Considering that the population of London is approaching 9 million (plus more than a million daily commuters and many thousands of visitors and tourists), and my home city has 200,000 inhabitants, you wouldn’t expect to bump into the same stranger by chance very often, would you? Yes, I do realise that if you follow the same routes or go to the same places frequently at the same time of day, you will get to know the ‘regulars’, but that didn’t happen in my case. It was pretty much pure chance, every time. I suspect it occurs more often than you’d think...
I’d seen a flyer in my convenience shop from our local theatre, advertising a production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest“, and, as my shift roster gave me Wednesday off before being back on Earlies at 0700 Thursday morning, I treated myself to a fifteen-quid top-price ticket for the matinee performance. Yeah, it’s not the West End, but then neither is it West End prices.
(Okay, so I knew that I’d probably be the youngest person in the audience by a matter of forty years, but one advantage of having to work alternate weekends is that you get time off during the week when places are much less crowded – it’s been quite a few years since I’ve gone to the supermarket on a Friday night or a Saturday morning, and I don’t miss the crush one tiny little bit. Still don’t understand why so many retired folk keep up the habit of shopping at the weekend when they’ve got all week to do it!)
“The Importance of Being Earnest“ is a clever romantic comedy set in late-Victorian England and it pokes fun at the class system of the time; it’s also completely improbable (almost a farce), and pure escapism. There are some cracking lines, and it’s subtle enough to see several times and still get something new from it. If you listen between the lines there’s some real venom about the way the rich and high social class people were insulated from real life – but it isn’t made obvious enough to actually alienate the aspirational Victorian middle class who Wilde needed to pay the admission fees to watch his plays. If you’ve never seen the play, or indeed the film with Colin Firth, Judi Dench and Reese Witherspoon, then I suggest you do. It’s great fun!
The hero of the play, Jack Worthing, was found as a baby in a bag at the Lost Property Office of Victoria Station (Brighton Line) and brought up by an elderly gentleman. He was given the surname Worthing because that was the destination on the gentleman’s First Class train ticket. On reaching adulthood and with the death of the old gentleman, he found himself the owner of a town house in London and a country estate in Hertfordshire, as well as the guardian of his benefactor’s lively eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Cecily. Unwilling to spend all his time rusticating in deepest Hertfordshire, he invented a fictitious younger brother, Ernest, who kept getting himself into scrapes and needing rescuing, giving him a reason to be away from home. In his ‘Ernest’ persona, he is often up in London wooing Gwendolen, the cousin of his friend Algernon, and the daughter of Lord and Lady Bracknell. Algernon too has a secret; he has invented a sickly friend ‘Bunbury’, who is allegedly frequently at the point of death and in need of an urgent visit, thus offering him an excuse to avoid tedious occasions at home in Town with his overbearing Aunt Augusta, Lady Bracknell. By chance (Jack’s dropped engraved cigar case), Algernon finds out about Cecily, and her whereabouts, and poses as ‘Ernest’ in order to go to Hertfordshire and meet her – much to her delight, because in her secret diary she has long imagined herself engaged to be married to the mysterious ‘Ernest’. This visit causes a few farcical scenes, as while he’s in the house supervising the unpacking of his luggage, Jack returns home dressed in mourning clothes, finds Cecily in the garden, and tells her that ‘Ernest’ has sadly died in Paris. Then Gwendolen turns up to inspect her Ernest’s establishment. It all gets quite interesting. Cecily, like Gwendolen, is revealed to have a penchant only for men named ‘Ernest’, and once Algernon and Jack are unmasked as not being genuinely named ‘Ernest’, some swift manouevring (including two emergency christenings) and a couple of rather unbelievable but welcome twists are required to bring things to the desired conclusion.
