It’s a quarter way through the 8-hour crossing from Dallas Forth Worth to Heathrow. I’ve eaten my dinner, snubbed my nose at the meagre cinematic offerings and settled into a light doze when something suddenly wakes me. My own body heat. I’m burning up and I feel terrible so I get up and fumble my way to the bathroom just beyond the plane’s midriff exit door. Lights are dim, passengers all sleeping. Next thing I know, I’m on the floor, disoriented, head hurting, blood all over my hair and hands.
Apparently I must have fainted, hitting my head on some sharp corner on the way down. I sit there like a stunned mullet, then get my act together, staggering up the back of the plane where flight attendants swarm. I show them my bloody hands. They hop to it, clean me up, give me a bag of ice for my head and make me a bed out of the (thankfully) empty last row of the plane. They offer to try and find me a doctor but I tell them I’m OK. Kudos to them for not treating my blood like rancid biohazard. My busted head throbs as I doze on and off, vaguely fretting about my potentially leaking brain. As the plane approaches Heathrow I return to my seat. Flight attendants keep checking on me until we land.
The customs line is the longest in living memory. My sister Rachael meets me at arrivals and we catch the tube out to the end of the Piccadilly line where she lives. She finds my bleeding head story more worrisome than amusing and eventually she and her husband Graham convince me that we need to get my head checked out. So off we drive to North Middlesex University Hospital’s AEU where we plant ourselves down for the long haul. I’m called up almost immediately by the triage nurse, then sent down a corridor of grey smudged ivory linoleum to a lilac-walled section where some patients are receiving treatment and others are waiting. R & G get to wait alongside me. The scuffed walls are lined with mismatched chairs. Directly opposite, a tubercular-looking black guy hoiks up blood into a wad of hand towels. Nearby, another in a bright red shirt twitches, hooked up to an oxygen machine.
Meanwhile, a grazed bruise is blooming down my spine. Looks like I managed to slam that bit of me against a jagged bulkhead too. I’ve been interviewed twice at this point but no one has examined the actual damage.
Patients are wheeled past on squeaking gurneys. The place fills up as we edge into nightfall. Cops escort a young white guy getting patched up after a street fight.
I start fretting about my own story. A night flight with everyone asleep. Nobody saw anything. The triage nurse had made a big deal of the unconscious part. Nobody knows how long you were out. You can’t even be sure. Those flight attendants should have called an ambulance.
The lilac room gets fuller and fuller. More chairs are brought, more gurneys sail past on rattling wheels. When the doctor finally sees me, it’s in a store room as all the treatment cubicles are full. An imposing, grey-haired man with serious Balkan eyebrows. Nurse takes samples of my blood and piss. Delivers an EEG and tetanus shot. But as I’m not vomiting, headachy or babbling any more than usual, doc reckons I’m free to go. After we glue your head, he adds. No stitches, thankfully, because the nurse with the craft kit and hands like an orangutan makes the glue feel like acid gel. So sorry, she keeps saying, but the gash is like an L and I’m trying to push the edges to stay together.
I’m OK. The Head Injury Advice Card they gave me says I mustn’t booze, play rugby or take tranquilisers. The Wound Closure Advice Card says I can’t wash my hair for some time. Which means I’ll be wearing this unfortunate knitted beret for the rest of the week. Good thing my camera broke way back in Tallahassee!