I should have started this long ago (a year and seven months ago to be precise) but sometimes it’s difficult at the time, it’s your life and it’s impossible to reflect as it’s unfolding around you but every time I return to my hospital bed I revisit these thoughts and it seems like now is the perfect time to start from the beginning.
The eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of the eleventh year….the eerie prominence of this date did not resonate until later.
This Friday was, by all accounts, a seemingly usual November afternoon. I finished work at the school in my sleepy town in usual time and met my closest and most admired colleague, my sister. Standard Friday practice was a fitness class after hours and then home…. but today, just today, we thought we’d leave a little early. After all we had a poppy party to arrange. It was Remembrance Day (ironic, as I doubt this day will ever be forgotten) and what better way to raise money for all those wounded soldiers than a poppy party? …Perhaps, but little did we know what a fateful decision that would turn out to be.
We left the building and began our usual route home before taking the subconscious decision to cross the road at an uncharacteristically early point due to a shiny new zebra crossing that had been opened that very day. Strangely a lady from work drew up aside us in her car and offered us a lift. Strange… because she knew we were only making a short trip, the same walk home we made every day; needless to say we declined her kind offer, no worry, it wasn’t far….but yet another fateful decision. However the momentary delay she attributed to our journey was no doubt crucial….luck? Sometimes I think there was some greater intervention that day, nothing religious or whatever, I’m not into that, but perhaps the energy of my grandma. If anyone had energy enough to transcend the barrier of mortality it was her.
None the wiser we preceded down the pavement, I on the inside, my sister on the out, chatting and minding our own business. I’d just found out I hadn’t made the cut for some job, we thought this was relatively bad news….little did we know how insignificant this was about to become, nothing like a touch of perspective to put things into focus.
The first thing that snatched my attention was the snarling of the revving engine, the sound of a car racing to shake a start line. We looked up. “Boom-dumf” the car mounted the pavement, glanced the shop wall just metres ahead with an almighty blow and set to, on a course straight down the pavement….straight at us.
I sometimes wonder if in that split second, the moment I had heard that engine, had I thrown us both into the road, things might have been different but I know, truthfully, we did not have a chance. In a matter of seconds it was done, not even enough time for the cogs in my head to click.
I heard my sister’s voice “STOPPP!” full of indignation as she slammed her hands on the bonnet and was flung out the way, after all what the hell was a car doing on “our” pedestrian pavement! I turned to run but I was no match for an accelerating machine, barely one step was trod before a massive double impact that lands me way down the pavement on the floor. So rapid was the transition I would of believed you if you’d told me I’d jumped through time and in some ways I suppose I did…from one reality to another.
My body, or perhaps it was my head, took a moment for the pain to catch up with it, a blessing, as any seconds fewer to endure that hell I am thankful for….adrenaline is a wonderful thing. I went to lift my leg, get up even, and my world came crashing down. Shock, pain, sheer horror engulfed me. Words and sounds passed my lips that were wild and altered…and my sister was there. Thank God she was there. As I asked someone to kill me she was there. There to save my life. Who thinks to grab a passer-by’s belt and tourniquet a loved one’s limb when they are bleeding to death? Not me, I am sure of that. She was incredible.
Minutes felt like hours (that age-old cliché). It seemed to grow dark and rain began to fall. A siren? Relief, even an element of relaxation, the people who could save me had arrived, the best hands, nothing more could be done….but no….just a first responder….a fantastic first responder but a lady with limited resources. She cuts my coat to the elbow, my favourite coat and the first of many needles….I am distraught, my one true and total fear. I feign protest but I know it is in vain (excuse the pun).
Little good do those horrid needles do….a tease….we wait (not so quietly)….my sister’s face in mine, keeping my eyes from the devastation. Where was my foot? Why does it still scream at me when it is not even a part of me anymore? Phantom limb perhaps, I’ve heard of that.
