Can you take a little pain, Lawrie? asked the hospital doctor. He turned to face me, wearing scrubs, his face covered by a mask. And he was holding the largest syringe I'd ever seen.
Of course, I smiled, lying back in my bed. It was my 21st birthday. I could deal with anything. At least, that was what I would show the world. But in fact I was terrified.
The doctor, only a few years older than me, sat at my bedside by my right leg. My leg was in traction, a series of pulleys and weights kept it straight. I had recently been in a car accident, and had a major fracture in my leg. They had operated. Now, there was a big blood blister deep within my injured leg.
The botched operation
The doctor plunged the syringe into my leg. I writhed. He pushed it in further and pulled on the plunger, but nothing showed in the barrel. I twined my hands in the metal bars of the bed head. He tried again. And again.
Scalpel, he whispered to the nurse, and made a show of hiding from me the blade she passed him. He cut my skin. Nothing showed. I wrenched at the head of the bed. He cut some more. I nearly fainted.
Finally, blood gushed. The doctor and nurse patched up my leg and left. I was 21. I could deal with anything. No, I wouldn't ask for a painkiller. I spent my 21st in silence, in my hospital room.
The sun set outside the window, and dinner was finished. I couldn't afford a TV. It was going to be a night of loneliness.
But the door burst open.
Happy 21st Lawrie, shouted my housemates, and ran in laughing and joking, carrying bottles of beer and wine. They sat round my bed and we talked.
I was overjoyed.
The door burst open again.
Happy 21st Lawrie, shouted my friends from university. The door burst open once again.
Happy 21st Lawrie, shouted my friends from the drama club.
Soon the room was full but people kept coming in. The nurses knew it was my 21st birthday. They had read it in my medical record. We drank and drank, and talked louder and louder.
The nurses didn't disturb us once. Finally, everyone left.
That was the best party ever, said someone,
yes, the best,
I fell into a drunken sleep.
The morning after
The next morning the duty nurse brought me not one but two cups of coffee. I was so hung over. It was the worst I had felt since the accident.
The nurses cleaned up my room. It was a special clean-up, because that morning was matron's rounds. I was made ready in my bed, still hung over.
At last matron and her senior nurses came in. Matron was a large, severe, forbidding, middle-aged woman. It was obvious everyone was terrified of her. She ran her finger along the window sill, looking for dust, and then opened my bedside cabinet.
In it stood an empty wine bottle.
There was silence. The air was electric. I didn't dare breathe.
Remove that please, nurse, said Matron quietly.