They say that you always remember exactly where you were when you hear certain kinds of news.
I suppose the principle could apply to good news, but basically we all think of tragedy, which for many us simply means 9/11.
Twice this summer I have taken phone calls which resulted in me taking my wife to the hospital.
I won’t forget either occasion in a hurry.
Act 1: The Badger
It was 9pm on a Sunday night and darkness was descending. I was cycling down a country road in the middle of nowhere. Rain had just started to fall. I had seriously overestimated my ability to squeeze in a hilly 50km after dinner, and to make matters worse I didn’t have any lights.
Fumbling in my pocket I retrieved my phone. It was my wife. She’d had troubling symptoms all weekend but having spoken to the midwife it became clear that a trip to the labour ward was in order. Trying to remain calm, I casually explained that I was somewhere in mid-Devon and that all being well I’d be home ‘very soon’.
I hung up and tried to put my phone back in my pocket. Most cyclists seem to be able to produce any number of gadgets, gel sachets and flapjacks at will whilst riding along at a breezy 20mph. I am not most cyclists. Finally, the phone slips back into my pocket, just as I nearly smash into a huge badger that has leapt out of the hedgerow no more than 10 feet in front of my front wheel.
Badgers are ethereal creatures. I have, until this point, only been acquainted with them through the medium of children’s literature. There is “Badger“, of course, from Wind in the Willows, and “Badger” from The Animals of Farthing Wood. Kind, slightly geriatric, dependable sorts who keep the naughty miscreants in line. Always called “Badger”. I was always vaguely troubled by the low budget one from children’s television that loved mashed potato, but 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.
What Kenneth Grahame & co don’t tell you is that badgers are huge, squat, short things that you wouldn’t want to hit in a Land Rover, let alone on a road bike. They are unfathomably long. I swerved hard, and narrowly missed the badger’s back leg as it darted into the hedgerow.
It’s amazing what adrenaline can do. As a combination, impending parenthood and near-death by badger is a pretty good one. I rode like a man possessed, for at least 3 or 4 minutes. I’ve always wondered how my body would perform in a life-or-death situation. The answer, unfortunately, is ‘terribly’.
Eventually I arrived home and we quickly headed over to the labour ward. It was a perfectly pleasant visit, mainly because I didn’t have to ride a bike and was able to sit down for 3 hours whilst polishing off a protein shake, 2 bananas and 4 cereal bars. By the time I’d finished eating the various tests had been carried out and we were being discharged.
Shortly before 2am we walked out into the hospital car park and I resolved that I would never again be caught so exhaustingly short. When that call came, I would be ready.
Act 2: The Decking
The call came much sooner than either of us had expected.
Needless to say, I was not ready.
The summer of 2016 should have been defined by preparing for fatherhood, but in reality it was completely overshadowed by my attempts to build a raised decking in our garden. I am not a practical man, but as those warm Spring days came around I started looking out my kitchen window at the urban sprawl beyond and resolved that something must be done. Some men decorate nurseries. I decided that in the long run it would be better for the baby if I could enjoy sitting out by a fire with a beer.
There are many stages to clearing and decking a garden. In my case it involved two working parties, the removal of 4 tonnes of gravel, countless trips to see my new friends at various DIY establishments, evenings spent lovingly watering my fledgling lawn (with a watering can, obviously) and dazed hours wandering around with a spirit level trying to remember which joist I’d just measured and whether in fact it had been level or not.
In the 12 weeks that it took me to overhaul the garden there was only one short window in which our car was filled with 16 decking joists, 4 bags of postcrete and 2 fence posts and parked about 100m down the road from our house. A window of no more than 1 hour, or, rather neatly, 1/2016 of the time in which I was labouring*. A window that happened to fall at about 9pm on a Thursday evening, shortly after one of the aforementioned DIY establishments had closed.
It was, of course, the moment that my wife chose to make her second emergency call to me.
I thought about it for a moment, but it quickly became obvious that I had no choice but to empty the car. Volkswagen Golfs are remarkably versatile vehicles, but the only way to fit 8′ timbers is diagonally with all 4 passenger seats folded down. They would need to be removed.
Having quickly waddled home with the circular saw that I’d popped round the corner to borrow (insult to injury, right?) I embarked on a horrible, sweaty haze of a journey, running up and down the road with a joist on each shoulder. For the Crossfitters amongst you who think this sounds fun, my time was 7 minutes.
Not for the first time this summer I walked into the hospital exhausted, sweaty and confused, with nothing but a pathetic box of cereal bars for comfort. It took some effort to persuade the hospital staff that it was in fact my wife that required medical assistance.
Taking My Wife to the Hospital: I’ll Be Ready
We’ve had two ’emergency’ trips to the hospital this summer. Fortunately, neither has been particularly serious and my wife and baby have both remained healthy. The service we’ve received has been amazing, particularly given the antisocial hours at which ‘we’ have decided to frequent the labour ward. Everybody we have encountered has been kind, knowledgeable and supportive.
At some point in the next 18 days I will be taking my wife to the hospital, and this time we will be having a baby. I can’t speak for my wife, but I’m certainly hoping that it will be a case of train hard, fight easy.
*I’m pretty sure that I won’t be making jokes like that in a few days time…