Family Guy: Life's on hold as they make a dad into The Terminator
WHAT have you done? You idiot," says my wife gently but ruefully, as though I've just broken some sort of precious, family heirloom. Which I sort of have. I broke myself, or a bit of me at least.
My head is bruised and sore, stitched and swollen when she returns from a weekend away. I still wince at the thought of the fright that she got, then I wince with embarrassment.
'Tripped and fell'. Like some sort of giant toddler.
She lifts my chin to see. I flinch. It's not pain. I'm girding myself for the admonishment I think is coming. But she says nothing, just gives me a hug. That's when it first strikes me, this could be pretty bad.
We sit side by side for a few moments on the edge of my trolley in a corridor of Emergency. Some day there'll be a funny side to this. Oh, how we'll laugh.
"Ten stitches," I manage. Boy inside the man, unable to hide his pride. Ten stitches! I tell her about the head scan, the fracture they found. My battle story. I hardly recognise my own voice.
"You're bleeding again," she says.
We're called behind a curtain where someone has a look and a short flurry of activity ensues. This is the pattern. Hours of sitting around, then a sudden bustle. The drama.
I still think there's an end in sight, that we could still leave this place together sometime today. Us? We're Just waiting for the final 'all clear'.
It never occurs to me - why should it? - that it will be eight more days before I'm home to stay.
Eyes closed tight, I hear the doctor talk to an intern over my head. There's a needle. They're working on me again. "Watch how I do it," he says in a rich, African timbre. "Two sides. Like this. Cut here. And again."
Finally, they finish. "Thanks," I croak. My wife, temporarily banished to the other side of the curtain, returns. Your husband won't be going anywhere today, or tomorrow. Best bring him a bag.
"I'll be back," she says. It's unintentional, the reference to the line from The Terminator. She doesn't even do the Arnie voice. I'm the one with the dinged fender on my forehead where a bit of robot should be poking through like in the movie. Boy inside the man.
But it's too soon for gags of any kind. So I just lie down on my trolley again, sore and sorry, letting loneliness envelope me.
Sometime during the evening, a cup of tea arrives with a digestive biscuit tucked into the saucer. When I've finished, I don't know where to put the dishes, so I just lie back down and wrap myself around them. When I wake up later, they're gone.
I'm hooked to a drip and my vital signs are checked every few hours. I'm asked my name and address again and again, only copping later that this is to test to see if I've knocked any brains loose.
The lights finally go out in the very early hours. Soon after, I wake up with a start as someone gently shakes my ankle. "Would you like a blanket, son?"
In the morning I'm moved to another trolley in a ward upstairs where I'm to be monitored for the next 36 hours. It's the stroke ward.
I notice this with a sudden ice-water flush of fear and the reality of my situation washes over me. I'm here because of the very real danger of a blood clot.
We think we're bullet-proof, us dads, that we're 'Arnie', Terminators. We're not. A simple misplaced foot on stairs, a wrong step in the street, hands in pockets, head in the clouds. Everything changes in a second.
I'm supposed to be clearing the decks for a trip to San Francisco with my wife to see the eldest for a week. Instead, I'm flat on my back with a skull fracture, being fed penicillin and painkillers. A life on hold.
It was early Sunday when I hit my head. It's Wednesday when I leave the stroke ward and Thursday when I check into St James's Hospital for surgery to reconstruct my broken forehead with a small titanium plate.
It's almost a week to the day, however, by the time I actually go under the knife.
The surgical team arrives at my bed to brief me on the night before. "Don't worry," says someone. "It will be absolutely fine."
I'm not worried, I think, I'm The Terminator - complete with titanium skull, right above my eye, just like the picture of Arnie on the old movie poster. Child inside the man.
"I just want this over with," I announce in what I think is a suitably grown-up voice, "so we can get on with planning our holiday to California."
"When are you planning to fly?" frowns the doctor.
"A week," I say. Someone coughs and leafs though notes. Someone else shuffles their feet.
But the doctor just looks at me and says: "I think that is not very likely."