This is the story of a kitchen injury. It is also a story about London. It wasn’t my first kitchen injury, nor would it be my last (remember this?) – but it was definitely my most serious, and at the time I realised I was ill equipped to handle it.
My flatmate said she knew something was wrong the moment she walked into the flat: all the lights on, a knife in the middle of the kitchen floor, a half an avocado left out on the cutting board. She immediately called me, leaving a voicemail saying she was worried.
She had a right to be – I had inadvertently stabbed myself in the palm with the point of my knife while de-stoning an avocado, and rushed off to the hospital. Or sort of – once I had stabbed myself and realised it was serious, I also realised I had no idea where the hospital was. Or how to get a taxi. I had only been living in London for 8 weeks. I had seen minicab offices, but didn’t know how they worked. Were they those terrible unlicensed cabs TFL was always telling me to avoid?
When the knife slipped, I didn’t feel pain so much as an electric shock shooting up my hand into my fingers and arms. I grabbed a tea towel and made a tight fist, and did some immediate calculations: I didn’t need an ambulance. But I needed the hospital. I didn’t know where one was, and I wouldn’t be able to hail a taxi on the street in this part of London. Besides, I had only £10 in cash.
Dismayed, I called 999. “Police, Fire or Ambulance?” the woman barked. My voice shaking, I tried to explain that I had hurt myself, I didn’t need an ambulance but I didn’t know where the hospital was. “If you don’t need police, fire or ambulance, then get off the line.” She said, “People have emergencies. Call directory services.”
I called directory services, but was told they only gave out phone numbers, not addresses, and they couldn’t look up hospitals by proximity to my post code. I took a deep breath, fought back tears, and attempted to look on the internet. I was full of adrenaline, could only type with one hand, and these were the dark days before google maps. I found nothing.
I made a tough decision: I decided to go out in search on a minicab office, hoping I’d pass a bank machine on the way, still clutching my bloody tea towel in my hand. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more alone.
When I found an office, my composure broke. I burst in, crying my eyes out, saying I needed the hospital but I didn’t know where one was and I only had £10 and would they please please please take me???
The 3 Afghanistani men weren’t quite sure what to do with me, but they agreed they would take me, and decided amongst themselves that St. Mary’s was the closest. On the drive there I cried softly in the back seat while trying to call my friends, flatmates, family – finding them all busy – still clutching my tea towel.
“Where is your family?” asked my taxi driver. “In Canada.” I replied.
“So you are alone.” He said, shaking his head. “Everyone in this country is alone.”
I couldn’t argue, given my situation and I stared out the window at this city I was trying to build a life in, thinking about whether or not he was right.
In the waiting room at A&E I was befriended my an English Hell’s Angel – he saw me crying and said he just had to speak to me. His wife was Canadian, he explained, but because of his links with biker gangs and his criminal record, when he needed health procedures he came to the UK and sat in A&E – as he wasn’t registered with a GP and couldn’t get a Canadian health card. He was 20 stone and covered in tattoos and leather, but he had kind eyes and walked with a cane.
“I heard you talk and I knew you were Canadian” he said “I’m missing it so much right now, and you looked so sad, so I knew I had to speak with you.” While comforting in the short term, when we were talking about tim hortons and Lennoxville Quebec, I had to draw back a bit when he kept offering me pills to ‘chill’ or to go outside and ‘smoke a jay’.
In the end I needed surgery to repair the nerves I severed, and I spent a day in a ward specialising in hand injuries, me and 10 people with self-defence wounds from being in knife fights. I spent 2 weeks with my arm in a sling and still have tight skin and a scar on my right palm.
It was the day my honeymoon with London ended, and our real relationship began.
Side note: After I did this to myself, I was inundated with articles, songs and photographs of other people who have injured themselves paying tribute to the mighty avocado. See here.