Snug as a bug in a rug
The Smell of urine, stale sweat, and TUC crackers lingered in the air. I heard the slapping sound of a pair of backless slippers shuffling up the dimly lit corridor. Margaret was wailing again, her unmistakable high-pitched voice echoing in the hall.
“MAAAAAAA…DAAAAAAA….MAAAAAAA LET ME OUT OF HERE! I WANT TO GO HOME NOW! I WANT A FAG NOW!”. She attempted to hurl herself out of the bed but couldn’t extricate herself from the burly nurse’s vice like grip. “LIE DOWN MARGARET! LIE DOWN YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE YOUR’E VERY VERY ILL”.
“I WANT MY MA, HELP ME MA”. She writhed around frantically, eyes wide open, clawing anyone who dared to approach her. I admired her spirit. For someone who had apparently not long ago suffered a heart attack, she was putting up a valiant effort. She refrained from lashing out and momentarily lay still. She was encircled by a group of about three to four nurses, whilst Vincent two beds down continued to groan quietly to himself.
I glanced over at my granny who had slumped forwards, her oxygen mask slipping down her face. I adjusted it carefully, plumped up her pillows, and tucked her in to her trolley. I recalled the numerous childhood tuck in’s, feeling so safe, “Snug as a bug in a rug”. I couldn’t quite remember the last time I felt that secure. I guess that’s the main lesson one learns transitioning to adulthood isn’t it? The illusions of safety and certainty begin to disintegrate before your eyes. You learn the fake it till you make it mentality, and if you are lucky you can cloak your fears in a daily routine. Every so often you’ll ask the big questions, but I guess that’s what booze or meds are for. Try not to overthink, just roll with it.
I noticed the Oxygen tank was running on empty. My heart thudded erratically in my chest as I searched for someone to replace it. My eyes scanned the surrounding devastation on the crowded corridors. A rotund mound of a woman sprawled out in the trolley, moaning in agony, requesting pain relief. A scrawny tracksuit clad man in his fifties hobbled about shouting obscenities at the top of his lungs. “F THIS FI’N HOSPITAL, F THE F’IN STEW AND THE F’IN NURSES”. The F’in Nurses in question certainly had their hands full, I did not envy them. It truly was a vocation it would appear. A spotty toddler sprinted down the aisle unattended, an Asian couple wheeled their wheezing mother around in circles, and a teenage girl sat on the floor crying. Just another night In the A and E. A nurse responded quickly to replenish the oxygen reserves and I nodded gratefully to her. It would be a long night ahead, and I wanted to ensure that everything was just right.
A couple of hours passed, and I had filled out numerous awkwardly phrased applications, highlighting how organised and efficient I was, how I would be an Asset to X organisation. Frankly right at that moment I felt more akin to a liability, but god loved a trier apparently. Better than sitting twiddling my thumbs at any rate. January also appeared to be THE month for application deadlines. Not very original but it resonated with resolutions I suppose. We were transferred to the Special Care Unit to try and prevent overcrowding in the A and E perhaps, and hopefully some other unfortunate soul would now have a trolley. My grans face was puce and crumpled up in the struggle for breath. The woman was a warrior. She always had been. I felt like a traitor to worry. A doubting Thomas. She made so many miraculous recoveries that my family had nick named her Lazarus and the doctors in the Pulmonary Unit knew her by name.
“Beef Stew or Soup? Liquidized or Solid? Mashed or Boiled?”. Jaysus, perhaps my diet would work this year after all. I could see my grans face visibly turn a little paler. She shook her head and croaked how she was parched. Not even a cup of tea would cure her this time. I slipped the straw under her mask and she sipped weakly, the exertion tiring her. An Elderly man yelped as they inserted a catheter behind the curtain. The woman opposite was lying mouth agape, her chest rising and falling slowly, her eyes wide open and milky white. I shuddered a little and plonked down on the ripped leather chair.
The Doctor approached my gran who was at that moment gasping for breath, her nebulizer omitting a pearly white vapour. “I honestly don’t think I can keep going anymore. I don’t think I want to. I’m really very tired”. A tear rolled down her pale and now withered cheek. I looked away, and excused myself momentarily. I had promised an ice pop. liquidized beef stew would make anyone contemplate death, right? I ran down the numerous flights of stairs, gulping in oxygen with a previously unappreciated ease. I stood outside in the darkness, staring helplessly at a flickering street lamp, the cold air slicing through me like a knife. I remembered the words of my father, “You’ve gotta stop being so negative and worrying about stupid shit you know. You know anything could happen to you in this life, you are lucky you aren’t sick you know! You could be hit by a bus!” Sadly, this didn’t change my perspective on life at the time. I just kept my eye out for double decker’s. Both the literal and metaphorical ones.
I returned to the Unit, a slightly melted Solero in my mottled mauve clutches. I spotted her sleeping in the corner, her ragged breathing punctuated by the beeping of a Hitech oxygen machine. My grans R2D2 like saviour. I stroked her hand as she slept, feeling the navy tracery of her rope like veins beneath her paper-thin skin. The stark realisation about the fragility of life transcended upon me. Everyone in the room was struggling for breath. They were all roughly my grans age or older. They had made it to their seventies and lived to tell the tale. They were all once infants crawling about on all fours exploring the world, or unencumbered youths like me. Then in a flash they landed here in this undignified position. Silently suffering. (or in the case of Margaret not so silently) Yet they were the lucky ones! Shit, aging is not for the faint hearted. This modern extended life span comes at a cost. All of these people were once faking it and making it, presumably a range of professions, raising the families that now crowded their bedsides. Now money, status and glory meant nothing. In that room it defined nobody. We were all just earth dwellers sharing that moment. Perhaps awaiting some divine judgement in the future or fading into blackness… The honest truth was frighteningly refreshing.
I chatted to granny once more. Telling her about another god-awful date I had endured and savouring her company. I remembered the imaginary rivers I waded through in her kitchen, or the numerous bubbles I blew at the sink. I felt so blessed, lucky and grateful. Just then the Nurse sent me packing. It was getting late and she said I could return in the morning. Just in case tomorrow never came I plumped up the pillows and tucked her in. “Snug as a bug in a rug”. Gran smiled and closed her eyes. I vowed to take nothing for granted ever again.