Normally I don’t like telling stories about fights because they seldom go anywhere and the stories almost always turn into sad exaggerations. Besides, I don’t exactly pride myself on being a “ruffian,” but I share this story because it has elements of a different culture and my experience with a free healthcare system.
After months of chasing down different people in the study abroad office and wrangling professors to write me letters of recommendation, I finally got accepted to the University of Leicester’s exchange program in the United Kingdom (UK). I hadn’t really made time for expectations or formulated what it might be like because I really had little in the way of a frame of reference. I was just really excited to live in Europe for a little while.
The University of Leicester turned out to be more laid back than I had anticipated in regards to the minimal amount of school work coupled with the encouragement of the party atmosphere. This university took a very open minded stance to “partying” and it preferred to host big parties on campus parties where it could charge for entry tickets and alcohol in order to raise extra money for who-knows-what. It was just like any spacious club you might attend in a college town, but it was located at your university. There was always a good girl to guy ratio at these things and the drinks were usually reasonably priced. So if it was done properly, you could get black out drunk and potentially bring someone back to your dorm to call it an “eventful night.” This was such a strange concept to me coming from a school that had so many policies that were so counter to this type of behavior.
I’d managed to make some pretty good friends within the first couple of weeks and so every night out was made better for having crazy characters with outlandish personalities changing the night’s outcome with insane wild ideas.
When it finally came time to get home after these big club-style on-campus parties, the school always encouraged the students to take cabs back home or use the official “drunk shuttle.” Seeing as our dorms were almost two miles from the center of campus and the bars were even further; walking the two miles alone and drunk back to the dorms was considered to be dangerous. The school made an extra effort to keep students off the streets after drinking by sharing stories of common muggings and stabbings during freshman orientation every year. Overall, the act of walking home at night was viewed as reckless and an unnecessary risk.
On one particular night out on campus I had gotten pretty hammered and stayed well after the last call lights had come on. I had been chatting up a few girls and somehow managed to stay much later than the majority of the crowd trying to seal the deal. In the process, I had lost my group of friends. I migrated outside and began to scan the groups of people for anyone that looked familiar. The idea was that if I found someone I knew, I’d have someone or at the minimum a group to ride with and split the cost of the 8£ (about $16) cab ride back to the dorms. As fewer cabs were coming back I noted that I was one of the few people left and things looked bleak.
“Taylor!” I heard someone yell from behind me. “What the fuck are you doing?”
I turned around and recognized two guys of smaller stature standing a few yards away in the grass eating cheeseburgers by the drunk food cart. These two lived in the adjacent dorm in my complex.
“We’re going home, you want to come with?” One of them asked with a mouth packed with food.
“I can’t find anyone I know out here, are you guys waiting for the drunk bus or ready to catch a cab?” I asked scratching my head while walking up to them.
“Nah mate, we spent everything we had at the bars and on these burgers.” The other said holding up his nearly finished burger, “We’re walking back mate.”
“Damnit, isn’t that like really far?” I asked looking around for other people I knew.
“No way, it’s like 20 minutes walking.” One of them said stuffing the last bite of his burger into his mouth.
“I’ve done it faster than that.” The other said spitting flecks of burger on me.
It would seem I didn’t really have much of a choice. “Alright, fuck it.” I said gesturing towards the sidewalk.
And we were off. We walked down the empty streets of Leicester headed towards our dorms passing quiet neighborhoods and unlit houses. We laughed and joked most of the way about the girls we almost kissed, the drinks we’d ordered, and the dance floor shenanigans that led each of us to end up where we were. All things considered we were all in a pretty good mood despite having to walk back.
It might go without saying, but I’m known for being loud when I’ve had a few cocktails, my voice just has a tendency to carry. I’ve been told that most Americans by comparison to many cultures can often be considered a “noisy bunch.” That particular night no was exception. I was in the midst of regaling a story about one of the girls that lived in our complex when we heard someone yell from far behind us, “Oy! Fuck Americans!”
