What better way to spend a crisp autumn day, eh? Stripped down to a fetching, back-tying gown – one tie already ripped off, I imagine, as its wearer made a last desperate bid for freedom, the other set so tight around my neck I feared the Gremlin was trying to throttle me. Maybe he was? I’m still here, so presumably not.
Beneath the gown, one of the three pairs of paper knickers left for my use. I say knickers. It took several efforts to ascertain whether I had them on back-ways or front-ways – or, indeed, three-quarter-ways. Think paper shower cap with leg holes. I literally did not know whether I was coming or going.
‘Do I actually have to wear three pairs?’ I asked the nice lady porter as she came to escort me to x-ray. Always best to ask. But she didn’t think so.
‘We have to walk through reception to get there,’ she says. And suddenly I don’t really care. What the hell. They’re used to people padding around in their one-size-fits-all, complementary, monogrammed slippers, bums on show. So I pad down with her, head held high, gown clutched in place, dignity intact (just), plastic name tag strapped to my wrist lest I too do a runner.
It’s over in a matter of minutes – well, less than an hour. Then I’m back to ‘my room’ for a lie down, with strict instructions to stay that way, lying on my right side for a full hour. And, in an instant, I am deep inside a world of ‘obs’ checking. Furrowed brows as my BP drops, concerns that I haven’t been up for a pee yet – both of which might have something to do with not having had a drink or food for several hours, and then having to stay lying on my side for an hour!
Despite my increasingly firm assertions that, yes, I AM ready for something to eat now –please – the promised sandwich takes three or four hours to arrive. By which time the Gremlin – gamely waiting for me to be fed before he escapes to the café for ‘lunch’ – has left me for an omelette (the advertised chips having been cruelly scrubbed from the menu by the deep-fat fryer cleaners).
Meanwhile, a widescreen winks provocatively from the wall but I resist the lure of Jeremy Kyle and, as far as I’m concerned, Judge Rinder is strictly Saturday evening viewing. Ed Balls, incidentally, I could happily watch Gangnam-styling any time of the day or evening but he wasn’t available.
I do as I’m told. Staying put until I’m allowed to leave. Drinking when I’m told to drink. Having a pee because I’m told I should. Eating when they let me eat.
The smell of the handy wet-wipe, delivered along with my chicken buttie, lingers with me through to bedtime, despite several attempts to wash it from my hands. And it puts me in mind of my Auntie Bessie and the care home she spent her final days trapped inside. That smell the first thing to hit you, as you buzzed through the front door and signed yourself in. That and the stifling warmth. A heady mix of old ladies’ talc, cleaning fluid and antiseptic, gently perspiring bodies and incontinence, simmered to perfection by a heating system working at full blast. All that in a wet wipe.
Then, finally, I’m allowed to leave, clutching a sheaf of instructions for the next 24 hours. It’s dark outside but it’s good to feel the air on my face again, even after so few hours inside.
Nothing to worry about, by the way, just an epidural caudal injection for a niggling back problem. My first. Hopefully my last. And now, suitably advised (of course), I can get back to the Pilates, yoga, swimming, cycling, walking and skiing. So that’s December sorted.
God only know what Auntie Bessie would’ve made of the traffic now grinding daily to a halt around her old home town. ‘Smart motorway’? You’re kidding?
In fact, the bit in the middle of our trip to hospital was a breeze compared to the effort of getting from Cumbria to Manchester and home again. We’re used to building in a little wriggle room but even five hours is stretching it for a journey which normally takes half that time. If not less. And I freely admit I was not at my most patient. The Gremlin is indeed a saint, driving as he did with an increasingly anxious passenger fizzing and popping and hand-wringing beside him, expletives splatting like lava onto the dashboard.
We should’ve known, given the time it took to defrost the car – and the blinding winter sun, hanging too low for comfort in a clear morning sky. First, cutting through the back lanes to avoid roadworks along the A66, only to find the M6 closed between Penrith and Shap due to a serious incident involving an HGV, a van and a car, literally moments after we joined it. Had we stayed on the A66, and arrived at junction 40 ten minutes later, who knows, we might have missed the jam and joined the diversion along the A6. As it was, we didn’t move for almost two hours. We gather no one was seriously injured but it’s hard to keep reminding yourself, as your blood pressure rises (this appointment had already been delayed twice), that someone else is having a far worse day than you.
Stress levels rose again as the M61 merged with the M60 car park and I frantically searched my internal map to recall long forgotten alternative routes, perpetually contradicted by Madame Satnav.
Anyone familiar with the A57 into Manchester between the M602 and the Mancunian Way will understand my questioning the wisdom of sending us that way but clearly we had been tortured enough for one morning and the road was clear. ‘You have reached your destination,’ announced Madame, a tad too smugly for my liking. Fortunately for her, I was in too much of a hurry to retaliate.
She wasn’t quite so smug as we left the hospital later, full of hope for a swift journey home – only to grind to a halt yet again, this time thanks to 6,000 Feyenoord fans being corralled on foot, all the way from city centre Manchester to Old Trafford. Holed up in our clinical cocoon, we knew nothing of the rolling roadblocks until it was too late. If only I’d pressed that TV remote button. How much harm can one burst of Jeremy Kyle possibly do?
I’m not a fan of football – not least for the way it messes with my Emmerdale viewing – but it’s our ‘national sport’. Apparently. And it certainly costs us.
In August this year, a Freedom of Information request revealed that Manchester City paid Greater Manchester Police £944,194 to manage football mayhem in 2015/16. Meanwhile, Manchester United coughed up a mere £925,121. And that’s just for the Premier League home games. They do so, apparently ‘to ensure everyone who attends matches can do so in a safe and enjoyable environment’. Everyone else, it seems, can go hang.
What with all that, and the need to make regular stops so I could ‘keep mobile’, we were mighty glad to see that Welcome to Cumbria. Even happier turning into Strawberry How. Not a day I want to repeat in a hurry.
Speaking of skiing. Tension mounting this weekend, as the Gremlin fiddles with the skis, digs out snow shovels, dusts off last year’s piste map and counts the household goggle collection. Yes, La Première Neige is upon us. And we’re off. The piste beckons.
But first, news this week, from my son. In Barbados.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Son? She’s got a son? Does the Gremlin know about this?’ No, he doesn’t. Yet. But then, neither did I until the email.
‘Hey mom,’ said Adam Jeffries, breezily. Not an ounce of guilt at not calling his old mum for, well, his entire life. Busy collecting trainers and rucksacks no doubt.
‘Here everything is great,’ he writes. ‘Sun and beaches are amazing and I feel like I’m living a dream.
‘I just want you to know that I have made a lot of money and I’m no longer working as bartender. I work online now, sometimes from home and sometimes from the beach!!
‘I will be happy to invite you here,’ he offers. ‘Caribbean is not that far after all! Love you. Adam’.
And that’s where he lost me. Calls himself a son! The Caribbean? Don’t be daft. When there’s snow to be had? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have goggles to count.
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