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Monday, 5 November 2012

That illicit evening swim!

It was 9:30 pm when Archie and Denise arrived at their Spanish home, after their two and a half days drive back from the United Kingdom. It had been a long tiring final day as they had decided to miss out another overnight stop. They had made an early start, getting on the road by 6:00 am, and if the major road accident in the road works on the Valencia section of the A7 motorway, hadn't delayed them for those two hours, they would have arrived closer to their schedule.

Although it was the first week in October the temperature during the day, according to the car's external thermometer, had been between 32° and 35° centigrade, especially on the high plateau driving between Zaragoza and Valencia on the A23 and now it was still 24°. The air-conditioning in the car had helped to lower the heat, but the problem had been that their journey during the day was predominantly southerly and so the sun's hot rays had been shining directly onto them through the windscreen. They had not been able to keep as cool as they would have liked so were feeling hot and weary.

Archie had been the driver all-day, and although he hadn't admitted it to Denise, his energy reserves had seemed to have been completely drained as he turned off the car's ignition. Being a little overweight in the heat didn't help. He could feel one of his migraine type headaches beginning and there was a little zigzag distortion of the vision in his right eye, as often happened when he had an optical migraine. He thought that a quick dip in the Community's swimming pool might help him relax, as this usually helped relieve the symptoms.

“Denise let's put the suitcases in the house and then go for a relaxing, cooling, quick plunge in the pool before we unpack,” suggested Archie.

“It's a good idea love, but we can't. The pool area is closed now, as it's October and it's after 9:00pm,” replied Denise.

“It's only the fourth today and up till the end of September it's open till 10:00pm. I don't think anyone will object.”

“It would be nice, and as the holiday-makers have probably all gone, so there will only be usual few neighbours about, probably nobody will see us.”

“That's it then Dee, a dip it is.”

A few minutes later in their swimming costumes, as dusk was quickly changing into night, they quietly slipped into the pool, like marine commandos, both uttering a contented, muted, “aaahhh”.

They sat on the bottom step of the four semi-circular tiled entrance steps, situated halfway between the shallow and deep ends of the pool. The cooling water lapping over them. With Archie being taller than Denise it only reached halfway up his chest, whereas it covered her shoulders, he moved down one more level and sat on the bottom of the pool.

Fifteen minutes had gone by but Archie's migraine symptoms hadn't started to ease, like he'd hoped.

“I'll just swim to the deep end and back and we'll get out shall we?” Archie said as he pushed off and began his slow breast-stroke. Denise didn't understand what he said. It sounded a little slurred like the speech of a drunk.

When he reached the far edge and turned to return to the steps Denise noticed that something didn't look right with him. His ever present smile had gone, replaced by the drooped look of a sad clown. His arms didn't seem to working in unison as he was trying to swim. He wasn't making any progress.

“Are you alright Archie?” She asked.

Archie didn't or couldn't reply. Sensing that something was seriously wrong with him and the danger that he was in, being in deep water, Denise swam towards him to help him to the safety of the edge of the pool and shallower water. She took hold of his hands and kicking her legs swam backwards towards the steps with Archie in tow. Although at nearly six feet tall, and twice her weight, he towered above her on dry land: in the water she was the master. Her swimming power, the fact that he floated well and he put up no resistance, soon had him back to the safety of the steps. They had often joked in the past that when he tried to swim to the bottom of the pool, or the sea bed at the local beach, he invariably stayed near the surface with his bottom breaking the surface like a beached whale.

Denise was wondering what was wrong with him. It was then she remembered the public health campaign notices she had seen on the television, whilst in the United Kingdom, about the signs and symptoms of a stroke; Face-Arms-Speech-Time. She realised that she had to get Archie out of the water and get him medical help fast.

“Come on Archie we have to get out of the water now and get you some help quickly,” she said as she stood up, took hold of his arm and tried to assist him up the steps. There was no response.

“Archie stop playing around we have to go!” There was no movement. Denise knew there was no chance of her getting him out of the pool on her own, with his weight and size compared to her strength.

Because of the time in the evening; because of the darkness of the night, the shutters were down on the windows of the properties in the Community that surrounded the pool. Nobody would see them in trouble. It had been a great benefit when everything was alright with their illicit out-of-hours swim, but now it was different.

The only way to attract someone's attention was to shout loudly “Help! Help somebody help!” and Denise did, with all the volume she could muster, several times but with no result. What few permanent residents there were at home at the time were tucked up in their lounges with the shutters down and their televisions or radios turned on. Just when she and Archie needed neighbours to be sitting on their terraces or balconies, taking in the night air, drinking a cool beer or white wine, there were none!

Denise continued shouting and holding onto Archie in the water on the pool steps for what seemed an eternity. She tried again to coax Archie to help her get him out of the water but again there was no response, he seemed to be slipping in and out of awareness of where he was. She didn't find it too difficult to keep him on the steps, because of his placidness and his natural tendency to float in the water, so she didn't need physical strength for this. Her two priorities were to get Archie onto dry land and medical care. It crossed her mind to leave him in the pool, on the steps, alone for a few seconds, whilst she ran to the closest neighbour's apartment to get help. But what if there was no one at home at her first choice and extra time was taken to knock on alternative doors. Which would she choose. With the shutters down there was no light escaping from the windows to show if anyone was at home. She'd never been a gambler and decided it was not the time to start.

The only choice was to keep on shouting ““Help! Help somebody help! Is there anybody who can help!” and she did louder than before. Her chest was beginning to hurt and her throat was dry.

“Who's there?” said the man returning from walking his dog.

“Dave! Is that you? It's me, Denise, I need your help, Archie is ill, we are in the pool. Hurry please hurry!”