Sister keeps talking, I can see her face but I’m not really taking in the words. I am talking pure jibber. I hear the noise my body expels when she applies the tourniquet…animalistic…gritty…I can still hear it now.
I am fighting, fighting, fighting then fading, slipping, drifting, tugging at the thin veil of eternal sleep….until wait… a siren! I dig in, cling on, like nails to a cliff edge.
“I’m not going to make it am I?” I breathe. “You better bloody well” is the response, I tell her who I love.
The paramedics are here now. We need to go. We are flung around the ambulance and no amount of morphine is ever enough, “…it’s not doing a bloody thing!” I hear the radios, hear them constantly relaying how long the tourniquet has been in place, how long my mangled limb has been devoid of circulation, how much will I lose? Roundabout after roundabout, I never knew there were so many! And then we’re by the fire station, not far now, just up the road. BAM! The doors fling open. We stream into A and E and the locusts descend. Someone is talking to me, all calm and rational. I am trying to protest through clenched teeth, masks and tubes at the complete violation of my body. Clothes stripped from me. I fought for my knickers. Massive needles and cannulas rammed in every part, the femoral artery was the worst, I still have the scar. Photos being taken. I was but an ether existing on the barest thread. Just put me under, why won’t they put me under? It’s simple isn’t it? No…we need to go to Taunton…45 minute trip…we don’t have the expertise here for your emergency op, air ambulance is out of area it’s going to have to be another regular road ambulance.
Where is my Mum? We are waiting; she has been wrongly informed I have a broken leg. Well…rightly to a degree, but a regular broken leg means there’s plenty of time to pack a bag, stop for the toilet, roll a cigarette. She arrives. They bundle her in and go. Now we are reaching the morphine levels I am looking for, I am quiet, life flickering within, buffeted by the howling winds about me.
Taunton, Musgrove Park and I am under. I awake to a lattice of metal work and a greeting from my toes…where did they come from?! I am overjoyed; I can barely compute what lies before me. “Thank you thank you” I gush to the scrubs quietly going about their business, “…you saved my leg!” A sideways glance passes between them; one plucks up the courage to shake his head. I am confused, bewildered. “Just rest a minute, your family will be here soon”.
Tears flood down my face, body groaning with the deepest sorrow as the kind, kind nurse (Claire?) holds my hand and allows me to absorb the news…amputation…it’s the strongest possibility and I need to face the facts. Family are outside chattering to consultants in dulcet tones, my dad has arrived. Time is but a word to me, I don’t know which way is up but it seems like constant night, dark… like my world. An old lady is spluttering behind drawn curtains. How, why had this happened? Was someone trying to kill me? I still don’t understand. I felt targeted like Martine McCutchin’s character Tiffany in Eastenders where she was mown down and murdered in the square however the scenes that followed were more like that of Saving Private Ryan. It felt like a TV drama…a film…but no, this was real, the real fucking deal. This was my life and what a shocking turn of events. How does a car hit you on the pavement? If I was crossing the road maybe I could make more sense of it but on the pavement…on the INSIDE of the pavement….that’s a safe place isn’t it??? My cloak of invincibility is whipped from me and I am laid bare, exposed to the realisation that nowhere is “safe”, safe is but a fallacy.
Claire, Claire….I remember her, she held my hand and stroked my hair but even then through the tears and devastation I told her I would walk back in there, “…just you watch!” I don’t know where that came from, I never knew I was like that, never knew I had that in me or the ability to hide my tears from my family. They were suffering enough. Perhaps it was the cocktail of drugs. Right there, right then, my hand in Claire’s was rock bottom…I hope you never have to visit.
Frenchay tomorrow morning I am told, if they don’t find you a bed we are taking you anyway, once we drop you in A and E they have to make room, you need this. Never the less they found me a bed.
I don’t realise it is a new day, I can’t even work out where in the room I am but I am somewhere different. Lots of people hover round me, curtains drawn and there are shadows, lots of shadows.
And this is how it began.