At first, the A&E department seems like every other: the same weary people on the same jaded chairs. The same hiccupping lighting and ragged magazines. The tang of antiseptic that triggers the urge to pack away my feelings someplace the medics can’t get to, safe from their condescension and contempt. Yet tonight there’s an extra element that, until I pause to analyse it, makes no sense.
Compassion. It greets me in the soothing voice of the triage nurse who takes my details at reception. I shrug it off as due to youth and an unfinished apprenticeship in cynicism, until it pops up a second time in his grey-haired colleague, who lays a gentle hand on my shoulder as she ushers me through the swing doors to a couch in a curtained cubicle, apologising for the wait. It lurks again in the form of the bleary-eyed doctor, a petite woman sporting a turquoise sari beneath her white coat, who won’t move an inch without explaining what she’s doing. It’s as if they’re too gullible to register they’re dealing with a self-inflicted wound.
The nurse helps the doctor ease her hand into a latex glove. She rests my arm on a pillow and peels back the sodden cloths. Under the glare of the angle-poise lamp it looks like I’ve been attacked by a madwoman.
“We could arrange for you to talk to someone about this.” The stick-on bindi between the doctor’s eyebrows brings to mind that first bauble of blood. “Entirely up to you, Diana, but it might help.”
I smile noncommittally as she shoots anaesthetic into my arm. The doctor is so well intentioned it would be churlish to argue, but NHS bureaucracy would surely save me from that indignity: all those letters shuttling back and forth to help me scramble onto the bottom rung of a lengthy waiting list. Simon would be back from Cairo before my appointment came through.
“It’s a lady called Pammy,” says the doctor. “She’s very sympathetic and discreet.”
“Tammy,” says the nurse, handing her colleague what looks like a pair of slim-line pliers. “Tammy Turnbull, the liaison nurse.”
The doctor eases black thread through my skin with the pliers, double wrapping it around the tip to form a loop. “Comes on duty at eight, doesn’t she?”
The nurse passes her a pair of scissors to finish off the stitch. “Seven thirty. Even less of a wait.”
“You want me to see this liaison nurse here? This morning?”
The nurse strokes my knee. “Try and relax for Doctor if you can, Diana. Won’t be much longer.”
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