It seemed like only a split second before Dave was standing beside Denise on the pool steps. With their combined strength and Archie's buoyancy they lifted him enough to unceremoniously roll him over the edge of the pool to the safety of the patio area.

“I think Archie is having a stroke! He needs an ambulance,” she said, as she was covering him with their swimming towels to keep him warm.

“No problem; I'm onto that,” were Dave's parting words as he ran to his house, water splashing from his sodden trousers and squirting from his flooded shoes; his dog running and jumping behind him thinking this was a good game.

“Archie; Archie; don't worry love we''ll soon have you some help now,” Denise said in her the best reassuring voice she could manage.

Dave returned with his wife. “Carmen has spoken to '112', as its better to talk to them in Spanish, and an ambulance is on it's way. She told them that you think Archie has had a stroke,” Dave confirmed to Denise.

“Did you hear that Archie? Help is on its way, hold on love,” said Denise, although she didn't think he'd understood it, as she put the blanket over him that Carmen had brought out.

The quiet of the night air was soon broken by the sound of a not too far away siren. The growing loudness of the two tone was a welcome noise. Dave ran to the entrance gates of the Community to open them to let the SAMU ambulance in. From the moment the Advanced Life Support Ambulance arrived and the medical crew of an emergency physician and emergency nurse took control of caring for Archie. The night then became a muddle to Denise. Her task of looking after her love was done for the time being. Her close friends and neighbours, who by now had come out of their houses because of the siren, took control and began caring for her. Dave and Carmen went with her to the hospital to support her and for Carmen to act as translator so that Denise knew exactly what treatment Archie was receiving. It was a long long night.

A week had passed. Archie had progressed from the intensive care unit to the high dependency unit and was it was hoped that soon he was to be moved to a general medical ward. His improvement, having suffered from a confirmed stroke, was slower than Denise had hoped, but never-the-less was progressing. Those of her neighbours who were true friends had helped with her visits to the hospital, her shopping, cooking her some meals and helping with the housework.

She was sitting in her lounge, drinking a mug of fresh ground coffee, reflecting on what had happened since their return home from the UK and that unforgettable night. How foolish they had been to have gone for a swim when the pool was closed. A swim that could have resulted in Archie's death.

She started opening her and Archie's mail that she had ignored for the last week. There was a letter from the Chairperson of their Community; dated just two days after Archie was urgently admitted to hospital.

Dear Archie and Denise Batersby,

I am disappointed that on the 5th October you chose to use the swimming pool at approximately 9:30 pm in contravention of the Community's rules for 'Use of the Community Swimming Pool'. This letter is a written warning, in accordance of the Community's rules, advising you that a further contravention may result in a fine of 50€. Any subsequent contravention may result in an additional fine or withdrawal of your right to use the pool for a period of three months. I hope I will not need to write to you again about contravening Community rules.

Yours sincerely,

Clarisa Fortesque-Smythe

la Presidente
Community of Owners

Denise read the letter several times. Her emotions built up from disbelieve, at the contents and the timing, to annoyance and finally anger. She and Archie had crossed swords with Ms. Smythe, in the past; during Community management meetings, voting against some of her proposals; with noise problems from her two Pekingese dogs with their constant 'yap yap yap' when left alone at home, day and night. Denise could not believe the insensitive and vindictive nature of this letter.

She had kept her emotions bottled up, she'd had to, to get through the last few days, but this letter acted as if the ring pull had been opened on a shaken can of Archie’s' favourite beer. The tear drops started in the corner of her eyes and turned into a flood as her crying turned into deep, chest hurting, sobbing. After a while she felt she was back in control and decided to show the letter to Dave and Carmen. Yes she and Archie had been wrong to have that plunge in the pool, but Denise didn't need the point to be rammed home to her within the week of that traumatic evening.

“Hi you two, what do you think of this from that Smythe woman?” Denise said as she thrust the letter towards Carmen as she opened her front door.

“What is it?”

“An edict from Ms Perfect-Smythe.”

“Come in whilst Dave and I look at it.”

Having read it and read it again Dave said, “Just ignore it. Unfortunately Archie, and probably you, wont be using the pool for some time and besides winter's coming so the water will be too cold for anyone to use it.”

“That's not the point. How can she think of writing that letter to us at this time,” Denise retorted. Her level of anger was building again. “I'm going to see her now and tell her what I think of her letter,” she said as she quickly took the letter back and got up to leave.

“No don't do that, you know what she's like, she's not worth it,” replied Carmen; but too late to stop Denise.

“I'll go after her to stop her doing anything silly,” Dave said as he chased after Denise.

The quickest route from Dave and Carmen's to Ms Smythe's was to cut across the pool patio area, where Archie had lain the week before, rather than follow the circular perimeter path. Denise chose that short route ignoring the warning sign about slippery wet surfaces.

“Denise, wait! Think about what you're doing,” Dave shouted.

She heard him and turned to reply. Her foot slipped on a wet patio tile and then she heard a loud crack from her leg at the same time as she was looking up at a clear azure sky and her body hit the floor with an almighty thud. When the anaesthetic wore off, and her head cleared, she found she was in bed, in the same hospital as Archie, with a plastered, elevated, leg.

Dave was proven right: neither Archie or Denise would be using the pool for a considerable period of time, if at all, and certainly not for another illicit evening swim.

1 comment:

  1. Two kind comments I've received by email.

    Joy wrote:
    I enjoyed reading your story, Elliot - it highlights the fact that life can change in the blink of an eye!

    Bernadette wrote:
    I enjoyed it. It kept me interested to the very end. I can see a book of short stories coming. Well done.

    Thank you both.


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