I never planned on ending up in a Siberian hospital. I don't think anyone does. Once I regained consciousness I noticed one or two things were missing, like the feeling in my legs, as well as any idea of either where or who I was. Men and women in white coats milled around my bed, speaking to each other in a language that seemed to forbid the use of vowels. My nudity was spared by a soiled pair of underwear and my cheap digital Casio, that was still fastened around the wrist of my left arm, that in turn was hooked up to what I guessed was a drip. I have never felt so thirsty. For reasons unknown I began moaning for aqua; forgetting my name had done nothing to impair my Latin.
The men and women in white coats looked at each other for a moment, then one opened a bottle of mineral water, poured a tiny amount of it into the blue plastic lid and brought it slowly to my lips. Water has never tasted so good. I showed my appreciation by bolting upright and covering myself in a jet of green vomit. My underwear took most of the brunt. The men and women in white coats changed my bed sheets and peeled off my underwear to expose my penis, that was so hopelessly flaccid it would have been found wanting even if served up at a buffet on a cocktail stick. As far as ice-breakers go, it was up there with the best of them. Was I going to die fretting over what strangers thought about my dick? Yes, it appeared so.
I had flown to the Russian city of Omsk, 1,700 miles east of Moscow, with my friend Scott Burnet to run the Siberian Marathon. We thought it would be something fun to do, something different. We were fit, we played football together at the weekends, and we had five hundred and eighty odd quid to burn on flights to places we'd never heard of. Siberia often conjures up images of wasteland, gulags and sub zero temperatures. However, the race was in August, and having done some research it became clear that Siberia enjoys warm summers. Being ginger, sunblock plays a huge part in Scott's life. Having a fairly pasty complexion myself, I understood it too, and before the race we coated ourselves in several layers of the stuff, but it was no match for the sun. Temperatures rose far higher than we had anticipated. Ten miles into the race and it had risen well over thirty degrees Celsius.
As far as ice-breakers go, it was up there with the best of them. Was I going to die fretting over what strangers thought about my dick? Yes, it appeared so.
Looking back, I knew something was up on the morning of the race, I would never normally turn my nose up at a bacon sandwich, or any of the other breakfast buffet spread in the hotel dining room. I put my lack of appetite down to nerves, after all it was my first marathon. Ten miles into the race and I began fantasising about breaking my ankle, and then later about being shot with a Taser gun, at least then I'd have a valid excuse for pulling out. Perhaps I would be given Valium. Instead I had to make do with a handful of dry banana from the water stations that were positioned to the side of the road every three miles. Chewing on those things made me want to puke. I felt wretched, like I was burning up with a fever. My thoughts were consumed with the one thing I really wasn't prepared to do – pull out of the race.
Scott and I began the race running side by side. Somewhere along the way we made a friend, who seemed to be drawn in by our Union Jack vests. His name was Dieter, a thirteen-year-old German-Russian, who was at that awkward age whereupon it took me a second to establish whether he was a young man or a friendly lesbian. He cycled alongside us, excited at the chance to use his English and laugh at his own jokes, which consisted mainly of making wet fart noises that my ever-decreasing mood tried to ignore. I was also holding Scott back, so I flagged him on. We both knew today wasn't my day, but I would meet him at the finishing line, that I was sure of.
Dieter returned to my side later on in the race. He knew the short cuts around town between the course. This time I was glad to see him. All I needed was a jumper because despite the heat I was shivering. As the course came back into the town we passed under line after line of bunting, that stretched across the roofs above our heads in cheerful triangles of primary colours, each of which I strongly suspected to be the finishing line. I asked the spectators gathered on either side of the road if I had finished the race; I say asked, when in actual fact I mean I shouted at them like a nasty drunk to find out if I had completed the race. Each time any of them shook their head I strongly suspected them to be lying to me. Frankly, I've never been so out of my head, and I've taken acid. I felt a manic surge of pride as I passed the twenty-two mile marker. I was going to push on in the remaining four miles of the course. Piece of piss.
It was a good few hours, and several bed sheet changes later until my memory was restored, but I still don't remember the ambulance that took me away. I don't remember collapsing with heat stroke either. I lay back looking up at the grey ceiling of my communism chic designed hospital room, realising I was in Russia with a fast expiring short stay visa and a head full of questions, like - would I miss my flight home? Or to put it more bluntly, had I already missed my flight home? And could I sneak out of here without having to pay any health care bills? Maybe travel insurance, or any insurance, wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all. Nan was right; this whole trip was going to end up with me in the Gulag.
His name was Dieter, a thirteen-year-old German-Russian, who was at that awkward age whereupon it took me a second to establish whether he was a young man or a friendly lesbian.
What I do know is that I was extremely lucky. I can't imagine that there are many ex pats holed up in Siberia, but as luck would have it I collapsed in clear sight of one. He was minding his own business over a beer in a side street cafe when he caught sight of a collapsed runner in a Union Jack vest. His name was Noel and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for ringing for an ambulance.
If completing twenty-six miles of running wasn't tough enough, my friend Scott then had to trawl the city's hospitals by taxi to find me. He felt duty bound to telephone my mum the news on the way, who at this stage was still unsure of my exact whereabouts, so inevitably, she burst into tears. I still couldn't walk, but all things considered I was okay. When Scott did eventually find me I tried explaining to him what had happened, stopping from time to time to fill a plastic blue bucket with sick. Once satisfied that my condition was more than stable, Scott returned to the hotel. It was suggested I stay overnight. After a while I was ready for fluids. The ward matron, a burly woman with a mouthful of gold teeth kept me going in cups of black tea. Knowing only a handful of words of each other's language didn't seem to stop us communicating with each other. As darkness fell she left me an empty plastic bottle, which seeing as my legs were still not up to walking would be a vital tool if I wasn't going to piss the bed.
I woke up suddenly around 2am with the dire need to take a leak. Steadying myself up against the bed I fed the tip of my penis against the open bottle top and relaxed. It was during this moment that an uninvited guest slipped its way into the seat of my pyjama bottoms. Try as I might to ignore it, the pong made it as clear as the newly added brown stripe in my pyjamas that I'd shat myself. With all staff seeming to have clocked off for the night, the options available to me seemed fairly limited. I managed change into my race pants, that were perched over a chair in the corner of my room, and crawl along the dark hallway to the toilets to dispose of the evidence. When I returned I fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning I was collected by one of the race organisers, a very attractive blond woman. I asked her if she had my clothes. She shook her head. I was never to see the shorts, vest and trainers, I wore in the race ever again. Without the luxury of any crutches and dressed only in my soiled pants, I limped out of hospital relying heavily on my new Russian entourage's shoulder. As we walked outside into the harsh daylight and into a taxi it was hard to gauge who was more embarrassed out of the two of us.
Man, did I need a shower.
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