An Angel From Belfast

This blog is not about the beauty of art and painting or about the joy of creativity or the lack of it. It is about finding yourself out of your comfort zone, suddenly parachuted in an unfamiliar territory, in this case the A&E department of an hospital and wonder how you are going to adjust to it.

In my case a serious infection brought me there around ten days ago. The doctor was adamant “I need to keep you here overnight but I don’t have a bed”. I wondered what he meant by it until I was shown to an armchair and learnt that I would be spending the night in it.

No way, I thought, no ever. Then I looked around the room, the trolleys were all occupied and the armchairs were also taken and the people in it were way older then myself and frailer. They were not complaining and if they could spend a night in them so could I. I lowered myself in the only vacant one and got ready to do my best to try to sleep.

As it happened I was sitting right beside the nurses’ station so that all through the night I could hear every single phone call, every arrangements with the wards for the allocation of beds that went along this line: “I have a 90 year old lady here (or 85, 82, etc.) have you got a bed there?”.

I sat there as my lower back was getting stiffer and sore. I kept shifting and leaning my head against the wooden desk but sleep would not come. An A&E department is a constantly moving, active place, remarkably similar to an ant colony. Ambulance men come and go wheeling more and more people in. The Gardai brought in somebody who was screaming abuses that went on for hours. The staff themselves were constantly doing their rounds measuring, checking, dispensing, injecting and generally doing their absolute best to cope with the situation. I would have given anything for one hour sleep!

My salvation came in the form of an angel from Belfast, a thirty-something male nurse or doctor (couldn’t tell the difference at that stage) who at 5 am gently tapped on my shoulder to tell me he had to insert a needle in my hand for the drip. As he was working he asked where I was from and when he heard that I was from Italy and specifically from the Lake Como region his face lit up.

He told me that he had been there recently with his elderly parents for a holiday. That he drove them all around the lake and with that, he started listing off, in his distinctive, lovely Northern Ireland accent, all the place names like the beads of a rosary. He told me how much he loved it, how well he ate, how nice the people were and in talking he had become very animated like if the Italian experience had left its mark in this person’s gestures and facial expressions.

Having made this vital connection the nurse/doctor went off to return almost immediately with a pillow for my head. A pillow! What a luxury!

But the best was yet to come. In less than an hour he was back and whispering, he asked me to follow him. I was being smuggled somewhere to a nearby small room. . He opened the door and there were two trolleys. One was taken but one was empty! “Have a wee rest” he said. I almost hugged him and fell into the bed.

It was already 6 am and I though too late to sleep now but I immediately fell into a deep sleep.

Later on they moved me to the day ward and into a proper bed. Across the room and through the door I could see, right in front of me, the reproduction of a painting hanging on the wall of the corridor. It was a view of Venice painted by Monet. I felt content, I was home.