After going on a sudden mission to hunt down the plant that possibly poisoned her beloved family dog, Rhona McAuliffe suffers an injury. Amid a 10-hour wait in A&E, she ponders the consequences of making split-second decisions on a whim...
‘Rhona McAuliffe?’ Shouts a small man in marine scrubs, reading from a clipboard.
It was 8am and I was just about to leave. The plug socket behind the Coke machine was a score. I had enough charge to Google the size, depth and facial placement of my wound; to know that, although most commenters said to seek medical advice, a few said not to bother if I wasn’t into aesthetics. I was so close to not caring about aesthetics.
‘I am deeply sorry,’ he said as I walked towards him. ‘A ten-hour wait is absolutely unacceptable. It’s like Baghdad in here. I’ve had head trauma, a cardiac arrest, a psychotic rage. You’ve picked a really bad night to come in.’
I thought that was an odd thing to say, like I’d diarised a Wednesday evening face-smash and casual A&E ‘Hiya,’ but it was all just part of his blasé-but-on-the-ball doctor shtick. The comment clung to me, partly because I it made me want to fight him, raging UFC-style; but mainly because I’d spent the previous ten hours, knee-to-knee with hairy sports injuries, pub brawl casualties and turnip-chopping fails, thinking about the repercussions of split-second decisions.
I’d headed out the previous night on a mission. Our idolised family dog was very ill – I wrote about that HERE – and the vet, having exhausted all possibilities, wondered if he might have eaten a toxic plant. Off I went in the sheeting rain, emotions high, night closing in, to retrace our daily walk. There was one stretch – a bank of mossy rocks sloping into the Irish sea – that I would usually swerve in wet weather, for obvious, potential-injury related reasons. But that night I had my Jessica Fletcher on: if I could just find the alien plant, solve the case and save the dog, it would be high fives all ‘round.
For a second, as I edged out onto the rocks, my brain got involved.
Brain: ‘Are you on drugs?’
Unconscious self: ‘No, why?’
Brain: ‘You might die.’
Unconscious self: ‘Stand down, Grandma, we’re going in.’
And that was it. Twenty seconds later I used my face to break the fall, didn’t find the plant and spent the night in A&E.
My husband calls me Gonal, which is a combination of my family nickname ‘Gonies’ and my Dad’s name, ‘Dónal.’ Gonal honours my lack of patience and ham-fistedness, which I’ve apparently inherited from my father. I’m the person who over-screws the Ikea furniture - probably using the wrong screws – irreparably damaging the fixings; and tries to heave the washing machine up a steep flight of stairs by myself, grunting like Geoff Capes with a truck on my back. Anyone remember him? Dad is the one who pours bubbling turkey grease into a plastic bag, notices that the bag is leaking and rather than re-sacking it, bullets through the house in a whirl of hysteria, trailing grease in two rooms, across a new carpet, so he can get to the wheelie bin outside. We both just like getting shizz done, and fast.
I’m also a big believer in author Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that: ‘There can be as much value in the blink of any eye as in months of rational analysis.’ His book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, first published in 2005 and still doing the rounds, centres on multiple case studies where sometimes a snap decision pays off, other times it doesn’t. Just like a calculated decision, where all elements have been painstakingly considered. A main body of scientific thought challenges Gladwell’s pop claims, saying that articulate thinking, rather than intuitive or emotional thinking, is the crucial difference between human and animal brains.
If that’s the case, I am clearly a dolphin in disguise. There is little more tedious, I think, than ruminating a big decision, weighing up the pros and cons, labouring the endless outcomes, until you’re so overwhelmed with information you fall asleep.
I’ve made some huge decisions on a whim, like moving to London when I was twenty-six, and making a flash call to move home 15 years later; resigning from a summer job with a lecherous boss when I really couldn’t afford to and ending a relationship with a latent narcissist when we could now be married with kids. Best. Decisions. Ever.
This disengagement of the brain hasn’t always worked out for me. There have been other accidents – a gashed forehead, fractured cheekbone, a concussion, fluid on my knee – that could easily be attributed to snap decisions and an over-riding sense of it’ll be grand. It wasn’t.
There were the sixteen to twenty-two years, where almost every split-second decision was a bad one, from bailing into a jeep with the cute Spanish boys we met in a Menorcan club when we were eighteen, to riding down the highway, clinging to a car bonnet in Ocean City, Maryland; and everything else in between. And I say ‘bad,’ only in retrospect. At the time we were lolling all the way to the late night garage.
There were also life-changing moments when my instinct was vetoed. The most prolific was when I went into labour six weeks early at my desk at work. We hadn’t even bought a cot, there were still builders in our flat, I’d never even held a baby before. Despite not being able to sit on my chair for shooting pains in my lower back and circling the office like a delirious hyena, I booked a taxi to take me home. ‘It’s just my back,’ I said. ‘I’ll be grand once I’m in bed.’ I worked with an angel and her name is Blanche. She was also pregnant at the time and actually read the books and ingested all the info (I was waiting until week 36 to do that). She knew my baby was breach and that breach labour started in the back. She cancelled my taxi home and sent me straight to the hospital, where, in a haze of emergency alarms and panicked faces my daughter was born forty-five minutes later, while I was knocked out. My daughter’s middle name is Blanche.
Maybe now is the time to start listening to my brain, I think, as the perky doctor glues my face back together? For every one of the inspired, gut-driven choices I’ve celebrated, there is a useless piece of Ikea furniture. Maybe the ‘my life is a game show’ thing isn’t working?
‘No broken teeth, bridge intact, you’ve missed lacerating your lip by a fraction of a millimetre and incredibly, your chin hasn’t split.’
‘So it was a pro fall?’ I said, seizing the opportunity for a pat-on-the-back.
‘Landing on your hands would’ve edged you into the pro leagues.’ He said.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.