The words A&E bring up a feeling of dread in even the most stalwart souls. Year after year we hear the horror stories about sick elderly people left for hours and hours on hard chairs or days and days if not weeks on trolleys in corridors with half the world and it’s problems passing by. So you can imagine my look of horror when my daughter had an accident in college that demanded a visit to A&E.
I’m not a one to panic- my natural sanguinity has been increased if anything by years of dealing with minor injuries that befall our children and teens- from swallowing the iron tablets which stupid mommy leaves unguarded, to lego bits up noses and falls from those impossible and ridiculous high heels and lots of other unmentionable things. I suppose it’s more evidence to add to the file of bad motherhood that my immediate thought was not oh no my lovely daughter, I must get her to the hospital quickly, but oh no, what contingency plans should I make for putting our lives on hold while we spend the next few weeks in A&E. Well obviously grab the current book ‘Sister Caravaggio’ and throw in the kindle as there’s a few years worth of reading on there and tissues and water, lots of that, and set off with fearful heart to collect her.
Relax a little to find her in one piece, head still attached and talking, listen to the story of the injury and hey ho, away we go on our merry way to A&E.
Its a relief to see there isn’t a line of people outside the door. I had a vision of a queue in black and white like an old movie, with people groaning and retching and being supported by others as they try to shuffle along without fainting and when they do, being dragged along by some relative/ neighbour/ other unlucky person so they don’t lose their place in the slow forward shuffle.
Inside it doesn’t look that daunting. The receptionist is business like and not friendly- certainly not a person you would run to with any sort of problem. There’s a six to seven hour wait, she says tersely, not looking up. You feel almost grateful- shur that’s nothing after the scare stories you have heard (maybe there’s a master plan at work behind all the bad publicity). You smile at her to win her over to your way of thinking and ask if we could go home for 5 or 6 hours but she looks severely at you and pronounces coldly that if you do the place in the queue will be lost. Privately I think they wouldn’t notice if we left and slipped back in later but I’m too chicken to chance it and anyway there’s the daughter to consider…
So here we are in the dreaded place. Rows of gunpowder blue metal chairs welded together in groups of three facing a bank of windows and a small tv flickering high up in the left hand corner. It reminds me of our old 20 inch back in the days…. There’s what looks like an interactive screen in the other corner- but it is switched off. Plenty of room- less than twenty people there and considering half of them may be supportive friends I think maybe this is our lucky night.
On the line of chairs under the telly there’s a group of three men with Asian features and a young boy lying back on the chairs playing a game on his phone and I reduce the possible number ahead of us by three so things are definitely looking up. She must have made a mistake about the seven hours I think.
So daughter sticks in the earphones and gets to grips with her phone and I take out Sister Caravaggio. I console myself with the thought that at last I’ll be able to get to grips with this story as up to now I’ve just been reading it in short bursts and the characters and events are all confused in my head. There’s two nuns Maggie and Alice who fashion themselves as detectives and have a taste for gin and tonic and short skirts. And a lot of possible murderers/ thieves. There’s a lot of driving up and down the country and very large women with spike heels seem to turn up with confusing frequency at crime scenes. Unusual in itself but in this case there appears to be more than one very large woman. There’s a farmer nun with a powerful body who drives a tractor and a jcb. I look at the name of all the writers again (This is a collaborative book by some well known writers including Maeve Binchy) and wonder which of them has a thing about 6 foot women in 6 inch heels. I’m guessing that’s a man….writing I mean.
There’s no one menacing in A&E. There’s a drunk who is well known and liked and looked out for in Newbridge, a gentle good natured old man but he’s shouting and muttering incoherently into the space around him and I look away, not wanting to make eye contact. Chicken again. He’s wedged between two men at the side wall- and they seem to be taking it with good grace as he gestures and shuffles against them and loudly converses with his resident demons. There’s a very well dressed distinguished looking man on his right and I am surprised he has not moved away, as there are lots of empty seats, but he is just sort of smiling to himself, leaning his head against the wall and looking away towards the tv, though you couldn’t possibly watch anything from this distance. On the other side there’s a young lad with a bandage on his cheek and he’s looking embarrassed and half smirking to an older lady beside him, probably his mother. She just looks upset and careworn.
The triage nurse pronounces daughters blood pressure to have returned to normal so we relax and investigate the vending machines against the wall. The handsome man’s wife appears with sandwiches, carefully wrapped in greaseproof paper and a paper bag. The drunk gets up and shuffles forward, jabbering away loudly towards reception- his legs don’t seem to be working properly- then two security guards appear and take him by the elbows and lead him towards the door. All eyes follow proceedings then return to our books /phones, when the excitement is over. There’s a cross looking woman reading her kindle, beside her a teenager in school uniform with her arm wrapped up in a temporary sling.
I’m on chapter five. There’s the drunk, Davy Rainbow who has just swallowed six aspirin and six pints of water and he’s in league with the very large farmer nun and it looks like they have stolen the Caravaggio, then there’s the detective nuns driving around the midlands in their Berlingo, and Limousin cows in the field, and a very dangerous baddie from Kazakhastan called Metro who has a house and wife in Kildare, and he’s trying to contact his thug Brice but doesn’t know he’s been murdered yet. And he’s about the third dead person and the six foot elegant and ruthless mystery woman Dark Heart is always around when there’s a murder.
A woman’s voice interrupts my reading. She’s talking loudly on the phone and around me people are trying not to laugh. Oh yeah we’ve been here for three days now, she is saying, and shur we were talking to a man earlier and he’s been here five days already. She has one of those infectious laughs and everyone is smiling. Ah no shur they brought around baskets of sausages and chips a while ago and they brought some vodka for an old lady who was fainting so we all got a drop. Well I left the spare key out for Billy and he said he’d go in every three days or so and feed them. You know yourself. By the time she finishes everyone is smiling and there’s a real sense of community among us.
Someone is called by a doctor- hallelujah! The schoolgirl with the sling – but they are in there for hardly a minute when they come out again and the mother is seething. He barely touched her arm she says and now they have to wait for an xray. We’ve been here since four o clock- (it was about 1am at this stage)- it’s disgraceful. A girl with long blond hair and dark circles under her eyes jumps up and says she’s had enough, she’d been there 10 hours. There’s a heated exchange at the reception desk before she flounces towards the door.
It seems like only one person is seen every hour – god only knows what is going on behind the doors that hospital staff and other people emerge from every so often. I have it on good faith that that’s where they keep all the people who managed to get on to a trolley in a space along a corridor or some other such indignity.
Outside in our space the clock ticked very slowly and the only excitement was in the pages of Sister Caravaggio. The short skirted detective nuns have got themselves to the Shelbourne where they have just found the dead body of the New York art expert in the bath in his room, and Davy rainbow has got to Dingle on his quest for the mysterious woman and the baddie Metro is considering his options in Kildare.
It turned out the receptionist was amazingly accurate; we leave that hallowed space at 5 am. exactly seven hours after we went in and I’m blaming our temporary residence there for the virus that has laid me low ever since. But I’m definitely not going back.
Still it’s given me a chance to see the detective nuns safely back to their convent, if somewhat the worse for wear, like the rest of us..