Róisín Ingle on . . . the Portadown news

People keep asking me about Queenie. “How is Queenie?” they keep saying as though she is their long lost friend. “Why have you not written about her for so long?” And, the one she’s especially delighted about, “I really miss Queenie”. The truth is I’ve not been spending much time up North with my in-laws-in-waiting. I’ve been very busy you know. Then a call came to say Queenie was in hospital. By the time we made it up there she was out again. We heard all about it though and here follows the news from Portadown.

The first thing to say is that Queenie only felt like she had the flu. Couldn’t quite get heat into her bones, even with the radiators on full blast. She always has the heating on full blast. Every time I’m up there, I find myself nearly overcome with the heat and begin to fret that the next interesting biological phase of my life is about to occur, but then I realise it’s just Queenie and her desire to simulate Sahara desert conditions in her home at all times.

She felt unwell, weak, shivery, but never thought she’d need to be hospitalised. Christine, her daughter who is a nurse, called around to her house, took one look at her face and bundled her into the car to the hospital. They sat in A&E for hours before she was admitted. Cellulitis, they said it was. “A spreading bacterial infection of the skin and tissues beneath the skin.”

Her face ached and had swollen up, the swelling making the beautifully symmetrical shape of butterfly wings, one on each cheek.

I’m not saying Queenie is vain, but she spent most of her time in hospital with the sheet pulled up over her head afraid that someone she knows would see her. The doctor came over one day and asked would she mind if a few of his medical students took a look at the swelling. Queenie said she didn’t mind at all and took the sheet down from her face. She quite enjoyed being gaped at by these young strangers, the doctor telling his students “you will never see a better example of this again, look closely, see the way the swelling is in the shape of a butterfly”.

While she would have died if anyone she knew saw her in this condition, she revelled in her status as a medical rarity. The students asked could they touch her face and she let them. Their timid hands making feathery strokes around the hard, swollen parts of her. When they’d finally gone she pulled the sheet back up over her head. She was sure she’d seen someone from work visiting another patient and she couldn’t afford for a picture to get back to the women at the office.

Ever resourceful, she found ways to distract herself in hospital. At one point she became heavily embroiled in remote control wars. If there is one thing Queenie likes it is her daily dose of Deal or No Deal. There was only one remote control though, which meant that whoever in the ward had it could exert a significant amount of control over everyone else. She overheard an orderly telling someone about the time the remote control went missing and that's when she had the idea.

She waited until it was quiet, with patients dozing and not many staff about, then hid the remote down the side of the bed, covered by some magazines. Her fellow patients weren't very happy about it, mounting a search for the bit of black plastic, but if it meant Queenie could watch Noel Edmonds in peace then it was worth it.

When the time came, she tried to subtly retrieve the remote from under the magazines but it was a bit of a struggle and it was only when she finally got the thing out that she realised she was being watched by a doctor. "So that's where it is," he said, his voice thick with bemused disapproval, as Queenie feigned surprise at discovering the remote. She watched Deal or No Deal anyway. Nobody could actually prove anything.

The doctors gave her special cream for her face. Paraffin based. I'm not saying she's vain but she sat up slathering the stuff on her cheeks as the swelling subsided and when people asked her what cream she used she mentioned some fancy, expensive brand instead of admitting it was medical ointment. Now she's back at work, although soon to retire, with her normal face, and there's no photographic evidence of the medically-interesting butterfly. I won't leave it so long to get my next fix of her. When I left Portadown my own face ached. From laughing. "How is Queenie?" The same. She is beautifully, wonderfully the same.

roisin@irishtimes.com