‘Ouch!’ said the ex-builder boyfriend. ‘I think something’s bitten me.’ And a few seconds after that, something bit me too. We had been walking in the woods with the spaniel, when a winged creature of some sort, or possibly an agile snake, decided to take a chunk out of us both.
Within a few hours, the builder was complaining of feeling sick. And my leg started swelling. I’m allergic to mosquito bites, or at least I suspect I am because whenever I get one, it grows to a carbuncle.
This time, the bite left an angry raised red patch on the back of my thigh that just grew, and grew, and grew…I decided to plaster it in steroid cream and dose myself up with antihistamine. I went to bed that night confident that a dollop of Dermovate, a handful of Cetirizine and a couple of Atarax thrown in for good measure would sort it out. Legal notice: Please don’t try this at home.
The next morning, when I struggled out of my drug-induced daze, the bite had spread all the way up and down the thigh in an angry red sea. All the same, I thought, I’m pretty sure I’ve had one this bad before. There was that time in Italy when I had to hold an onion on my leg for a week before the swelling went down, for example. So I carried on and drove to Oxford for a meeting.
Feeling a bit hot and itchy, I then drove to the Midlands to see my parents. When I finally got to Warwickshire and took my jeans down, as it were, I realised I did not have a leg, so much as a leg-sized mosquito bite.
With a heavy heart, I drove to the A&E near my parents’ home. Whereupon a right old palaver ensued about why I was having the temerity to demand treatment in a hospital other than my own local one in London.
I wouldn’t have minded this so much, but I was checking in alongside a French lady whose son had twisted his ankle. No one could make out a word she was saying — apart from me, but they didn’t ask for my help, so I kept quiet — but she was duly checked in anyway, after the staff gave up trying to spell the word ‘au’.
The nurse dealing with me, meanwhile, was extracting every kind of detail imaginable including my telephone number, next of kin, their telephone number…Finally, after I had told them everything I knew about myself including the structure of my DNA, they told me I could sit down.
A few minutes later, a couple with a toddler walked in. ‘Baby has banged head,’ the father announced loudly, in an eastern European accent. The child tottered off laughing to play with the magazines. They were processed in five seconds flat, ushered to a separate area and told that the doctor would see them soon.
Next, a large tattooed woman and her mother, also tattooed, came in with a baby. They were only seated for minutes before they were called in to see the doctor. Then the French boy was called in.
I realised what was happening: all the babies and children were shooting to the front of the queue. Every time a child came in, it automatically went ahead of me and my irrelevantly geriatric swollen leg.
Before long, I knew I was never going to get seen because the stream of babies just wasn’t going to stop. Infants were banging their heads like nobody’s business in this part of the world. It must have been something in the water.
An elderly couple had been the only people in the waiting room before I arrived. Half an hour after I joined them, a reception desk nurse handed them two brown paper bags. ‘There you are, dear,’ she said to the old man. ‘Oo, thank you,’ he said, looking grateful.
And without further ado, he and his wife set about eating the contents. It appeared that they had been there so long they had been given a packed lunch. They made their way through several sets of sandwiches and bags of crisps as we sat waiting.
After an hour, the queuing situation had become thoroughly absurd. I had gone from being second in the queue after the old couple, to being last after four babies, of various jurisdictions, and a French boy with a twisted ankle.
The system seemed to militate not only against anyone over ten years old, but also against anyone who looked as though they might have paid National Insurance Contributions, particularly for long periods of time.
And so the elderly couple munched their sandwiches. And I opened up Country Walking magazine. And the leg throbbed.