The lady paramedic talked to Hazel for an hour, while I fought with her partner. I was outraged. I contemplated throwing the phone at him, but settled for a promise to write to the ambulance service and complain about his lack of professionalism. The way he was rolling his eyes at me wasn’t helpful at all.
‘It looks bad, Mr Belmont, but…’ he kept trying to start the same damn sentence over and over again. This time he stopped as I stepped forward, tensed and ready to fight.
‘But what?’ I challenged. ‘Just how sick does someone have to be, to be taken in by you mongrels? Did you even look at her? I read the papers…’ I hastily checked his nametag. ‘Vince. And I am not going to let your idiocy cause my daughter to be another of those sad cases where proper care wasn’t given. Now you go, and you tell your partner that you’re taking Hazel to see a real doctor.’ I was shouting now, worried sick by what I’d seen in the bathroom.
‘I don’t care!’ I bit his head off again. ‘If she’s not okay, she’s not okay. And you’d better bloody do something about it!’
‘Dad…’ Hazel emerged from the bathroom. She’d changed her clothes, and already colour was coming back to her cheeks. She almost looked embarrassed. ‘I’m okay. They’re right. There’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Nothing to worry about?’ I echoed, much less convinced than she was. ‘How is this…?’ had they brainwashed Hazel too? This was despicable. The lady paramedic approached, her smile somewhat amused as she took my hand.
‘Congratulations, Mr Belmont.’ She said, shaking my hand firmly. ‘Your little girl is a woman now.’
As Hazel nodded, I realised she was holding a fistful of sanitary napkins. Doom pads, Kate called them. I wasn’t sure what to say then, the paramedic I’d near assaulted giving me a smug variant of the ‘told you so’ look as the pair turned back towards the ambulance – the woman stopping momentarily to talk with me.
‘Don’t feel too embarrassed.’ She said kindly. ‘We get a lot of this from single fathers. Does Hazel have an aunt or a grandmother living nearby? Sometimes girls just need to… talk. Even a family friend, someone who’s been there. It’s pretty scary the first time.’
‘No.’ I replied quietly. ‘It’s just us.’ Hazel was growing up fast. I’d just failed the biggest test of fatherhood, the paramedic could dress it up any way she liked but there were now things Hazel needed that she couldn’t get from me.
‘You’ll be fine.’ She assured me. ‘She obviously adores you. That’s all that really matters… you can both… learn about this together.’ She left me with a smile and a squeeze on the shoulder. But I didn’t feel better until Hazel wrapped her arms around me, and hugged me so tight it almost hurt. I sighed deeply, hugged her back.
‘Your mother would have known what to do.’ I said softly. Kate would have been prepared. She would have had a list, and a plan. A bag set aside years ago with supplies for just this very occasion. Hazel squeezed me again.
‘She’s not here, Dad.’ She reminded me. ‘But you did just fine.’
I made an executive decision. The next day she stayed home from school, for shopping and icecream. Somehow, I felt that might have been on Kate’s list.