1 Prone To Melodrama
I feel like I no longer exist. Absurd, I look in the mirror and can see myself, nurses repeatedly bustle in and out of my room monitoring my vital stats, engaging in conversation and giving me little waxed paper cups filled with pills I am told to take. Feeling like I don’t exist is more than absurd, it’s wholly unjustified, yet the feeling of disconnection persists.
I have been quarantined and am located in what is called, without any hint of creative flair, ‘Side Room 1’ on ward 18 at an NHS hospital located deep within the Cheshire countryside. In my single room I have 2 large windows that look out onto green tree lined fields. The largest of the 2 windows stands open, letting in a cool refreshing breeze and I’ve just been poured a cup of coffee and given some biscuits as I lounge on my fancy motorised bed. I’m sure things could be much, much worse.
There is however a faint odour of urine that I can’t work out the source of.
In my drug addled state I had worried it might be emanating from me, but fully bathed, deodorised and dressed in my only remaining set of clean clothes, the smell persists. Captive for the last 72 hours, I’m relieved that I’ve not yet turned into a festering wee-soaked wretch; however the faint but persistent smell lingers and not even my travel-size Febreeze (which I feel smug for having had the foresight to pack) can mask or shift it.
I spray John-Paul Gautier Madame in the air every couple of hours in a vain attempt at olfactory appeasement.
My nights are marked by a multitude of lurid nightmares whose subjects range from uncontrollable, devastating fires to marauding lawless street gangs through to perverted, Croc-footed orderlies that coerce patients into drinking drugged cups of tea before creeping back to their bedside in the dead of night, intent on molestation. Bedtime is such a hoot.
Last night I was trapped inside a Port Merionesque clockwork maze of a town, the streets are lit with elaborate mechanical contraptions that whir into life at dusk. Cogs tick, grind and turn in a highly over engineered nonsensical process that results in the ignition of ornate but ineffective, spluttering gas powered street lights.
There are houses here as normal and dull as any on Privet Drive nestled closely beside big hulking industrial scale chimneys on top of precarious, teetering stone towers right next to cavernous labyrinths carved out of the bedrock, dark and uninviting.
A tangle of residential homes and industrial buildings gives way here and there to small, always deserted cobbled courtyards. Great bronze statues of impossible Steampunk whimsy sit beside conventional sculptures of unknown heroes, set atop vast pillars of limestone. Winding my way through the empty haphazard streets, something unseen pursues me, instilling a rising sense of terror, increasing the urgency with which I seek to escape this place.
A moment of clarity and I decide that by forming some kind of mental map of wherever it is I am, I will be able to plan my escape, so I climb upwards in the hope of achieving a more revealing vantage point. When I reach the highest point (completely unaffected by the vertigo or lack of athleticism that afflicts me in the waking world) I look out, like some ancient mariner sat precariously atop the Crows Nest and I realise I’m on an island in the middle of a vast ocean.
The realisation that there is nowhere to escape to, is replaced by the despair and certainty that there will come a time when the futility of trying to escape this place will prove too much. The day will come when I simply choose to no longer outrun or hide from my unseen pursuer and the inevitability is crushing.
Then I wake up.
Having studied the psychology of dreams I wonder vaguely what sort of unresolved battle of the ID and Super Ego this latest nightmare represents. I wonder if the island is a metaphor for my current circumstances, in particular the feeling of isolation but surmise it’s far more likely to be nothing more than the product of a continued high fever and Morphine induced torpor.
I should probably explain the circumstances that lead to me being here.
2 The Best Laid Plans Include the Kitchen Sink
I was at a big outdoor event. Let’s call it a festival. Actually, it was the biggest UK LARP event of the year, called rather grandly, the Gathering of Nations. Since no one knows what LARP is however, for the purpose of this story, I was at a festival.
The blue plastic wrist band given to me upon entry still encircles my wrist. Once a defiant symbol of my desire to seek quick medical assistance and the conviction that I would then get straight back to the important business of having fun, the wrist band now simply taunts, reminding me of the fun I should be having.
A day before the event was due to start, me, a group of friends and thousands of others descended upon the lush green fields in Derby we were set to call home for the next 5 days.
My car packed impossibly full with barely enough room for its 2 human occupants, having found camp and the faces of friends, we set about unpacking our camping essentials including a kitchen complete with cooker, larder and fridge, portable gas fire, super king size air bed, goose down duvet, flushing toilet, solar shower and of course festival must-haves, his and hers dressing up boxes.
A seasoned, if not hardy camper, the cavernous 7 man tent I call home for several weeks of every year (complete with a mostly redundant, baffling vestibule and a spare bedroom used as a dressing room), goes up with relative ease and true to form, within 20 minutes it was up and ready to peg down. Hit by a very sudden certainty that I was going to faint, my part in camp set up abruptly came to a halt.
As the afternoon turned into evening and I grieved over the fact that my right hand remained uncharacteristically bereft of alcoholic beverages of any description, I experienced a rapid onset of symptoms that made it very obvious that without some kind of medical intervention, the event was going to be cut short for me before it had even begun.