Anyway, the cast made a great job of the play; the audience were suitably hushed with anticipation at the important bits like Lady Bracknell saying to Jack that losing one parent was unfortunate, but losing both seemed careless, and of course the “A HANDBAG?“ comment made famous in the 2002 film by Dame Judi Dench. The actresses playing Gwendolen and Cecily were naturally a couple of decades younger than the two playing Miss Prism and Lady Bracknell, and quite easy on the eyes. The girl who was cast as Cecily was a real sweetie – not as conventionally good-looking as Gwendolen, but tall and blonde with a little snub nose, soft cheeks, rosy-red lips and blue eyes to die for. I have to admit that whenever she was on stage, I was looking only at her. Pretty girls I see all the time at work (and a lot more who aren’t), but this one was especially lovely to my eyes. She could even sing, dance and play the piano!
The play over, we all clapped for three encores and then the six actors trooped off stage and the house lights came up. I let the rush go, as usual, and then got up from my seat and flexed my leg to get it moving again before following the steps to the exit. To my surprise and delight, the cast were waiting in the foyer and saying goodbye to the audience, which I thought was a great gesture. I quickly told them how much I’d enjoyed their performance and thanked them for brightening my day, and got back genuine smiles of appreciation. Close up, Cecily had a really gorgeous white-toothed smile, and I had difficulty taking my eyes away from hers, so as not to be caught staring. She was a cracker, and I didn’t think that it was entirely due to the expert use of theatrical make-up.
I reluctantly left the theatre and slowly walked back to my flat, just enjoying being out and about on my day off. While my dinner was in the oven, I looked up Cecily on the Internet. A bit of harmless online stalking is always a pleasant challenge – it’s amazing how much personal information you can find out, and it always reinforces my wish to stay away from the cookie-setting data-mining social media applications. I ain’t registered on Faceache or Twatter or Gogglespy, or Amazon, and I won’t ever be. It gives away far too much personal information, and every week you seem to hear of some company getting all their customers’ data hacked. I get quite enough junk email already, thank you very much.
She (the girl who played Cecily) was a professional actor, and it was surprising (and a little worrying to a privacy fiend like me) just how much detail was readily available on the Internet. So as to not give away her real or stage name, let’s just call her ‘Emily’ from hereon in?
She was my age, 28, 5’ 9” tall, admitted to weighing nine stone, claimed to be genuinely blonde underneath the long blonde wig, and by amazing coincidence had, like me, been born in Portsmouth! It was a real shame I’d probably never see her again – but then, I reckoned that she was way out of my league. But a man can dream, can’t he?
I went to bed early so as to be up early; I stayed awake a short while reliving the play, and remembering the graceful motions of Cecily / Emily. I think, counting catching the film a couple of times on TV, that it was probably about the fifth time I’d seen “The Importance of Being Earnest“, and I also enjoyed recalling some of the incisive one-liners that Wilde excelled at – like “no cucumbers were available, not even for ready money”, making a dig at the upper-classes deservedly poor reputation for actually paying their bills on time.
I seriously considered going to see the play (and Emily) again, but my shifts and other circumstances conspired and I didn’t manage to get sufficiently organised before the run ended. I did tell a few of my colleagues about it; in those last dark hours before dawn when all the drunks have finally been dealt with and the place is relatively quiet, we tend to talk about the more pleasant side of life. We’d go mad if all we had was a constant diet of A&E – although there are some great times when you quickly patch someone up as good as new, most of it is all about illness, injury and death, and that can be pretty damn depressing unless you have good colleagues who help keep things on an even keel. Black humour helps too – it may not be to everyone’s taste, but where there is death and suffering, sometimes some dark joking keeps you sufficiently detached from reality so as to be able to do your job properly, rather than succumb to panic.
A couple of weeks after I saw the play, I had one of my worst ever experiences in A&E. A fourteen year old girl was brought in unconscious after taking an Ecstasy tablet – and we couldn’t do a damn thing to save her. Her body just shut down. Her parents were in a terrible state; they were in denial, and then really angry, and her father almost had to be restrained; he was going to sue us all, and then beat us up, and I’ve never been so glad to see one of the hospital chaplains arrive and have him calm the situation down. Those kind of days thankfully don’t happen very often, but they are seriously bad for staff morale. Such a bloody waste of a young life. I didn’t blame her parents for taking it badly – in this day and age you expect to outlive your children, but it’s not always the case.
