“Surely some of you must think of those you’re leaving behind to grieve you … or is there such a selfishness in you that you don’t care?” While completing my first training month in the Accident and Emergency unit I’d seen so many lives pass needlessly and suicides always made me despair for our society.
I crossed the busy bridge regularly and was always conscious of the traffic, so I tended to walk along the side which had me facing oncoming vehicles. It was a daily habit which as things turned out, was to define if I would live or die. As usual, I paused and looked down into the river which was deep, wide and regularly used by people to end their life and shake off their woes.
I stared down at the ripples near the foundations of the bridge supports and recalled that one of our most recent casualties at the Barnbrook General came to us soaking and shivering. The middle-aged man might have survived the fall, but he hadn’t jumped out far enough from the bridge. He’d landed partly on the stonework below the water line and damaged his spine. Sadly, in his case he wasn’t destined to die, and when I last saw him he was strapped into a wheelchair, paralysed from the neck down but mentally as active as ever.
I heard a bang and a screech of tyres. I turned to see a large van with a blown-out front tyre swerving out of control across the bridge. The driver was fighting frantically with the steering but the van hit a small car and sent it through the stone parapet near me. As the vehicle nosedived to the water below, I heard a scream.
I’d often wondered what I would do in such circumstances, and in the moment I heard the scream all of my daydreams and logical theories disappeared. Throwing one of the tethered life-saving rings down to the water would do no good—the driver was inside the car.
I ripped off my jacket and kicked off my shoes before stepping close to the damaged edge. I was vaguely aware of people gathering nearby voicing both concern and praise. I leapt outward in my best dive. The water came up to meet me much faster than I thought it would, and when I hit the surface I wasn’t ready for the temperature. It might have been summer on the bridge, but the water was freezing cold. As I lost control of my breathing and my limbs went numb I saw a young woman’s face. I continued to the depth of the sunken vehicle and the driver’s panic subsided. She smiled at me … perhaps an expression of gratitude that she wasn’t alone.
* * *
“Would you like an ice-cream, Kelly?”
“Yes please, Chris, with a big chocolate flake on top.”
I bought the ice-creams and we sauntered around the park until we found a bench near a duck pond. We sat together and exchanged a look that said all that either of us had to know. It was our destiny to meet under that water and exchange our thoughts.
As we sat there we didn’t talk much but gazed at each other as if we’d been acquainted for years. After our ice-cream we strolled along the pathways, our arms linked together while we enjoyed the simplicity of our mutual companionship. I loved the way her long blonde hair lifted and floated in the breeze and how her eyes said so much without me having to hear a word from her sweet lips.
My chest felt as if a building had fallen on me and my breathing became difficult … no, it was impossible. Kelly, my pretty blonde companion held my hand tightly but it was no good … it didn’t help me to breathe. My chest was about to explode.
* * *
“Chris … Chris, it’s Amir, mate … come back to us … Chris.”
It hurt to open my eyes and it hurt to breathe. My body felt as if I’d been hit by a train and my vision blurred. I tried to force my eyes open and saw a hazy smile from one of my colleagues in the A & E department. It was Amir, the Syrian male nurse.
“Don’t try to talk. I’m staying with you, Chris … keep it together.”
“Kelly—” my throat hurt and my entire body shook when I collapsed into a coughing fit. Everything went blank.
“Chris … if you can hear me, mate … open your eyes … but don’t talk.”
I recognised my Syrian mate’s voice and opened my eyes. I didn’t try to talk, but felt I wouldn’t be able to anyway. My mouth felt like a desert. I couldn’t keep my eyes open—bright lights—too much.
“I’ve dimmed the lights, Chris.” Yes, it was Amir again.
How long had he been with me? Was I on the receiving end of my colleague’s skills? No, wait, if that were the case I’d be in hospital. Why would I be in hospital apart from being on shift?
“Chris, the boss has said you’re too weak to talk, so rest, mate. We’ve got you under control now. You’re gonna be okay.”
* * *
I sat in the wheelchair staring out at the lovely gardens and the duck pond I was accustomed to showing patients. I would tell them that recuperation didn’t always mean doing things, but more accurately not doing things. Relaxation and building the strength to get back to fitness were the key.
“Hey, buddy.” Amir sat on the bench beside my wheelchair.
“Hi, mate. One of the other guys told me you’ve been visiting me every day.”
“I’ve been with you as often as possible. I want you back on shift.” He laughed. “During the first three days you spoke twice so I was pleased to see you were recovering.”
“Nobody has told me what happened but I’m booked-in to see Dr Carter this afternoon, you know the heart specialist. Have I had a heart attack or something?”
“What do you remember about the accident?”
“I keep getting flashbacks of jumping into the river which I know doesn’t sound like me … we’ve always agreed it would be a hell of a drop before hitting the water.”
Amir nodded. “What else comes to mind?”
“I have images of a pretty blonde girl. She’s trapped underwater and she’s in a state of panic until I arrive beside her submerged car and she smiles at me … which got me a date with her.”
“What’s up, Amir?”
“Tell me about the date, Chris?”
“It’s a bit hazy so it must have been after we’d had hospital treatment but we went walking in the park, like this area … and had ice-cream. We spent most of the time gazing at each other.”
“What do you remember about her, and try to be specific?”
“I’m sure her name was Kelly … and … she was a hairdresser … and … I’ve tried but can’t think of anything else.”
“I’m sorry, Chris, but I have to tell you, Kelly didn’t survive.”
“I don’t understand … I reached her and she smiled and … did they have a problem here at the hospital?” I was confused and suddenly distraught—I’d failed to save her.
“No mate. According to witnesses, her car was hit by a van which pushed it through the parapet of the bridge. You dived in within seconds and it was only because of you that the Emergency Launch crew knew where to look. It took a couple of minutes to get a diver in but they got you out first and you were unconscious. By the time they got the girl out of the car she was beyond help.”
“Kelly couldn’t have drowned … Amir … she smiled at me … we both got out … we walked in the park.”
Amir reached out and gripped my hand. “Chris, Kelly died at the scene before you hit the water. Even if the van didn’t hit her car she would have died because she had an undiagnosed blood clot on her brain.”
“If I didn’t get her out how do I know her name … and … and how could I know she was a hairdresser?”
“There was a logo on her car door which advertised her business and her name. Kelly Styles would have been the last thing you saw before … before—”
“Before what, Amir?”
“Before your heart gave out, mate.”
I pulled my hospital dressing gown up. “Is that why my chest looks like this? Does Dr Carter want to see me because he’s done open heart surgery or something on me?”
“No, mate. You were revived twice by the paramedics on the way here after the incident. After your emergency operation we nearly lost you for good and you were in and out of a coma for a week.”
“Dr Carter wants to see you because he transplanted Kelly’s heart into your chest.”
Taken from, Time after Time: and other stories