“How will I get back?”
“Um. I don’t know. Another ambulance will come. Probably me.”
“So I will wait for you here?”
I had been driven to this hospital for an eye exam by a garrulous and energetic paramedic. She had studied biomedicine as a postdoc in the UK.
“I was last in Oxford eight years ago,” she said.
She had liked the pubs.
“A good place to discuss research casually, outside of the labs.”
My eye was quickly checked: “it is probably fine.” They wheeled me into a hot, noisy corridor — my paramedic friend long gone.
I lolled my head against the back of my wheelchair feeling so awful and not knowing why. My body was big and mushy and unknowable. I seemed alone in this corridor lined with chattering Italians. Was I too hot? Was my glucose too low?
An hour passed. I half-slept. People grew concerned about my state and drew me into side rooms and held my head and patted my shoulders. Until the bubbly paramedic was back.
In the ambulance I eventually realised what I needed: my bladder was full to bursting. So when we arrived at the next hospital I explained that I needed the toilet.
“We will go first to the office. It’s very important.”
They were worried about how I would pay for my stay in the hospital. This was more important than the toilet. And who am I to say otherwise?
It was in these circumstances that I signed a piece of paper to affirm my personal liability for all fees that I was incurring: my bladder bursting, my head bursting, — my whole body ready to condemn its audience of bureaucrats and half-lives with a shower of exploding organ pieces.
I gave them what they wanted. Vague relief descended. My wheelchair was moving again — the world was moving again.
“Can I use the phone,” I asked.
I wanted to call someone (Mary?) who would assure me that everything would be okay.
“No, she says they cannot do international calls,” the paramedic translated.
“Will I be able to use the internet in the ward?”
“How should I know? I’ve never been a patient in a hospital,” said the paramedic.
She announced this as a mark of pride. Good for her. Never being sick. Never needing anyone. Going to pubs. Going to work. No problems. No worries. Congratulations.
The conversation was over. I was the powerless one. And I had submitted.
“Ciao,” I said to the office people.
When returned to the ward I was enraged.
‘I despise all of these people for wasting their lives, destroying my dignity — we burning little petals on the head of this overproliferating pot plant, this hell.’
For the first time in four days I tried to eat food. It was a tough proposition — pasta, and gravy-smothered meats. But I was determined.
‘I must get my strength. I hate being sick. Life is revolting.’
I ate as well as I could. Forcing the mechanics of my throat and mouth. When I lay back, my whole body throbbed, my face was hot and sweaty. My heart was everywhere, and the bed itself seemed to shake and pitch with the sloshing hot blood.
‘I will be strong. I will overcome everything.’
And I was so weak.