Yeah, we lose the odd teenage stabbing or accident victim as well, but they aren’t normally quite as young as fourteen, and we only lose them when they arrive bled out and nearly dead – if they get to us with plasma and oxygen attached, we can pretty much ‘routinely’ save their lives. It was not being able to do a damn thing about her relentless slide into death that really hurt.
We have the greatest numbers of staff working on Saturday nights – not only are there the extra alcohol-related injuries, but they tend to be brought in by equally-inebriated friends, and there’s the odd bit of threatening behaviour. Our hospital has a zero-tolerance policy, so we do have extra security and a copper or two are normally in attendance, but it’s still better to have additional staff on call. That meant that most of us weren’t ever at home when the BBC broadcast their A&E dramas Casualty and Holby City, but we wouldn’t have been interested anyway – we saw more than enough misery at work to want to indulge in some more when we were relaxing. That’s why I’d jumped at the chance to see “The Importance of Being Earnest“ on my day off, and why I quite often tried to do something enjoyable before turning up on a Saturday evening to see what the potent mix of youth, stupidity and alcohol could dream up this time. To paraphrase the wonderful American quote, “Nobody ever over-estimated the stupidity of the drunken idiot”.
Not that I’m complaining about how bad it gets for me – out in here in suburbia we have it relatively easy, and we know it. Many of the inner-London hospitals are almost under attack – well, that’s the impression you get, with the reception and security staff sitting behind steel shutters, so you have to speak to them through a grille, where the staff are routinely insulted and assaulted, and where sometimes the police have to break up vicious free-for-all fights amongst the patients in the waiting room. Now, that kind of working environment I do not need, but I admire the spirit and courage of those who do work there.
Work continued to be pretty much all-consuming, and although I didn’t let myself forget about Emily, she did sink into the background. I went to a few more performances of other plays at the theatre over the winter, but never saw her again.
I half contemplated taking a leaf out of one of Jeffrey Archer’s novels – I think it’s “Not a penny more, not a penny less“ where the hero fleetingly meets a girl who is a successful model on a train, and then finds her agent and hires her for a publicity event at one of his shops so he can see her again and ask her out. Trouble is, I couldn’t think of any reason why I’d need to book her without making it horribly obvious that I was paying her to spend time with me – and we know what words we use to describe women who get paid for accompanying men!
Oh well, we frogs can admire our princesses from afar, but rarely do we get a chance to get close enough to kiss them.
Having said that, female friends and colleagues of mine often complain about how many frogs they have to kiss before they find their own Prince Charming, so maybe I’m doing something wrong.
About six months later, when I was doing an Early shift, I’d just got back from getting a bite of lunch when I was called over to an incoming ambulance patient who’d been knocked off her bike and seemed to have at least a broken arm.
(For those of you who believe the gutter press stories of inefficiencies in the National Health Service and growing waiting times in Accident and Emergency, take it from a professional – if you genuinely need urgent attention, you will definitely get it. If you arrive on a stretcher, or there is any suspicion of head injury, heart attack, stroke or breathing difficulty, we’ll get you straight into a cubicle and save your life if it is humanly possible. If, however, you have come to clog up A&E because your own G.P. won’t give you another sick note, or you’ve got a hangover, or you are vainly hoping for some antibiotics because you’ve caught a cold (and antibiotics do the square root of bugger all to relieve symptoms of the common cold), or have another non-urgent complaint, then you’ll be continually pushed down the triage queue as more urgent cases come in, and end up sitting there for the full four hours, picking up all the other bugs that your fellow patients who haven’t bothered to register with a G.P. are sharing around. And none of the staff will be over-sympathetic. Rant over!)
The name was the same as Emily’s, and to my delight when I saw her, it was indeed Emily. It was a little hard to tell at first, as the paramedics had correctly kept the cycle helmet on her head and wrapped her up in a couple of blankets against the cold, but I recognised the snub nose and blue eyes immediately. Her left arm was strapped to a splint and she was clearly in some discomfort. I’ve been there – I know how unsettling it can be to suddenly find yourself in pain and on a trolley in A&E.