I laughed and turned, assuming it might be someone we know. And so did the two guys who were walking with me. About two blocks behind us was a group of seven guys we didn’t recognize; just a bunch of idiots clearly trying to stir up some late night trouble.
Not to be out done, I yelled back, “I’m visiting your country! I kind of feel the same way!”
The three of us laughed and I continued on with my story when moments later we heard, “Fuck George Bush.”
“I didn’t vote him! Twice!” I half turned and yelled back to them.
I glanced behind us again and noticed these guys had gained some considerable ground on us. They had crossed the street and were only about a block away. The group was close enough that I knew for sure that I hadn’t met any of them before. The attire they were wearing alone gave away that were likely local “Chavs.” The American equivalent to a Chav is a “wigger.” Basically these guys were your run of the mill loser ghetto “townies” that never did anything after high school. For those of you that remember the Ali G show with Sasha Barren Cohen, these guys were an offshoot of his main character, “Ali G.” Short hair scruffy looking white guys with track suits and sneakers on. Think of soccer hooligans.
I knew they were trying to get a rise out of me to instigate something, “faggot!” One of them yelled out.
“Fucking pussy American!”
I played it cool, “A creative bunch we’ve got here, we’ve got those insults back home too!” I yelled out.
Although I was annoyed that these guys were following us and clearly trying to start something, I thought it would be in my best interest to let it go and just brush it off. We were only a quarter mile from the dorms, I’d assumed these clowns would stop following us when they realized that we were pretty much home after we turned the corner.
“Fuck the troops in Iraq!” One of them called out.
I stopped and turned around. “Who’s got the big mouth, huh?!” I yelled back at them.
That was it. They were practically on top of us, less than twenty feet away. I was tired of this stupid cat and mouse game.
I started walking towards them as my other two friends stopped and watched, “You’ve crossed the line on that one. Your country has got guys over there too, I’ve got good friends over there right now, who’s got the big fucking mouth.”
Prior to coming to England I lived in a Fraternity house with two guys that were in the army reserves. Outside of that, I had friends from college and otherwise that were also serving long tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had respect for those guys even though I didn’t support the war, I cared very much about my friends putting their lives on the line for our “freedom.”
In any event, there are just some things you don’t say. At that moment I didn’t care who it was coming from; this was a matter of principle. They had succeeded in riling me up and I didn’t feel like I was in the wrong no matter what the outcome of the situation might be after that.
They stopped perusing and stood still silently on the sidewalk as I walked up to the guy in front of the group. There were seven of them roughly all around same size as me. I stood a foot away from the one in the front, “You seem to have an awful lot to say when I’m walking away from you. I got buddies over there. Who the fuck do you think you-“
In a flash, one of the guys threw a hard sucker-punch right into my upper lip. There wasn’t any way I could have reacted fast enough, my head flew straight back as my feet left the ground; my body sailed backwards.
In psychology there’s something called, “rapid perception” that kicks into gear when we are placed into a fight or flight situation or something equivalent that engages our fears. Similarly to when you have a traumatic experience like a fall or even a car accident, our mind seems be able to slow down the moment and we can become hyper sensitive to the world around us; thus the event seems like it’s taking a long time. What actually happens is our memory goes into rapid recording mode.
You don’t actually see in slow motion, it turns out our brains have evolved for this. We have vivid memories of “scary” events so that we can recall them with ease and avoid such events in the future. So during one of these scary events, all of our senses are suddenly recorded more vividly and when we look back on the event, it was as though our senses were briefly heightened.
When I was punched in the face and lifted off the ground it felt like I hung in the air much like the scene in the movie Snatch It was an unreal feeling watching the my legs floating upwards away from the group of guys in front of me. I remember thinking while still in the air, “as soon as I land, I’m getting up and taking down the one in the front.
