in which I visit Accident and Emergency

There are four posters on the pillar between the two receptionists: the topmost above the standing eyeline,  just the largest print legible. The brightest, bounded in red, demands “HAVE YOU SWITCHED OFF YOUR MOBILE ‘PHONE?”

I haven’t. I’m not clear why I need to. To my left, an adult is using his mobile to tell someone that everything’s OK and they will soon be home.

The topmost poster tells me the government demands that they must ask for my residency status. I happen to be English, as far back as amateur genealogy can get, pretty much. I wonder how I might prove it. I wonder what might prompt the request: a beard? A funny colour?

There are two posters next to each other. The one on the left asks me to show my EHIC. The one on the right tells me that I might not be entitled to free care.

A ‘phone begins to ring somewhere behind reception. It carries on ringing.

The receptionist to the right of the pillar is dealing with what I assume to be parent and daughter, or might be coach and daughter. She wears a hockey skirt and a Pudsey homemade bandage at an odd angle around her head.

The receptionist to my left calls me forward. She has no record of the person I am looking for. Could I go and check at the other A&E entrance? No, that’s where I just came from. They had no record and had directed me to this reception. I had set off ten minutes after the ambulance and had definitely not overtaken it.

There is a fading photograph on the wall behind her, an artist’s impression of a new and futuristic hospital with twin towers. To our left, a gaping hole in the corridor wall is filled with blue sheeting hanging from scaffolding. She starts to search again, and all is resolved as an ambulance crew comes round the corner with the paperwork. I am able to correct the address as he reads it out. He takes me round the corner.

The patient is on a trolley bed, looking better than I expected. He is about to go round to x-ray. There are a handful of people sitting on plastic chairs in the neighbouring corridor. It is not busy.

But then the ambulance was on its way back to Luton after going to Cambridge, where A&E was packed. I follow the trolley around the corner, guiltily wondering at the residency status of the person pushing the trolley. He swings it into a narrow gap between a pillar and the door: I immediately understand the dents and notches in the door.

There is a short wait for x-ray, then back whence we came. My wait is passed as the patient on the next trolley, which swings into the now-vacant gap, seeks conversation.

There is no-one there. We wait a few minutes, then I step outside to tell a nurse that we are back from x-ray. In moments, she leaves her PC and comes in to start bandaging. That completed we mention the cannula, which she removes. What about the crutches, we ask, as we set off for the door, awkwardly using a wheelchair. No need for those.

We pass the nurses’ station. A perhaps more senior nurse (everyone wears different coloured uniforms: there is no means of telling what they mean) says something, and crutches are provided. Then a leaflet on how to use them.

We make only one false turn, but are corrected by two passing visitors. We leave the wheelchair beside a vending machine, exit via an automatic door, and make for the car. As we drive, an ambulance, blue lights on, heads the way we have just come.

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