A Visit to the NHS
by Martin James Hunter
The paramedic has strapped me in tight. Reassuringly tight, but not for my benefit. His eyes still like snake’s as he looks me over. Little blinding torch scouring my retinas. An examination into the deepest recesses of my soul.
I don’t think he likes what he sees. He’s going to put a little tube into me just in case. The metal glides into the back of my hand with a sting. My heart accelerates. Just relax just relax, he tells me – but his words have the opposite effect.
We reach our destination. The engine shuts off and doors burst open and light floods in almost blinding me. Still fastened in place I am moved from the vehicle like spent rags on their way to the dump. My vision blurs then doubles as slide doors part.
Hospital gowns and desks and hallways all painted the same shade of peach. A cluster of nurses hunched over a clipboard. One asks me what happened like a mother investigating a broken vase. I tell her I’m a writer experiencing what it’s like to be homeless. She rolls her eyes and moves on and I am left in the corridor as though awaiting punishment.
The staff either watch me in disconcerting ways or pass without interest. I check my pockets and with relief note that the pads are still there. Visuals thankfully dissipating. Time however passing both slowly and sadly. I spend much of it looking at a dreadful painting.
I am eventually remembered and wheeled into an empty room where tubes are applied to my chest and finger by a nurse. She won’t meet my eye and answers my questions with abrupt answers. I ask for a glass of water but there is no rush to get it. Hungry machines are then left to devour my vital data.
A curtain is drawn across the room as though sparing the rest of the building the sight of me. I am then handed a black bin bag for my clothes and told to change into a gown. It is clean and soft, a welcome contrast to the past few weeks. When she returns she lifts the bag as though picking up dog shit.
An aeon passes where I listen only to the conversations and footsteps of others. The steady beep of my heart. A wasp curling through the air towards me. I dodge and strike out as it lunges for my head but the thing is too fast. Cries of battle from behind the curtain as I make my last stand.
The wasp takes a near miss and cuts its losses and I am finally allowed to rest. The heart monitor slows down accordingly. Despite the commotion no one comes to my rescue. No water either. I remove the wires from my chest and finger and wait for help to come running. Ten minutes later I quietly reattach them.
Some time later a doctor appears with no sense of urgency. I explain the situation and again eyes roll. I am beginning to think that maybe I’m not a writer just a deluded beggar. My financial situation certainly supports this theory. He gives me a diazepam and a thimble of water to wash it down with and says something about notifying my local doctor of my drug problem. Then he is gone and I am again listening to my heart.
Four hours later I awaken to a nurse telling me to get up. She leaves the binbag on a chair to my left and pushes back through the curtain. I pull my dirty clothes back on then push through the curtain and stagger through the hallway past disinterested figures. I ask a nurse for directions and am pointed towards the slide doors and told to follow the path.
The path towards the city is narrow and unsettling. As I walk between the wall and stretch of road it is as though I am on a tightrope. Wind knocks me towards heavy traffic in unrelenting bursts. Drivers oblivious to yet another of my obscure dilemmas as they hurl towards their destinations.
I scrape dry lips with a dry tongue. The nurse never brought me water and the thimble the doctor provided didn’t quite cut it. I continue on head down. A tiny flower protrudes from between two slates of concrete, holding on with everything it’s got.
I have no idea how long it takes me to get back to the city but I am suddenly there. Again I stab at a buzzer outside the homeless shelter and wait. A familiar woman comes to the door. Her expression at the sight of me reads like a mirror.
Days ago we had spoken for only five minutes yet she remembers my name. I feel guilty not knowing hers. I am taken through the building past posters on how to safely inject heroin. In an empty cafeteria I am given tea and a roll which I devour.
I wipe the crumbs from my beard and begin talking. The writing, drugs, hospital – everything. Unlike the hospital staff she seems concerned. She seems to care. It is all a bit much. We take a moment from speaking while I let out a few sobs.
When through I am gently asked some questions from a clipboard. Name (my real one this time), address (none), criminal record (well…). I tell her it’s not for a violent offence and she relaxes. One can’t be too careful with my type.
I am brought clean clothes and taken to a bare room with a chair, desk and phone. The jeans are too large for me but the turtle neck isn’t too bad. I slip it on and take a moment to admire myself. I should have a shave.
I am led to a grubby shower room that looks as though it was lifted straight from a Gulag. The water is warm and luxurious. Dirt and soap twirling around my feet. Shampoo and conditioner. As I dry myself with a clean towel I am left feeling rather posh.
The changing room is pretty much the lobby. More posters on safe drug use and the perils of the streets. A middle-eastern man dries himself off beside me. He appears to have six toes on both feet. As he slips on his gloves I see the same amount of fingers. Is this the last dregs of the psychedelic, or part of something larger and more sinister? The door closes behind him before I can pursue any line of inquiry.
Back in the cell with the telephone I flick through my notepads. The porcelain doll returns today but at what time I don’t know. With her number in front of me I lift the receiver from its place and dial. A dreadful tension as I wait for her to pick up. It rings out twice and my heart sinks.
I flip to the page with Uma’s number and give her a call but again there is no response. All out of ideas I just sit there. Voices from the room next door. Traffic in distant altercations. A dog yelping into the cold air. Then the phone shrieks and my heart shrieks back. I grab the receiver with a wild hand and press it to my ear. A moment of silence – and then a voice.
It’s her. I let out a sigh of relief and just sit there for a moment.
“I done it,” I tell her. “I got my ending.”