The title of this post is misleading.
I have had many, many nosebleeds in my life.
Some big. Some small. Some medium. And a lot more than once. I am extremely prone to nosebleeds and can spontaneously begin to bleed from the nose mid-conversation. I am reliably informed that this is very disconcerting to watch. I have had nosebleeds while eating, drinking, talking, working, driving, walking, sleeping, watching TV, in the shower, at weddings – you get the picture. If I was in a TV programme or movie I would be pretty sure that this unprovoked bleeding in a character would mean that he/she was either about to die (House/Six Feet Under) or was possessed by aliens (can’t think of an example but you get my drift). Anyway, this is the story of one of my nosebleeds.
When I finished secondary school I went to work for the summer in Holland (really called the Netherlands but everybody calls it Holland). I was employed – along with hundreds of other students – in a factory packing flower bulbs. It was fine. It was fun. I was seventeen and it was a big, big adventure and then, one day I had a nose bleed at work. It started the usual way by spontaneously pouring down my face. I went to the bathroom and it continued to bleed, I applied pressure, threw water on my face, my neck, my wrists – did everything I knew how to do (as trained by my mother the nurse) and still it persisted. It bled and bled and bled.
In the Ladies’ toilet in that flower-bulb factory there was a long, stainless steel sink along one wall with numerous taps overhead. Running parallel with the sink was a big mirror. I stood there. Miles and miles from home, my blood all over the stainless steel splash-back and mirror, blood all over my face and hands and clothes and a stream of Dutch women coming in to try to help me but all failing and resorting to hysterics. I looked at myself in the mirror as they held my wrists under the cold water to try to stop me passing out (does that really work?). My eyes wide with terror, my face white and blood streaked – I began to freak out. Crying and screaming and buckling at the knees. Somewhere in the all-encompassing hysteria someone called a doctor. I had nothing to do with it.
First thing I knew about the doctor was when he appeared in the distorted cacophonous reality in the Ladies’ toilet. The noise bouncing off the tiles and steel and glass was like knives. Me crying. Middle-aged supervisors and office staff high-pitched chattering like hysterical Dutch magpies. Water everywhere. Blood everywhere. He appeared as if out of nowhere and just stood looking at me in the blood smeared mirror. After a few seconds he spoke (in English) – “Stop.”
At first the sound made no sense. He said it again. “Stop.”
This was absurd! Clearly he was missing the fact that I was dying. It was obvious from the blood bath and even more obvious from the wailing women and worried men all around that my young life was ending in the bathroom of a flower-bulb factory.
And it was such a pity. If I was going to die at seventeen I would have liked it to be for some heroic reason. “She saved a child from a burning building/runaway train/stampede.” Not she had a nosebleed to death.
The doctor was unmoved by the scene. He really wasn’t getting it. I was dying and it wasn’t even romantic or worthwhile. But this Dutch doctor didn’t seem to care. I cried on. The women wailed on. He didn’t move. Didn’t fall to his knees sobbing and wringing his hands at the tragedy that was unfolding in the factory bathroom. Instead, he just stood there, calmly, as if nothing important or terrifying was happening and repeated himself quietly. “Stop. Stop it now.”
I was furious. He was clearly a heartless bastard who didn’t care about me or anybody else…
I stopped crying.
The doctor was kind to me then – he packed my nose (which was horrible – I’m sure some of you have had to have it done) and ignored the fact that I was not only ungrateful but frostily furious with him.
He was such a fool! How dare he speak to me like that! Was that all he’d learned in medical school?
Maybe it was.
If it was all he learned I now see it differently to when I was 17. Now I think he’d learned quite a lot.
He’d learned to take responsibility and put his neck on the line and keep to his own truth.
He’d learned that even though everything might be broken it was never going to be fixed while everything was flying around in the air.
He’d learned that – like blood – sometimes we need to staunch the flow of our emotions, even temporarily and even artificially – if we are to survive. And he’d learned that it was more important to do what he knew to be right than to get pulled into the world of an hysterical 17 year old – and a roomful of almost as hysterical adults.
I never knew his name. I was too busy being mad at him. I hope he had – has – a nice life.