After deciding to take it easy and sleep on it, I awoke after a mammoth 9 hour sleep only to feel even worse. I made the decision to drive back home (a very reasonable 3 hour round trip) to see my Doctor. The plan was that I’d grab a quick diagnosis and perhaps some meds before heading back later that day or at worst, the following morning ready for the event to start that evening.
In my haste to get off site and back again, I made a fatal error however and despite absently grabbing my rucksack already filled with a change of clothes and toiletries, half way home, the location of my mobile phone dawned on me. I’d left it on the zebra print chair back in the tent.
I could drive back and increase my journey or I could just swallow the sense of panic I felt (what if I break down? What if I get lost? What if I’m really ill and can’t get back? What if I need to share some hilarious insight or experience on Twitter?) and concentrate on getting to the Doctors and back as quickly as I could.
A few hours later my blue festival wrist band had been joined by a white hospital patient ID band, having been given a diagnosis of Meningitis by both my GP and the admissions Doctor at the hospital.
All I know about Meningitis is that if small people get it they can die and that it makes your brain swell up. With a rudimentary understanding of biology to say the least, and having reasoned that a swollen brain was probably quite a bad thing, I briefly entertained myself by picturing a grotesquely enlarged brain pulsing out of my nose and ears, causing my eyes to bulge, resulting in my entire head eventually exploding.
I’m prone to melodrama, what can I say?
As my emergency admission to hospital sunk in, my immediate reaction was to let my friends back at the event site know what was going on, but without a phone I was stumped. Like most people these days, far removed from the walking Filofax I was in my teens when I used to know all of my friends and families phone numbers by heart, the now omnipresent mobile phone has made the necessity of remembering phone numbers obsolete.
Since obtaining my first mobile phone in the mid 1990’s I have resolutely set about forgetting every digit I ever knew with just two exceptions. I know my own mobile number and I know my parents landline number.
Now however, I would need to use something I’d not encountered for almost 20 years, a public telephone. Without even the slightest idea of how or where to find a pay phone or of how much it would cost to call a mobile phone (I had the grand total of 52p in my purse. Along with public telephones I largely stopped using cash back in the 90’s too), I opted for my parents landline and was relieved when told I could use one of the phones at the nurses reception.
3 I Want My Mum
In any close family, regardless of age, whenever anything happens that is out of the ordinary and especially at times of sickness or disaster, there is a universal and overwhelming desire to inform and seek the reassurance of ones parents – despite rapidly approaching 40 and with a grown up daughter of my own, the naive unshakable belief that my mum and dad can make everything alright still persists.
A connection to the outside world was made. Finally people close to me that cared about me could be verbally sympathetic and offer me understanding and reassurance; an albeit convoluted chain of communication back to the field in Derby was established. People knew I was here and could pass the information on, so that was taken care of. Now, what the hell was I going to do?
Despite having my laptop with me, It was next to useless as a source of entertainment without WiFi. I asked a nurse if patients could gain access to any WiFi and was told apologetically, no. Sadly my hacking skills extend no further than the overly optimistic ability to enter ‘admin’ and ‘password’ in the hope that I’d magically gain access to the closed hospital WiFi network I’d found – rather unsurprisingly, It stayed closed to me.
This sent me off on a 10 minute long internal rant.
How on earth could a hospital, how could any public building, especially a hospital full of bored, captive people not have WiFi? In this day and age! My incredulity gave way to a grudging sense of acceptance as I realised that the cached copy of the BBC iPlayer homepage I was looking at on my screen was as close as I would get to any streamed entertainment.
What was worse, the laptop was practically new and as well as just a handful of work related articles and presentations, the only other things I’d transferred to the machine thus far were some fancy fonts, a few Photoshop brushes and just 2 albums of music. The Videos library remained resolutely empty, despite me checking it obsessively multiple times in the crazed hope I’d missed something previously.
4 Even Rocky Had a Montage
My options were looking bleak and this induced a mild state of panic in me at the thought of spending hours, days, alone with my brain. I’m nothing if not resourceful however, so in homage to Macguyver I indulged the idea of organising myself, figuring out my options and finding a way out of the comms-free black hole I found myself in. The thought of not being able to post pictures on Facebook of myself looking pale and forlorn in a bleak hospital bed was unthinkable.
During my mini montage I’m a hive of activity, searching every nook and cranny of the 3 bags I had with me, I even went on a slow and tottering reconnaissance mission to see what the hospital shop could provide and buoyed myself by thinking positively of the A-Team like potential of what I could achieve.
I found I’d packed a fiction novel, less than a third read. I then found 2 USB flash drives, 1 that contained nothing but presentations and half written articles the other contained, randomly, 3 episodes of a U.S. TV show so terrible, I’ve never yet sat through a full episode and was completely at a loss as to how and why I had ever acquired these programmes. I also found an old iPod shuffle (and USB cable!), full of my favourite podcasts including no fewer than 12 downloaded and un-listened to editions of the marvellous Thinking Allowed, which both the iPod itself and iTunes on my laptop inexplicably refused to either play or restore without a connection to their confounded iCloud (iHate Apple).
