I have a teenaged daughter. She's rather awesome; very clever, sings like a nightingale and most of the time, is rather charming. Unless it is Time Of The Month. Then all bets are off. A curious surge of hormones makes her throw up on the first day of Her Time, most months. For a few years now, I've had to patiently explain to her school that no, it's not a tummy bug; no, she doesn't need to be quarantined. But still they fear vomit and rules must be obeyed. She puked last night, which sent my mind on a journey as I cleaned the bathroom.
When I was twenty I started working as a bar supervisor in very popular local pub. There was nothing special about it really, but for some reason people as far away as Wakefield and Doncaster came every Sunday to drink there. You were nobody if you didn't drink at this pub on a Sunday night. It was akin to a church whose worshippers were social butterflies and Rusty Nail drinkers. Working there was even better; as staff, we had the inside track on all the coolest after-hours parties. Life back then was fairly awesome for a young, single twenty-something. I had no worries other than which one of the many cute guys I was going to go home with, and whether to wear D&G, Versace or Lacroix jeans on my nights off. Like any popular drinking hole, it also attracted its own minority of jackasses who used to get loaded up and start fights purely for fun. We had a watch-list and to this day I can still recite the names of those who were barred and provide detailed descriptions - such was the frequency with which we had to study the Loser List. There was usually a parked police car on standby every weekend as you could guarantee that someone would be going home bleeding and another getting arrested.
One night, in the middle of World Cup 1998, things were moving along as normal - five deep at the bar, the DJ playing some cracking tunes to which we'd loudly sing along and my friend Karen and I working together like a well-oiled machine. We were channeling Tom Cruise in Cocktail - oh how we moved and ducked and dived - there was even some adventurous throwing of glasses and bottles and lots of laughs. I think it was a Wednesday night; England had just played and won and as a result, spirits in the bar were high. We called last orders at ten to eleven on the dot by way of a large brass bell that hung on the side of the bar, near Till 3 - mine and Karen's position. The place was clearing pretty quickly, probably because the highlights of the footy were on at around eleven and everyone wanted to watch, and by about ten-past the place was practically empty and the drip trays were already in the industrial dishwasher in the back.
It was then that everything suddenly started to go horribly wrong. The sound of smashing glass is one you get used to working in a bar, but in the back of my mind it's always been a sound that I equate with trouble. And seeing the stragglers in the pub suddenly bolt towards the male toilets kind of cemented that. Then there were excited shouts and one of our glass collectors, a delicious specimen of manhood called Jason, appeared and yelled, "get the coppers!" Seconds later emerged a kid of about my age, flanked by about four other guys, one of whom was being held in an armlock by a bloke I only knew as Baz - big bloke, arms like the Hulk, with an expression of permanent, "fuck with me and I'll end you" grimness. The rumour mill had him as ex-SAS, ex- Royal Marine, ex-oil rigger and ex-convicted murderer. I learned years later that he in fact worked as a special needs teacher in Sheffield somewhere and wouldn't hurt a fly if his life depended on it. But anyway, as Baz led the guy in the armlock outside, suddenly I realised that there was something strange about the kid I'd spotted first. Everything about him appeared to be red. Then I saw why.
"Oh fuck," Karen whispered. "I'll ring for an ambulance."
The kid was holding his right lower arm with his left hand in an futile attempt, it appeared, to keep it from falling apart. I remember vaulting over the bar (something I've never been able to do again, it's true what they say about adrenaline) and whipping my staff teeshirt off over my head. I couldn't understand why nobody was helping him as he stood there, blood actually pumping through his fingers which were growing slippy, causing his grip to loosen. People were just rooted to the spot in sheer horror, watching him bleed.
"What happened?" I yelled at Jason the gorgeous glass collector, who replied numbly, "he put his hand through the window."
I wrapped my teeshirt around the kid's wrist and arm then held it tight, and sort of part caught him and part fell as he crumpled to the floor, inadvertently pulling me with him. So when my boss appeared from upstairs to do his nightly 'liberate half the Glenmorangie from the bottle because it's my pub' routine, he emerged to find me on the floor in a pool of crimson applying pressure to the leaking arteries of a man who kept saying over and over: "I'm so sorry, I'll pay for the window. I'll pay, just don't tell my girlfriend I got drunk."
