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  • Writer's pictureDan Cardwell

Patience: Zero/ The K Hole

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

It was ironic, and entirely apt for me. I was on the way to hospital when I noticed the short-cut. The short-cut that would’ve saved me minutes if it hadn’t cost me months. A shortcut I had no idea would leave me waking in cold sweats in the middle of the night as I remembered what they did to me.

The consultant could only fit me in at a hospital I wouldn’t normally attend to see him, so I took the chance to drop in on old work friends who had moved their office nearby. I had visited their new office before but having had to traverse around the hilly block to reach an office I knew was only minutes from the station the way the crow flies, I was rather delighted to spot the cut-through.

I’m nothing if not a man who welcomes the chance to walk less, so was delighted when my eyes followed the path directly to their office building, this new route cutting a good 10 minutes from my journey and avoiding at least one steepish hill, so set off down the first part of the slope delighted at my luck. As the path joined onto the crossing steeper, twistier part, I stepped onto it without much thought.

I instantly knew I was in trouble.

I’ve always been fascinated by time and it still amazes me when your brain seems to calculate a million thoughts in a matter of seconds at a moment of danger. I knew my foot was sliding the second it touched the ground; became annoyed that my coffee I just paid several pound for was about to spill all over the coat I just bought for a reasonable £30 from a website; reminded myself that I was supposed to go back on that website to order a more winter appropriate jacket before it turned too cold; realised I wasn’t getting my balance back; thought I might be about to twist something badly; wondered if it would make it difficult to sit through the latest Star Wars at the planned trip to the cinema with my brother that evening; hoped this wouldn’t ruin my tradition of seeing all the Star Wars since Empire on the big screen, a heady mix of excitement and nostalgia that always birthed a little excitement in the heart and head; I then realised that I was now falling backward with my leg behind me and it was about to fall under my back, thought this could be a lot worse than I originally thought and then ARRGGGHHHH my knee is under my back.

I was looking up as a bird flew across the sky, as the slide continued in my slow-motion trawl, my knee dragging under my back, my body folding on top of it. I heard a loud pop and felt another round of extricating pain tear through me, as I slid forward another foot into the cold embrace of a damp, prickly bush.

I could feel the blood draining out of my face in a motion as slow as the fall and began frantically taking long, deep breathes in a bid to retain my grip on consciousness, panicked that I was going to be mistaken for a drunk taking an early morning nap under a bush. Still woozy as hell, but clearly surfing the wave of adrenaline my body was kindly pumping through me, a grabbed my leg from under me and pulled it out straight, the pain not seeming to match the intensity of the crunching sound that accompanied it.

I pulled out my phone and dialled my old boss Neil’s number, hoping he wouldn’t let it run to voicemail as was standard. This particular circumstance meant my normal understanding of his busy life meaning it always took him two days to return a call would have proved somewhat problematic at this particular instance.

Thankfully, Neil answered, and later confirmed, I had managed to state as calmly as intended that I’d fallen outside his office, had broken my leg and was seconds away from passing out. Unfortunately, he did also confirm that he was out at a clients, but called one of his staff, and soon the slope was filled with old colleagues, all making tentative jokes about how good it was to see me again whilst assessing exactly how serious this all was.

Verdict – very serious indeed.

It seems unbelievable to me now, but at the time, I did wonder if my friends were being a tad dramatic calling an ambulance for me. But as my eyes wondered to the path and I noticed a sign that said ‘caution – slippery surface’ - helpfully placed at the eye-level of someone who had just had a fall, the resurgence of pain made me realise I was probably in a bad way.

The only way to alleviate the pain was to sit upright, but I barely had the strength to do so and found myself holding onto a bush for dear life, hugging it in a loving embrace. Delighted at the image, I got to comment I was looking like an extinction rebellion protester who loved nature just a little too much. I’m not going to lie – I was purposely putting on a brave face, making jokes where I could, trying to get a laugh, all the while secretly congratulating myself for being a bit of a damned hero about the whole thing.

Forty minutes later the ambulance arrived and as they tried to work out what to do with me, I continued in my heroic façade, doing my best to make the paramedics giggle, to let them know I was going to be as perfectly far from a problem patient as it’s possible to be.

There was some difficulty in extracting me from the bush, partly because, the slip wasn’t entirely due to my own clumsiness, and the slope itself was really very slippy indeed.

