The morning finds Phillip’s bed empty. No-one has discharged him, no-one has removed the intravenous bung from his arm. The plastic bottle of saline hangs from its pole, its tubing droops into air. Phillip’s just gone.
At mid-morning a call comes from the nearby general practice: “One of your patients turned up here with a bandaged arm; would we change his dressing? We found an IV bung. We figured he came from the hospital.”
Two days later a young woman wanders into the hospital. She shows the back of her right hand, swollen and deformed.
A full-cheeked face, a crooked smile. A palm-upwards gesture from the opposite hand: You know how these things are. Just a swollen hand…
She offers no words.
“When did it happen?”
We won’t have X-ray until Monday. She turns to go, her walk crooked like her smile. A fruity aroma hangs in the air.
On Monday the X-ray shows a fractured metacarpal, classic fracture of the biff. We ask again: “How did it happen?”
Her shrug, her smile convey confession and self–forgiveness.
She points in the direction of her companion, who volunteers: I made her wild.
She is so young, at least in years. Her face, even younger in its innocence, looks older in damage.
A pang of regret for that damage prompts a candid question. “Do you think your drinking is doing you harm?”
Her companion is a slim young man with a meandering black beard. He replies before she finishes the familiar smiling that she substitutes for words: It’s doing both of us harm!
That face, that beard, I know them: the man’s sobriety and his gaiety confused me. The speaker is Phillip.