There is something intriguing about watching people come and go in A&E on a Wednesday evening.
Not too many drunks tonight. I have been here before, on a Saturday night, and the entire place seemed to teem with drunken youths and their older counterparts, falling in gangways, swearing at one another. Tonight it is different.
How did I come to be here and why? Well, for one thing, there is nothing wrong with me. I was packed and ready to have an early night before leaving for Marseille and a long weekend in the sun. It is my friend who has fallen foul of Friday thirteenth, a full two days before it actually occurs. It is her brother we are meant to be seeing in Marseille tomorrow and his partner whose birthday it is on Friday 13th and whose birthday ‘do’ we are meant to attend. At the moment it does not seem likely that we will be making this trip.
Let me take you back a couple of hours.
My bag is on the bed, packed and ready. My camera is charged, the taxi has been ordered. My friend is here, she is also packing.
“I need to go and iron a couple of bits,” she tells me. I am not sure why, since we are pushing garments into a holdall where they really wont survive being crushed by shoes and toiletries for long.
“I wont be long.”
I am testing the weight of my bag, not for the plane, we have decided not to fly this time – too many disruptions to flights of late. This time we are going by train. I am testing the weight of the bag to see if I can manage to carry it from platform to platform. It seems ok. I drop it back onto the bed and am about to go and relax for a while before dinner.
Friend appears in my doorway looking a little strange.
“I tripped and have really hurt my knee and look, I’ve ripped my jeans,” she states, wincing a little as she shows me where her fall has torn her jeans,
“My arm really hurts too.” This last is added as an afterthought. I have been looking at the miniscule tear in her jeans. Now I turn my gaze to her arm.
“How did you do that?” It is the obvious question.
“I was going to get the iron, I tripped over the stair-gate, down the kitchen step and flew across the floor. I landed on my knee and my arm. Ow!” This last was uttered as she tried to grip the door handle with her left hand and failed.
“Hmmm,” I muse. I say ‘hmmm’ a lot in the next half hour as she continues to pack one handed.
“Perhaps it is just shocked,” I suggest, unconvinced. We wait to see if the arm improves.
“I can’t put any weight on my hand,” my friend frowns, experimentally placing her fingertips onto the nearest flat surface and wincing again.
“Maybe I need to go and A&E?”
I am not a nurse. I have had five children. I have spent countless hours in A&E over the years with concussed heads, splinters in eyes, sprained wrists, twisted ankles and suspected broken bones. None of this qualifies me to make such a decision for a grown woman.
“Hmmm, if you think you need to go, I will take you,” I decide. I am the only one who can. My husband has conveniently disappeared to shop/pub/a mystery place where no mobile phone signal can reach him. So, with friend nursing her apparently bruised arm, we jump in the car and speed off to the nearest Accident and Emergency department.
This is where we now find ourselves. We take a ticket, just like you do at the delicatessen in the supermarket and select a seat as far away from anyone else as we can possibly manage. Everyone seems to have done this, so the hotch potch of injured souls are spread right around the room. We find a seat against the outside wall and my friend tries to find a comfortable position for her arm.
Opposite us, a very large young woman is holding the hand of a sorry looking youth whose wrist appears to be at odds with his arm. Despite this, she keeps up a consistent banter of bright chatter and helps herself to an assortment of snacks from the snack machine in the corner. Her boyfriend says little, if anything at all.
Across the room, a small girl cuddles up to her mother. She is wearing a ‘Winnie the Pooh’ dressing gown and it is hard to tell if she is the injured one or whether she has been roused from her bed to accompany her mother who looks fraught and pain racked or is that just the worry of having to cart your three year old across town to this venue in the middle of the night?
A clutch of teenagers enter. They are shuffling towards the reception desk. They don’t take a ticket. They have missed the signs telling them,
“Please take a ticket.” Not that the signs tell you what to do next, just use your common sense (not always present when one is in pain) and sit down somewhere until your number is called.
The teenagers stand shoulder to shoulder and the receptionist smiles and waves them towards the ticket machine. They remain close and take their seats with their backs towards us. The three of them giggle and whisper for a while. We have had our number called and have registered at reception. The teenagers hear their number and, as one, stand up and shuffle towards the desk again.
The receptionist’s eyes widen and then she shakes her head in despair. The teenagers look shamefaced. At least, I think they do. Their hair is hiding their faces and they never turn so that they are directly facing us. Finally, they shuffle back to their seats to wait once again. It is now clear why they remain so close and travel as one, they have super-glued their fingers together. Why? We don’t find that out. I expect it seemed a lark.
My friend shifts in her seat and a four letter word flies out of her mouth before she can stop it as pain lets itself be felt.
“sorry, sorry…” she mutters to anyone listening. Not many are. They are all consumed by their own problems of course.
I look at her elbow. Swollen. Not looking ‘quite right’.
In the corner of the room, a young lad stands, jeans at half mast as is the fashion, though he seems in danger of losing his. He is leaning against a handy pillar and clutches a carrier bag. His face is drawn and when he does move, it is only to shuffle to the bin or to the toilet. The jeans slither a little further down his legs. He does not sit down. He cannot be more than fourteen. He is alone. His eyes say,
“Stay away. Don’t speak to me. Ignore me here in the corner. This pillar is my only comfort.” How can eyes say all this? I don’t know but they do.
We leave him.
An elderly woman turns to her granddaughter and says she is cold. The granddaughter wraps the Micky Mouse beach towel more tightly around her grandmother’s shoulders. I wonder if this was the only thing to hand when they left the house. I doubt they have come directly from the beach. The elderly lady is wearing her slippers and it now almost eight-thirty.
There are a few elderly people sitting around. One lady doesn’t look well at all but she isn’t here for treatment. She has brought in her grandson who cowers in a chair with his arm clutched to his chest. So it seems to be, with the lady with the racking cough. She is waiting for her son to come out of the treatment room.
My eyes roam the waiting area which has filled up a little as the evening wears on and is now occupied by entire families. Children in nightclothes, the injured party normally lying across several seats, unable to do much except wait. Impatient fathers take a walk outside. Someone rushes in and demands a wheelchair for her husband who is leaning against the doorpost on one leg. He sinks into the chair and is wheeled in, accompanied by a child in a quilted dressing gown, looking bleary eyed. Dad is dressed in sports gear. Quite a lot of people are dressed in sports gear.
Is sport so dangerous?
The toddler with the bleeding hand seems to be dressed in nothing much at all. Bitten by a rat it transpires, he is wrapped in his father’s coat. Pet rat, rodent rat? We don’t know. He is seen as an emergency before my friend.
One by one, the original ‘cast’ disappear for treatment. The boy with the half mast jeans looks ready to faint as he answers the call, when it finally comes, and shuffles slowly to the treatment room, still clutching the carrier bag and just about in possession of his jeans.
My friend has disappeared into the nether regions of the hospital where she is x-rayed, plastered, put in a sling (slung?) and sent out with the knowledge that she has fractured her elbow – quite badly by all accounts. She has been given pain killers and seems slightly ‘high’ to me. She is still in considerable pain.
By this time it is getting on for midnight and our dawn start tomorrow morning seems unlikely. In fact, it is obvious that we will need to cancel our plans.
As we wend our way homeward, leaving the motley clients of A&E to their own devices, we are relieved to have escaped. I confess that I would like to know what happened to the youth with the half mast jeans. I hope he made it home and that his home is a haven of safety.
Meanwhile, here I am, writing about our night in A&E instead of our weekend in Marseille.
Just shows, you never know what is round the corner…
C’est la vie!