Life rarely goes the way you plan it.
I stayed with friends while Liz moved up to Hull with Dylan so we gave up our bedsit. Kathy and Toby were good friends looked after me. They’d quickly escaped from downstairs to move into our little flat. It meant that I did not even have to move. It was only for two weeks. I had to serve out my months’ notice as a technician.
It was towards my last week at work that things started going wrong. I felt so ill. It was like flu but worse. I was so muzzy and weak and was struggling to cope. My pee was coming out brown. No amount of aspirin or paracetamol did any good. But it was my last week and I carried on.
On the final Wednesday it was all too much. I was so ill I could not function. I decided to go to the college doctor to see if he had anything that might get me through the week.
I knocked on the surgery door and walked in. I had not got more than two paces in when he shouted at me.
“Stay there! Do not come any closer!”
That was rather disconcerting but I was too ill to care. I just wanted to curl up and die.
“You have Hepatitis! Yellow jaundice. You are highly contagious.”
He actually got out of his seat behind the desk and edged away from me towards the corner of the surgery.
“I will write you a note.” He scribbled on a bit of paper. “Take this to the nearest hospital and give it to a doctor. Do not – I repeat – do not go near anyone! You are highly contagious.”
He placed the note on the edge of the desk and backed away into the corner of the room.
It was like I had leprosy or plague but I was too ill to give a damn. I wanted to go to bed and be ill. I couldn’t handle all this.
I didn’t ask how I was meant to get to hospital without going near anyone. I didn’t ask anything. I trudged over to the desk, took the note and left. The doctor was almost cowering in the corner of the room. It would have been quite comical if it wasn’t for the fact that I felt so ill. I was beginning to surmise that my condition might be quite serious.
I went to my car and passed one of my colleagues on the way.
“Where are you going?” She asked.
“I’ve got Hepatitis. I’m off to hospital,” I explained.
“Oh,” she said, edging away.
I somehow arrived at the hospital and handed in my note at the reception.
“Go and sit over there in the waiting room and a doctor will see you,” the receptionist explained curtly. I looked round at all the people sitting in the waiting room. Mothers with babies, children. There were hundreds of them.
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “It explains in the note. I have Hepatitis. I am highly contagious. I am not allowed to go near anyone.”
“Well if you don’t sit in the waiting room we can’t see to you.”
I was too ill to argue. I went and sat in the waiting room with all the other people.
After two hours the doctor saw me. He read the note. He looked at the deep yellow whites of my eyes.
“Good heavens,” he exclaimed. “You have Hepatitis. You are highly contagious. Why on Earth did you sit in the waiting room? You should have brought this note straight to me.” He was annoyed.
I was too ill to explain.
“We will have to admit you to an isolation ward straight away. Where have you been working?”
I explained that I was a laboratory technician.
“Do you work with rats?” He asked.
“Yes. I’ve been working in the animal house with about three thousand rats.”
“Good God! That’s even worse. You could have Weil’s disease!”
I’d never heard of it but it sounded bad.
Perhaps I was dying.
I explained that my wife was in Hull and I was meant to be going up to Hull in two days when I finished work. Was it possible for me to go up to Hull first before going in to hospital.
“There is no way you can undertake such a journey. You are much too ill. You need to be isolated straight away. You could have a very nasty form of Hepatitis.”
From the way everyone had been acting around me I was beginning to suspect that. But all I wanted to do now was to get to Liz. That was the only thing in my head. I told him I needed to go to Hull.
We had a bit of an argument. He lost his temper with me and handed me discharge papers. He warned me that if I signed them they took no responsibility if I subsequently died.
I discharged myself and left the doctor dousing himself with ethanol.
I caught the next train to Hull and tried to keep away from people. It wasn’t hard. They didn’t seem at all keen to go too near to me. That might had been because I was glowing luminous yellow. It was not a nice yellow. And my eyes were now orangey brown where they should have been white.
I arrived in Hull and got on a bus. The conductor told me where to get off. I’d only been there a few times by car and did not have a clue how to find the place. I asked a local kid where my road was. He was very helpful. He jabbered away in some deep Hull accent something about tennies and bairns and what not. As far as I was concerned it could have been Russian. So I set off in the direction he had pointed.
I found it.
As we had no phone Liz did not know I was coming. She thought I was coming up in two days time.
What she found was a bright yellow husband standing on the doorstep.
“Don’t come any closer!” I said as she stood there.
“What’s the matter?” She stepped back, alarmed.
“I have Hepatitis. I have to go straight to hospital. It’s very contagious. Don’t come near me.”
She could see I was ill. It didn’t need spelling out. My unnatural yellow colour bounced off the walls. We negotiated a way into the house. I had a cup of tea and we set off.
She got the pram and put Dylan in it. We walked to the hospital. It wasn’t too far away. But when we got there they wouldn’t see me because they didn’t have a casualty department. They directed us to the Infirmary on the other side of the city.
We had to get on a bus.
Eventually, we got to the infirmary. They took down my details but because I didn’t have a local GP they couldn’t admit me. I was instructed to go home and get a local GP to take me on.
By the time we got home it was too late. I had another cup of tea and took myself off to bed in the spare room.
The next day Liz went straight down and registered me at the surgery she had already registered with. She explained what the problem was and they arranged to send a doctor round.
The doctor was a Locum. He came and examined me, prodded my stomach, checked my eyes and confirmed it was Hepatitis. He told me to go to bed, take some aspirin and plenty of fluids.
I asked about the baby and Liz.
Yes it was contagious. I was to sleep in a different room and use separate utensils, sheets, flannels etc. That should do it. He would arrange some blood tests to see how I was going.
In London it was life and death, isolation wards and panic. In Hull it was take an aspirin and go to bed.
They’re pretty tough up North, obviously.
I was too weak to argue.
So what do you regret most? If you could go back and put it right? If you could relive it with the knowledge of hindsight how would you do it different?
The trouble is that it’s all or nothing. If you change a bit the chances are that you’d end up changing it all.
Now Jack Kerouac probably started it all. It wasn’t so much the structure as the journey; not the arriving as much as the doing. He sure did it. He wrote it. He lived it.
He wasn’t the first to search for the meaning of life, and he wasn’t the first to want to goof. He was just the first to put it together that way.
He was the first Messiah of the new age.
The fact that he lost it, messed up with booze and religion and couldn’t handle it. That was incidental.
All heroes are fatally flawed.