WHEN you first wake up lying on a trolley in a hospital corridor with a bandage wrapped tight around your noggin like a turban, you're not quite sure for the first bewildering seconds how you got there, and a number of surreal thoughts form a short, disorderly queue.
One is: "I'm dead".
This is first in line to be dismissed and where it comes from, I've no idea. Plain fancy, in my case, that some god or other, perhaps the one I've offended least during my short, hedonistic sojourn, will come tap-dancing down the hall with something strong for a headache. Two pills in a cup.
As it turns out, there is no tap-dance other than the one my fractured skull describes, but 'Heaven' soon materialises in the form of a lovely Sri Lankan student doctor, who dispenses the pills with the kindest smile I think I've seen.
I take in my immediate surroundings and the next thought is: "If not Heaven. . . is this Hell?" This notion has, at least, one metaphoric foot planted firmly in the figurative.
Hell is. . .
The endless, anguished howl of an infant somewhere out of sight; an elderly man wearing only a pitiful, vacant expression and his hospital gown as he shuffles around four sides of a square forever; and a slow-motion wall-clock marking each of these things with each shudder of its interminable third hand.
Okay, I think, swinging my legs to sitting, so we've established I'm in Hell.
"How did I get here?"
My head throbs. The howling, the shuffling, the ticking. The welcome warmth of a painkiller begins to spread like a ripple from my torso as I remember.
Out on the Saturday, I walked home on my own, then tripped on a curb. It's a poor Haiku indeed.
Pitch dark in the little seaside town where I live, I took the coast road home at a jog and misplaced a foot or three somewhere along the way. That was the folly. The stupidity was soldiering on home, cursing like a wounded soldier, then going to bed. Folly gets you hurt. Stupidity's the one that can get you killed. I realise I'm lucky I woke up at all.
I look at my hands, then I touch the swollen bandage on one side of my head.
The howling baby has stopped, powering up its bellows for more no doubt, poor beast. The old man has shuffled out of view.
It's just me, the clock and, I now notice, the snoring trolleys either side of me in the corridor.
My wife is away for the weekend with friends - and, I might add, she has done so before and left me in charge without our insurers needing to be called - so I had simply got up in the morning, examined the damage, agreed with my reflection that I could do with the services of a qualified medical technician then called a friend for a lift.
Not just any friend either, but the kind that sits with you in casualty for the next ten hours, arranges for your teens to be fed, then leaves a message for your returning wife to maybe, eh, give him a call.
"How are the kids?" I had fretted. "Your kids," he chuckled, "are tucking in to an endless bowl of the best chicken wings in the town, on my tab".
"Better check your overdraft," I'd joked, a hitch in my voice, vision suddenly a little blurred, not for the last time, by a combination of self pity and the kindness of others.
Ten hours, 12 stitches and an MRI scan later ...
How many times people have told me: "You need your head examined" but I've never quite known what a simultaneously fascinating and petrifying experience this is, to lay down in a drawer, place your brains in a bowl and be slid inside the ring of a giant, electronic doughnut.
"Try not to move, please".
Much later, my Sri Lankan saviour called me behind a curtain. "Sit down, sir," she'd said.
I've never been told by a doctor that I had better sit. It's just like on TV - and nothing like it at all. There is no George Clooney in the real ER. No pace above a stroll. It's all about calm. Tick-tock. Shuffle. "Sit down please".
"You have a serious fracture," she'd said. "It is slightly depressed." Just like myself. "There is a mandatory 48-hour observation period." Welcome to your new reality. Here's your trolley.
When you wake up in the corridor of a hospital, head bandaged, confused, you sort through the images and memories, the inane and insane, gradually making some sort of sense of events.
You lie on your side on an unmade trolley. An injured infant in a room, unseen, revs up painfully to full throttle once again. An old man makes his way past, slower than the wall clock that marks his shuffle.
"What have you done? You idiot," says a familiar voice, not unkindly.
I finally look up forlornly into the eyes of my wife.
To be continued