As far as I’m aware I don’t lose consciousness before the ambulance turns up. I lie there thinking about nothing at all. They’ve disappeared. They’ve left me alive. Metaphorically left me for dead, but if their intention had been to kill me there was nothing to stop them. Who called the ambulance? I’ll never know because I don’t ask.
It makes perfect sense when the noise of the siren arrives. A nurse hovers above, asks me to say something; to check if I am in fact able to speak. She shines something in my eyes. Asks for my name. How many fingers? Have you been drinking and have you taken any drugs? While she checks my neck and head for serious injuries I explain that I want to piss and I want water and I want sugar. I’ve been beaten up. I need to go to hospital. I need someone to help me stand so I can piss.
I’m whining, glad of the motherly attention. It’s helping. She’s a beautiful angel, come to my rescue.
“Do you think I’m able to get up?”
“Do you think you can manage?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you move your legs?”
I move my legs with success. I even wiggle my toes; then tell her I’ve wiggled my toes and ask if that’s a good thing. She laughs. She’s kind, compassionate, human and professional. A male nurse is with her. They both lift me up and then the male nurse helps me towards a hedge where, with difficulty, I start to unzip myself.
“Do you need any help?” he asks. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that he’s serious and willing to aid me with such a task but refuse all the same. Leaning my body against a garden wall I piss out a good few pints worth of urine. Then I’m laughing and saying to the nurse that I hope the neighbours don’t mind.
At once he’s behind me, supporting me. Did he catch me? Had I been about to fall over? As we move towards the ambulance I ask the female nurse for water and sugar again. In a conversational way I begin jabbering about my body sending messages to my brain about what it requires in the way of food and drink. They’re nurses, I think. They should know all about it. Did they study this topic at university? Hey guys, what do you reckon? Why am I craving sugar?
“You’re in shock.”
I pause in thought. “So when you’re in shock you need to eat sugar?”
“Ok, we’re putting you down here on the bed. You all right? You feeling much pain yet?”
“No, not yet. Is that good or bad?”
“Well, this may hurt a little when we swing your legs over.”
“Just lie back now.”
The drive to the hospital
Ever so slightly I’m beginning to enjoy myself. I’m on a bed in the back of an ambulance drinking orange juice through a straw. It’s a white plastic cup. Where did this come from? One of them must have handed it to me.
When the two nurses talk to each other I try to make sense of what they’re saying but am unable to do so. I’m phasing in and out of consciousness. A part of me wants to sleep while another part feels that staying awake would be more exciting because this is an experience. Once in a lifetime. Roll up, roll up. Get your ambulance rides here.
I’m delirious. I’m happy, tired; comfortable. There’s a dull pain coming from my right leg. No, both of them. But the right one hurts more.
“Can I sleep?” I ask.
“If you want.”
“Only…” how to get my meaning across…? “I… Is it safe for me to sleep or do I need to stay awake?”
I’m remembering something from a film or TV program. The guy is in the arms of a girl. He’s dying. She’s telling him to stay awake. It’s important that he doesn’t lose consciousness. “Stay with me,” she’s saying, shaking him. “So cold,” he replies. “So tired…”
“You can relax,” says the female nurse.
My head hurts too. All over. There’s a stinging sensation that seems to cover the whole of my face. My body aches. But I don’t yet want to know how bad the damage is; and even tell them as such.
“Not ready to start thinking about that right now,” I laugh. “Would rather…”
“Take some time out?”
“Yes! You’ve got it.”
How do they understand so well? These people are heroes. The female nurse asks me what I do for a living and I feel strangely reluctant to say.
“It’s simply to tie me over,” I explain. “Till something better comes along and… more worthwhile.”
“Oh yeah? Big ambitions have we?”
At once I feel quite young. Barely out of university. They’ve found me drunk and beaten up by the side of the road on a Friday night. Helpless. Lacking in the survival skills needed for life in the concrete jungle. The big wide world.
Or am I just another casualty of the silly, childish shenanigans of a weekend’s binge drinking? What must I look like to them right now?
