Flower Face

by Karen Vallerius

“Daff off, phlox face.” “You total hellebore.” My lexicon of floral swear words is growing daily.

My dreams are stalked by vivid flower destruction fantasies. Me pushing a dumper truck instead of a trolley along the garden aisles of DIY stores. Loading up with batteries of hoes and rakes like medieval instruments of torture, along with carpet sized rolls of weed suppressant matting.

Usually I’m an easygoing, laid back kind of person. Honest. I’ve got the happy, plucky disposition necessary for a primary school teacher. But since I became ill, I’ve developed this serious botheration with flowers. Ironic really, given that I’m even named after a flower. Daisy.

Why flowers? They’re with us in times of celebration, mourning, for better, for worse. Right? Wrong.

Dr Raval, my consultant, scratches her bright flowerface in bewilderment. Her human head has been replaced. Like in some allotment horror film, there is no human head beneath her surgeon hat. Just a ginormous geranium flower. Vivid scarlet, like you see in chalet windowboxes on a carefree summer holiday hiking through the Alps.

Don’t worry. She doesn’t have goggle eyes and embroidered features like those anthromorphic mascots popular in the 1930s. And she isn’t the geranium version of a potato head toy with plastic eyes and ears on stalks to be inserted somewhere amongst the petals. Quite simply, her head has become a noggin sized geranium bloom.

‘Never encountered anything like it,’ she exclaims.

I came out of ICU a few days ago. Instead of the usual hospital aroma of disinfectant layered with floor polish, my nostrils twitched at a rich rose fragrance. I almost sneezed even though it isn’t hay fever season yet. My eyes were still closed and I inhaled deeply. Old fashioned garden roses. Soothing, comforting.

A kind female voice reassured me, explaining my induced coma had lasted six days. I was making great progress, good girl. Good girl? The rose voice praised me as if I were a puppy who’s pooped outside for the first time.

Today’s 10 a.m. ward round. The muster of junior doctors peer at me, heads turning in tennis crowd unison between me and Dr Raval. Fascinated yet perplexed in equal measure. At least they have no flabbergasted mouths to loll open.

‘Ladies, gentlemen, suggestions if you please. I’ve not got all day, I’ve three electives this afternoon. I don’t have time for you to send your answers in on a postcard, or by text or tweet or whatever means of communication is favoured these days.’

‘Things have moved on from the wax tablet, Dr Raval,’ teases a purple pansy. The other flowers stifle their laughter which ruffles their petals softly.

‘Tablet? Find it complements my abacus most admirably,’ counters Dr. Raval. ‘Wilson, put us out of our misery, I beseech you.’

A tulip headed white coat steps aside from the multicoloured flower border decorating the foot of my bed. I wonder if I waved a strimmer would it keep them away? I bite my lip, guilty.

‘Acquired synesthesia?’ suggests the yellow tulip.

‘Ah yes, syn-es-thes-ia, interesting prognosis. Maybe the only logical explanation. Nandi,’ barks Dr Raval, ‘Your opinion, please. Is this even possible?’

A doctor with a pink poppy flower face scrambles forward. ‘Although the patient’s symptoms were mild, she acquired a more serious neurological disorder, hence her admission to ICU. Now the critical phase is over, there appears to be temporary neurological damage. Such cases usually involve transposition of colours, sounds or aromas. We’ve never encountered a patient with floral….’

Raval interrupts. ‘Floresthesia perhaps? I see what you mean. It will be necessary to monitor the long-term effects.’

‘Now,’ Raval continues, ‘I propose we observe this patient to ascertain whether this, this unusual cognitive pathway persists. Nandi, Wilson, as registrars you will lead the study. Report back to me in four days’ time with your conclusions.’

The Consultant smiles. ‘Thank you, Daisy, you’re making excellent progress.’ I smile bravely and just hope to goodness that Raval is right.

Dr. Raval stomps a brisk about turn and the garland of flowers swooshes behind.

I look down at the floor expecting to see a trail of petals, leaves and florets. But no. Just a fresh green scent like opening the door to a florist’s store. Or walking into an early morning May garden after a light shower.

Niamh, my pink rose Ward Sister, comes in to check on me.

‘You survived the ward round? Would have thought they’d have kissed goodbye to all that yes-sir-no-sir malarkey back in the seventies!,’ she grumbles. ‘Now, just you have a nice rest. Nearly tea time.’

I hear the wheels of the refreshment trolley screech across the vinyl flooring in the corridor. A handbrake turn, must be Mike volunteering today. Only Mike can race along the corridors as if he’s beating Lewis Hamilton in the Monaco Grand Prix.

A round faced, multi petal bronze dahlia enters the room, clad in trackie bottoms and purple volunteer polo shirt.

‘Here she is, my girlfriend. Oh, looking much better today. Now, don’t you listen to them doctors, it’s those of us on the trolley round who make the real diagnosis here.’ Mike taps a finger to the side of a floret placed more or less where his nose might be. If he had a face.

‘Reckon you’ll be going home soon, oh yes, abandon me, break my heart.’ Mike lets out a lovelorn wail and then chuckles as he pours my tea.

I giggle. Tutting theatrically at Mike, Niamh laughs too. Mike passes me a mug.

