Blowing on my nails so they would dry quicker, I grabbed the clear top coat varnish without denting my new scarlet fingertips.
Clutching it, I walked into the living room where my daughter, Jade, 14, was sat watching the telly.
‘Want finish my nails off?’ I smiled, passing her the bottle.
She scanned her eyes over what I’d just handed her and jumped off the sofa excitedly.
‘Oooh yes,’ she squealed, running to the dining room table.
It was her turn to pamper me for once.
‘You can do the bottom coat too next time, but don’t spread it all over my hand again!’ I smiled.
Jade was pretty chuffed I’d given her such a mighty honour.
When I started my job as a nail technician, I agreed that Jade could occasionally have a go on my nails if she returned the favour – I needed to get my practice in, and she loved to shine, especially when on the back of a horse, her favourite pastime.
We were living in Stockport, Cheshire – just a stone’s throw away from the Lake District, and Jade had taken up horse riding like it was in her blood.
Jade was an extremely outdoorsy girl and was always up for a hands-on adventure.
She was close with every member of our little family, but me and her always had a strong mother-daughter bond between us, especially after we lost her dad, Paul, in 2016.
He went to work one day, and never came back – a freak accident – stole him from us.
As a tree surgeon, he fell 60ft from the top of a conifer to his death, we were all devastated, but Jade was so strong and picked herself up.
We spent a lot of time at the local horse stables together, grooming the steeds and taking them for a trot.
I’ve never seen Jade with a bigger smile than when she was around those creatures.
She had dreams of becoming a professional rider – she would ride into the championship ring and perform all the tricks to the highest standard.
As proud as I was of my little girl for being a true explorer, I loved having her in the house to snuggle with and watch a trashy film together.
Which is why I found myself hovering by the front door after she’d come back from her horse-riding lesson in May 2019.
I was with my other two children, Aiden, now 17, and Adley, now one, getting ready to cook dinner for everyone.
Knackered from a day on my feet, I heard Jade trundling in.
‘You OK, love?’ I called as she took off her riding jacket.
‘My cough’s getting worse,’ she uttered, wheezing.
As my eyes focused on her, I could see Jade’s eyes had big bags under them, and she looked under the weather.
Jade had had a cough for a couple of days, but it sounded chestier than before.
We’d gone to the doctor’s surgery in Stockport, Greater Manchester, the day before – nothing more than a bad cold, they’d thought.
We had no reason to think it’d be anything other than that, so Jade was given some antibiotics to keep her on track.
The doctor heard some fluid in her lungs which explained the cough, but there was nothing more to worry about.
I told Jade to go to bed and sleep it off, and we all had an early night.
The next morning, I awoke bright and early, hearing my mum, Charleen, 55, in Jade’s room.
‘What’s all this fuss about?’ I asked, spotting the panicked look on my mum’s face.
‘You need to take her to A&E now. Something’s wrong,’ mum said with urgency.
As an NHS nurse herself, I knew she wouldn’t suggest something so drastic unless it was necessary.
I bundled Jade into the car, leaving my mum to watch the kids, and made my way to Stepping Hill Hospital.
As soon as we stepped into the hospital, we walked up to the reception desk – there was no one else in the waiting area, luckily for us.
‘My daughter went to the doctor yesterday and has fluid in her lungs, but it seems to be getting worse,’ I informed the desk.
The next thing I knew, Jade was being seen and rushed around the wards.
A doctor had pricked her finger for tests and discovered severe DKA – diabetic ketoacidosis.
‘DKA is a complication from diabetes, Miss Owens,’ the doctor explained to me.
I was stunned, not just because we had no idea Jade was diabetic, but by what he said next.
‘Your daughter isn’t producing enough insulin, so the tissue in her body can break down. If we don’t do something fast, she can die,’ they explained.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. One moment Jade was a happy, normal 14-year-old, the next she was close to death.
‘To give her the best chances, we should send her to Manchester Children’s Hospital tonight. She isn’t responding well to the insulin we have given her so far; they’ll be able to take better care of her,’ he said.
It was only in the afternoon the next day that I saw my girl again.
In the critical care unit, she looked so fragile and hooked up to tubes and wires.
‘My baby,’ I cried, rushing over to her.
‘We’ve put her in an induced coma,’ the doctor explained.
