A brief appreciation, on the Feast of the Epiphany, of an experience at the year's end. The year's end, when nothing is quite as normal, when people and institutions are not working at all, or on a shoestring before the next holiday, when the nights are long and dark and when often - as was the case last Thursday - the sun never really puts in an appearance and life seems suspended. It was on the evening of such a day, two days before Hogmanay, that I had occasion to make use of the Ambulance service and the A&E department in Dunoon's hospital. And before I get carried away, let me say one thing: they were wonderful.
A persistent cold virus has had every second person I know struggling over December, and it had caught me up over Christmas, so the day has been quiet, boring even, in a pleasant sort of way. This all changes when I am assailed by a searing pain that feels as if I'd been stabbed under the ribs (I haven't.) As it is actually the worst pain I've felt - even more so than childbirth - Mr B ends up dialling 999. It quickly becomes apparent, even to me, that people think I might be having a heart attack. (I'm not. I'm pretty sure of this, for some reason. Can one tell?) I think that when they hear my date of birth these days alarm bells ring. Besides, I am dripping in sweat, freezing to the touch, unable to stop trembling - you know the kind of thing. Quite dramatic.
I find myself being assisted downstairs by a large man in green. He is making soothing remarks. There is another big man in the hall. Soon our sitting-room is full of green - uniforms, bags - tubes, paper things, a white oxygen cylinder, needles. They take an ECG, despite the contacts' sliding off periodically. Morphine. Anti-emetic. "Don't go to sleep on me!" Fascinated - even in this state - to realise that though the pain is still there I don't care so much. And I don't really care about anything but the pain in the first place.
Seventeen steps between our front door and the gate. Swaying down on a small chair to which I am strapped, worrying that the man behind me will have a hernia by the time he reaches the gate, realising that the gate is not held back by the big chuckie I've used since I was pulling a pram up and down, noting dispassionately that the lead paramedic is having to hold it open with one foot in order to get me through it. The blue light on the ambulance is flashing, as it has presumably flashed for the past 45 minutes. Oh, Lord - the neighbours. It is strangely difficult to transfer from seat to bed, but I get there somehow. The ambulance has rock-hard suspension and I hear myself groaning. And all the time the lead paramedic is telling me I'll be all right and not to worry, and somehow I am comforted and simply give up.
It's the same in A&E. One nurse, one doctor. The paramedics are there doing the handover and then they're gone. More stabs. A cannula. Somewhere along the line the pain recedes and I fall asleep. The whatever-it-is you lie on in A&E seems sublimely comfortable. I don't know what I dream and what is real.
I'm allowed to go home at 4am. Mr B is roused by a phone call, having been sent home before midnight, and I march out across the car park unaided. I am incredibly grateful for these people who rescued me, looked after me, restored me to myself. My own bed beckons. There is only one thing that perturbs me in this euphoric state ...
I have been wearing my EastEnders dressing gown. Vulgar and totally risible. Warm, comforting - yes, but not what one's mother would have tolerated. Perhaps I should buy a more decent one ... just in case?