Love, Flowers and Squiffles

This entry is part 9 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 8—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .


The First Day

The rest of the day passed in a blur. I slept most of the day. To my distress, I could not pass urine, and ended up having to be catheterized by one of the nurses who had been a student under me some years before. She used too big a catheter and added to my trauma.

That night I faced the same problem, and, near to tears, I whispered to the night nurse, “Last time it hurt so much”.

“Well it shouldn’t have!” she retorted. “I won’t hurt you.” And she didn’t. Praise God that was the last time I needed this degrading and uncomfortable procedure.

Visiting Time

Visiting time that evening I was cheerful if somewhat drugged. My breast was tender, but not all that bad considering it was only a matter of hours since surgery. Thanks to an injection for pain some time ago, I managed to push the throbbing ache into the background. Rob arrived first with David, opening the cork on a stream of visitors. One by one they came, bringing flowers to pile onto the cardiac (overbed) table, at the foot of my bed. They brought cards, chocolates, and candies to smother my bedside locker.

Pink roses morgue

Image courtesy of pippalou at

Stephen walked in with his girlfriend. He carried the biggest arrangement of pink roses that I had ever seen. Bless him. Such an impractical gift for a hospital ward—but one which I will never forget. Quickly a second cardiac table was brought into action and placed under the window. My corner of the ward began to look more like a garden nursery than a hospital room.

Stephen also brought me a very strange gift. It was a small beanbag stuffed lion. He explained that when he’d gone to buy a card to put with my roses, the lion was sitting on the counter and “he begged me to buy him for you.” Strange, as I wasn’t a person who ever went for teddy bears or stuffed toys. My son left it lying on the top of my locker.

A very special visitor came in slowly, hand-in-hand with my brother. My seventy-eight-year-old mother, who was so afraid of any type of illness, had insisted she needed to see me after surgery. She came over to my bed and took my hand, leaned over and kissed me. “We’re going to beat this, Shirley!” she whispered.

I had so many visitors, they stood three deep around the bed talking to one another. Click To Tweet I did what all post-surgical patients are allowed to do and fell fast asleep. When I awoke the visitors had gone. To my sorrow, so were my family.

Night Time

The night staff moved swiftly around the seven-bedded ward taking the usual night observations of temperatures, pulse counts and blood pressure readings. They emptied our drains and urine bags and tried to make us comfortable. I had waited too long before asking for another injection for pain. I wished I hadn’t waited so long. As they put out the main lights with a cheerful, “Night night ladies! Sleep tight!” I eased myself gingerly onto my right side with my back to the door and closed my eyes.

If I moved, my head swam with pain. The sling strapped my arm firmly to my body, preventing me from getting comfortable. I heard groans and cries of other patients in neighboring wards. Bells rang. Why are they so loud? One nurse wore clogs. Why isn’t it compulsory for them to wear soft shoes on night duty? Click To TweetPhones rang. Voices answered. Everywhere, people spoke. I felt so tired and drugged, yet wide-awake. How I longed for the oblivion of sleep.

Words on the rampage

The events of the day raced through my mind. Cancer. Could it really be? “Aggressive” . . .”glandular involvement” . . . “chemotherapy.” Those were some of the words I vaguely remembered hearing. Dr. Prinsloo’s visit earlier in the evening was clouded with anesthesia.

I remembered hearing, through a haze, his repeated question, “Do you understand?”

Squinting at his blurred image, I heard myself slurring drunkenly, “Yes I understand.”

Of course, I don’t understand! I’m doped stupid! My eyes won’t stay open. I wondered why I needed to hear this so urgently. The operation’s over. Surely the bad things you found can wait until tomorrow? It’s not as if I’m going to die tonight. . . . Am I?

Suddenly, my thoughts changed direction.

I wasn’t old enough to die. What about my family? What about my little grandchildren far away on the mission field? Would I ever see them again? Other people got cancer. Other people died. Shirleys don’t die!

I knew that, as a Christian, when I died I would go to be with the Lord. So why was I afraid? No, I wasn’t afraid. Just stunned—but I didn’t want to die.

