Second chances and the point of no return

 

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Category: Reflections 21 Jun 15
 

It began with a strain on my neck. I took a break from the keyboards, looked outside. The London light was dim but too bright for me. As I typed I felt pressure on the back of my left eye, it began to spread to my temple. I’ll have a little lie down as the Brits say, I thought, and then get back to work. It didn’t. I made myself a strong cup of coffee, took two strong pain relievers.

The throb turned into a canon. I gave up the idea of work and lay down. I tried a drink of water. Brought that up. I tried another sip. That came up, too. Some toast. Couldn’t hold that down. The pain intensified. The hammering in my head intensified.

The nausea again, but there was nothing left. I got weaker. My brain emptied of everything but blinding pain. Did one minute pass or was it hours? I didn’t know. Somewhere, there was an awareness that I was a foreigner in London, living alone.

Finally as the day dimmed, as it does rapidly in early summer, I dialled 999. A woman answered after two rings. They asked me for my postcode. “We’ll be there in an hour for the latest.”

I treated my brain like I would a toddler. One, drag on pants over pajamas. A sweater. Socks. Sneakers. Keys. The bell rang. I stumbled to the door. It was two men in medical overalls.

They escorted me to the ambulance. The younger one doubled as the driver. They assessed if I was to go to hospital right before the ambulance moved: Blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, ECG test.

The older one said I was dehydrated. When they had trouble getting the IV in, the older one, a bearded man with kind eyes decided that they would take me to the emergency. ‘You’re quite slight aren’t you lass?’ I heard through the layers of pain. He thought I was a girl, and I was thin. If I could have, I would have smiled.

They took the light off in the vehicle because I had a migraine. They took off the siren because they were already sorting me out and I wasn’t an emergency, but I needed to be in hospital. By the time they made the half-hour journey to the nearest hospital, they succeeded in getting the IV in my hand. The ambulance medics handed me over to a nurse who did more checks.

The doctor arrived within minutes, added some medication to the IV. The medical staff took the light off and let me rest. A nurse came in periodically to check my pressure. Almost 24 hours later, the pain lifted like a light breeze carrying me joyfully into the air like a Chagall painting. The absence of pain is pleasure. For a brief moment after they said I could leave, my heart sank. The bill! In a foreign country. An overnight bill in one of our private hospitals in Trinidad could set us back ten, 15, 20,000 dollars.

“Where do I pay?” I asked. “It’s free” smiled the nurse. Incredulous, I felt as happy as 20 balloons carrying me up to the sky. “They were so efficient, so kind for free to a foreigner?” I thought of the ambulance, the nurses, the doctors, the overnight care, and walked out realising I didn’t know what hospital I was in. Okay, then. So this is how it’s done in proper countries. I will be forever grateful for the National Health Service here, forever... for not treating me like a

foreigner when I was ill and entirely alone. I thought then, of my brother when he was very ill in Port-of-Spain General Hospital. How they had to lay him down on a stretcher on the floor along with people left for dead.

Of oil flush Trinidad with its acute shortage of equipment, drugs, beds, spaces of cockroaches, now being whitewashed and sold as health tourism. Meanwhile, the oil money goes towards making people lethargic and criminal in make-work programmes, and opaque multimillion projects where only a few benefit.

Another moment: I tripped while looking into Google Maps on the pavement. My phone, glasses, laptop scattering on the pavement. An elderly couple picked me up, made sure I caught myself before going on their way. I was shaken but recovered. We are shaken but can still recover if politicians stop catering to the lowest common denominator.

If we recognise we have fallen, among the most murderous in the world, that some 500,000 of us are functionally illiterate, (the reaction to my column last week a spoof of a spoof on John Oliver on Jack Warner, I realised that many people in Trinidad don’t know what satire means: it’s vital to pay and train our teachers properly, to become readers, to develop our nation’s intellect); if we recognise that some 30 per cent of us still live below the poverty line; that we are falling on the transparency and development index. If we recognise all this, there is still time to brush off our scrapes and invest in our sustainable development, we can find our way home.

Finally, as I stood on the platform watching my train come through a tunnel I saw with disbelief as a woman threw herself in the way of the train hurtling its way in. She was mutilated within seconds. It was all over.

There are opportunities, there are second chances and there is a point of no return.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur