As King Alastair IV Slowly Recovers, The Royal Family is Falling Apart
By Birgit Schlosser; Translated from Fardelshufflesteinian
HRM King Alastair IV is watching fluids flow into his bloodstream when HRM Queen Marie enters his room. He does not notice her until she is beside him, but even then it takes several seconds for him to recognise her behind the mask and gown she has donned to compensate for his compromised immune system. She utters his name, once, and something flickers in his eyes: joy, excitement, it is difficult to tell.
The Queen takes his hand in hers and presses it against her masked face as is her ritual. Alastair's hands are so cold now. Indeed, his skin is icy to the touch and almost as white as a thick layer of snow. It is difficult for him to find warmth in his frigid hospital room. Not even a knit cap on his head is sufficient to stave off the chill that seems to have gripped him in stark contrast to the fever that very nearly took his life back in early August.
As far as anyone can tell, the King is unaware of his grave situation. He shows no sign of cognisance other than the movements of his eyes and grimaces of pain. As sedated as he is, he cannot grasp where he is or what his illnesses are. Occasionally, though, he becomes distressed, so he must know something is wrong. And his discomfort is too great to be passed off as a minor inconvenience. The painkillers can only alleviate so much of his agony.
Alastair weakly strokes his wife's covered cheek as though comforting her. His arms have come to resemble sticks over the past months, as his muscles have atrophied from disuse. His legs, too, are thin, especially his ankles. In contrast, his torso is still round, though considerably less so than it was in July, and the hair on his head is unruly underneath the cap. They shave his face regularly, every week or so, but he is not so fortunate as to be freshly shaven today. There is stubble lining his chin and jawline that, upon close scrutiny, is shot through with gray. Grief and illness have aged him so remarkably quickly that he looks closer to 50 than 45.
The Queen is more gray than she was several months ago, as well. She has borne the brunt of the troubles HRM Alastair has caused, and the effects are apparent in her eyes and face. World-weary is the best way to describe what she has become, whittled down from dealing with the King's raging alcoholism, running the country, caring for their children, watching him simultaneously heal and wither away.
She loves him deeply, but she is ridden with guilt and anger and despair. Marie feels responsible for Alastair ending up like this, encased in a hospital bed that is hardly better than a coffin. She is furious with him for his neglectful and self-destructive actions, despairing because he is severely injured and terminally ill. If he is to be discharged to the palace, she will play a role in caring for him until the end.
The King, for his part, is free from guilt at the moment. He is blessed in that way. Everyone around him is caught in a cycle of blame and frustration, and he lies in his bed completely oblivious to what is going on around him.
Marie worries that he will be extremely mortified and shaken when he gains the ability to comprehend his condition. "I fear he will have a complete breakdown and that he is going to wallow in his own shame," she admits, fiddling with the wedding band Alastair placed on her finger in 2002. "He was already incredibly, incredibly depressed. This may be the final straw."
For HRH Wilhelm, the final straw came over three months ago when he learned the King's cirrhosis was terminal unless he underwent a transplant. Given his current state, he is in no condition to have a major surgery any time soon. It will be many months until he is well enough to handle a transplant, and even then he may have to wait longer until a match is found. Wilhelm has been torn between anger and his own grief, between blaming Alastair or pinning the blame on Marie and himself. He is horrified that he did not identify the King's signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse much sooner yet enraged that Alastair spiraled so far out of control. His behavior fluctuates between lashing out at anyone who dares to get in his way and retreating into himself.
Wilhelm has begun to instigate shouting matches, both with his family and with the palace staff. He had a brief falling-out with Marie last September, which was believed to have been resolved, but the rift betwixt the two has only widened. Wilhelm, for his part, takes care to visit Alastair at times when he know Marie will not be there. He refuses to speak to his sister-in-law and is keeping his daughter away from Marie and Alastair's children. Marie insists that Wilhelm is overreacting and is behaving as a child. Thus, she urges him to get his act together on the rare occasions she sees him.
It does not help that Wilhelm is also irritable around his friends and Former Queen Ophelia, who spends much of her time at Alastair's side. Indeed, he has become so angry and embittered that she is incredibly worried about his mental state and frets he will do something reckless.
HRM Ophelia goes out of her way to confront her younger son when he acts up. With her husband recently buried and her firstborn fighting for his life, she cannot allow herself to risk losing Wilhelm, as well. Though she is a patient, compassionate woman who has oft been described as slow to anger, her tolerance for Wilhelm's negative attitude is very nearly spent. She understands his grief and anger, but his tempestuous comportment is further straining a familial dynamic already wrought with loss.
Wilhelm reacts defensively, squaring his shoulders and stepping backward as his skin reddens with heat. He shouts, assigns blame to Marie or to Alastair or to himself, and accuses the Former Queen of pandering to Alastair when what he really needs is a firm hand.
Ophelia counters, first with incredulity and then with frayed aggression, chastising Wilhelm for screaming and for being so cantankerous. It is with heartbroken eyes that she elucidates how she wants to bring Alastair comfort and love. He is confused, scared, sedated, uncomfortable--and, though the Former Queen is physically pained by saying the word, dying.
His doctors report that he is progressing very well, albeit at a rather slow pace, and is not losing so much body mass now that he is on solid foods. The King is growing more interactive by the day and may soon be strong enough to begin undergoing therapies, including speech therapy. He is set to have his tracheostomy removed Friday, meaning he will once again be able to speak in theory, depending on his brain damage and level of consciousness. He will still be receiving supplemental oxygen through a cannula, perhaps indefinitely, but he will soon regain an avenue of communication he has not had since August.
But there is only so much the medical team can do to slow his cirrhosis progression. They are working to halt and optimally reverse it, even by a single increment. The goal is to improve his quality of life and extend his lifespan, hopefully until he can receive a transplant, or at least long enough for him to go home and be with his family.
The prospect of the King being discharged to the palace is still in the nebulous future, as his condition remains very precarious. He is immensely weakened and in a state of immobility, both of which put him at higher risk, and is immunocompromised to the point where no one can enter his room without masks and gloves. His family are unsure how he will be able to receive vital psychiatric treatment if he is to reach that point in his recovery, for exposure to even a cold virus could have catastrophic effects.
Worse, they are apprehensive about whether they are capable of providing care for him at home. He could be monitored by a nursing team, but he will not have immediate access to intensive care were he to have an emergency, and his family might not be allowed to help him depending on workloads and possible contact with infected persons.
Alas, this is a junction that will not approach for months more, if at ever, and its great distance only triggers more stress. The Queen wants nothing more than for him to heal; however, he is nowhere near strong enough to leave the hospital, let alone his bed. He cannot sit up unaided, nor can he perform occupational tasks such as bathing himself. He is dependent on intravenous fluids and a dialysis machine to keep him alive.
The King's family, friends, colleagues, doctors, and, indeed, fellow Western Fardelshufflesteiners are praying vehemently that he will continue to get better and receive the treatment he so desperately needs. Even in this darkest of times, we still have not given up hope in him, and we look forward to the day when he can once more serve as the leader of our nation.