A Strange Gift

I glanced at my bedside locker in the half-light and noticed a glass eye staring at me. What on earth had possessed Stephen to bring me such a silly present? And what would I do with it?

I hadn’t owned a teddy bear or soft toy since I was a little girl. Now here I was, a granny, and he had brought me a small stuffed lion. The roses were wonderful. People would admire those. But this . . . this thing? I would have to hide him from view.

I noticed that although his one eye looked directly at me, the other one stared past me. So not only was it a toy lion—it had a squint. His nose wasn’t quite straight either. In fact, his whole face was decidedly skew.

He looked uncomfortable and forlorn lying there alone. I maneuvered my right arm complete with its intravenous drip, painfully toward the locker. Stretching as far as I could, I managed to grip him and pull him onto my bed. There was something very cute and cuddly about this little fellow. Funny, never once did it occur to me that he could be a she

In the dark, I gave a watery smile. Mature, sensible, level-headed and in control Shirley was cuddling a stuffed lion. Somehow I felt he understood.

My husband, Rob, loved me dearly—but he was probably in bed by now, struggling to process the information he too had received that day. My two sons were both at home, struggling to come to terms with the knowledge that their mother had cancer. Far overseas my daughter wept at the knowledge that she could not fly home to be with me, knowing that when she had said goodbye to me a few months previously, that might have been our last physical contact. Over at the other side of Johannesburg my mother lay, afraid, but praying.

They all loved me. Yet they’re not here!

Squiffles, a Strange Source of Comfort

I cuddled the little lion closer. Slowly I began to feel less alone. This funny little furry creature was here with me. I eventually fell into a deep, drugged sleep, with little Squiffles, as he had just become, cuddled against my damp cheek.

Thus started a most unusual relationship. As the days went by, I tended to be the life and soul of the ward, yet under my blankets lay Squiffles. Throughout the day, well away from view, my fingers caressed him. I seemed to gain strength from the knowledge that he was there. If I had to leave my bed, he hid under the blankets until my return. When they came to make my bed, he spent a short time in my drawer. No one knew about him, except for my family who presumed I had packed him away somewhere out of sight.

Shortcut to next chapter in the series

These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

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12 comments on “Love, Flowers and Squiffles

  1. I like Squiffles. It is good to have comfort from somewhere when it is needed the most and in a case like that maybe you having Squiffles was really no accdental last minute gift at all. He or she was meant to be there for you!

    • Thank you for your visit, Jamie. No there was nothing accidental about Squiffle’s arrival in my life as you will see if you continue reading. He helped me out many times, squint eyes and all. 🙂

    • Thank you Val. It was such a strange gift for Stephen to choose, and yet months later, I learned the psychological reason behind it. Read on, and I’ll tell you later in the book. 🙂

  2. This is all so beautifully and heartwrenchingly written. I love that your son somehow bought you a strange and inappropriate present that was exactly the right thing. I’m glad to hear from the comment above that you did so well after diagnosis. Do you still have Squiffles?

    • Thank you, yes it’s nearly 19 years now. Not bad for a surgeon’s prognosis of “less than a year!” And yes, I still have Squiffles. He lies in pride of place on the dressing-table in my bedroom. He now has a big brother! When I had a hysterectomy, just before I went into OR I said to my husband “I want a lion! Why did I leave Squiffles at home?” Home was over a mountain pass away. So my dear husband went on a search for a lion! So I now have Squiffles and Simba!

  3. i think we all need a Squiffles in our lives.A comforting inanimate friend – just what you needed at that particular time. Sometimes its easier to share our deepest thoughts with a Squiffles than a human friend or family member.

    • You’re so right, Ann. I will explain later in the book the actual psychological reasoning behind this – which of course we didn’t know at the time. Thanks so much for the visit.

  4. Thank you Sue. Your response has made me realise I need to put some sort of note onto each post. This book is written nearly 19 years after the diagnosis where the surgeon didn’t expect me to make one year! Thanks for responding so I see this need!

  5. Such a raw and honest post Shirley. My thoughts and prayers are with you. You obviously are strong and have a supportive family us your new Squiffles so you are never alone. Take care you will beat this!

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