Saturday, March 06, 2004


(This may explain why I've not updated for two weeks:)

It began with the suspicion that the office’s eccentric central heating was giving a performance. One minute I’d be sat at my desk, sweating into a t-shirt. A quarter of an hour later, I’d be shivering, wrapped up in jumpers, jacket and a spare fleece.

It was also painfully bright, and strangely hard to operate the mouse with no feeling in the fingers of my right hand.

I felt worse when I got home, peeling off layer after layer of sweat soaked clothing.

I went to bed at eight thirty, and passed the night in weird, painful dreams, about emails suddenly becoming physical objects, the size of postage stamps – little exploding piles of patchwork spilling over desks, shouting across carpets. It was a terrible, compelling dream… and it hurt, strangely behind the eyes.

I spent some of the night sleeping on the living room floor where it was cold.

On the Saturday, I was supposed to be meeting a nice man called Matt in Bath. I knew I wasn’t going to make the train, and would phone him before he got to the station. I lay there, trying to make it to the phone. It rang. It was Matt – it was one in the afternoon, and he wanted to know why I wasn’t at the station. “I have a pain behind my eyes,” I told him.

I left the flat, buying jelly babies and fruit juice. I took painkillers – a lot of them. None of them worked – not even Migraleve (which normally puts me into a blissful doze). It was the early afternoon.

Then it was night.

I was still lying on the living room floor. In the dark. I pulled down the blinds, as the streetlamps hurt my eyes.

Then I phoned NHS Direct, using my left hand as my right hand couldn’t quite dial the numbers. I mumbled to a nice operator that I had a strange pain behind my eyes and I wanted it to stop.

When the ambulance arrived, I shuffled out of the darkened flat, stuffing sweets and a book in my pocket.

The ambulance men took me through my symptoms. I slurred that I had an occasional fever, and a terrible pain behind my eyes. They turned down the lights in the ambulance.

At the hospital, a triage nurse looked at me. I told her about the terrible pain behind my eyes and my hatred of light. She smiled. And sent me to sit in a floodlit waiting room for two hours.

I lay in the waiting room, my jacket wrapped around my head to block out the light until a security guard asked me to stop sleeping and threatened to eject me unless I took to jacket from off my head. I mumbled – I told him I wasn’t asleep – there was this terrible pain behind my eyes.

Eventually another nurse saw me. I told her about the terrible pain behind my eyes. She shrugged. “You came to Casualty with a headache? Couldn’t you have waited to see your GP?”

I slurred that I couldn’t move, and the pain was… extraordinary.

“Well, you seem fine now,” she said, taking my blood pressure roughly. I felt a miserable failure – surely I couldn’t be imagining this pain?

Then she took my temperature.

She started shouting to people I couldn’t see. Then I was rushed in a wheelchair into a cubicle.

A blond male nurse flicked in, whistling Blondie. “Hi, I’m Wes,” he said, “And you’ve got a temperature of 40.” He seemed impressed, and stuck a drip into my arm, messily.

I asked him what a temperature of 40 meant. “Should be 36.9. When it gets to 42 you tend to die. Good effort.”

He gave me paracetomol and ibuprofen. I explained that this wouldn’t help the terrible pain behind my eyes. “It’ll help the fever, mate.”

I lay there, whimpering for a while, listening to the sounds of people having their stomach pumped.

In a nearby cubicle, a homeless man had had a heartattack and his hostel manager was with him. “I suppose you’ve missed the BBC film you wanted to see?” mumbled the man.

“Don’t apologise. I’ve only been looking forward to it for two weeks. There’s no need for an apology.” Said the manager.

In the next door bed, an old Indian man was refusing to go home, shouting as a nurse tried to explain to him how to use his catheter. “Now, don’t shout at me in a foreign language,” said the nurse, doing glacial Irish charm, “You were quite fluent until I told you you were being discharged. It won’t work.”

He stayed there, ranting at a succession of nurses, until security wheeled him away.

He was replaced by a man who’d been eating at a fine restaurant. In between vomiting into a bucket, he mouthed at the woman with him “It was the food, the food, not the whisky.”

“He’s had eight whiskies,” said the woman to the nurse.

“Are you his wife?” asked the nurse.

“No,” said the woman politely. “She’s been called.”

Over the way from me, a young woman finished her birthday celebrations with a stomach pump. As her best friend looked on and tried to seem sober, the homeless man shouted across at her, “I wish the nurses looked like you. I said, I wish the nurses looked like you. I’m paying you a compliment.”

“Thanks,” said the woman.

“He’s trying to be friendly,” explained the hostel manager.

“Don’t worry, Martin. It’s the BBC. They’ll repeat it.” Said the homeless man.

And, all this while, I was experimenting with moaning quietly. It felt good. I was lying there, under an examining lamp, the light burning and burning into me. I started to cry.

A Doctor came to see me. She told me my fever was no better. I told her about the pain behind my eyes. “A headache, eh? Well, we’ve given you paracetomol.”

The drunks came and went with the splashing of buckets.

Another Doctor came to see me. She took my temperature. I grabbed her arm. “Please, stop the pain.” I was croaking, with my tongue dry and useless.

She looked at my paperwork. Amazing how much I’d acquired in such a short time. “What pain? I’m treating you for fever,” she explained.

“Behind my eyes. The light hurts. They gave me paracetomol and 400 mg of ibuprofen for the fever but I said it wouldn’t work. I need something for the pain behind my eyes. Nothing works. I’ve taken migraleve.”

“Is it a migraine?” she asked, her tone suddenly five per-cent harsher. “Do you have them often?”

“No. I used to have them. I know what they’re like. This isn’t a migraine. Please, it hurts so much. That’s why I came here. Not for the fever.”

She leaned forward and then moved away. “I’m going to do some tests,” she said, slowly, “But first, I’m going to turn off the light.”

The overhead light snaps off, and it’s like being bathed with cold, wet towels. Everything feels so lovely. Momentarily. And then the pain’s back. But not as bad.

The Doctor (Sarah) comes back with a rubber hammer. She tests my reflexes, thumping away on my knees. Amazingly, my legs don’t respond. She thumps away some more. No response. More tests follow. I don’t appear to be able to be wholly in my body.

Then she shines a little pencil light in my eyes. She apologises before she does it, but the feeling is still unusual. When my eyes clear, she’s leaning over me, one hand on my forehead, tenderly.
“I think you may have meningitis.” She says. “Would you like me to call someone?”

Instead, and for no good reason, I start to cry. There aren’t any tears.

We decide not to call anyone – it is now four in the morning. Trying not to worry my parents at that hour isn’t possible.

Sarah gives me codeine. I decide I love her.

There’s a brief fuzzy interlude. They’ve found me a bed. A practical woman turns up with it. I’m wheeled through corridors, bright lights burning over my head.

I’m in a room on a ward somewhere. There are pictures of happy farm animals. Then I’m wheeled away for a CT scan. I’m barely aware of it… maybe asleep… maybe unconscious. Everything feels distant, until a doctor explains that they’re putting a colouring solution into my bloodstream and I may feel a slight warming sensation.

Suddenly, my entire body washes warm and fuzzy and I fall asleep giggling in the brain scanner.

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