house of happy

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Monday, 15 October 2018

A Blunt Bike to Brexit

Portugal, October 2018, a sunny Tuesday.

Gavin and Helen go on a bike ride. They cycle along country roads, past vineyards and tired summer gardens. This, everyone who knows them will agree, is far too tame a pursuit for a male member of my family. So Gavin tries riding hands-free. 

Helen is overwhelmed by such intense exhilaration that she simply must follow suit. Her hands lift right off the handlebars, high like wings, like Kate Winslet flying at the prow of the doomed Titanic.

Doomed being the key word yet again.

The front wheel goes into a violent wobble - veers left, then right, then locks entirely and the bike comes to a standstill. Helen keeps going. She takes a short flight, bending half of the handlebar to a right angle. The smooth, blunt brake lever achieves the impossible and breaks through her skin, sinking into her lower abdomen.

'I'm fine,' Helen cries from the green verge, where she's landed, 'I. Am. Fine.' Her dress is torn and bloody. She's turning pale from shock. Gavin's already speeding off, to get a car, to get Helen to a doctor.

*

It's 10 am, the sun already burning. I'm driving back from a plumbing supplier, having inspected the small sinks in stock, when I get Gavin's text: "Helen had a biking accident. It was pretty horrible. Taking her to the local clinic." I make a U-turn and head for the Centro de Saude.

In A&E. They ask for Helen's European Health Card and take down some details. She's already inside, getting her wound cleaned and inspected by a nurse, a doctor, a scan.

I'm ushered in, to translate. They can't help Helen here (the doctor is sympathetic; she shows me, between her thumb and index finger, the depth of Helen's abdominal puncture; a gesture I'm still trying to forget). Helen needs to go to the hospital in Viana do Castelo, about 40 miles away. An ambulance will take her there.

The ambulance is driven by a smiling EMT in red uniform. Her name is Beatriz. She looks around 14. In broken English, she urges Helen to let her know if there's any pain or nausea. A thumbs up, and off they go. We follow in the car.

In Viana, Helen is wheeled into A&E, and we wait. And we wait. If the hospital were a dolls' house, and a freckled kid was watching us from above, this is what she'd see:

Helen, being assessed, and having another scan. Gavin and I, trying to work out the coffee machine (it adds sugar to all coffee and tea, automatically).

Helen, anaesthetised before they close her wound - including some state-of-the-art internal stitching. Gavin perched on a concrete bollard outside, having a smoke. Me, waiting for the female toilet door to open (it never does. Eventually I use the men's loo).

Helen on a stretcher, kept on for post-op observation. Gavin and I going for a walk around the hospital compound. The sea twinkles in the distance. I play with a giant leaf shed by exotic-looking tree.

Helen having yet a final ultrasound scan. Gavin on the phone with the UK discussing a family matter, looking pale. Emergency coffee is called for - and while fumbling with the machine I discover the sugar button. Brief jubilation. We eat sandwiches and grapes, drink more coffee, watch other patients being wheeled into A&E.

Helen walks out, still in her torn and bloody dress, looking triumphant. 'I was so stupid,' she declares. We all laugh and reassure her. 'I was so happy,' she adds. 'Such a brilliant ride.' We eat more sandwiches and cakes, driving home, leaving the sea and sunset and hospital behind.

There are two more visits to the local clinic. An older nurse, immensely kind and full of smiles, changes Helen's dressing. Her name is Elisabete. She gives Helen a hug and kiss, and makes sympathetic noises when she sees Helen's bruise (red and purple and basketball-sized). Elisabete's English consists of the following words: "Hello Helen. How are you? Yes: shower. No: swimming. I wish you all the well. Bye bye."

After the second - and final - visit (Helen is flying home tomorrow), Elisabete directs us to the front desk, to pay for all the treatment. I blanch a little at the prospect, then try to reassure myself, can't be too bad, can it? She's got a Health Card. Gulp. We proceed to the counter.

The cashier adds up a list of procedures as long as my forearm then declares:

"9.30, se faz favor." Nine euros. Thirty cents.

I give a disbelieving bark of laughter. Helen looks worried until I tell her. Then we proceed to curse Brexit with renewed passion. How much would all this be without a European Health card?

We spend the evening toasting Europe, and Portugal in particular, which gave Helen both the euphoria that led her to take off and impale herself on a blunt bike; and first hand experience of an expert, inexpensive and pleasant health care system.

'To EUphoria,' Helen declaims.

'To a hasty rEUnion,' I agree.




1 Comments:

At 17 October 2018 at 19:51 , Blogger Unknown said...

By God, what an ordeal/adventure!! Releaved the inury were not more severe and that caring company and health service were at hand.
Beautiful writing. The doll's house analogy really works for my imagination. xS

 

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