The male nurse
He’s got short hair. Black. Very short hair; a crew cut. He’s young, like me. But mature. Worldly. Seen it all. Done it all. Knows the score. He has a confident urban voice. Yes, he’s from the city. Grew up here. Lived here all his life.
“Where you from?” I ask.
Okay, maybe not. But at least I got the city part right. I think.
“You from, like the inner city… or… a small town near there?”
city mate.” The ambulance goes over a bump as he answers. My bed rocks. His head bobs. Manchester
“Which football club do –“
“– only one team in
We laugh together. The ambulance is slowing down now. I’d like to talk for longer. It’s nice in here. He asks who I support and I reply that I’ve followed Manchester United since I was a kid. He groans ironically. Ever been? Negative. Seen them play? On a few occasions. Cup games mostly. A couch supporter. You should go up there some time. Maybe I will. Ryan Giggs. Ruud van Nistelrooy. How about you? Why
“Moved down here when I was ten.”
The female nurse is saying something. Someone else, or maybe one of them, has opened the doors. I feel a sharp pain in my right leg. Suddenly it’s just me and the male nurse in a room. We’re playing table tennis. He’s telling me about the new house he’s bought. Bay windows. Conservatory. Bright green eyes. He’s friendly, energetic, but also frightening. The way he’s talking. The confidence. And there’s something about those eyes.
The female nurse
“I’m going to need to wake you for a moment.” She touches my shoulder. A strand of hair floats over my face. Her eyes are blue.
“Okay… I’m okay.”
“You’re all right. We’re going to get you inside.” Her tone is gentle, yet firm.
“Will I see a doctor?”
“Someone will see to you soon.” She has blond hair and a pale face. She’s wearing a thick dark jacket. Her hair’s tied back, her cheeks are red. On a night out I wouldn’t look at her twice but right now I feel like holding her hand.
“You were complaining about your leg.”
“Errr… yeah…” (Was I?)
“Do you feel you can walk with me?”
She’s surprisingly strong as she helps me up. We exit the ambulance and almost instantly are in a hospital ward. Everything’s green. A room with beds, curtains; some of them drawn. There’s a cleaner with a trolley of cleaning stuff. He’s in front of me, blocking our way. Two older nurses are sat down on chairs by a door that leads to the A & E waiting room. That’s where the male nurse is. I know this because I ask.
What I don’t ask is their names. It crosses my mind but for some reason I don’t want to know. They’re the superheroes who came to my rescue. Not real people.
I’m helped to a bed. The female nurse is going to leave me here. Someone will be with you shortly. She smiles. She’s abandoning me. Have a nice life. Be on your way now. Good luck.
“Are you going?” I ask.
She hesitates for a moment. Can I sense awkwardness, or is it my imagination?
“That’s okay. You have to go… but thanks for your help.”
“Don’t mention it.” Her voice seems human all of a sudden. Weaker. Less professional. I don’t like it. She smiles and I thank her again. Tell her she has a great bedside manner. That she’s doing a fine job. I want to give her her power back. Great work! Now fly away and save the next person. You can do it. Stiff upper lip.
“Good luck,” she whispers; then bends down to kiss me on the cheek. She brushes back my hair. Feels the sweat on my forehead. Tells me she loves me. Smiles once more, and then she’s out through the curtain.
A door slams from somewhere. Then everything is dark.
I doze. I sleep. I’m awake in a room with curtains for walls. Outside there’s the mumbling of voices. I attempt to latch on to a conversation; to listen. I’m bored. Sleepy. But restless. I’d toss and turn if I could but my body is weak. Damaged.
I need to piss again. To get out of here. Finally I sit up in the bed and begin to examine my body. Starting at the bottom I work my way up. There’s pain but no disturbing amount of blood. There’s grazes on my knees and on my right shin. My ankles feel weak but I can move them. I wiggle my toes and then flex all the muscles I can think of to flex. Some hurt more than others. My side throbs: Below the ribcage on the right, above my hip. And below this, my right thigh. This is what’s giving me the most pain.
My hands and arms are bruised and grazed. I feel dry blood on my face. I’ve been hit around the eyes, which I imagine will show up a treat. But my nose, surprisingly, doesn’t hurt much at all.