I also unearthed 2 cans of Sprite Zero and a cellophane wrapper containing a serving of wholegrain breakfast biscuits which I immediately wanted to eat because I’m greedy.
Instead of my montage ending triumphantly with me lounging on my bed Tweeting wittily whilst guffawing at the hilarious film I’d managed to beam to my laptop after creating an ingenious, fully functional WiFi dongle out of a biro lid, paper clip, some tin foil and a disposable rubber glove; my options for entertainment over and above that which I could create using just my brain, were now limited with absolute certainty to 3 episodes of Terrible Cop Show, a book and 2 albums of music.
Exhausted from all the activity, I promptly took a nap and upon waking was delighted to learn that I’d be undergoing a minor procedure involving my lumbar being punctured. I made rock horns in my mind and started playing the Spinal Tap movie in my head. I’ve only seen the film once and don’t remember much of it however so the self-made entertainment was over disappointingly quickly.
I possess either the skin of a Rhino or the nervous system of an Alien (possibly both, more likely neither), that is to say I seem to have an incredibly high tolerance for anaesthesia and an exceedingly low tolerance to pain.
I visited the dentist for a root canal. I was anaesthetised, he attempted to start the procedure, I yelped, evidently feeling far more than I should have. He injected me again and sent me off to wait for the increased dose to take effect. This was repeated a further 4 times before the pain was sufficiently numbed enough for the procedure to commence.
Back in Side Room 1 I am injected.
“Can you feel that?”
“How does it feel?”
Like being punched in the back with a fist full or razor blades.
“Oh. I’d best use some more anesthetic then!” the consultant cheerfully proclaims and duly doses me with “more than enough for you to not feel a thing”.
I’m not convinced, but the painful razor-blade-punch feeling is replaced by the more tolerable sensation of a corkscrew slowly burrowing into my spine. A kindly, reassuring nurse watches over me, ensuring I remain still in my tightly balled up fetal position lest I be paralysed. I squeeze her hand and squeak pathetically “Ouch”.
After the procedure I am told I must lie perfectly flat and unmoving on my back for at least 4 hours, at which point I immediately need a wee. Rather than relishing the relaxation opportunity I’m immediately alarmed by thoughts of what the hell I’ll do to entertain myself during that time. I lie there, convinced on more than one occasion that I can hear faint yet familiar text message alert tones emanating from my mobile phone which of course isn’t even in the same county, let alone the same room.
That’ll be the cold turkey then.
5 There’s No Pleasing Some People
Drifting in and out of consciousness I hear the raised voice of a man and the sound of wheels. “Newspapers? Magazines?” he enquires as he reaches the open door of my room and peers in.
Delighted by the possibility of new reading material being delivered to my bed, I motion to the newspaper seller and ask for the Times. He shakes his head. Telegraph? Independent? Any broadsheets at all? He tells me he’s got the Daily Mail, the Sun or the Star. I mumble something that I hope doesn’t make me sound like an ungrateful middle-class twat.
I take a different approach and try my luck with magazines, the selection of which however is limited to Closer and other publications of a similar ilk I refuse to read when provided free in waiting rooms. Even in my captive state buying such a magazine holds no appeal so I apologetically refuse. He leaves, a look on his face suggesting that if I was out of ear shot he’d punctuate his expression by tutting loudly, shaking his head and muttering “some people!”
I decide to ration myself one episode of Terrible Cop Show. I’m bored within minutes and pause it. I play both albums whilst reading, less than an hour and a half has passed. I turn Terrible Cop Show back on and groan at how terrible it is but I persist, and as the anesthesia ebbs away and the episode comes to an end, I note a myriad of bizarre sensations starting at the middle of my spine and radiating up into my skull. My eyes hurt too much to read so I lie there with nothing to think about but “Ow”.
My stilled mind drifts and I find myself thinking about the vast support network of friends I have and I’m berating myself again, wishing I’d picked up my phone. Being alone, frustrated, bored and in pain really does suck and it is at times like this that we need our family and our friends to be there for us. Being supported helps to provide emotional strength which must surely have implications for our physical well being?
The occasional attention seeking status update and the flock of friends who immediately respond providing comfort, understanding, and in many cases, a humorous exaggerated lack of sympathy and orders to simply man-up; help us stay connected. They validate not just our existence but the fact that the emotions and experiences we have are far from unique.
Most of us will face circumstances at one time or another that make our thoughts gloomy and maudlin. Perhaps those of us that deal with this kind of situation the best are those able to obtain solace and comfort from a shared experience.
We are social beings and as distant and far removed as we may be physically from the people that matter to us, technology bridges that gap and in doing so provides an endless stream of comfort, humour and hope; there for us to tap in to when we need it or to contribute to when others should want it.
What has this experience taught me?
I must never EVER leave my mobile phone behind, no matter what.
I need to fill up my laptop with STUFF.
Also, I should probably take off my blue wrist band.
Sharing our lives via social media and the wonders of modern technology is not borne of some narcissistic drive for approval. It is a way of sharing our experiences that allows us to put our circumstances into perspective, reassuring us that our fears are normal and that to a select few at least, our existence matters.