nurse Blue Smock is on the phone. Spanish. I don’t understand.

Vamos a el hospital.

I am ignored.

I can’t move. I can’t disturb Sue.

She’s so peaceful now. Is that good, or is that terrible?

What’s happening?

Who are they on the phone to?

Shit. Fuck.

Can’t you see that she needs medical treatment?

She needs to be in hospital.

Contract. Rasp.

Shit. Fuck.

Vamos, por favor. Rapido.

Ignored again.

It’s OK, gorgeous.

No, it’s fucking not.

What’s going on?

Finally, the phone conversation ends. Now Nurse Blue Smock and Muscles are talking. What is there to talk about?

Let’s go.

All three come through the doors.

A corner each. Lift.

Here we go, beautiful lady, we’re on the way.

Through to the dimly lit reception area.

No stretcher. No medical equipment.

Why not?

Where is it?

Out the entrance doors and onto deserted Azurduy Street.

A white van with all the markings of an ambulance.

Here’s the ambulance, gorgeous.

We gently place Sue down on the footpath, her head cradled between my feet again.

I hope the straps on my sandals aren’t annoying her.

Muscles swings open the rear doors and quickly pulls out a trolley stretcher.

The legs unfold and he clicks them into place.

A corner each. Lift. Sue is on the trolley.

Muscles manoeuvres the trolley into the ambulance and secures it.

I crouch beside Sue.

You’re in the ambulance, beautiful lady.

Rasp. Whistle. Dead eyes.

The rear doors slam shut.

Muscles is the driver, and Nurse Blue Smock jumps into the passenger seat.

Doesn’t she want to treat Sue on the way to the hospital?

Or at least monitor her condition?

I look around the ambulance. There is nothing in here except for Sue, the trolley stretcher and me.

No medical equipment. Barren.

Be calm. We are on our way to the hospital. Help is only minutes away.

Buck. Wheeze.

The unlit streets of Sucre are empty of life as we plod towards the hospital.

You are so strong, my angel. You hang in there.

Sue’s cheeks no longer strain with each inhalation. Her breathing is shallower. The convulsions are not as intense.

Same dead eyes though.

A green and white hospital sign illuminates the darkness. The ambulance bumps across the cobbled laneway leading through the grounds to the entrance.


We are at the hospital, gorgeous. You have done so well.

As we stop, Nurse Blue Smock jumps out of the ambulance. Muscles gestures for me to remain where I am, as he does.

Help will be here soon, angel.

I watch.

I wait.

Donde es el enfermera? (Where is the nurse?)

En el hospital, Muscles barks in response.

I watch.

I wait.

Jerk. Rasp. Dead eyes.

Shit. Fuck.

It’s all good, darling.

Nurse Blue Smock comes out of the door of the hospital. At last.

She climbs into the passenger seat. What?

She speaks to Muscles, who ignites the engine and reverses.

What is going on? Where are we going?

My pleas are dismissed by Nurse Blue Smock with a wave, OK, OK.

We retreat down the bumpy cobbled laneway, back into the dim, empty streets of Sucre.

Buck. Wheeze. Dead eyes.

Shit. Fuck.

I don’t know what to do.

I do nothing.

What is happening?

Shit. Fuck.

Another sign.

Emergencia. Hospital Santa Barbara.

We were here 24 hours ago.

Nurse Blue Smock gets out of the ambulance and rushes into the hospital.

Muscles gestures for me to remain where I am. He gets out of the ambulance and joins a group of men smoking.

Honey pie, I’m going to have to leave you for a minute or two. You will be OK. Be strong. I love you.

Contract. Whistle. Dead eyes.

I squeeze Sue’s hand.

I hesitate.

I must go. I must get help.

I love you.

I try the rear doors. I can’t open them.

Shit. Fuck.

There is a side door. I open it.

I bound in to the hospital.

Muscles tries to stop me.

No way. No fucking way.

At the end of a long darkened corridor, I spy Nurse Blue Smock, talking to a grave-looking doctor in a white coat.

I shout as I run towards them.

Ayudame. Mi esposa es muy enferma. (Help me. My wife is very sick.)

They ignore me.

Shit. Fuck.

Por favor. Ella es muy mal. Ayudate, por favor. (Please. She is very bad. Help her, please.)

The grave doctor turns and looks piercingly at me. For a long time.

Por favor. (Please.)

He nods.

Nurse Blue Smock rushes towards the entrance. Muscles releases his grip on my arm and follows her.

I outpace them.

Panting, choking, I tell Sue,

We are taking you to the doctor, darling.

I want to tell her more, but the words will not come.

Muscles and Nurse Blue Smock unlock the trolley stretcher and fastidiously wheel her from the ambulance, through the automatic glass doors, down the long dark corridor and in to a curtained-off area in Emergencia. I shuffle along behind.

Three white-coated doctors and four blue-smocked nurses greet Sue’s arrival with purpose. I am hustled out of the way.

Nurse Blue Smock shepherds me to the waiting room.

It is dark.

I am alone.

I disintegrate into a blue plastic chair.

What has just happened? The whimper that I expel assaults no ears except my own. Another follows. Louder.

And another.

Stop. Breathe.

Sue’s breathing. She struggled for breath.

That rasping wheeze.

Her cheeks. Bellowing.

Her eyes. Dead.