With my biggest smile and most cheerful voice I introduced myself.
“Hello, Emily, I’m Ben. Let’s get you sorted out! I need to do a few checks first to ensure you haven’t got any hidden damage, and then we’ll get you off to X-Ray and make you more comfortable. Full name and date of birth please?”
I checked them against the computer record.
“Okay, we’ve already got you on the system, that’s a great start. No new allergies or medical problems since you last saw your doctor? Is your address still xxxxx?”
She confirmed it.
“Thanks! Now, Emily, you were knocked off your bike. Did the vehicle actually hit you, or just the bike?”
She thought for a moment, biting her lip slightly in a very engaging manner.
“I think the back wheel; one moment I was going along nicely and the next I got tilted off onto the pavement!”
“Can you remember how you fell? Did you go over and bump your head, or land on your side?”
“I think I went on my side; I tried to put my arm out to land on, but it was a bit of a crash landing.”
“Okay. Now I just want to look into your eyes; it’s quite a bright light so don’t try and look straight at it. Look up ... look down ... look left ... look right ... Thanks, now the other eye.”
“Good! Your eyes tell me that you haven’t been too shaken up. No pain in the head? No dizziness, specks in front of your eyes, no nausea?”
“Other than my arm, and feeling sick, no, my head doesn’t hurt at all.”
“Okay, hold still while I take your helmet off. It doesn’t look dented or cracked – thank you for wearing one, by the way. It makes life a lot simpler knowing that you had your head protected. Now, I’m just going to feel round for any lumps and bumps; if you feel the slightest bit of discomfort I want you to tell me straight away.”
She had nice hair; it was indeed blonde all the way through, and cut medium-short in a simple but smart fashion. The long golden tresses tied up into bows and frills that had adorned her on stage had obviously been a wig; that style was clearly totally impractical unless, as Lady Bracknell had recommended, you employed an experienced French maid to run your boudoir.
“Now, close your eyes. I’m going to touch your arms and your legs and I want you to tell me whereabouts you feel the pressure.”
That test worked out fine, as did getting her to move her right hand and both feet on command, and then move her head from side to side. No obvious spinal cord injuries.
“Okay, Emily, now the nasty bit. I want you to try to lift your left arm against the strapping, and then GENTLY flex the fingers for me – but if it starts hurting, stop immediately.”
She grimaced as she lifted it, and gasped with pain as she tried to rotate the wrist.
“Okay, stop right there! We’ll get you X-Rayed in a minute. Let’s get you sat up. Everything else seems fine, it looks like just your arm and your pride have been dented.”
I put my arm behind her from her right side and lifted her, and Laura, the nurse helping me, raised the backrest behind her.
“And the front wheel of my bike! Look!”
She pointed at her bike, which the ambulance paramedics had very kindly brought along with her. The front wheel was no longer either circular or in a flat plane; there was a definite kink in the wheel rim.
“Hmmm. Looks like it bounced off the kerbstone, which is why you made a short flight. You won’t be cycling home anyway, but certainly not on that wheel! If you’d got that bent and battered yourself, you’d definitely be staying here tonight. Hopefully we can patch you up and not have to admit you.”
Laura and I gently and carefully unstrapped her left arm, and I very gingerly palpated it to check for the areas of tenderness. Emily was a great patient; the whole process would have been painful, and she kept herself under control as she let me know where it hurt the most. I checked that she still had a strong pulse at the wrist and finger tips, and got her to flex her fingers before asking her to grip my hand and try to squeeze.
“Lovely! Well done, I know that must have hurt. There’s no obvious damage to the wrist and tendons, so with luck it’s a straightforward break; there doesn’t seem to be any displacement of the bone. Let’s get that X-Rayed. You aren’t pregnant or possibly pregnant, are you?”
