The emergency department and the writer’s instinct

ImageLet me preface this by saying I’m not one to give into pain. No sir. I once went to hospital with a broken wrist – on a motorbike. Let’s just say that journey, all twisting throttle and city traffic braking was ‘uncomfortable’. But I endured.

Last weekend, however, I caved. I won’t go into details other than two words: dental abscess. I thought a quick trip to the emergency dentist and a couple of paracetamol would see me through. Such optimism.

Skip to about five hours later, early evening Saturday. Pain is such a short and inadequate word to describe it. Shards of broken glass being hammered into your jaw fails to convey the feeling. Mending a broken bone by ramming the two shattered ends together like a toddler crashing toy cars, does not even touch the sides.

Eventually my wife drove me to A&E. The plan: score some heavy duty painkillers or get them to anaesthetise my head. After being told there was a three hour wait by the triage nurse, I was reduced to rocking back and forth on my chair, gently moaning and holding a cold bottle of water to my face. In the midst of this personal hell, a young man waddled in, bow-legged, as though herding an invisible Shetland pony between his legs. He approached the reception desk and gazed for a few moments at the receptionist, as if weighing something up. Then he said: “Here, love, I’ve had severely swollen testicles for the last few days that someone could do with have a look. And is there somewhere I can get a sandwich and a latte while I wait?”

Now, this would be a good payoff line for an anecdote, but it’s not the point of this article. Rather it was my reaction that is the important bit. Despite the pain, despite the occasional drooling, despite the desire to wrench the damned tooth out or get the brutally tattooed gent sitting opposite to knock me cold, I turned to my wife and said: “Have you got a pen and a bit of paper. I want to write that down because it might come in handy for a story sometime.”

There it is. An example of the triumph of the writer’s instinct, that over-riding compulsion to turn experience into potential fiction. And, if the Fates are reading this, one that I don’t ever want to repeat, ever, thanks very much.

As a postscript, I did manage to get some treatment and I am on the mend. Now I just need to find out how to fit some horribly engorged testicles and a luke warm latte into a story.