Christmas is always a busy time for us here at Earthworks, we work all hours in the run up to the holiday season so that we can fit all the orders in. It takes a lot of organisation, not only with the strictly coordinated work list but with our own Christmas shopping for our family too. We wrote a bit about the pre-Christmas stresses on a previous blog post here:
This year though, we had it all planned. As usual the orders came in thick and fast and, as usual, each customer was booked onto the work list and given a precise dispatch date for their order. We’re old hands at this now so it was all going smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that we decided to spare some time and go hand-made with the presents for our families too, a selection of home-made liqueurs and sweets; with military precision the times were allotted for these too. All sorted, all organised, nothing could go wrong.
Or so we thought!
November 30th arrived and Samantha started to feel a little under the weather, nothing much, a bit more tired than usual and a bit of an upset tummy. The next day came and the upset tummy turned into a full blown stomach bug. As the days passed Samantha got worse and worse and we presumed it was a bout of gastroenteritis. Of course, this could have put a spanner in the works of our carefully designed work list but Samantha is very tough, very stubborn and very ‘self-employed’ and refuses to let a silly thing like a violent virus get in the way; so, as much as she could, she worked through it.
She did, of course, visit the GP who confirmed that it was gastroenteritis and that it would run its course soon. Ten days later and Samantha was even worse, so ill that she couldn’t get up off the sofa, this was just not like her so I phoned the GP again and got an appointment for that afternoon.
By 5pm, we were sitting amongst the walking wounded in the A&E department of our hospital. It turned out that the ‘bit of a stomach bug’ Samantha had been working through was a burst appendix! In a flurry of activity by the incredibly amazing hospital staff, she was soon hooked up to a drip (massively dehydrated), pumped full of painkillers and antibiotics, scanned, questioned and examined. Samantha wasn’t going to be coming back home with me!
Since Samantha and I moved in together in 1993, we’ve only spent one night apart… and that was when I had to stay in the hospital overnight (due to an over-zealous jig… but that’s another story!), so it was a new experience for me. I got home at about 3 in the morning, the house was dark and cold, Tanner and Hob (our Border Terriers) had no idea what was going on. I looked at the mountain of work that was to be done, thought about my Sam in hospital and felt a bit lost and alone. I fell asleep cuddling Tanner and Hob. However bad things get, the closeness of a dog will always make things more bearable.
Sam remained in hospital for the next five days. The surgeon made an incision just to the side of the base of her spine and inserted a pipe into her abdomen to drain the pus which had collected there into a bag which hung by her bed. There was so much of the foul smelling stuff! We still do not know just how long this had been going on for but the scans showed that a series of abscesses had formed around the appendix, each time one started to leak, Sam’s body walled it off by growing another abscess next to it. The growth ended up so large that it was pressing on one of her kidneys and semi-blocking her rectum. The surgeon said that a day or two longer and we would have lost the kidney altogether. Any longer than that and Samantha could have died.
As you can imagine, this was quite a stressful time. Of course, I visited Samantha in hospital twice a day. Then there was the question of the work. Although I worked every hour I was not with Samantha I knew that, with one half of the Earthworks workforce missing, there was no way I was going to get all of the orders completed to get them out in time for Christmas.
But I had a bloody good go at it!
It was good to have the work to sink into. Being at my workbench, handling the tools and materials which I’ve become so familiar with over the years, has a habit of stilling my mind; there can be something quite meditative about it. Although the work didn’t completely block out my worries, it certainly helped; without being that busy I know that I would have been a bit of a wreck.
Then, of course, came the time when I knew which orders would not be completed before Christmas and I would have to contact those customers. There was something very upsetting about this. In all our years of business, we have never sent out a single item later than the day promised. Something we’ve always been very proud of. However, here it was… and just before Christmas too, when most of them were intended as gifts for loved ones.
I sent out the emails of apology, explaining the situation and offering every customer the opportunity of a full refund. I expected a few disappointed or angry replies and I was certain that most would want the refund. Without wishing to sound cavalier about the situation, the money was another real consideration for us, we do not earn a great deal from what we do and we rely on the boost in Christmas sales to help us through the year but if we’ve let people down then it’s only fair that we accept that responsibility. With the emails sent I nervously waited for the replies.
Not a single person wanted to cancel their order! Not a single person!! Not only that, every customer was so kind. Reply after reply of encouragement and hope came in, telling me not to worry, that they can wait for their order, that our loved ones are more important than possessions, telling me to make sure that I looked after myself as well as Samantha. I’d been doing my best to hold my emotions in until this point but I’m not afraid to admit that I shed a tear or two at those emails, the sheer kindness of people overwhelmed me (…ok, I actually sobbed like a baby right there at the computer, but don’t tell anyone).
Anyway, Samantha was well enough to come home again five days after being admitted. Still weak and still with the drain and pus-bag attached, which became her constant Christmas companion and got removed the day after Boxing Day. Every order was completed and dispatched in time for the second promised date. Oh, and our families hand-made liqueurs and sweets? We finished those over the Christmas week and they became New Year presents instead.
Samantha’s still not quite up to full strength but she is doing very well and has a follow-up consultation at the hospital next week. She never ceases to amaze and surprise me. Through all of this she as remained bright and happy, even the nurses on her ward said how it was easy to forget just how ill she was as she gave the appearance of being so well.
It perhaps seems a bit strange writing about this personal incident on our business blog, although the business and the personal tend to blur in our situation. I suppose it’s just to say thank you. Thank you to the amazing NHS staff for saving Sam’s life. Thank you to our wonderful customers for being so kind and supportive (you’ll never know how much your kindness helped us through this). And most of all, thank you to Samantha for being incredibly strong and courageous… and, y’know, for not dying.