Everyone was having trouble standing on it without the danger of sliding into my already busted body. Eventually it was decided to slip in a stretcher that could be assembled under my crippled carcass, with the expertise of the paramedics and the crowd-sourced strength of my former work colleagues, combining to get me out without further damage.

I was trying to keep the jokes coming thick and fast as they moved the contraption into position, right to the point they pushed it under me and had to move my body. All care about a brave face was quickly filed away in an expletive fuelled file as I was moved – I cried and I cried out, and I wailed and wahed out, and I told them in no uncertain terms that they should probably stop.

Two canisters of gas and air later and I was being identified as a problem patient, the drugs seeming to have little effect, as they called in another team that could administer morphine on site. 25mg of morphine later, still with little effect on my pain threshold, and I was told I would have to grin and bear it, as they were going to have to move me weather I liked it or not. My protestations that I was happy to be left there to die seemed to fall on deaf ears.

There was screaming, there were tears, there were some very rude words, but eventually they had lifted me and got me to the ambulance, where I tried to get back some sense of dignity and stiff upper lip, trying to get a laugh from my heroic medic saviours by screaming benign profanities every time the ambulance hit a bump in the road; the sort of swears that would’ve have been deemed simply too silly to appear in a punchup in the 1960s Batman TV show (“Kazammy-matammy busted flippty flee knee, Batman, that smarts”)

As they opened the ambulance door outside the hospital, I was relieved to see Neil (the sort of friend who walks around with an understated compassion that means he cares deeply about everyone, whilst seemingly not giving a jot about anything). He had run out on his meeting to ensure I had a friendly face waiting for me as I arrived. He grabbed my hand and held it tight as they wheeled me into A & E and clichés of the compassionate NHS staff fussed around me working out what needed to be done (there were many nurses and doctors fussing and everyone stood up to a testament of the tediously dull to repeat, but thankfully true to experience, dedication and compassion that are hallmarks of NHS staff).

There was lots of talk of popping bones and pulling limbs and pain and fast recanting of my seemingly impervious reaction to any standard drugs, when the anaesthetist suggested that Ketamine might be the only effective poison of choice. Now, I’m not one to judge people’s recreational habits, in fact, my penchant for a drink or two has led most people to joke when they learned of my accident - ‘How many had you had? (it was 9.30 in the morning). But I have, a couple of teenage drags of a spliff aside, never expanded my repertoire

of recreational drugs beyond the use of alcohol and nicotine, so I had no idea what to expect. But, I knew, above all else, that any bravery I lack in experimental experiences was far outweighed by the bravery I lack in experiencing any pain, so told them to give me whatever the hell they thought would make me too out of it to know what was going on.

Something that I would’ve spent the next hour or two regretting, had I any knowledge that what happened to me over the following hours, was a complete hallucination due to said drugs and not a 100% real nightmare that I had no hope of escaping.

The ground below me folded in on itself at an alarming rate and my gurney flew down the slope into a corridor, where automatic lights turned on above me with a metallic ‘chung’, a burst of whirring old machines and electricity firing to life.

The group of Aliens that soon peered down on me, all dressed in NHS scrubs, started communicating in a language I couldn’t understand, the female medic with long triangular yellow eyes and metre long fingers screaming into my face in a high-pitched squark. I screamed in return (in my head at least) that I didn’t know what they wanted me to do.

Seemingly dissatisfied with my response, the alien medics twisted my gurney in a 360, the walls and floors moving aside and spinning away as I flew across a dark chasm that was filled only with the screams of pain and howls of despair of other NHS patients who had suddenly become aware of our true reality – that Donald Trump was the last thing we needed to worry about coming after our NHS – the alien’s already had it. I spun past green blobs tearing limbs from injured humans and spindly worms plucking out eyes, every single incident I witnessed feeding the rising horror in me that I had stumbled into an extraordinarily cruel truth that had been hidden from the masses – a terrifying reality that offered no hope that a crippled, helpless patient such as me could escape.

Eventually I crashed onto a metal platform that sent shooting pains throughout my whole body, barriers automating around me, encasing my stretcher to bring it to a juddering halt.

A nightmarish version of the Wall-E robot, with an extendable neck, appeared over me, scanning down my entire body with a blue light that emitted from its eyes, before communicating its findings in a series of bleeps to the galaxy wide mix of torturers that now stood over me. I began to cry, certain that my fate was to join the ranks of the tortured I had just witnessed, unable to come to terms with the fact that this was now reality, that my world had fallen away and this horror was all that remained in its place.