Her body. Writhing and jerking.

But she didn’t submit.

She is strong. So strong. I must be strong.

I can’t sit alone in this dark waiting room. I need a cigarette.

As I walk through the glass doors, the conversation of the group of smokers ceases. Eight penetrating eyes zero in on me. I light up as I shuffle towards them.

I gingerly extend my hand towards Muscles. He takes it warmly, his smile brightening more than just the darkness.

Gracias. (Thank you.)

De Nada, (It’s nothing.) Muscles beams.

De donde? (Where are you from?)

Yo soy Australiano.

Australiano, four voices echo.

The smoke of my cigarette is even more acrid than usual.

The camaraderie is infectious. Yet, I am immune.

I can’t deal with this.

I gesture to the glass doors.

Mi esposa. (My wife.)

I slink back to the waiting room.

I wait.

In the darkness.


I craved that companionship. Muscles and the smokers.

It was bestowed on me. I couldn’t accept it.

I’m a stranger in a strange land. An outsider. L’etranger. Farang. Laowei.

Nurse Blue Smock appears.

Mi esposa?


She beckons me to a counter. Paperwork.

Name. Date of birth. Address.

In Australia or in Bolivia?


Seguro. What is seguro?

Es muy importante. (It’s very important.)

Seguro. Security? I don’t know.

Compania seguro? (Some sort of company? Security Company.) I don’t understand.

Un momento.

In moments, she returns with another blue-smocked nurse, clip-clopping across the tiled floor.

Hello. I speak little English. You have Insurance Company?

Yes, Covermore Insurance. From Australia. How is my wife?

We work on her. She is steady. We need to give medicine and you must buy. Write down insurance name. Nurse give you medicine and you buy. OK?

Yes, OK. When can I see my wife?

We work on her. You see later.

She turns and clip-clops back to the emergency ward.

Forms are typed out in triplicate.

Twenty Bolivianos ($3) for this, 35 bolivianos for that. The forms pile up.

I hand over the cash.

I am directed to the dispensaria. I know the way from yesterday.

Out the automatic glass doors. I wave to Muscles and the smokers.

In the white door.

To the dispensary window.

The man who prepared the forms is readying the prescriptions.

I give him the forms that he completed. He retains the white originals and gives me the blue duplicates. I stuff them in my pocket. He hands me the medicines, and I retrace my steps.

Here you go, I say to Nurse Blue Smock.

She nods in acknowledgement and continues shuffling papers.

I wait.

Medicina. Por mi esposa.


She dismisses me to the waiting room with a flourish. She shuffles more papers.

I trudge back to the waiting room.

The same blue plastic chair.


Daylight seeps in through the high windows.

I wait.

I can’t think.

When did I last sleep?

Not last night. Maybe an hour or two yesterday morning.

Not the night before.

One or two hours in the last two days.

No wonder I can’t think.

I hear the clip-clop before I see her.

I stand.

You come.

How is my wife?

OK. OK. You come.

What am I going to find?

Sue sitting up in bed, telling me to get her out of here. Get her back to Australia.

A smile crinkles my face. I will, my angel, I will.

Or will it be something else?

Clip clop. Clip clop.

The nurse pulls the curtain back.

A clear plastic tube protrudes from the side of Sue’s mouth. There is moisture on the inside of the tube, just near her mouth.

A smaller tube, this one flexible, snakes its way into Sue’s left nostril. It’s taped to her nose.

The needle in her arm is connected through a tube to a bag of fluid on a high stand. A metallic stand.

Sue’s eyes are closed.

Her breathing is regular.

She is still.

She looks peaceful.

Invaded, but peaceful.

Oh darling, you are so brave.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

She needs you to be strong.

The doctor talk to you now. I translate.


I’ll be right back, angel. I’m just going to talk to the doctor.

I love you.

We step away.

Clip clop.

Doctor. Spanish. English.

The words tumble out.

Only some penetrate.

Brain. Blood. Burst. Flood.

Brain. Blood. Burst. Flood. Intensive therapy.

Brain. Blood. Burst. Flood.

Brain. Blood. Burst. Flood. Intensive therapy.

How can I stop my lip from quivering?

I bite it. Hard.

When I release it, it still quivers.

Brain. Blood. Burst. Flood. Intensive therapy.

OK, OK. Gracias.

Deep breaths.

Back to Sue.

They know what they’re doing, precious one. They’re going to look after you really well, darling. And you are so strong.

I feel calm.

A steady voice.

A resolute lip.

My reassuring hand envelopes Sue’s.

I love you so much, beautiful lady.

We go intensive therapy.

The bedraggled curtain is drawn back fully.

The brain blood burst flood doctor and two nurses navigate the bed and the wheeled stand through narrow, empty corridors to a lift.

We all squeeze in and ascend slowly.

The doors creak open to reveal another narrow, empty corridor.

We crash through white swinging doors to a grassed courtyard immersed in the day’s first sunlight.

Along a deserted concrete walkway.

Past doors.

A sign. Unidad de Therapia Intensiva.

The pilots ignore this sign and steam on to the end of the walkway.

We stop.

A white-coated doctor, stethoscope clinging to her neck, white mask over her mouth and nose, hair shrouded by a matching white net, stands at open doors.

Sue is rolled into the ward. I see empty beds with rumpled white sheets, medical

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