Our lunch on the first Sunday of February was very special. Just five of us were around the table – my wife Rohan, myself, our two sons and my sister – and for the occasion the number was exactly right. Only a few days before, Rohan had been discharged from hospital and this feast was to be our way of welcoming her home and celebrating her recovery. But, for her, it was also to be the family Christmas dinner that she had missed on December 25th.
Rohan’s homecoming marked the end of a nightmare that had started exactly two months earlier on December 2nd. It was dusk and she was cycling home from choir practice. I was at home and when the phone rang, I heard not my wife’s voice, but that of an unknown woman speaking coldly and mechanically.
“Am I speaking to Joe Collier?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Mr Collier, there’s no need to worry. Your wife is conscious. She will be all right. The ambulance has arrived. She was hit by a minibus. She is lying on the road just outside number 36, Church Road. Did you get that – 36 Church Road? She is asking for you. Can you come quickly? I must go. Good bye.”
My mind was filled by feelings of anxiety, disbelief and dread. Half walking, half running, I hurried to the address given and was soon staring at a scene that looked more like a film set. The street was cordoned off by police tape, arc lights glared, blue lights flashed and there, lying under the side of a white van was a small, blanket-covered, person – my wife – and close by, a mangled bike. I rushed across, held her hand, whispered in her ear and gave her a kiss. Despite my protests, I was ushered away by a policeman explaining that it was crucial that even relatives must allow the emergency services to do their business.
Supported by personnel from two fire engines, five police cars and three ambulances, Rohan was gradually moved out from under the van and gently lifted on to a stretcher and into one of the ambulances. Accompanied by a doctor, a paramedic and me, we drove to hospital escorted by two, siren-sounding police cars – one in front, one behind. Once there Rohan was whisked away into the Serious Trauma reception suite.
An hour later a serious-faced young doctor told me that her pelvis was fractured in four places, that there were small, hairline fractures to two of the vertebra in her neck, and that the skin of her left leg would need extensive grafting. After around two hours at Rohan’s bedside it was suggested that perhaps I should go home.
“It’s going to be a tiring few weeks. You should go home and get some sleep.”
Helped by strong painkillers, ten general anaesthetics, outstanding medical and nursing care, her extraordinary fortitude and courage, and the continuous support of loved ones, countless health storms were weathered.
Now home, life could begin again. And almost Rohan’s first challenge was to sit at our dining room table and eat her cherished family Christmas lunch; something she had been dreaming of for weeks
Accordingly, at the beginning of February, and with daffodils on the patio already beginning to sprout, the dining room table was set as for Christmas. Draped over the table was our bright red Christmas tablecloth with matching napkins. Red candles flickered in front of each place setting. The cutlery, which had been specially polished, glinted as befits the occasion and dotted around the table were Christmas crackers and bottles of red and white wine. Christmas decorations hung from the picture rails with Christmas cards and twigs of mistletoe perched on various surfaces – all were still there from Christmas Day. At one end of the room was a plump Christmas tree which had yet to lose a single needle.
With Rohan installed in her wheelchair at the head of the table, the feast began. Hors d’oeuvre: gravadlax and prawns with a choice of two sauces. Main course; roast turkey with crispy streaky bacon and well browned chipolata sausages, two sorts of stuffing, a mixture of roast vegetables that included potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips, and a gravy made with wine and giblet stock. Dessert: home-made Christmas pudding or mince pies served with a choice of creams.
Full to the brim, and after drinking to Rohan’s recovery and her return home, we retired to the sitting room to open presents that had been biding their time since December.
For a few hours our nightmare was forgotten. But however welcome the presents and however delicious the meal, for me at least, it was Rohan’s homecoming that dominated the day. Moreover, the predictions are good – by next Christmas, she should have fully recovered her mobility and the nightmare that followed her accident outside Number 36 should have begun to fade. Perhaps the family’s late Christmas dinner this year will have been one of the turning points.