I’ve been doing a lot of travelling over the last few weeks, but my shortest and most unexpected journey occurred last Friday – the hospital across the road from where I live.
I’d just finished a bit of writing and was geeing myself up to pick the girls from kindergarten. All was good. The Irish Times newspaper had just gotten in touch with me about publishing my travel blog and I expressed my excitement in typical male fashion; I went to the toilet.
Sitting on the throne and feeling a bit wheezy from the summer pollens, I took a quick toot on my alvesco inhaler. That’s when the bathroom started spinning. The midday light grew dim and curtains of grey appeared on either side of my eyes. And when those curtains started closing over I knew something was wrong.
What? I don’t know. My heart felt fine. It was probably the only part of me that did. I stood up but my legs turned to jelly and I gripped the sink like it was my only friend in the world. Still those curtains kept moving shut. Shit, I thought, I can’t let this happen. I don’t want to be found with my pants around my ankles and an inhaler in my hand, like I was involved in some Michael Hutchence sex-game. I slapped myself hard across the face to keep from going under – once, twice – it bought me enough time to phone my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE. The following is what I remember of that call;
‘Peadar…are you okay…?’
‘The room is spinning…I’m short of breath…what do I do?’
‘You need to find a plastic bag and breathe into it.’ What? A plastic bag? Six years of medical training and this is her advice? I’m having a catastrophic episode and she wants me to hunt down a bin-liner? If I broke my leg would she be asking me to lick a frog?
‘I can’t see any bag…everything’s getting dark…’
‘Then get out of the apartment, go to the neighbours – I’m on my way.’
I struggled to the kitchen and poured water over my face. The grey hue lifts. The apartment stops spinning a little but I’m still feeling like I’ve been catapulted into a bear.
The neighbours. Should I call on their door? They’re good people, but I don’t want to freak them out. I’ve a habit of freaking out neighbours. Back in Ireland, I had a house-party for my nineteenth birthday. This was two days before Christmas and my rowdy cohorts were getting up to all sorts of mischief. My then neighbour, a gruff, regular man, was worried about his property so he had his back door open listening to our crazy antics. Thing is, a terribly nice fellow we’ll call David C. had imbued a glass or two of sherry and didn’t he get a little confused. He climbed into my neighbour’s garden and went to the toilet against the back door, which was open, effectively pissing on my neighbour’s face.
There occurred a brief and frank expression of ideas, with several promises being made regarding David’s mortality.
I thought of all this as I knocked on my Polish neighbour’s door. Their daughter Ola appeared smiling at this man who was struggling to maintain his vertical hold on the world.
‘Ola, can you take me to the hospital? I know this sounds like a joke but there’s something wrong with me…’
‘Oh sure, no problem,’ she said nonchalantly, as if she routinely helped idiot Irishmen in the middle of unexplained disintegrations. She got me to the hospital but for some reason they didn’t want to admit me. I think they heard I was Irish and assumed I was merely drunk. Then my mother-in-law appeared and she’s stopping me from falling over while simultaneously berating the staff for not giving two shits about the father of her grandchildren – then it hits me – the girls! I’ve got to pick them up! Only I can’t as my PSW has arrived and suddenly I’m on a stretcher and a bag of electrolites is being pumped into my arm.
Later than night, at home, lying in bed and trying to make some sense out of what happened to me, I thought about my gruff neighbour. Over twenty years ago, he would have been the same age then as I am now. This is the way it is when you’re forty, be it in Ireland or Poland. Sometimes there’s no reason for it. Sometimes life sneaks up and pisses all over your face.