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See my first NHS hospital encounter here. But at least this time I kept my clothes on. Mostly.

Since moving to the Isle of Arran off the coast of Scotland, I’ve tried a lot of new things. Some of them (rings of Standing Stones!) were awesome. Some (blood pudding. Seriously?) not so much. But I loved each new experience. Still, with the pandemic winding down, I’m realizing how much I’ve missed some of the old experiences I also loved.

Last weekend was a mixture of the two. It started with a ceilidh dance in our village hall, BYOB and plenty of change for the obligatory raffle tickets. The hall was filled with friends and neighbors, and everybody from babies to grannies was laughing and dancing. Neighbors provided the music and called the dance steps, recited poems, or led games for the children. We won a raffle prize (two Arran cheese rounds!), shared our bottle and a table with old friends and a new couple visiting from Switzerland, and went home with far more than the cost of our entry and raffle fees.

Arran Ceilidh Band,  Whiting Bay Village Hall

Next day as we were out running errands, we saw a fabulously retro Peugeot van opening up its side window to reveal a popup French restaurant. The young chef had trained in France, bought a converted butcher’s van in Toulouse, and come to our little Island to run his food truck restaurant, The french fox. Adrienne — our friend who runs Recycle, Arran’s antiques/consignment/little bit of everything you never knew you always needed shop — told me The french fox was already so wildly popular they would have lines and sell out by dinner.

The french fox popup restaurant. “French food served from a classic Peugeot J7 van on the Isle of Arran, Scotland”. We ordered Poulet Au Citron and Steak Poivre in our best horrific school French, and were handed two cardboard boxes packed with meals better than some elegant Paris restaurants. Both were so delicious, we each stole at least half of the other’s box. 

We were heading home when I spotted the new shop I’d heard about. From the outside, you’re picturing baskets of fruit and produce, right?

But inside, it conjures memories of a vintage Automat (remember Audrey Meadows slapping Gig Young at the Automat?), only this isn’t Doris Day’s coin-operated food vending machine. It’s a new venture by Woodside Farms to sell their eggs and seasonal produce, with video touchscreen ordering.

We knew another concert was scheduled for the next night and planned to attend. But I accidentally did the laundry and went blind instead. One minute I was bending over the washing machine in the exact same way I’ve done thousands of times before. But the next minute the vision in one eye had been replaced by flashing lights better than anything I’d ever achieved in younger (MUCH younger) pharmaceutical adventures. I’m not kidding: it looked like this—

What Barb Didn’t Really See. Probably…
[Image credit: SciTech Daily]

I went in search of the Hub to ask what he’d done to the house lights. To my horror and embarrassment, he called an ambulance. Luckily, it was already dark so I figured none of the neighbors would see. I forgot. This is a small town. In Scotland. The neighbors all totally saw.

The ambulance paramedics asked me to tell them about doing my laundry, and then took my blood pressure. It was surprisingly high. They said I’d have to go to the hospital, and took my BP again. It was even higher. At our island’s tiny cottage hospital, the young nurse and doctor were absolutely lovely. (I’ve reached the age where anyone more than fifteen years younger than me is young, probably almost a child.) They each asked me (several times) to describe doing my laundry. I told them my vision was back to normal, upon which they dropped burning acid (I think) into each eye to dilate them so successfully I was still seeing fuzzy letters on my phone a day later.

The Hub wasn’t allowed in the ambulance or the hospital. But he was allowed to pack a bag for me because the lovely young nurse and doctor decided I would have to go to the mainland for various unpleasant-sounding medical things. Every few minutes, the nurse would ask me to tell her about doing my laundry, where I was now, today’s date, and to push back when she pressed on various body parts. All this time she would be taking my blood pressure. Each time we had our little conversation (which eventually I would just recite as soon as she came at me with her cuff-o-torture), my errant BP would climb. Since we were on an island and it was well past the last ferry, there was only one choice, the doctor told me the next time he dropped by to discuss my laundry. I’d have to go to the mainland.