“Good. We’d have to cover you in lead blankets if you were! Only joking, but we do it differently when there’s a foetus involved, so I have to ask. Laura, will you please get one of the porters to bring a chair – I don’t think we need bother with the trolley any longer.”
Laura and I helped her transfer from the trolley to the chair. As I’d expected, I had a much happier bunny on my hands once she was sitting up and able to see more of the world – being stuck on your back and uncertain about what is going to happen to you is one of the most dispiriting things in the world – and I’ve seen it from both angles. I don’t like doctors and nurses looking down at me when I’m helpless, so why would she?
The porter took her off to Radiology, and I went to fill in some more paperwork while I was waiting for her return – which included writing a death certificate for an old boy who’d been brought in earlier, and, to keep the coroner happy, making a short ‘sudden death’ statement to a W.P.C. about it. I also signed a couple of chits for pain medication and got Laura to order a couple more boxes of disposable gloves – I’d noticed that the level in the dispenser in that cubicle was getting low. With the increased level of antibiotic-resistant bacteria these days, the less skin-to-skin contact the better. In A&E we get exposed to a lot more bodily fluids, of all descriptions, than most people, and you can’t be too careful. Sadly, a lot of the people who need our care already live fairly unsafe lifestyles, so the risks are certainly there. If you use intoxicants, then you’re more likely to fall over, and if you regularly abuse them to the level where the next morning you can’t remember what happened the night before, then hygiene hasn’t been your number one priority.
The porter gave me the nod that Emily was back in her cubicle, so I thanked her and went to see what the damage was. My patient was still a little bit pale, but was clearly already bouncing back from her bad experience. I pulled up the X-Ray images on the computer screen and turned it so that she could see.
“Okay, Emily, just as we thought, that’s a nice simple fracture of the ulna, typical of striking your forearm on something. No damage to the radius or wrist, so it should heal perfectly with no residual effect. Okay, I’ve got to be completely honest with you; in sixty or seventy years time, you’ll probably feel it aching a little bit on cold wet days. You’ll be able to complain to your grandchildren about your old war wound playing up!”
She smiled at that one. It always works. They come in worried that they’ve really hurt themselves, and then you tell them that they’ll most likely live to a ripe old age. Statistically, it’s almost the truth, as far as our one-off customers go. The story is, very sadly, rather different for our regular visitors.
“And the even better news is that we can put a simple cast on that. No surgery, no scar. And you can have some pain relief as well. Two ticks and I’ll get that for you; you’ve done really well putting up with it so far.”
She smiled at that compliment; it was more honest than she realised. It never fails to amaze me that it is always the ones with the least serious injuries who make the most fuss; and I knew from my own experience the nagging pain of a broken bone which was out of place. She was being a brave little soldier, but she was twenty years too old for me to use that expression on her...
I dished out a couple of 30mg codeine phosphate tablets, Laura handing her a paper cup with a little water to help her swallow them. They would calm her down while we splinted the arm, and help her through the discomfort of getting home. Yeah, maybe the dose was a little over the top for her size and weight, but not enough to cause any concern.
“Okay, that’s as much of the good stuff as you are going to get for now; I don’t want you dancing down the road as high as a kite because it would give the hospital a bad name. I’ll give you a couple more to save for tonight when you want to sleep, and after that you can have both paracetamol and ibuprofen, two tablets or capsules of either at four hourly intervals, but only do it if you need it.”
She nodded her understanding.
“Right, let’s get a splint on you. We shan’t do the full plaster cast today, because your arm is bound to swell a bit, so we’ll get you to come back in three or four days to do the proper thing. Hang on tight and I’ll take you down to the Fracture Clinic.”
There was no point in wasting a porter’s time; the Fracture Clinic is next door to A&E, and I knew exactly who I was looking for. Ivy.
Ivy is one of the hospital characters; she’s a larger than life Trinidadian who has become a good friend to me, but more importantly, she’s bloody good at her job.
We were in luck; there were no other customers in Ivy’s little workshop and she was at home. I brought up the X-Ray images on her monitor so that she could see what she was working on, and she smiled her understanding.
