This is a personal essay about a travel experience that took place when I was 13 years old on a family holiday to the Spanish island of Mallorca.
The night was forced open by tall orange and yellow flames, lapping at the warm night air. The beach was quiet, hidden by the darkness. The full moon reflected boldly onto the sea, a shimmering reflection lighting up the tall silhouettes of overhanging cliffs with caves carved into their sides. Waves swallowed up the beach, pushed by a gentle, slow moving breeze. Human figures danced, weaving in between the candles, circling them in a large circle in the sand. In the centre was a small fire.
It was our first night in Mallorca.
Two months had passed since we had rescued a sickly kitten in Barbados. Now it was mid-July and summer was well and truly underway.
We had just finished eating at a favourite restaurant of mine and decided to take a walk on the nearby beach which was hugged by huge cliff faces.
The beach was usually empty but that night there was something going on at the far end of it. I took in the candles and the silhouettes of many people. The candle light was hypnotising – vivid. The rest of the beach was sleeping in darkness.
We walked down the tumble of rocks which led to the beach and I felt soft sand beneath my sandals.
The sensation of coarse sand within my shoes sends shivers down my spine so I kicked them off and picked them up with my hands. I wiggled my toes in the sand, feeling the cool particles hug my feet.
I felt a sudden rush of excitement and freedom. I sprinted. My feet sank into the sand as I leapt around, my sister running alongside me. Faster and faster I ran, the breeze on my face and the wind in my hair.
The rest of the family weren’t too far behind us.
The glowing candle-light was becoming brighter as we charged down the beach.
Suddenly, I let out a startled gasp and leapt awkwardly, feeling a throbbing pain in my left foot. I tried to place it down again, wondering if I’d just trod on a sharp rock but as I let my foot rest in the sand, the stabbing pain was reignited fiercely. There was something in my foot.
I hopped and limped, startled for a moment as I noticed the heavy weight that seemed to be sticking out of my foot. My mind began to spiral with the possibilities. It didn’t feel like a rock. It felt sharp, very sharp and was embedded deep within my tender sole.
At this point, the rest of my family realised something was wrong and doubled-back to get me.
“What’s wrong?” My mum asked curiously.
I couldn’t reply. I leant on her shoulder, lifting my foot higher, feeling the thing hanging down. The thing. Not knowing what it was made my body tremble and sent my brain wild with theories.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I was picturing a giant sea slug with a long pointy nose (like a narwhal’s tusk) sticking out of my foot. I was terrified of this slug I could see so vividly in my mind – a creature I had totally just made up on the spot but was suddenly convinced it was real.
“What is it?” I asked, my voice trembling slightly.
My mum bent down, examining it.
“No…” She muttered breathlessly.
My eyes widened as I sensed the panic in her voice. I looked down, trying to see the thing for myself. I could only see its outline. It was reasonably long and sharp. It had to be the slug of my nightmares.
“What is it?” I repeated, my voice wild and taut.
“Come tale a look at this!” My mum yelled to my dad.
He came over, bending down and yanking the object out of my foot. Oof. It hurt but I was relieved to feel the weight lift. I blinked and winced before slowly lowering my foot, feeling a stinging and at the same time numbing feeling.
My mum held the object which was concealed by the night’s darkness, eyes widening with shock.
“Is it…?” My mum’s words failed.
Why was she so worried? What the hell was it?
“No.” She shook her head. “It can’t be! Feel it… is it…” She couldn’t finish her sentence.
My dad felt the item without a word. He simply nodded.
What was it?! I wanted to yell but I was too scared to speak.
I tried to convince myself it was alright. My mum tended to react more strongly than most people but my dad’s silence was undeniable. He was usually so quick to brush things off. Yet that wasn’t happening now. Whatever it was, he was taking it very seriously.
“Let’s go into the light.” My dad spoke at last.
Without another word, my parents took off in the direction of a street lamp, glimmering in the distance. Myself and my siblings followed in silence. We walked back up the tumble of rocks and I slipped my shoes back on. I should have never taken them off in the first place.
Red, yellow and orange flowers surrounded the base of the street lamp. The light was dim and dark orange but good enough.
My dad looked down at the object in his palms, blinking. My mum looked over his shoulder, a bitter frown on her face.
This is when I saw the thing for the first time.
I swallowed, feeling slightly puzzled as I laid eyes on it. It was an injection needle – a syringe. The murky plastic tube was smashed in half but the needle was still there, sharp and glistening. That was what had been wedged in the sole of my foot.
“We have to get her to a doctor.” My mum’s voice was stiff with worry. “Now!”
The full moon floated on the horizon as I stared out of the car window. The dark buildings passed us in a blur of dizzying blackness. I watched the moon feeling a strange numbness in my chest.
Beside me my dad was driving at break-neck speed. I glanced at the dashboard to see it was just past midnight.