Now, on our little island, when we hear a helicopter, we think of one thing. Someone is so extremely ill—we’re talking life-threatening emergency levels one step from putting coins on their eyelids and going through their pockets for loose change—they would have to be loaded on the air-ambulance and flown to the mainland hospital. I tried to explain to anyone who would listen than it had all been a big mistake and I was actually perfectly fine and only needed a good night’s sleep in my own bed. I promised never to do laundry again. By now my blood pressure, which had always been an underachiever, was going for record status.

Helicopters! It was raining and foggy outside or maybe my still fully-dilated eyes just thought so, and my photography skills deserted me. But I loved everything about the helicopter. First the paramedic asked me about doing my laundry. Then he showed me how to open the helicopter doors in an emergency, and how to release and push out the windows in an even bigger emergency. I told him I’d make him a deal: he wouldn’t ask about my laundry, and I wouldn’t push out any windows (although actually, I kind of wanted to). He gave me a giant set of ear muffs, and we were off. I had a million questions, but the noise made it impossible so I just concentrated on enjoying the way too short ride. As I was leaving, one of the paramedics said most of his passengers weren’t nearly so happy to be there.

After the helicopter, the hospital was a definite anticlimax. One of the nurses explained they were so filled to overflow with the combination of Covid cases and Easter-related disasters that they had no more beds available. (I wondered about that. Did the Easter Bunny get hit by a car? Distribute colored eggs he’d had leftover from the past two years’ cancelled celebrations? Host a superspreader egg hunt?) Someone put a straight-backed kitchen chair in the hallway next to the nursing station, and I sat down. For eight hours.

The nurses were kind and wonderful. People wandered past and stopped to ask me about doing my laundry. Occasionally, someone would arrive with a wheelchair and take me to various tests, scans, and blood removal. Soon I had a collection of EKG sensor pads covering random body parts and blooming bruises in all the places where my blood refused to come out as expected. Each time I’d explain to the orderly about how I could walk perfectly well but that was always a losing battle. Apparently if you can walk you don’t need the scans, tests, etc. And if you need them, you can’t walk. It was hard to argue with that logic. On the other hand, not one of the chair-pushers wanted to discuss my laundry, for which I was grateful.

Eventually, one of the nurses came up to me, lowered her voice conspiratorially, and mentioned that she’d spotted an abandoned gurney next to a (locked) glass door that looked out on a little patio. It was at the end of a hallway, right next to the toilets. She ‘liberated’ a serving trolley and voilà! A room with a view and an en suite. When she brought me a cup of coffee and a leftover breakfast tray, I was pretty sure she had wings and a halo.

Room with a view, a bathroom, breakfast, and my burgeoning collection of EKG sensors peeled off me.


I thought all the nurses and doctors who remained generous, kind, and good-humored in the face of obvious overcrowding and overwork qualified for immediate sainthood at least.

But the one person who did not ask me about my laundry was the consultant who (supposedly) ordered the various tests, scans, and blood letting. We never met. Eventually, I threw a small (by American standards) hissy fit and was told to go home. There was no release paperwork, they explained. Eventually, it would be emailed to me.

“Will it say what actually happened to me?”

They looked doubtful, but were trained medical professionals, and clearly knew what to say. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

⇒(Note: I’m still waiting for the results of my MRI from a year ago to be emailed. Not holding my breath.)

Because the Hub had been banished from my (super fun!) helicopter ride, I had to make my own way back to the ferry terminal. It was an hour away on a good day. Not, however, on Easter Sunday, when the bus stopped for every lamppost, and took hours. I was Ulysses, making my way home from a war, and against all odds. Luckily, nobody turned those around me into pigs, and even better, nobody wanted to hear about my laundry.

I arrived to find the ferry terminal in chaos. The ferry, some reported, had crashed into the harbour. No, others claimed, the engine had failed, causing it to crash. Still others heard that large pieces of equipment had fallen, and maybe some crew members were crushed. No, the nice lady at the desk claimed. It was a mechanical failure, but there was a little backup ferry that I could take. She had no interest in hearing about my laundry, and I liked her immediately.

The Hub met me at the ferry. “From now on,” I told him, “you’re doing the laundry.”

We stopped to refill our milk bottles at the mechanical cow in the carpark down from the ferry terminal—local Arran milk that looks beautiful and tastes like home. Ulysses would have been so jealous.