Funny thing about adrenaline. While it's pumping, everything is crystal clear. My first aid training had come flooding back and I knew exactly what I had to do to stop this kid from dying on my lap, and barked out orders to numb onlookers - "you, go into the kitchen and find clean towels, you, get me the first aid kit, I'll need bandages, you get out of his way!" However, at that same moment, Time was a concept that was shimmery and ethereal and behaving most strangely. For instance, I thought that under normal circumstances a single severed wrist artery wouldn't necessarily kill you as, if cut cleanly, wrist arteries and veins go into spasm and practically close themselves off as they are very narrow in that part of the arm. But I knew this guy was very drunk and alcohol thins the blood, and as I fully took in the state of his arm, if he kept bleeding as fast as he was, he could be dead soon. The cuts were what very suicidal people and Emos will tell you were "the right way" - that is, longitudinally from his wrist up to almost his elbow, severing both the ulnar and the radial arteries in several places, not just the wrist but higher up the arm also. And the blood was squirting hard and fast like I'd only ever seen before in dodgy horror films. So I knew Time was something that we didn't have much of. But to this day I couldn't tell you how long we were slumped there on the floor and how long it took for the paramedics to arrive. It seemed like hours.
I remember the kid saying: "I don't want to die, my girlfriend will kill me," over and over and me saying: "I won't let you, you're not going to die, this time next week you'll owe me big time and I like double Bailey's over ice," back at him.
I remember my arms aching from holding his arm up and pressing so hard.
I remember people finger pointing and yelling a barrage of angry words over our heads. My boss was one of them and his words I remember clearly, because at that moment and forever after, I hated him: "What the fuck is she doing on the floor swimming in blood? That's never going to come out of the wood. Get her up now!" I couldn't seem to make anyone understand that I couldn't let go. This kid was losing his strength and losing consciousness so couldn't apply pressure himself and if I let go, he could die. My boss was screaming about insurance and re-sanding wood floors and AIDS and me not wearing latex gloves and: "Why the fuck is she only wearing a bra? Is that our teeshirt around his arm? That's coming out of your wages, lady!" I couldn't find the words to explain that I hadn't had the time to run into the back and spend twenty minutes finding the first aid kit and putting on gloves I was allergic to anyway, or that I gave a rat's ass about my now ruined uniform teeshirt as it was the only thing handy at the time to use as a compress.
It transpired that the kid (whose name I found out was Nick) had had a few too many jars of ale and was a bit worse for wear when he'd gone to the lav before heading home. The guy that Baz had had in the armlock outside had been taking the piss out of David Beckham, calling him a nancy-girl who couldn't play football for shit and then things in the men's room had become heated. There had been a scuffle and apparently Armlock guy had shoved Nick forward who had put his hand out to stop himself and, being pissed, had missed the wall and put his hand straight through the window instead. Armlock guy had laughed and swung a punch but had been stopped by Nick's mate who'd got one in first.
When the paramedics arrived time went weird again. The time it took them to lift him off me and put him in the ambulance and shout at me: "Are you cut too? Are you bleeding?" and for me to shake my head, well, it was an aeon - it all happened in slooooow moooootion too, as if they were moving in zero-gravity or underwater. At one point I screamed "hurry up!" to which a male paramedic simply smiled, wrapped me in a blanket and told me everything would be okay. The time it took for the police to question everyone and for my boss to fire me on the spot for blatant disregard of the rules of my employment - well that was a sort of "blink and you'll miss it" event. I just climbed up off the floor, a bit wobbly, and left the pub, still wrapped in a blanket, under which my pink bra was now permanently blood red.
So it's fair to say that the sight of blood has never bothered me. Most human fluids don't. The only exception is vomit. I have no resilience when faced with puke and it takes all I have not to give up the ghost and join in. It's the sight, sound and smell of it. The Trio of Terror. So when my daughter woke up at 2am on Thursday night and hurled all over the bathroom it took a feat of unsurpassable will not to throw up myself as I cleaned up and sent her back into bed. And as I laid awake for the rest of the night listening intently in case she threw up again and choked on her own vomit, the whole severed arm incident came back to me. I wondered how I could have let a stranger bleed all over me, with blatant disregard for my own health (what if he has AIDS? I'm not keeping her in employment if she gets AIDS from this idiot because she's too stupid to put on gloves first!") when the sight of my own daughter's vomit makes me ill. I suppose I'm just odd that way. But I'll still clean it up. One of the many perks of being a parent, with less risk of getting fired for not wearing gloves and ruining a perfectly good uniform shirt.