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In June 2004, I went to England with my family on our biennial trip to visit my grandparents. All through the 90s and early 2000s, going on one of these trips meant six fun-filled weeks in the British Isles during which we spent time in the seaside town of Cleethorpes, went to London to visit my great aunt, and took off on a trip planned by my grandparents to an interesting corner of the island. Unfortunately, as my brother and I grew older, tennis camps and jobs drastically shortened the amount of time we could spend out of the country each summer.
So, while we still traveled a bit during our ’04 trip, it was drastically curtailed. A week in Scotland or Wales turned into an overnight trip to Winchester, one of the possible locations of King Arthur’s Camelot. Because I had just finished a class on King Arthur at uni, my grandfather was very excited about taking us there so we could see a bit of that history in person — if, indeed, King Arthur is actually part of history rather than just a myth.
All of our trips have featured many meals in local pubs and this trip was no different. Our chosen pub in Winchester had been recommended to us by the owners of our bed & breakfast, but they’d also warned us that the streets were pretty narrow around it. Narrow they were — our rented minivan had absolutely no chance of fitting down them, so we ended up parking a fair distance away and walking.
While we were in the pub, it drizzled a bit (as is usually the case in England), so when we walked back to the car the concrete was a bit slippery. As most people usually do when going somewhere in a car, I opened the door to get in…but unlike most people, I had trouble actually getting into the car without seriously injuring myself. My way of getting into the car involved slipping off the curb and falling backwards into the car after smacking my head (just behind my ear) into the top of the door.
(Just to note: I had nothing alcoholic to drink at the pub. Those that did have something to drink got in the car successfully, although my grandfather did slip slightly. Then again, he has two fake hips, so that might have contributed to it.)
The bump gave me a bit of a headache but it was nothing to really worry about, so I just took some Advil and went to bed. The next morning, I didn’t feel great, but I went out in hopes of having a full day of sightseeing around Winchester.
I was feeling under the weather as we walked to the Great Hall, where King Arthur’s round table is located, and it only got worse during our visit there. At one point, I found myself gagging into the bushes in the Great Hall’s “Queen’s Garden” when a tourist came up and took a picture of me. What?! How does that classify as a good picture in any way?
The day only went downhill from there. I soon found myself being sick into a plastic bag outside of the Round Table and in the toilets at Winchester Cathedral. Even better than those was when I was hunched over in the middle of High Street, my mom stroking my back as I leaned over a gutter. Not fun. By this point, I couldn’t even drink water, much less stomach the hideous-tasting Lucozade my mother bought. She was at the end of her tether with what to do with me, so she got directions to the hospital and took me there.
The A&E (ER) waiting room in itself was an interesting experience. Since Winchester Hospital is right across the street from the jail, we got to wait next to an tattoo-covered inmate being guarded by a warden. My mom looked a bit nervous.
When I finally got in to see a doctor, I was told that I had a concussion (no surprise there) and severe dehydration (even less of a surprise). The doctor strongly recommended that I stay in overnight, both for observation and rehydration.
At that point, he was required to ask us about payment, since he could tell we weren’t exactly members of the NHS…but rather than asking how we would pay, he seemed to be asking how we could get out of it. Did we have any family members that were English? Yes, my mother qualified for that. What about English family members that live in the country? Yes, my grandparents had been diligently paying their taxes for over 80 years. That seemed to be enough of an excuse, because to this day, we have never received a hospital bill. This doesn’t mean we will never get one, however; it could just be lost in the NHS system.
He then organised a nurse to give me an IV and left, giving me plenty of time to think about what a brilliant start to my vacation this was. They eventually decided to move me up to the ward where I was to spend the night, and, supposedly only for the move, they turned off my IV…only it never got turned back on. I told the nurse two or three times that the IV wasn’t on, but she assured me it was and I just couldn’t feel it. Then, around 10 o’ clock, they took my blood pressure and found it was 83/53 and that my temperature was 38.5ºC. I knew this was a fever, although the head injury had left me too woozy to convert it into Fahrenheit (and the nurse didn’t know how to do so for me). It was only then that they realised that I was extremely dehydrated and checked my IV. When the nurse found it was off, she quickly turned it back on and asked me why I hadn’t told her before. I guess that’s what happens when you’re in the hospital for free?
I’d been placed in the geriatric ward, which at least gave me entertainment for the night, seeing as I wasn’t sleeping very well because a nurse came by every hour to take my vitals and shine a light in my eyes. For starters, the lady next to me, Glenda* (name changed to protect the innocent), had a bad habit of standing at the end of my bed, leering at me. When I first arrived, I barely opened my eyes and saw a woman with white hair standing at the end of my bed and thought she was my grandmother!
Later on, the hospital staff needed a urine sample from me (a very high order to ask, since I was so dehydrated), and after a few hours of anti-nausea drugs and tiny cups of water, I gave them one. A little while later, the nurse came by my bed asking me some bizarre questions, starting with why I had given them such a large sample. I told them that I hadn’t, and answered a few other odd questions before the nurse realized that they didn’t quite remove my sample from its holder inside the toilet in time before Glenda snuck in. After that, they gave up, figuring they didn’t really need one anyway.
Glenda got up and wandered around the ward aimlessly most of the night. The lady in the bed across from her would get up whenever Glenda did and boss her around, telling her that she should be resting up and getting better in bed. When it wasn’t Glenda, she found someone else in the ward to boss around. She attempted to talk to me, but when I opened my eyes and gave her a death glare she moved to the next bed, never to return. Interestingly enough, she was the one that would get in trouble for wandering around the ward, not Glenda…perhaps she should have tried practicing what she preached!
The lady to the other side of me from Glenda woke up around 3am, just after the nurse had poked and prodded me once more. Prior to this, she had been…how to say this politely…passing wind, LOUDLY, for the majority of the night. She finally pointed out to the nurse that her stomach was hurting a little bit, to which the nurse replied, “Perhaps it’s the wind?” The lady replied, “What wind?”
I think Glenda even laughed at that one.
After what seemed like an interminable night, I found myself surrounded by a team of seven doctors who were all staring at me and writing down notes. I can’t remember what the head doctor said to them, but it was probably along the lines of “This is a case of someone so uncoordinated that she actually hurts herself on PARKED cars.” Eventually, seeing no lasting consequences of my misadventure, they discharged me, warning me that I should perhaps be more careful next time.
Because this had only been planned as an overnight trip, we were on our way back to London as soon as I left the hospital. This meant that my lasting impression of the city was not of the old, imposing round table or of the majestic cathedral, but rather, it was of Glenda, leering at me from the end of my bed.
Have you ever found yourself in need of immediate medical help in a foreign country? What did you do?