CHAPTER ONE – STOKE MANDEVILLE HOSPITAL
The boy lay awake in his hospital bed in the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville. It is never quite dark in hospital wards and he could see the humps in the beds where other patients were sleeping, and the clock on his bedside locker. It was still only 3 am. Time always dragged in the hospital, especially at night.
Before long it would be different. After six months Sam knew he would soon be going home again – but nothing at home would be the same. He was not the same. He would never walk again. Nor would he ever see his father again. His father was dead. His life – everything – had all changed in those moments when the car swerved off the road, down the bank and hit the tree. And now nothing could ever change things back again. What had happened had happened. That was that. Sam could not remember much about the crash, until he found himself in the hospital bed with tubes in his mouth and nose and bottles of blood hanging on frames over his head. It had been a terrible nightmare of people shouting, blue lights flashing, stretchers, fire engines, the ambulance men lifting him out of the wrecked car. He remembered asking, “Where’s my father? What happened to him?” but no-one had told him then that his father was dead.
It had been bad enough when his mother and father had parted. He worked very late and sometimes he was away for days at a time. She said he was never at home. He said that was what it was like if you wanted to be a top crime reporter on TV. Then one day his mother took Sam and his sister and they left to live in George’s house a couple of miles away. Sam’s mother thought he was great, but Sam and his sister were not so sure. Being a teacher was bad enough, but he was well, just boring and their father had been well, not always there, but when he was, anything but boring. He was fun.
Now it would be far worse. Sam’s father would never again be there to take them out to fun things like films and concerts and football, or even museums.
On the night of the crash he had taken Sam into London to see a film – a real thriller about how gangs smuggled drugs and sold them – even in schools like his.
“Stop it” said Sam to himself before he could begin to cry. “I can’t change what has happened. But I can change what might happen next”. That is what Mr Shah, the chief surgeon at the Spinal Injuries Unit, had told him on his first day in hospital. Perhaps Shah was a bit like his father. He could not spend much time at home either. He was always at the hospital working. As if in answer to his thoughts, Sam heard Shah’s footsteps. He always wore proper shoes, not trainers and the heels clicked on the hard ward floor in the quiet of the night. Sam turned and lifted his head to watch him and Shah stopped beside his bed.
“What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”
“What are you doing laying awake in the middle of the night?” they asked each other.
from "Ben's Story" by Norman Tebbit
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