“No problem, bossman, I’ll get that immobilised. Give me a few minutes.”
“Ivy, this one’s very special, so I’ll leave her to your tender mercies so you can concentrate on fixing her, without having to waste your time trying to wind me up. Emily, do you want a drink before Ivy starts? Tea, coffee, water?”
“Just water, please.”
“No, I’m fine, thanks.”
I brought Emily a plastic cup of cooled water from the machine. Ivy had donned a new white polythene disposable apron and had placed one over Emily’s clothes as well.
“Ivy, Emily plays the piano, very well, so please see if you can work your magic so she can keep practicing without messing up the break.”
Emily’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
“How on earth did you know that? It can’t possibly be on my medical records!”
I grinned and bowed.
“Ivy, do you remember me telling you about that performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest“ that I enjoyed so much?”
“Yes, I do, but you can’t mean...”
“Yup! May I present the very talented and extremely lovely Miss Cecily Cardew!”
“Oh my word! Talk about a small world!”
Emily was almost speechless with surprise.
I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, silently bowed myself backwards through the curtain, and left Emily in Ivy’s most capable hands.
I spent the next half-hour with another accident patient; a bloke who’d mashed up a couple of fingers by trapping them under a heavy box at work. He’d bled like a stuck pig, which was probably a good sign as it meant that the circulation was working well, so after cleaning them thoroughly, I taped them up with some magic sutures, wrote him off work for a fortnight, and did him a discharge letter to take to his G.P. for a course of painkillers and a tetanus jab if required. He wasn’t pleased when I told him that he’d almost certainly have the fingernails go black and drop off, but he cheered up again when I explained that they’d regrow, and it was a small price to pay if it meant keeping his fingers.
Then I wrote Emily a quick discharge letter for her G.P. and printed her a hard copy while I was at it. I went back to Ivy’s cubicle in Fractures and Orthopaedic, called out ‘knock-knock’, and pushed through the curtain. Emily was sitting there all dressed up in a shiny white fibreglass splint with a neatly rolled bandage to pad and secure it. It was a work of art, especially with her modelling it.
“Yes, and it almost feels comfortable!”
“Good! Can you flex your wrist?”
She demonstrated, with a slight wince as some pain hit her.
“Okay, so you’ll need to take it easy. Did Ivy read you the riot act? No getting it soaking wet, no lifting weights, no acrobatics, any problems with it come straight back any time day or night, especially if you can’t feel your fingers or there doesn’t seem to be any blood circulation. Ivy will want to see you in a few days to check it and put a full cast.”
The woman in question returned at that point.
“Okay, Ben, all done. We’ve had a good natter, and Emily’s going to come in on Monday for the full cast. I’ve told her your deepest darkest secret, though, and you must have overdone the happy pills, because she wasn’t at all horrified!”
“Oh lord! Ivy, please tell me you didn’t reveal how rubbish I am at ten pin bowling?”
“Nah, much, much worse than that. I outed you as a Portsmouth supporter!”
(Okay, so supporting Pompey has been a one-way trip in the wrong direction for much of the last ten years. We won the F.A. Cup in 2008, and were in the English Premier League. Since then the club has been relegated three times and gone into administration twice (being docked nine hard-earned points for that ensured our relegation from the Premiership in 2010), and we’re currently in League One, the old Third Division. Five dodgy foreign owners in a row very nearly did for the club. I do reckon that we’re finally on the way back up – the supporters’ trust bought the club in 2013 and we managed to pay off the remaining debt the next year. I’ve continued to hold a Fratton Park Season Ticket to support the club, but I only manage to get to one or two home games a year. This past year has been a real spiritual trial, with our arch-rivals for many years, Leicester City, winning the Premier League trophy against all odds, after narrowly escaping relegation the previous season. Now, their foreign owners have actually helped the club to prosper. Okay, Chapeau to them and Claudio Ranieri for turning their own fortunes around, but it doesn’t make it any easier for a Pompey fan!)
Emily giggled. Maybe I had given her a little too much codeine; but she was better off feeling no pain than twitching while Ivy set the break.