My shoulders were the first thing to finally catch the pavement. In an instant, I sprung to my feet and dashed up to the guy that slugged me. I dipped low and side stepped one of them to clutch the guy in front by his neck with my right hand. I jammed my other arm in his arm pit and push upwards. He came off the ground as I then pulled heavily downwards with my left arm and pushed up with my hand still on his throat turning him sideways in the air and slamming him down hard on his back against the pavement. I hadn’t done anything to instigate any of this, I didn’t want to fight? I was enraged, still holding his neck with an iron grip. I pulled back my left fist and stared hard into his eyes, “Apologize to me!” I yelled out.
I guess I hadn’t taken into account that there were six of his friends standing in front of me. A swift kick between the eyes broke my nose with a loud “crack!” and sent me back on the ground trying to right myself. My adrenaline kicked in and from that point on it was seven on one. I got back to my feet and began throwing punches at anything in front of me. I’d get one or two hits in before catching a swarm of stiff shots to the face and body; losing my balance then ending up on the ground again. After a few missed swings, one guy tried to tackle me from behind and wrapped his arms around my waist while driving his shoulder into me. I sent an elbow into the back of his head and turned to place a hard jab to his ribs to break free. That would be the only guy I really put out of the match. Shortly thereafter, I’d square up with one guy and get punched in the stomach and face by two others, eventually ending up on the ground once again. And so it went for a few minutes, I’d get back up and connect with a few more punches before a string of kicks and jabs to the face would take me off my feet once more. The two British kids I’d walked with kept pulling guys off of me so I could at least get back on my feet when I kept getting knocked down. By now blood was coming from different places on my face. The blood from the deep cut in my nose was getting into my eyes and I could barely see; while I kept spitting out blood from my busted lip. I continued squaring off and trying to make space between the guys to be able to get a shot or two in before taking more punches.
Finally the two guys I came with managed to separate me for long enough time to allow me attempt to catch my breath. Nearby, someone stepped outside of their house and announced that they had already called the police. The Chavs took off running in one direction and we set off in the other. Luckily we were only about a two minutes walk away.
“Damnit boys.” I trying to catch my breath. “That didn’t go as well as I’d planned.” I said laughing spitting blood onto the sidewalk.
The two British guys erupted in laughter. “Mate, who picks a fight with that many guys?”
I tried to clear the blood dripping down my face with my shirt. “A fucking idiot, that’s who.”
The two British guys were a riot for the remainder of the walk back. By the time we walked through the gates of living area we were all doing impressions of each other during the fight and laughing about the whole thing. I got up to the outside of my dorm and one of my buddies came out and saw my face.
He recoiled in horror, “Holy shit! Taylor! Are you alright?” He took out his phone and called a few of our other close friends.
“Yeah man, thanks for taking a cab with me. Turns out this whole walking thing is seriously over rated.” I said rolling my eyes and giving the two guys who were still with me a goofy look.
“I’m calling an ambulance. You’re not ok.” He said dialing the emergency services number.
“I just need to fucking sit down and have a drink.” I walked over to our dorms and lit up a cigarette. Someone brought me a couple of beers.
I told the story of being followed to the guys and a few of the girls that had now gathered outside of the dorms. I began to take a total inspection of what had just happened to me. My hands and arms were covered in blood (my own), mostly from wiping it away from my nose and mouth. As the adrenaline began to wear off, I started to feel a very serious headache coming on. It felt like someone was standing on my face. I was sill somewhat dizzy and wasn’t sure if it was from the fight or all the drinks leading up to the brawl. After I finished my first beer, I got up to go take a look at myself in the bathroom. I could hardly recognize my own face, “maybe an ambulance wasn’t such a bad idea.” I said out loud inspecting my swollen eyes, nose, and chin.
A few moments later the paramedics arrived and they asked me to sit down in their ambulance. I drank another beer in the ambulance while they cleaned my face off and looked me over. They put a band-aid on the cut across the bridge of my broken nose and told me to be more careful. They never asked me questions that you might ask someone with a concussion or inspected my nose to see if it was in fact broken. They drove off shortly thereafter and it was only a minute or two before the police arrived.
