Stairway to Hell

It’s hard to have an obvious limp when the story behind it is so excruciating.

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. In fact, it is so unlikely that it has probably never even cropped up in most people’s nightmares but it can happen. Especially to drinkers.

I remember laughing like a drain when a friend dropped a Coke bottle on her foot and spent the next six weeks in plaster, faced with sniggering sympathy every time she was asked how she had acquired her injury.

For me, it has been nearly two weeks now. Still I can barely walk and still I haven’t found a story to explain my lolloping, wincing limp. It started at Bean Bag Bohemia, Durban, after a long day in at the International Convention Centre.

Excellent duck and mash, a bottle of red wine, a couple of cleansing ales and back to the hotel. Far from feeling disabled, I felt most abled. I took the lift to my room on the sixth floor, drank three glasses of water and fell asleep.

I don’t know what the time was when I got up and staggered, lens-less and blind, to the bathroom any more than I know what time it was when I reached the top of the building. I had opened (and closed) the wrong door and found myself in the corridor without a key, wearing only a pair of striped boxer shorts. I could be grateful, although I didn’t think of it at the time, that I was wearing these and not the Christmas pair with the hedgehogs and associated punning slogans. Grateful, indeed, that I was wearing anything at all.

I didn’t panic. I wasn’t awake or sober enough. I realised that the lifts were to be avoided for fear of loud screams from late-returning female guests; as was reception for fear of arrest.

So I began to climb the stairs, as the pressure on my bladder increased and I began to experience the level of pain I imagine comes from ignoring appendicitis. Faster and faster. In search of a loo. In search of a pot plant. In search, ultimately, of a roof garden. There were, I knew, 24 floors. Surely somewhere I would find relief.

I had climbed 18 storeys when I reached the locked door to the roof and headed back down again unrelieved, faster still, pattering bare feet on the painted cement, flying around the corners, with no plan. Twenty-three floors later, avoiding reception as a bat shuns the daylight, I stopped on the first floor outside the breakfast room and found, O Joy! a sign with an X-shaped man on a door. Bent double like an N-shaped man, I went in.

A bemused employee looked up from his swashing and politely explained, as if I was dressed for it, that breakfast wouldn’t start for another two hours. It was, I calculated, four in the morning.

I told him my story. He saw that the pain of embarrassment had superseded the now reducing pain of an over- burdened bladder. He called security, not to arrest me (as might have seemed reasonable) but to accompany me in a private lift. I was surrounded by men in uniform and feeling badly under-dressed when they unceremoniously let me back into my room.

I remembered everything when I woke. Then I climbed out of bed and couldn’t stand. The pain in my calves was of the intensity one might feel after climbing Everest . I crawled to the bathroom and lay in the bath until I could move my feet.

I left humid Durban and limped around the Drakensberg for a few days, wondering whether altitude might be the cure. Now I am back in the dry air of the Karoo and slowly improving. I have given up the idea of dropping a Coke bottle on my toe to divert the pain and I am not going teetotal. I have also given up any plans I might have had to climb Everest. The pain is too great and I can’t imagine where the loo might be.