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