The male and female cop walked me back to the bench in front of my dorm. The male cop pulled out a note pad and flipped to a blank page, “Want to tell us what happened ya?”
I took another swig of beer, “I fell down an anti-American staircase.”
The two cops looks at each other and the friends sitting around us erupted in laughter.
“No really lad, why don’t you give us an idea of who done this to ya.” the blond lady cop said with a pleasant smile.
“Well this staircase followed us back from campus. Even if I could remember what this staircase looked like, I wouldn’t be able to tell you where it could be found.” I said shrugging sadly.
The male cop flipped is notebook closed, “you’re a tough lad, but if I were you, I’d avoid walking back from campus from now on ya?”
I nodded and laughed a little, “I think you’ve got a deal.”
We took a few pictures and the cops went on their way.
After I finished my last beer, I went back inside to inspect my wounds more thoroughly. The skin on the bridge of my nose had a deep split and everything under the skin had shifted leftwards. I had bruises all over my ribs and most of the blood vessels in my forehead and face had burst. It was not my finest hour.
I knew that it was possible I could have a concussion and if I didn’t get the slice on my nose properly treated I’d have a big scar across my face. I needed to get to hospital and see someone who would do more than a band-aid for me.
I called up what is basically the “residence adviser” and asked him if he would take me to the hospital to see a doctor. He had clearly been sleeping and declined to take any action seeing how an ambulance showed up and had driven off saying I was fine. This meant I was pretty much on my own. I called up one of the girls I’d been seeing and asked her to come join me as I didn’t want to be left alone and possibly fall asleep with any type of concussion. While she was on her way over I decided to call my dad. It was around 8:00 AM on The east coast to get his advice.
He was surprised to hear from me but went into a fit of rage when he found out I had been beat up by a bunch of guys and had not gone to the hospital for stuff that was seemingly serious. He got even more furious when I told him the resident adviser had told me to go to “deal with it.” My dad’s exact words were, “get that little twit of an RA on the phone right now and tell him he’s going to take you to the hospital himself otherwise he’s gonna find one of my shoes up his ass.”
I put on my best no-nonsense voice once he picked up and I launched into a tirade about his job and my predicament. I might have been a bit harder on him than I should of been. In colorful American English, I explained that people from his country had beat me up after a school sponsored event purely based on the fact that I was from somewhere else. I told him to get his lazy ass out of bed and bring me to the hospital if he wanted to keep his job. This was England, people usually don’t speak to one another in that manner so it was no surprise that he became apologetic and said he was on his way.
A few minutes later he showed up, drunk. He handed me 10£ and said the cab was on its way and promptly turned around to head back to his dorm. The girl I had been on the phone with minutes earlier showed up and agreed to stay with me while I went to the hospital to be looked over. I was finally going to see what free healthcare looked like first hand.
Why it’s free:
The cab dropped us off right out front and we walked into a somewhat empty emergency room. Not too dissimilar to what we’re accustomed to in the United States; clean floors, white walls, and a antiseptic smell in the air. It was a Wednesday night, so there were only maybe a dozen people in the entire emergency room waiting area. We walked to the front of the waiting room and approached the woman at the front desk. I explained what happened and she handed me a clip board to fill out paperwork pertaining to our visit. I went back up to the lady at the front desk and handed her my clipboard and asked, “Where I could get some ice? My face is hurting pretty bad and I think it might help with the swelling.”
She puts on a big open mouth grin then spins around in her chair and yells to the other women working behind her, “He wants ice!”
They all burst into laughter. And a few of them even repeat it while laughing harder. “He wants ice!”
While they all had their little moment I stood there clueless as to what was going on. Some people in the emergency room waiting even got a good chuckle out of it. It was later explained to me that Americans are known for putting too much ice in their soft drinks and the English use it rather sparingly… fucking hilarious.
