In sickness and in health: All at sea on the night my world turned upside down

Earlier this year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

 

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When I think about the night when things changed from before to after, certain images come to mind. It’s a sort of internal Instagram feed of emergency. The cosy, crowded pub studded with amber post-work pints. The “no caller ID” that flashed on my phone’s screen. The wooden slats of a beer-garden table. The bright lights of a bureau d’exchange where the police picked me up. The blur of the streets outside the car. The two policemen sitting in a corridor waiting room, wearing inarguable black and white.

The startlingly orange bag that the ambulance crew carried, the bag containing my husband’s clothes, cut away from him after the accident. For a horror-struck moment, I thought it was a Sainsbury’s bag. Imagine! Fighting for your life after being hit by a car and your worldly possessions are bundled into a supermarket carrier bag. I’m glad I got that wrong - it was just an unbranded, standard issue orange bag. Strange what comes as a relief.

The view from the window that looked out over Paddington Basin, lined with dozing canal boats tucked up for the night. The little red plastic chair in an otherwise empty room next to A&E. It looked uncomfortable enough to give to unwanted guests at work who you don’t want lingering at your desk. It was. No wonder, then, that the clearest image, clearer even than my husband lying cold, unconscious and under a medical lilo (actually an inflatable blanket to try and bring his body temperature up), who I was allowed to see for a few minutes before he was taken up to ICU, was the floor of my empty room next to A&E.

Blue, sky blue, as far as the eye could see. Not least because the eye was attached to someone curled up on the floor in their coat, someone who had lost the strength to do battle with the chair, who knew that everything had changed. I suppose it’s a beautiful blue, summery and bright. It splashed up the walls a few inches, like the water it resembled lapping the sides of the room. It wasn’t a solid, one-note block of blue, though, but mottled with darker patches, as the sea looks on a sunny day and the darker spots seem to be sudden patches of immense depth - here be sea monsters! The only times I can think of looking at a floor at such close quarters have been when I’ve been sick, lying sweating on the bathroom floor staring up at the ocean liner of the loo. Then the patterns of the floor - cork at home, marble at work, become fascinating, because they take my mind off the matter in hand. Not that it worked so well this time.

When the doctors came to find me, they saw a crumpled woman in the coracle of her coat. All at sea, with the floor having fallen out from under her. An image I’d like to forget.

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