Hilary Fannin: Resurrection Sunday in a hospital waiting room

Two beach-ready girls sat on the floor of the blue corridor; restless young men with chalk-white faces loomed around the plastic seats, eyes alert to danger and opportunity

Photograph: Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock


We parked next to a telephone box, the front wheels just shy of a double yellow line. In the rearview mirror I watched three policemen in high-visibility vests walk towards the car. They walked on past, uninterested in my manoeuvres, chatting amiably, truncheons swinging, or maybe they were torches.

Six o’clock in the morning and it was light, the adjusted summer-time clock favouring us with a fragile morning sun. We got out of the car, crumpled, panda-eyed, the remnants of sleep peeling away from our bodies like wood shavings.

Inside the empty phone box a length of looped rubber and a cheap plastic belt could be seen. Someone must have used the booth to shoot up in. In the shallow morning sun, the perspex walls were dotted with a substance that looked like dry, pinkish rain.

Easter Sunday morning: as we crossed the road, a gaunt young man with a ragged beard, his arms raised, crucifix-like, ran towards us down the now empty street.

“I am the light,” he intoned. “I am the light.”

We looked away, fearful of being dragged into his procession, and walked on towards the hospital.

I quite like accident and emergency departments. Easy for me to say, given that I don’t work in one, that I am neither obliged to deal politely with its more enraged inhabitants nor to clean its toilets; easy for me to say, as casualty is a place I rarely frequent, although in recent months, owing to my mother’s fluctuating health, they are becoming more familiar and their charm, their corporeal intrigue, is starting to wear a little thin.

I did my usual thing while we waited; lost myself in a discarded magazine. “Summer makeover time!” I read, while restless young men with chalk-white faces and broken trainers loomed around the plastic seats, eyes alert to danger and opportunity, pink-rimmed, strung out with sleeplessness.

“Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day,” I read on the breathless summer pages, which lavished the reader with DIY advice on “beach-readiness”. “Feast on an egg-white omelette. Buff yourself all over with a white-sugar body scrub. Wrap your dull, dry, wintry hair in mayonnaise and cling film.”

Maybe she was weeping

The woman waiting opposite leaned her head against the blue plastic wall, her mouth paralysed in a long oval yawn. Slow tears fell in sedate procession down her powdery face. Maybe she was weeping, maybe she couldn’t blink.

We were called then, through the swing doors, into the interior. Reluctantly, I left the magazine behind. I wasn’t going to remember the recipe for purifying dandelion tea, nor the precise proportions for a kale and Swiss chard salad that was “going to make heads turn”.

“If you absolutely must snack, allow yourself a spoonful of low-fat hummus on a rice cake,” I whispered to myself. It’s not every day you get that kind of enlightenment.

Two beach-ready girls, children really, about 15, or 16 at a push, with long, long straightened tresses and painted-on faces, sat on the floor of the blue corridor, between the waiting area and the resuscitation room; girls who looked like delicate pieces of broken china. One was gripping a length of disposable paper, holding it under her delicate face as she retched. Next to her, on the sea-green linoleum, her abandoned platform-soled sandals lay on their sides like torpedoed craft.

Her friend, slumped on the only available plastic chair, looked beautiful, knock-kneed, fawn-like, lost. She held a broken rose up to the surgical-gloved attendant, held it like an offering, maybe in the hope that he could suture the stem.

“It broke when I tried to pick her up off the pavement,” she tried to reason, nodding towards her beached companion.

We walked towards the family room past a thin, frightened man with a bloodied tourniquet around his head.

“Next of kin?” someone with a clipboard asked. He had yet to get an answer as the door closed behind us.

“You can make yourselves tea,” the nurse had said before she left. “We’ll be with you in 20 minutes.”

“I’d love a rice cake,” I told my sister.

“You can whistle for it,” she replied.

Later, much later, we were brought into the resuscitation room. My mother was sitting up, her cerise-pink turban at a jaunty, disorienting angle, a halo of electronics behind her.

“There you are,” she said. “What day is it? I’ve been trying to remember what day it is.”

“It’s Sunday,” I replied. “Resurrection Sunday.”