Nearly wiping away tears from laughing so hard and still giggling, the nurse behind the window points towards the open seating area, “Out of ice today sweetheart, you can sit down over there, we’ll call your name. Alright? Cheers.”
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but so far this wasn’t it. I walked back with the girl I’d brought and sat down utterly confused while I continued to hear people around me and other nurses laugh at my expense over asking for “some ice” in an emergency room.
After an hour or so my name was eventually my name was finally called. By then my face was quite swollen and the pain coming from my nose was a constant throbbing stemming from my nose outwards. A nurse brought me to a smaller room to take my vitals while I explained what happened. Then another nurse brought me to big open poorly lit room with upright sheets separating beds, making for temporary walls. She sat me down asked me yet again what happened. This was the third time I’d explained the events that led up to my presence in an emergency room and it was getting a little redundant. But I recapped the story again out of courtesy and then said “I told the first three ladies the same thing, are you taking notes?”
She smiled, “a doctor will see you shortly love.”
I started to text dirty and playful things to the girl that had come with me that was still hanging out waiting for me in the practically empty waiting room. I had to imagine she was bored to tears. Ten minutes later and I was midway through texting something really dirty when a young Indian doctor came in to see me. He introduced himself and sat down next to me, “Now what are you here for?” he asked looking me up and down.
I looked at him as if he was kidding and gestured towards my face but he didn’t seem to understand my facial expression. Possibly because my eyebrows were so swollen it just looked like I was in a perpetual state of confusion.
I told him about the fight then explained that I wanted to see something further done than a band-aide on my nose, “I know that when I did sports when I was a little younger, any type of laceration or significant break in the face requires immediate attention in order to avoid visible facial scars. I’d like to see some type of plastic surgeon for the slice on my nose and maybe some sort specialist to evaluate me for any type of other head or internal injuries I might have. And I can’t tell but I may have cracked my ribs” I said lifting my shirt and exposing the bright red and small blotted violet bruises forming on the left and right side of my ribcage.
The doctor let out a big sigh and opened a drawer nearby. He pulled out a large pill and handed it to me. “This will help you with the pain. I’ll send someone over in a minute.”
I didn’t dare ask about water as my last reaction to asking about water’s solid form seem to be comedy gold.
A female nurse , came in a moment later. She never introduced herself or said what she was doing. “You alright?” She said putting on surgical gloves (that phrase, “you alright” mean’s “what’s up” in the UK).
She asked me to lean back and I did. I watched her pull out a tube of something from a desk drawer.
“Alright love, this will sting for a second.” She squirted a substance that burned like hell into the cut and held it, “hold still for 15-20 seconds.”
She took her hands off my face and patted my shoulder, “alright yeah, don’t blow your nose hard for a few weeks and keep out of fights for bit.”
“Wait What?!” I exclaimed watching her take off the gloves. “That’s it!? You guys put superglue on my nose and send me off? ”
I reached up for my face and she gently grabbed my hand. “Don’t touch it for a while love,” she said unphased by anything I’d just said.
I was stunned.
“On your way,” She said pointing back the way I had come. “The waiting room is just through that door back there on your left.” She said turning and walking away.
I walked back into the waiting room and told my female friend the extent of their “services” to which she laughed hysterically and pointed at my face. We eventually got a cab ride back home that night and I finally got to sleep off that long evening. The next day I was visited by the director of housing for my set of blocks and he expressed his sympathy’s for what had happened. Seeing as my eyebrows were so swollen I looked permanently confused, so he probably felt compelled to ask less questions and leave it alone. I finally got an appointment with the on campus clinic to reset my broken nose, which required someone to pretty much place both thumbs on the bridge of my nose and push until it made a cracking noise and appeared to be re-aligned.
After it was all said and done, I came away with valuable lessons:
Reduce the amount of drunk wondering in new places after bars close. Don’t physically challenging groups that contain higher numbers than my own. And free healthcare will get it done but it’s free for a good reason.