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11 June 2009

A garden of smoking pollen

After falling from her horse, the author suffered concussion – and suddenly the world became a place

By Sigrid Rausing

Here’s the last thing I remember: turning my horse for the gallop, leaning forward, taking her mane into my hands. The mane whipping up, into my face. The mane of Arab horses is never cut; it’s a tradition. Kyrisha’s mane is long and strong, chestnut, like the rest of her. Fast like the wind, on this gallop, which is the half-mile from the bottom of the farm. Fast like the wind, because it’s towards the stable and Kyrisha, like all horses, speeds up for home.

Minutes later I was on the ground, unconscious. I remained there for five or ten minutes, then I woke up, as if from a dream, except that I wasn’t properly awake. I walked back to the house – I knew I had to do that. At some point I threw the cracked helmet on the ground; I don’t remember that. I remember Hilary, our cleaning lady, looking at me with concern, and calling Eric, my husband. I sat in a chair with my head in my hands, saying, “I don’t remember, I just can’t remember.”

Kyrisha was found behind the stables, some clover stuck to the left stirrup. From that I deduce that she fell, and that I fell with her. Eric called the ambulance, and they came, two crews. I remember a woman standing behind me, holding my head. I remember throwing up. I don’t remember the dogs, what they did, what they made of it. I remember Eric holding my feet in a steady, warm grip in the ambulance. They put me in a neck stabiliser on a body board, so I couldn’t turn my head to throw up. I remember pushing someone’s arm from my mouth, trying to stop a metal suction device, which I couldn’t bear. They tried to force my mouth open. I remember throwing up and spitting, the odd, uncertain freedom of spitting in front of people. A kind person wiped my face. I threw up in the oxygen tube.

I remember almost nothing of the A&E. We were there for hours, until two in the morning. Until I had been scanned I couldn’t be released from the neck lock, and the scanner was busy that night. At a certain point I choked, apparently, and turned blue, and there was an alarm and people running. I don’t remember.
I remember shaking with cold, and being given a mysterious blanket filled with hot air to warm me up.
There were many pleasures. Jets of air in the claustrophobic scanner. A nurse on the ward, later, sponging my teeth with cold water. Liquid paracetamol in the drip. The bed of the ward after the body board; clean white sheets, blue curtains around me. Old women; silence.

Eric came back early the next morning, when it was all still a haze. He battled to get my name on the scanner list – the doctors had established the night before that my spine was unfractured, but they thought they could see facial fractures, which needed to be rescanned. The consultant who was to add my name to the scanning technician’s list wasn’t, it turned out, answering the telephone that morning – he had too much to do. Eric, who is a producer, and never takes no for an answer, walked back and forth between the two offices bearing messages. I had the scan, and it turned out I had a fracture on my left eye socket.

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I saw the ophthalmologist on the fourth day, and the surgeon. They suspected I might need a temporary plate under the eye until the bone healed. Then they let me go home. When I saw them both again a few days later it was as if I had never seen them before. The only thing I vaguely remember, as though from childhood, was the test, the dots of green and red lights on a board.

At home, I go to bed. Our doctor comes and gives me injections of painkiller and anti-nausea remedy. I throw up, still. At the weekend another doctor comes, a young man from Iraq. He smiles warmly. He seems French. He, too, injects me; I feel self-conscious in my nakedness.

I enter into three days of the most abject depression. I feel more worthless than a lump of coal, fat, stupid, uninteresting, ridiculous. I stare at my dull hair. My face is scraped and bruised. I am like an unloved teenager. After three days it’s over, and I become euphoric. Now I am flying so high, it’s like a dream. I talk, feverishly. I interrupt people. I have extraordinary insights; I remember texts and events from long ago. I drink fizzy water and I talk, endlessly, I smile, I love everyone I see. The world has been painted with invisible cartoon paint, golden and beautiful. My stepson comes for a visit, stepping through the golden afternoon like a movie star. The flowers in the garden are smoking pollen; it’s unreal.

One night, as I was falling asleep, a woman, two feet high, sat on my head, swinging her legs, chatting, chatting, in a fun fair from the 1930s, sunny, ordinary, and palpably there.

And then normality crept back, the gold wash paled.With a distinct, and yet possibly invented, sense of dread, I find the place I think may be the place of the accident, a place of bent grass, and clover on the ground. I visit Kyrisha. We look at each other for a long time, and I wonder what she remembers. What do horses remember of falls? A split-second fall, a leggy scramble up, shake, canter home. Will she always remember, or has she already forgotten?

Sigrid Rausing is the publisher of Granta