In the centre console was the syringe wrapped in a receipt, being illuminated by the bright rays of the haunting moon which watched in silence as the night unfolded.
I found a strawberry lollipop on my seat and picked it up. My hands fumbled with the crinkly plastic wrapper and I decided to eat it.
We eventually pulled up outside a small cream-coloured building at the edge of the local town of Santa Ponça. The brickwork was slightly stained and the building was backed by large, intimidating trees. The full moon hung above, lighting up the building like it was trapped in a spot light.
I looked at the emergency medical centre nervously, not quite feeling ready to go inside. What were they going to do to me?
It was time.
I slammed shut the car door and began to cautiously shuffle towards the building, the tall shadows of mountains loomed over my head. Other than the screeching of crickets, everything was silent.
As we approached the door, I spotted movement near my feet. I leapt back as a pair of cockroaches scuttled over the dusty floor.
A dog barked in the distance and I jumped.
Inside, the search for a doctor who spoke English was challenging. My mind whirled as my dad tried but failed to communicate to a handful of doctors. Finally, he struck lucky.
I was still sucking on my strawberry lollipop as we were ushered into the doctor’s room. I watched as my dad showed him the hypodermic needle.
My dad had already prepared me for the possibility of getting a shit tonne of injections and he was right.
A used syringe had stabbed into me which had left me susceptible to any disease left on that needle by the previous user. I could catch Hepititus B, Hepititus C or even HIV.
The risk of actually catching one of these diseases was low as the syringe looked old and diseases can only survive for a few days maximum. Still, there was a risk involved and in situations like this, you’re better safe than sorry.
The doctor’s advice was to travel to Palma Hospital the next day. This was the largest hospital on the island which was located just outside the capital city of Palma. They would be able to provide me with the blood tests and emergency injections I needed.
I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I gazed out the car window as we made our way down the highway towards Palma. The sun shone down over the mountainous landscape which surrounded us and I envied everyone who was going about their day to day lives. I thought of the rest of my family back at the villa who were likely lounging by the pool, sipping on Coca Cola and enjoying the sunshine.
Instead I was on my way to Palma hospital to transition into a pin-cushion.
I tried to mentally prepare myself for the series of injections I was about to endure but the more I thought about it, the more nervous I became.
Sitting in the waiting room was painful. I had a huge knot in my stomach which not even the guessing games I was playing with my dad could remove.
When I was finally called in, I had a blood test followed by the first of an expedited 3-dose course of Hepatitis B and then another injection in the opposite arm. I have no clue what this was for. The final injection of the day would be an emergency Tetanus booster.
A blood test taken immediately after a needle injury is used to detect whether or not you already had one of the key diseases before the injury. A follow-up blood test would then be required in a few months.
My blood test and Heb B jab had gone surprisingly well so I felt calm as I stepped into the third room of the day.
“Lie down on your front.” A doctor instructed me.
Why on earth? I obeyed and lay on the hospital bed with my head in a pillow. I was used to having injections in my arms so I didn’t expect what happened next.
I was getting an injection in my butt.
Four doctors crowded around me as my skirt was hitched down slightly so that my butt cheeks were on display. There was a great deal of poking and I wanted to hide with embarrassment. Why did I need four doctors for one injection? And why were they giggling and poking my ass?!
Just get it over with, I willed.
At least I couldn’t see the injection going in so I wouldn’t notice it. I let out a calm sigh. But then. Ahhh fucking hell that hurts like fury! I let out a pathetic whimper. Yep, I actually whined in front of the four doctors.
Then I lifted my head, startled. That was the most painful injection I have ever had in my life.
I mean the needle was so huge that it had to go in my ass as it wouldn’t fit anywhere else.
When I was reunited with my dad his eyes were round with sorrow. “I saw the needle.” He remarked. “It was massive.”
I had a sore arm and a very sore ass for a few days after that.
I floated round the glittering cyan pool under the midday sun. My arms were so numb with injections that I couldn’t even swim.
This morning I had endured the final Heb B jab which marked the end of my gruelling few weeks of injections. I would then have one final blood test in a month or so, when I was back in England, but at least I could finally enjoy my summer break.
All in all, I experienced 5 injections and 2 blood tests all because I had accidently given myself an injection in the foot with a broken, used syringe. So I guess that’s 8 needle stabbings over the space of a few weeks. I was so ‘syringed-out’.
The blood test results came back a few weeks after my final test and I was relieved to have been given the all-clear.
Needle injuries are incredibly uncommon outside of professions which come into contact with syringes and, of course, people using illegal drugs. It felt super unlucky that I managed to step on one on a quiet beach on a popular Spanish island.
The theory we came to was that the syringe had washed ashore. It was in a terrible state which suggested it was fairly old.
Even so, I never did venture out onto that beach again.