I hear curtains being whipped across. They’re not my curtains. It’s the bed next to mine; to the left.
“Right now Mrs Jenkins.” The voice is loud. What’s about to be said will not remain private.
“This may not be good news I’m afraid.”
I daren’t move. Do they know there are other people around? The response from the woman is barely audible, I must admit, though I sense a tone of complaint. More bad news. Do you doctors ever give me anything other than bad news?
“We’re going to need to give you a brain scan.”
“I thought as much.”
“Of course there’s a chance that your cancer returning is not the cause. At this stage we still don’t know for sure.”
“It’s okay. I know. I knew straight away…” the rest of her sentence is difficult to catch. Guiltily I prick up my ears, moving my head closer to the left. He’s telling her she needs to sign a form to give them permission to do whatever it is they’re going to do. She’s telling him she knows this. That she’s been priming herself for the news just received. And then her voice changes slightly as she’s admitting something to him. A sign of weakness. I imagine her confessing that all the preparation in the world doesn’t make it any easier.
I no longer want to listen so I faze myself out of the conversation. Stare at my hands. Think about the faces I’ll soon be describing to the police. And then I start to compare my situation with that of the woman beside me.
I shift in the bed thinking about the faces. Four faces. I can still see them now. Faces that are gradually drifting further and further away.
I sleep. I dream. Two boys are kicking me. They’re playing a game. Trying to knock me out, like people do in films. It’s not working. Each time they kick my head one of them says to the other, “He’s not out yet.”
“How hard can it be?” the other one replies.
There’s two more now, stamping on my legs. They’re laughing. It’s a game. But there’s anger in their laughter. Bitterness. Resentment.
“Look at him squirm,” says the one with the baseball cap. He’s thin, lanky; with a big nose and wide-eyed gormless expression. He’s from a poor family and has had a rough time of it. His father used to hit him frequently when he was young, tell him he was a stupid fucking waste of space but now that he’s bigger and taller the violence at home has stopped. Now there’s a distance. They barely speak, barely even look at each other. And for the last four years his mother’s name hasn’t been mentioned even once.
“Not so tough now, are we? Ya fucking c**t.”
Another one: The one that’s just stamped on my ankle. He’s short. Stocky. And wearing glasses. He seems like the sort of guy you’d see working in a McDonalds. He’s got greasy black hair and a big forehead. I assess him as a follower; not a leader. The way he’s looking to the others for support. For their approval at what he’s doing to me. I think of him as a loser. A nob. The butt of their jokes. The fact that he’s allowed to kick me makes the experience ever more humiliating.
I wake up again and I’m still in the hospital bed, alone, surrounded by green curtains and waiting. Waiting…
When someone finally does come to check on me I feel a sense of surprise. What? Already? It’s only been about two hours. Are you sure you’ve got the time to spare for the poor, useless, unfortunate creature taking up your valuable hospital space?
Before I even have time to say hello he’s firing a string of questions at me. Headache? Feeling nauseous, seeing lights, dizziness, date of birth, postcode, middle name, experiencing the most pain where? He’s quick and professional, bearing a clipboard.
“Nothing seems to be broken Mr Morton but we’ll need to do an x-ray to be sure.” He touches my nose, mumbling an affirmative sound as his eyes fall to the clipboard again. Then randomly clicks his fingers next to my right ear.
“What’s the damage doc?” I hear myself thinking.
“Your right leg is badly bruised,” he informs me. “You’re going to have difficulty walking on it for a while. We may need to provide you with crutches.” He flashes a smile that lasts barely half a second before sweeping out through the curtain again.
A nurse soon replaces him. (Or is she a female doctor?) She’s standing over me, touching my body in every place imaginable. She’s old so I feel neither shy nor aroused; even when she carefully pulls off my jeans. She’s doing her job, a veteran. I’m merely another in a long line of broken bodies she’s felt up. Her hands are warm, brown, veiny and experienced.
“When will I have my x-ray?” I enquire.
Dismissively I’m told that it’s difficult to guess. Any time between now and the next three to six hours. “You might be lucky,” she then offers in the way of hope; though there’s also a tenor of sarcasm.