“My Dad’s a supporter too! Mum and Dad still live in Southsea – where are you from?”
“My folks moved out to Lee-on-the-Solent when they retired; we lived in Farlington when I was at school.”
Ivy looked on in some bemusement, which was reasonable. Only us Pompeyites and our near neighbours realise that Portsmouth is much more than just one place. I explained.
“We grew up about four miles apart!”
She smiled and shook her head in disbelief.
“Lordy, I did say it was a small world!”
“You’re all done? Right, Emily, we’d better get you off home. Here’s a copy of the letter I’ve sent to your G.P., just to keep her in the picture, and here are a couple more codeine, I’d save them for tonight before bed if I were you. The tricky bit is going to be the bike; I’d drop you off myself, but I’ve got to be here for another four hours yet, and you don’t want to be hanging around here for that long. If we take off the front wheel, you ought to fit it in the back of a taxi. Will that be okay?”
“Thanks! That would be great; I was wondering how on earth I was going to get it back with me!”
Emily thanked Ivy, who smiled back at her.
“It was a pleasure to finaly meet you in person! Look after yourself, rest, eat properly, and if you think you’ve got a problem, come straight in and ask the receptionist for Ben or Ivy. If we aren’t on duty, one of our colleagues will sort you out. I shan’t say ‘have a good weekend’, because you won’t want to be doing anything exciting, just putting your feet up. Take care, and we’ll see you on Monday.”
With an elderly or temporarily more seriously disabled patient, before discharging them, I’d have asked questions about whether there was someone at home who could look after them; but it seemed too inappropriate to ask them of Emily, especially as I had a personal interest in hoping that there wasn’t anybody. So I didn’t.
While Laura phoned for a taxi, I saw with relief that Emily’s bike had quick-release levers on the wheel hubs, and I removed the buckled front wheel, tying it to the frame with a few stray bits of twine that we kept from the packaging we received, just for such eventualities. Yes, we do have a set of spanners in the emergency toolkit, for whenever we have to disentangle boy scouts from penny-farthing bicycles, but quick-release was absolutely fine for me.
I said goodbye and Laura helped Emily to the entrance, wheeling the bike for her. I was busy taking the vital signs from a possible heart attack admission by the time Laura came back in and laughingly told me that the taxi driver had even got out of his seat to help load the bicycle. Now, that was pretty unusual in her experience.
“I reckon it’s a toss up over reacting to a very pretty girl, or not wanting to get his upholstery scratched!”
I didn’t rise to the bait. Emily was indeed one of the prettier girls to have passed through the unit that day, and I was sure that Laura was fishing. Okay, I probably had paid Emily markedly more attention than I had my other patients. Laura is five years older than me, happily married with three almost-teenage kids she is devoted to, and, just like most of my older female colleagues (Ivy included) keen to get me married off, or ‘leg-shackled’ as I sometime retort to their more blatant match-making attempts.
We decided after hooking the bloke up to a few monitors that this wasn’t a true heart attack, more of a stress-triggered wobble. I didn’t like his high blood pressure (but it’s not at all uncommon, some of it is what we call ‘white coat syndrome’ caused by the anxiety of being in hospital, and being blue-lighted in an ambulance isn’t what I’d call relaxing, either). I discharged him back to his G.P. with a recommendation to monitor the blood pressure, and tried to give him some advice on how to reduce stress. His wife had come in while we were examining him, and I reckoned from her face that she was going to march him down to the G.P. surgery first thing the next morning no matter how much he tried to talk his way out of it, so that was sorted.
I actually had that Saturday off!
I nipped down to Fratton Park, met my Dad, we were more than rewarded for our faith with a welcome home win, had a glass of beer together, and I was back home in London well in time for bed – yes, in order to fix my schedule to allow me to see my team play, I’d volunteered for an Early on Sunday! It was at least a relatively quiet day; there were a few leftovers of very late Saturday nights out, a couple of whom appeared in handcuffs being escorted for verification of their claimed injuries, and then the DIY accidents started coming in from about eleven. I had to get the superglue and the magic sutures out for several nasty cuts; one bloke had managed to do such a good job on his thumb with his circular saw that I had to call on the duty consultant surgeon to see if it could be successfully re-attached; personally I didn’t reckon it would, but that decision was fortunately not mine to make nor pass on to the patient – I don’t have either the patience or the dexterity for micro-surgery.