Suddenly, a bright white light appeared in my periphery and Neil stepped forward. I now saw him in his true form, a creature with the tongue and mouth of Jubba the Hutt, but the kind, wise face of Yoda and the ears to match. He held out his hand to me and I grabbed it, instantly feeling a sense of calm as he told me everything was going to be alright, and I trusted that he was there to save me. Just as I began to calm and feel a small kernel of hope in my heart, the light went out and I soon realised, he had disappeared into the dark.

Two medics held me down as the rest moved to my leg and I suddenly understood, without a word being uttered, that my leg was stretched across too many dimensions and needed to be pulled back across the worlds in order to find its equilibrium. I tried to protest, but the medics grabbed my foot, then pushed the gurney backwards – and I flew at a million miles an hour back across time and space whilst they held onto my foot – stretching my leg across galaxies and centuries, as it extended out into a beam of light, tearing at my very being, causing me the most acute, excruciating pain that I had ever felt, scenes of stars and planets and rivers and trees screaming past me at a million miles an hour, the feeling of despair within telling me this was to go on for ever, for the rest of time, that this was my existence for eternity. And then, after what seemed to be a few centuries passing, I was pulled back, into the same room, at the same time, the gurney returned to its normal size, the leg to its normal length, just the memory of the pain pulsing through my brain.

The medics looked displeased at the result and now spoke in a language I fully understood, as they decreed me a lost cause, with the only answer to fold me out of reality. Slowly, all the lights turned off one by one, as first the ceiling tiles began to fold in on top of each other, then the lights, then the building, neatly slotting behind each other, like a scene from Inception that had ended up on the cutting room floor for being a bit too trippy.

As the world folded in around me, my body began to fold with it, until I ended up in a space the size of a small flat-pack box, my reality now a mix of Ikea coffee table packaging and the square glass prison Terence Stamp was thrown in at the start of Superman II.

I took deep breaths and tried not to lose consciousness, but as I looked out into the bleak nothingness, unable to move, or utter a word, a tear escaped, running onto my cheek and the world as I knew it slowly turned to black.

I could hear my heartbeat first, followed by a slow increase in volume as sounds around me started to come back into focus, with bleeps and speech and compassionate people running around a ward making sure everyone was comfortable. I felt my hand next, being held in Neil’s, who smiled and asked me if I was OK.

I’m not sure if anyone has ever been so happy to realise they were in hospital with a major trauma.

My busted knee, now replaced with a metal pin, was in bad shape, and I’ve been told it will be hard work before I can walk on it normally again, but with the perfect cocktail of exercise, use and rest, I should be back to normal within a few months.

In the meantime, I’m trying to overcome the zero patience I have for recovery and near zero tolerance I have for pain to relax and recover, enjoy the fact that the NHS staff, returned to clichés of compassion and care, are fussing around me making sure I’m ok and bringing me everything I need.

Mainly I need to get home. It’s one of the ironies of the hospital that in a place I need to give my body the most rest, it’s almost impossible to sleep. There’s constant bleeps of machines, snores of fellow patients and interruptions of nurses to check pressures and administer medicines. And when those fleeting moments arrive, a minute or two of silence combining with the fatigue of a recovery to finally let those golden slumbers fill my eyes, then there’s the flashbacks.

I’ve been making jokes about it to people, of course. The fact that my brain assaults my conscience between wake and sleep, like an overwritten hospital scene in some Hollywood film about a returning Vet – one so desperate to win an Oscar it screams ‘For your consideration’ with every sound cue - makes its apparent ridiculousness all the more apparent. I broke my leg and had a bit of a bad trip from the resulting medication – I wasn’t stepping on landmines as we tried to take Hanoi.

But, it’s been days now, and the screaming assault on my brain every time I begin to nod off – flashbacks of limbs being torn apart by creatures or eyes gouged or legs being pulled for miles, of being folded away like I didn’t matter – has only just begun to ease. Oh, trust me, I know it’s ridiculous. But you weren’t there, man.

Whatever pain the leg is giving me, I’m just glad I’m being looked after by NHS staff and not by otherworldly medics with nefarious intent.

And more than anything, I’m glad I won’t be out in time to catch the film at the cinema. I never was a big fan of Star Wars.

Right. I need to try and get some sleep.

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