He pulls the trolley to and fro a few times to rev it up before swerving away to serve the next patient.

I sip my tea and ponder quietly.

When I was little, I always thought I’d become a gardener. I certainly never dreamed I’d become a teacher. You see, I was so inspired by my Grandpa’s beautiful allotment. Grandpa grew a bounty of flowers and vegetables. Proudly awarded the silver cup at the village horticultural show year after year. I was allowed free rein in the garden and loved making posies for celebrations.

Grandpa would patiently name the blooms for me. A floral alphabet starting with antirrinhum, belladonna, carnation, through marigold, and all the way to zinnia. Magical plant names which I loved to chant aloud, imagining I was casting a floral spell to ensure good luck and happiness.

When I picture Grandpa now, I cannot see his face. Just a large sunflower, petals a little wrinkled at the edges. A sunflower dressed in dungarees, with garden twine escaping from the pocket and wearing a hand knitted bobble hat.

Dr Nandi rushes back in. ‘Sorry! Raval left these.’ He gathers some papers and turns to leave.

‘Doctor Nandi,’ I ask, ‘Do you think ..., will I always be like this?’

Dr Nandi hesitates.

‘Please. It’s just, well you can’t imagine what it’s like living in the middle of a garish triffid filmset.’

Dr Nandi fusses with the papers. ‘Well, obviously I’m not a neurologist, just a general medicine workhorse. But I believe the syndrome will subside as you grow stronger, possibly recurring in times of stress or tiredness. We’ll talk more when I commence the study later. Take heart, Daisy, you will recover from this.’

With that, he dashes out to rejoin the others.

I chuckle. I imagine my partner, Rob, morphing into Mr Marigold-face each time I get cross with him. Like when he leaves his football boots by the front door where I trip over them. Or forgets to buy a birthday card for his sister.

My darling Rob. I was so confused the first time I saw him after I came round. Niamh brought me her phone so that Rob and I could have a video call. I assumed Niamh had activated one of those flower filters on the screen when I couldn’t see Rob’s face, just an enormous marigold which was talking to me. My eyes were half closed anyway, the halogen lights like comets which bleached my vision. No matter, I’d recognise Rob’s voice anywhere; deep, rich with notes of spice and chocolate, kindness sighing round every word like a hug.

When I was in the coma, I can remember seeing flowers everywhere. An exquisite rose, palest biscuit with curls of honey tinting its petals. A delicate snowdrop. A nervous little pale blue harebell. I knew I must be in Heaven because of the Rossetti poem we chose for Grandpa’s funeral about the flowers in paradise.

That seemed the only logical explanation.

Then confused, I awoke and opened my eyes. Niamh and a yellow carnation, Elena, were angling their flower heads towards me. Was there some fundraiser going on with all the nurses in ghastly cartoon flower costumes? Had I really been in a coma that lasted all the way through summer until Hallowe’en?

For the first couple of days I daren’t tell anyone what was happening. Not Rob. Not Niamh. I was scared. Perhaps the coma had altered my brain. Perhaps I would never be the same again.

But I knew I had to explain what was happening. Otherwise, how else could I return to my life? If climbing onto a bus was like entering a marquee at the Chelsea Flower show? If leaning down to cuddle my baby nephew was like picking a rose bud from the garden? If the school assembly hall is filled with kids sitting in floral rows like something out of Mary Mary Quite Contrary’s garden?

The registrars have finished observing me. All’s well, Raval is happy. At last, the Big Day. Rob and my carriage await. He has brought my clothes, remembering my favourite fluffy socks. The pink ones with yellow stars. Bless.

The medical teams are on parade for my send off. Niamh takes my arm and we walk down the corridor. I am amazed to see a whole garden looking on, cheering, applauding. Past cottage flower beds full of roses, daisies, lilies, violets, pansies. Their beautiful colours and perfumes overwhelm me.

The tea trolley is parked alongside the entrance doors. Mike, my jolly dahlia, is hiding something behind his back.

‘Daisy, we’re so glad to see the back of you. And we don’t want to see you in here again, OK? Unless it’s in the maternity ward, of course.’

Mike sweeps his arm round and, bowing elaborately like a sumo wrestler, hands me a bouquet. An enormous bunch of blooms, wrapped in layer upon layer of crinkling cellophane, tied with a ribbon.

As I lean forward to inhale the floral perfume, I blink in astonishment. No, surely not. Amidst the cellophane tutu, there’s a crowd of miniature faces smiling up at me. Raval and Nandi, Wilson, Niamh, Elena, Mike and all the others in perfect miniature.

I swallow back tears as I carry their tiny cheery faces out to the car.

Rob is waiting. I hardly dare look at him. I cover my eyes and peep through my fingers. But he is Rob! My Rob. My big, clumsy, stubble chinned, beaming, darling Rob. With that tiny scar on his right cheek. Those bushy eyebrows like a startled grey squirrel. Most definitely not a marigold.

I glance at the bouquet as he places it on the back seat and I can see flowers nestling in the cellophane. Beautiful multicoloured flowers.

Rob squeezes my hands. ‘Welcome back, Daisy,’ he whispers before enfolding me in his arms.