Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

What I’d give for a glass of water

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It took five firemen or pompiers to lift me out of bed, carry me down three narrow flights of stairs and down a rocky path, then to shove me into the back of their van. When I cried out in pain the sweating firemen joked that I was a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Henceforward they humorously addressed me as sheikh. It had to be pompiers because my legs don’t work. The educated guess is that a tumour is pressing against my spine, gradually paralysing me from the toes up. The old legs feel amputated: just colourless slabs of cold meat.

‘Can I perhaps have a glass of water?’ She slammed down an inch in a glass like an 1860s Kansas City bartender

In the back of the van, I made small talk with the young fireman whose job was to prevent my sliding off the stretcher on the hairpin bends. Did he relish the excitement of fighting those terrifyingly huge curtains of forest fire? Why yes, of course! As a matter of fact, he said, the pleasure of pointing a massive fire hose was the reason he had joined the service in the first place. I am no longer able to pass urine, I told him, let alone put out a forest fire.

Worried by my distended stomach, Catriona had rung Madame Biscarat, the village GP, who came and prodded it with her cherry-red fingertips, declaring that it was imperative a catheter was inserted into my bladder immediately. Unfortunately the community home nurse was unavailable so she called the fire brigade.

We arrived at the hospital in the late afternoon. The surprise of having a catheter inserted up my pipe and into my bladder was ameliorated by the two young female nurses’ helpless laughter. We all laughed in fact. The warm urine drained nicely away into a bag hooked over the bed’s chassis.

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