‘To let her body rest, and so we can carry out further tests. It’ll stop her brain from swelling up,’ they said.
Jade was on a ventilator with a central line going through into her neck.
Her face was pale, but she just looked like she was sleeping.
‘Is my girl going to be OK?’ I asked the doctor.
‘At the moment she has a 50/50 chance of survival, but even if she does come out of this coma, there’s a good chance she’ll be severely brain damaged,’ he explained to me.
It felt as if my whole world was crumbling around me. Devastated, I fell to the floor in tears, praying for a miracle.
In the days that followed, I stayed by Jade’s side.
I didn’t leave the hospital once, with my mum looking after my kids at home. She came to visit and brought up Jade’s favourite stuffed polar bear teddy, which she’d had since she was a baby.
Placing it by her side, I kissed her gently.
‘Please come back to me,’ I whispered gently.
And she did. After five agonising days watching my girl strung up to a ventilator, Jade awoke from the coma – I couldn’t believe it.
The doctors and nurses were just as amazed as I was, even more so when they realised she hadn’t experienced any brain damage at all from waking up.
Her eyes cracked open and she smiled when I saw her for the first time, awake.
‘I’m starving, can I have a McDonald’s mum?’ she asked.
I laughed for the first time in forever, my girl was back.
Slowly but surely, Jade started to find her feet again. Doctors were taking the time to teach us all about diabetes, and how we could help Jade monitor her insulin levels to prevent an attack like this one.
Jade was moved to a high dependency unit for two days after she came out of the coma, then joined a standard ward because she was improving so fast.
We’d walk around the hospital together, laughing and giggling like normal – she even offered to paint my nails again.
Two weeks on, Jade was herself again. Even though she was still in hospital, she was back to her normal, cheeky ways. I left her side that evening, as she was scoffing a Special K bar with her grandma.
‘I’ll see you in the morning love,’ I murmured, exhausted from the late hospital nights.
She was back, I kept telling myself. My little girl was back again.
The next morning at 8:30am, my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. My eyes still blurry from being woken up, I answered.
‘Lou, it’s Jade. Somethings really wrong,’ my mum said.
I didn’t even listen to the rest of what she said before I shoved some clothes on and sprinted across the road from my hotel to the hospital.
When I got there, it was like a war zone.
Jade was shut away behind a curtain, but I could hear the noises – she was choking, and it wouldn’t stop.
Doctors put me in a room away from all of the confusion, and it felt like I was sat in there forever. Then the sinking feeling hit.
They’d come in the room, with my daughter’s blood on them – just 20 minutes after she’d started coughing.
‘There’s nothing we could’ve done. She was choking on her own blood. We tried our best to help her. She’s dead, Miss Owens,’ they said.
My heart shattered.
I dropped to the ground, screaming but no sound was coming out.
How could she be gone? She was getting so much better, what could’ve gone wrong?
After five minutes, they let me see her. I walked behind the hospital curtain and collapsed once more. Jade was covered in blood. Her white bedsheets were crimson, and her face was soaked in red.
My sweet, funny clever girl was gone – and no one knew why.
The following weeks were a blur, and on July 10th 2019 we held Jade’s funeral.
She was carried by a horse-drawn carriage – a tribute to her favourite pastime.
Putting my daughter in the ground took all my courage.
She hadn’t been there for little Adley’s first birthday.
Jade’s post-mortem was the final piece to solve the puzzle of why we lost our girl.
They revealed she’d died from mucormycosis – a fungal infection usually caused by breathing in mould spores – which killed the tissue and blood vessels in her throat, and the airways and passageways to her lungs.
The mould could’ve come from anywhere, but our theory is that because Jade was outside all the time and in horse stables, it could’ve been lying around there.
Her diabetes made her vulnerable to the infection – if only we’d known she was diabetic; we might’ve had a chance to save her.
I couldn’t get over the suddenness of her death – she seemed completely fine then was gone in an instant. I will always remember Jade as the rock of our family, always up for an adventure and happy-go-lucky.
But what I will also remember is seeing her covered in her own blood – splattered around the room like a crime scene.
That image is in my head all day, every day.
I should’ve been planning Jade’s wedding one day, not her funeral.
But, taking it day by day, I must focus on my precious girl’s giggle, her wicked laugh and her cheery, upbeat attitude.
She would expect nothing less.