I didn’t get to see Emily when she came in to see Ivy on the Monday, although I had very much hoped to; there had been a scaffolding collapse and a couple of builders had been quite badly smashed up, and I was tied up getting them stabilised and ready for emergency surgery. On Tuesday, Ivy caught me in the canteen having a quick early lunch before I started my Late.
“I thought that I’d see you yesterday – Emily seemed disappointed that you didn’t pop in while she was there, but I told her that you were probably treating someone and couldn’t get away.”
“Yeah, nasty scaffolding accident, took a while to get them sorted. How was she? Did you do a proper cast?”
“Yes, she was fine, no great swelling and not too much bruising, so no problem there. She’s coming back in a month so we can have a look.”
“Did you warn her about the itching?”
“Of course! She’s hoping to find a thin knitting needle so that she can do some scratching if it all gets too bad.”
“So your ears will be burning by about Friday?”
“Probably, but at least when I come to take it off, they are normally so grateful to be rid of it, after being so worried about my little circular saw, that they always forget to moan!”
I knew just what Ivy meant. When they finally came to cut my cast off, I too found it hard to believe that a saw able to carve its way so quickly through rock hard Plaster of Paris bandages would not damage the skin underneath at all.
I thought of Emily often during that month. I’d seen the genuine person underneath the actor persona, and I’d very much liked what I’d seen. There’d been no whining or demanding of special treatment; she’d been a perfect patient who’d let me do my job. The girl had real roots, many of which I shared, and I wanted to get to know her better. I just had to pluck up my courage and ask...
Ivy reminded me the day before Emily’s appointment. I might have known that she’d see through my carefully-constructed façade.
“You do want to see her again, don’t you, Ben? So don’t get tied up with the paperwork, and make sure you come along on time. Eleven o’clock, and don’t forget!”
“What if she realises that I’ve no need to be there?”
Ivy laughed at me.
“Don’t be so blooming shy, boy! Faint heart never won fair lady, as they say!”
I laughed dutifully along with her. I’ve had self-image problems ever since my leg got smashed up – there are some pretty gruesome scars, and although they’re fading with time, I still remember the horror exhibited by some of the kids I used to go swimming with when they first saw them. I tend not to wear shorts in public, and the damage to my leg didn’t do me any favours as far as developing my dancing skills went. That’s one reason I felt I wasn’t in Emily’s class.
“Okay, Ivy, just for you, sweetheart, I’ll come and take a look.”
“You better do, boy, you damn well better!”
Yes, of course I was lurking waiting for Emily to appear for her appointment. It was quiet enough that time of the morning for me to be catching up on the eternal backlog of paperwork rather than actually being hands on with a patient, and as the hands on the wall clock approached eleven, I finished the file I was dealing with, told Laura I would be with Ivy if I was needed, and strolled over to Fracture.
Sure enough, Emily was sitting in the waiting area, looking as pretty as ever. I walked over to her, greeted her with a smile, which was returned, and sat down next to her. She seemed pleased to see me there.
“Hi, Emily! The day you’ve been waiting for has arrived! How has it been? Ghastly, awful or just plain bloody?”
She laughed. God, it was a lovely laugh! I could have listened to a happy Emily all day long. (Okay, so I had it badly. Why not?)
“All of the above and some words that I shouldn’t use or my Grandma will tan my bottom?”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that, but no-one has ever come up with a solution for the itching. Did the knitting needle trick work?”
“Some of the time! I’ve got a steel ruler, and that helped a bit too, but yeah, it was driving me bonkers on occasion.”
“Oh well, that will all be over in a couple of minutes. How has the arm been? Any pain?”