I was in the netherworld of my dreams and the grim construct of Hansel was before me. I could not escape any of this, even when I had a head-start. Why, why, why did I have to be here? It felt as if I had been strapped to a wheel, one of my bike wheels that was still fruitlessly spinning, whilst being exposed to different versions of Hell. I was stuck in limbo, doomed to spin forever in one place with the same storylines coming back to torment me.

“What do you want with me?”

“We only want to help you,” the young man replied.

There was confusion on his face. He was puzzled by the fact that I didn’t get it – that it was all for my own good. Every single thing that had happened to me since that bloody pothole had appeared in my path and swallowed the rest of my life whole, had been done for my benefit. Yet now it wasn’t a pothole after all but this ridiculous manifestation of a character from a fairy-tale. A fairy-tale with Nazis.

“How in the world are you helping me?”

“Getting you away from them for a start.”  

The ‘them’ were rapidly approaching the road through the woods that were opposite. There were more of them than I remembered and some of them looked like the members of staff who had treated me. They were all wearing masks and face protectors so it was difficult to be certain, but certainty wasn’t a prerequisite for dangers to bud from the vacuum of an empty hospital and surrounding woods. I didn’t need hard evidence to support my paranoia, I just needed to hear the first volley of machine guns. 

Nobody had to tell me to run. A deluge of self-preservation swept over me and I ran towards the seeming safety of the trees. For some reason I thought that the road, which now lay between us and them, would hinder their progress, it was part of the dream after all. The thing was that it didn’t. It didn’t even go so far as to halt the inevitable spray of bullets and the one in particular that grazed my lower right leg. Those who have remained attentive to this moment in the narrative will appreciate that the pain was as beyond description of all the other pains I had so far endured.

“We need to get you to the hospital.”

When I tried to get out of bed, I fell. My leg was having none of it. On any scale, the volcanic eruptions went beyond anything that had occurred before. I was being eating from both the outside and the inside simultaneously; an agony brewed under just the perfect conditions. 

The days preceding this had, in retrospect, been issuing their warnings. First there was the dull ache and then the dull throb, both increasing their intensities before manifesting into something new. The new pain was exquisite in its creation and was an eternal reminder that things did not always get better. Perhaps I had become complacent, perhaps I had been eased into an ending in which my recovery was speedy and complete. I was the hero of my tale and, as such, I deserved a homecoming celebration and the elixir that would guarantee a long and happy life. Instead the door that was opening allowed me to glimpse another ending, one that was potentially not so jolly.   

I took a little persuading. No matter how my leg felt, or looked, I thought there could be nothing worse than having to go into hospital again. My wife was having none of it. No matter how much I protested, she held firm. It was still just after eight in the morning when I was strong-armed into calling the doctor. When I told her of my symptoms, explaining in detail the way the skin reddened, was stretched taught and the major veins were exaggerating themselves to the point that they were standing up and out of the strain of my skin, she told me to immediately get myself to the emergency department which she would call in advance to inform them of my coming. My reluctance was tempered by this new urgency. My wife urgently got my things together in preparation for an overnight stay. I can’t remember travelling there, I just remembered climbing from the car and being helped into the reception area. Already, it was filling up. All types of ailments jostled for the attention of the staff who were moving about behind their Covid-proof cladding. This time, there were no Nazis.

I did what all the others were doing, I waited. 

Huge prairies of time pass by during periods of waiting. It’s a form of paralysis in which the one who waits becomes incapable of acting, of doing anything that would affect the world around them. Other people are in charge of what is instore, making individual decisions inconsequential. Patients are just faceless names to be dealt with, eventually. My wife had taken me as far as the entrance doors which acted as some magical drawbridge, separating all that was understood to be accepted reality on either side of their imposing divide.  This was still Covid-time and the rules were, for the majority, strict and a little uncaring – there were online funerals and no wedding receptions. I was about to be separated from my wife and daughters once again and it felt wrong. The agony in my leg helped to convince me otherwise.

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