I remember very well how I got there, but it doesn’t matter.
The ambulance stopped, they pulled out the gurney, carried it up some steps and into the elevator and across the corridors. The room fitted four beds and they transferred me to the one near the window.
Tiago was the first one I saw. Friendly and joyful, not making much noise to avoid waking up the others. “Good night, are you ok? Listen if you need anything, you can press the button and I or one of my colleagues will come. Ok ? Now rest.”
I did. Half scared and half thinking “now I know.”
In the morning a few nurses came around, the staff brought breakfast, a piece of bread, plain milk, and a cup of “coffee” with milk. I came to know that routine very well. The “coffee” was barley, the command was that everyone should have a shower across the corridor. I hurried to avoid meeting anyone else.
Of the four beds, the one next to mine was empty, the third had a man curled up, and an old man occupied the farthest one near the exit.
Doctors eventually came around to check on the patients. One of them came up to me, Margarida, she would be following my case while my doctor was busy, my treatments would begin shortly. She looked young and compensated with care and dedication.
My head felt clear and curious for once, which lead to noticing the man in the third bed was sitting and was eventually in a chair talking with a Doctor, in English.
“Do you understand, if you don’t give me permission to treat you, I can’t do anything. Are you clear on that? Are you sure you don’t want us to treat you?” She was being assertive, the answers came slurred and in a tight accent.
Eventually Pedro showed up with “supplies”. A phone charger, a wi-fi hotspot, instant coffee, a smile and a hug.
"Keep your spirit up, everybody knows that a good disposition is the first step to getting better. We will help you in any way we can."
Pedro is the best representation of the Lobsters. The day I met Pedro was a Wednesday, it was around 17h30 and I was sitting in O’Gillins, an Irish pub in the middle of Lisbon. It was early, for me, but some people were already there as if straight from 1977. We had been talking on twitter, and he instructed me to “save a table”. So there I was, hunched towards my old laptop, until I saw a man in a grey suit that seemed too big for him and a little girl by the hand, Carolina.
People kept showing up and the table filled up soon. Two from the United States, another Pedro from a bank, a few other faces and names that faded. I have lost the details of that day but I remember how it felt.
There was an energy and sense of instant friendship. “If you came, you’re our friend.” And Pedro participated in conversations about everything with level of interest that I envy. That group grew and took roots, all thanks to him. The name “Lobsters” emerged, and the oddest, most intelligent group of people I had ever met became my friends.
I got up from that table and Pedro said “remember, we meet every first Wednesday”. This rippled to one of the most positive impacts in my life.
Dinner time came, “Did you pick fish or meat?” It wasn’t easy to communicate with the man two beds over, so I translated a bit between him and the staff.
Once they came back to take away the trays, the room dropped to a sombre mood. I sat next to him. He was lying towards the foot of the bed, awake, as if hiding from everyone.
I told him my name, and I don’t remember much of what I said next. It was a mixture of usual courtesies and acquaintance questions just to get to the point of asking why he didn’t want treatment. The reasons he mentioned have faded, and in my usual manner I must have ignored all of them.
“Healthcare is free here, they won’t charge you and the doctor is worried about you. I can have a word with the nurses and help you translate while I’m here.”
He agreed at some point. And the next day I let one of the nurses know.
He deserves his privacy so I am going to call him K. The bracelet he wore was a clear sign that he was Sikh, from Punjab if memory serves me right. His mind wasn’t all that clear these first days, and the doctor wasn’t sure what was wrong.
While this was going on, I was in touch with the Lobsters, and once they knew visiting hours I was lucky to receive a small entourage of friends.
This was my darkest hour, and yet I was shielded from fear because they were there.