‘There’s no problem; it’s alright — I’m with British Airways,’ a short dark-haired woman is screaming in my ear. I slowly return to consciousness, as though forcing my way through mist. I am lying on a trolley, being pushed at high speed through a concrete tunnel with no windows. Stark neon tubes burn above my head, illuminating central heating ducts and an occasional doorway. Even in my disoriented state, I know everything is definitely not alright!
The last thing I remember was the captain announcing we were two hours outside Sao Paulo. Has the plane crashed? Am I one of a long line of trolleys or is this treatment just for me?
The ambulance dashes through the early morning streets, siren blaring. At the hospital, none of the staff speak English. I spend several hours lying on a trolley, waiting to be assessed. If I try to sit up, pain shoots through my badly-bruised chest, leaving me breathless. My confusion turns to panic. I know who I am, and am fairly sure I’m in Brazil but have no idea why I’m in hospital. Nor can I remember whether I have flown with anyone else. I’m beginning to think I’m alone, in a strange country, unable to communicate.
Eventually, a nurse brings me a telephone. My boss in England tells me I collapsed on the plane, found curled in a ball in the thankfully-unlocked toilet. I am not alone. Later I am visited by Ian, my travelling companion. He talks of a stewardess shouting that there’s a body in the toilet; of breakfast disrupted while the crew laid me on the floor and tried to revive me.
‘Is there a doctor on board?’ The classic call had resulted in seventy-six positive responses; a party of heart surgeons, returning from a conference in Europe. Ian describes them surrounding me, waving filled syringes and arguing about the best treatment. Deciding I’d had a heart attack, they’d given me CPR; hence the bruising. I am thankful the conference hadn’t been for gynaecologists.
The next day, I receive a visit from the flight crew. The stewardess who’d found me says she thought I was dead. ‘You were a really strange colour and didn’t seem to be breathing,’ she related. They bring me a First Class goodie bag as a present — much better than grapes. It’s the first time I’ve ever had one — although I might have hoped for different circumstances — and I still have it in a drawer somewhere.
The anxiety only really fades completely when my husband walks into the room two days later. He takes a long look at the woman he’d seen off at Heathrow with a wave and a smile earlier in the week. Now, I’ve got a broken nose and bruises from chin to boobs; I am catheterised and hooked up to a heart monitor. My hair is in need of a wash and I haven’t had a proper shower since I left England. I can see him searching for the right words. Finally, he opens his mouth and utters the phrase that for me will evermore be associated with hospital rooms: ‘I guess sex is out of the question then?’
[First published in Parcels in the Rain and Other Writing, 2013]
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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