I open my eyes and watch the fox circling on his clip above my head. Light streams through my window and fills my room with the promise of another day. Another day of being rolled over. Another day of beeping.
It’s been two weeks since Kevin and I got hit, and the time seems to have simultaneously flown by and lasted forever. It feels as if someone has hit the pause button on my life. No one expects anything of me. I don’t have to worry about work, make plans, or respond to texts. All I have to focus on is this one small room, and getting through each day. A life in hiatus. It is strangely peaceful.
I always imagined that, in the final moments, death itself would be a peaceful thing. Like when you finish the last exam at school, and you can finally empty your head. Burn your notes. Sell your textbooks on eBay. I imagine death to be the ultimate expression of this feeling. Minutes after the accident I had a brief glimpse into this – as they pushed me into the flashing metal tunnel – a sense of relief that the stresses of living were no longer mine to bear. Not that I don’t love my life. I do. But the feeling that everything is over, and that there is nothing you can do to change this, is a unique kind of relief. The serenity of surrendering to death is pure passivity, pure equanimity.
Anyway, I’m not dead. In fact, today marks the day I have been alive for exactly 32 years.
“Happy Birthday Miss Lucy”. My nurse walks into my room and places a tray of yoghurt, CranApple juice and Jello on my bedside table.
Mat has gone home to pick up mum and have a shower, leaving me with a rare opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. I decide to throw myself a little pity party, indulging in how unfair this all is, that this is the way I have to spend my birthday. After a few minutes of spluttering through the straw of my Cran-Apple, I wipe the tears from my blotchy cheeks and reflect on the rollercoaster of the last few days.
Despite it being ‘out of network’, the ambulance had brought me directly to Highland Hospital from the scene of the accident because it is the best trauma hospital in the area. My health insurance company, Kaiser, approved my stay here – the bill for which currently stands at $724,000. Yup. That’s $724,000 – but only until it is safe enough to move me to one of their facilities. Despite the Highland doctors fighting for me to stay for as long as possible, we were told two days ago that our time was finally up and we would be moving to a Kaiser hospital imminently.
But which hospital to transfer us to? Well, the closest Kaiser facility to us is in Oakland, an eight-minute Uber ride from our house, but they are reluctant to accept me given the extent of my injuries. Instead, they would prefer to send me to Kaiser Vacaville, another trauma hospital that is a one-hour drive from our place. On top of everything else, this would require mum to rent a car and drive for two hours a day on her own, in a strange place, on the wrong side of the road. Needless to say, we were rooting for Oakland.
We finally get the call the following morning – “it’s all confirmed”, the nurse says triumphantly, in full knowledge of our plight, “you’re going to Kaiser Oakland”.
“That’s great news,” mum says, coming over to give me a celebratory, but oh so gentle squeeze.
I don’t know how to feel about the prospect of moving. Having decisions about my care being so heavily influenced by economics is an unwelcome concept, and Highland is the only place I’ve known in this strange new chapter of my life. I am afraid to be leaving its caring womb for an unknown entity. Yes, the security here is insane, and the hospital is known locally as the ‘gun and knife club’ because of the high volume of gang-related injuries, but this place has only ever made me feel safe. It has been our sanctuary, our home.
Later that afternoon the phone rings again.
“I’m sorry, but there is a change of plan. The surgeons at Oakland don’t feel comfortable taking on your case, so you’ll be going to Vacaville after all”.
Mum puts the phone down, deflated. A nurse lifts my leg too high and I scream in agony. Mum cries.
I drift in and out of sleep.
Cue the circling fox.
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to Luuucccyyy
Happy Birthday to you
Mum and Mat burst into my room in full voice, ceremoniously placing a bag full of presents on my bedside table. Mum smiles with her whole face and pins a red ‘Birthday Girl’ rosette onto my gown. I decide that spending my birthday in ICU is actually kind of cool.
Mat comes around to my other side and presents me with a second bag of gifts. I open the first, wrapped in blue tissue paper, and unveil a roll of small blue plastic bags.
“Are these poo bags?!” I ask him, presuming this to be some kind of colostomy joke.
“As soon as you get out of here,” he says, his eyes disappearing into creases, “We’re going to get you a puppy!”
He leans in to give me a hug and I raise my right arm to meet him. We embrace for a long time, a tangled mass of wires and joy. A puppy. Maybe all of this was worth it after all.
For the next few hours, we watch a video my best friends have made me and posted to YouTube, and Mat reads me the stream of messages that light up my phone.
‘Happy Birthday Lucy… well… errr… I know it’s not really a happy one but… you know… enjoy the day, as best you can’.
Bless them. People worry far too much about saying the right thing.
We spend the rest of the day in limbo, not really knowing whether or not I will be moving to Vacaville today, and at what time. While we wait for news, Mat opens my laptop and places it on my bedside table so we can mark the occasion by attempting to watch the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.
I try and focus my eyes on the screen but still can’t make out one blur from another. It seems to help if I close my left eye, so Mat puts a flannel over it and balances a Babybel on top to keep it shut.
“Voila!” he says, seemingly pleased with this ridiculous set-up.
I still can’t see much, fall asleep throughout, and don’t really have any idea what happened, but I am happy. I am watching Game of Thrones. I am doing something normal.
I wake up to the closing music … dum dum, da da dum dum, da da dum …
My door opens.
“Are you ready for your transfer Miss Lucy?”