I wake up and can’t breathe. I heard steam helps so I run the shower very hot and hyperventilate in it. I freak out so loudly, it wakes my partner up. I haven’t locked the door. He comes in rubbing his eyes and I’m shaking in the thinly useless streams of water.
He says I should call 111. They recommend an ambulance. I move slowly through rooms in my house picking up and pulling on loose jeans, a shirt, feathery bed socks, and we go downstairs and wait on the pavement, shivering. I wonder if they’ll let me in the ambulance. I wonder if being able to stand up disqualifies me somehow.
All week I’ve been listening to Avant Gardener, Courtney Barnett’s song about being unable to breathe, being taken away in an ambulance. The chorus goes, “I’m having trouble breathing in.”
We climb into the ambulance. The paramedics are in love. I’m not making assumptions – they tell me they’re together. I think it’s serious. I don’t know whether they go around town in an ambulance together all day and then go home and take their shoes off, or whether it’s rare that they’re on the same shift. It delights me.
They test something, using a device that clips onto my ear. One of the paramedics says, “You’ve got lovely little ears! Some people’s ears, these don’t fit, but it fits you.” A transparent mask is fitted over my face. I inhale rippling clouds of special effects smoke, pale and cold and smooth and moving fast, fast into me like a river. I feel dizzy. I lie back.
My partner says he has to get out of the ambulance because he can’t go to hospital with me, he has to work today. There is a muddle of voices:
“And how do you guys know each other?”
“We live together.”
“He’s my boyfriend.”
And he apologetically scoots out. I list him as my emergency contact, in case there is an emergency.
They want to give me a drip, because I’m dehydrated. But my veins are very small. I tell them everybody says so. A bright blue rubber band tightens around my right arm at the forearm, then the elbow. The needle wriggles sharply in the back of my hand but it won’t fix, there isn’t any way in. “They are small, aren’t they! They are small!”
In the hospital I feel very conscious suddenly of the fact that I am lying down on a low stretcher and everybody I meet is standing up. Now, I will be lying down for four hours and standing people will zap into existence next to my sleeping face to ask me quiet questions about how I feel, and take my pulse.
The paramedics leave. Looking up at them like they are a mountain range with the sun shining behind, I say, “Thank you so much, thank you so much, goodbye.” When the kind nurse a couple of years older than me says he needs to put a cannula in my arm, I warn him about my veins. He sighs and smilingly leans his head to one side and says, “As if my day…”
Last time I was in hospital it was for an allergic reaction to peanuts. My friend sat by my bed and read his book. The time before that it was for an allergic reaction to peanuts. My friends sat with me and we played Shag Marry Kill, except we played Shag Marry Cruise Ship. The new rule is compassion: you don’t kill your least favourite, you just have to take a week long cruise with someone. My friends were very kind about the way I shat myself and passed out. The time before that it was for an allergic reaction to peanuts. My friend sat up with me all night and we got chips on the way home. I guess you can tell I’m careless. I guess you can tell I am loved.
Before my X-Ray I am given a hospital gown to put on. I do it wrong and the back isn’t fastened. Everyone I walk past in the corridor to the X-Ray room sees my bony spine and the back of my old pants, the frayed split between elastic and fabric. When I am being X-Rayed I’m asked to press my chest as close as possible to the machine, with my hands on my hips pushing my body forwards. I wonder if this could be a valid way of holding someone – just getting frontally very close, not touching them with my arms at all.
It’s a chest infection. They give me antibiotics. For the next two days I keep the pad on the back of my hand and the pad on my inside elbow, covering where the needles were. When I look at the pads, it makes me feel like being kind to myself, but also spooks me out. I wheeze loudly in the night for a little bit and then I’m back on my bullshit again except I try to smoke less.
Lenni Sanders is a writer and performer based in Manchester, UK, whose poetry has appeared in The Tangerine, Butcher’s Dog, Eyewear’s The Best New British and Irish Poets 2018, and elsewhere, and whose non-fiction has appeared in The Real Story. Lenni also delivers performances and workshops for heritage organisations with Curious Things.