Matt Gemmell

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An action-thriller novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

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Finis

university 5 min read

My final day of 3rd year at the university.
Today was to have been the day of my last exam (IS3), of the last 
night out as a year-group, and indeed of finding out 
<a href="http://mattgemmell.com/index.php/university/final_bob.html">what really happened with Bob</a>. 
It turned out to be none of those things.



I arrived at the university early, for the sake of a parking space 
and getting peace and quiet to do some last minute studying. Also, 
admittedly, to soak up the atmosphere of the lab one final time. I 
hadn't been feeling quite right all morning; far too tired given the 
amount of sleep I'd had (which in itself was far too little, but even 
so). The feeling of something being wrong only increased as the day 
progressed, until finally when waiting in the cloisters outside the 
stairway to the Bute Hall (the IS3 exam's venue), I had to pace about 
to be sure of staying conscious. My hands had also started to shake, 
and I was getting a strange "pins and needles" sensation in my wrists 
and palms.



I went into the exam nevertheless, but only stayed for about five minutes, 
if that. I'd started to shake severely, and felt that I was in danger 
of losing consciousness. I felt very far away from everything, and the 
prickling sensation had spread to my face and scalp. I left the exam 
hall, explaining the situation to an invigilator (Rob Sutherland), who 
accompanied me outside.



I only made it to the top of the stairs immediately outside the exam 
hall doors before having to sit down heavily on the ground; I just 
couldn't stay on my feet any longer. The sensation was bizarre, like 
being electrified somehow. I had difficulty speaking clearly, and Rob 
could see something was wrong. He fetched the first-aider on call for 
the exam, and he got me a chair.



The first aider, a kindly man in his late fifties, introduced himself 
as Wee Tommy, and expressed concern over my condition. He could see I 
was shaking uncontrollably by this point, and wasn't keeping eye-contact 
very well. He suggested an ambulance, which I managed to refuse. After 
sitting with me for a while, he left to call the University Health 
Service, and returned after 5 minutes or so.



The health service wouldn't see me today due to the by-appointment-only 
system, but gave me an appointment for next week, at which Tommy said 
I'd be able to get a medical exemption from the exam. Rob had returned 
again by this point, and he also reassured me not to be concerned 
regarding the exam.



Tommy was at this point insistent that I be taken either to hospital or 
home. I chose the latter, and managed to call my father, who agreed to 
drive in to pick me up. In the meantime, Tommy fetched a wheelchair and 
took me unceremoniously out of the main building via the lift in the 
Hunterian Museum foyer. I wouldn't have been able to walk out unaided, 
or to traverse the stairways back down to street level.



I was outside on University Avenue sitting in the wheelchair for perhaps 
20 minutes, with my hands still shaking and my face no doubt an awful 
colour. Needless to say, the shame of it was acute. Never in my life 
have I been unable to transport myself around under my own power before. 
The looks from passers-by were something of a revelation, at least the 
portion of those looks I managed to catch before they quickly averted 
their eyes and moved on. It was as if I was simultaneously a spectacle 
but also invisible in terms of who I usually am. I wondered if I looked 
that way at people who are confined to wheelchairs permanently, and I 
couldn't deny it with any level of certainty.



I eventually got home, and an emergency appointment with the doctor was 
arranged. The diagnosis was that I'd seemingly suffered a panic attack, 
brought on by cumulative stress due to several factors, lack of sleep, 
and general exhaustion. I can just remember, many years ago when I was 
still very young, my father collapsing at home one night, and being 
taken to hospital in an ambulance; it had been the same thing. We spoke 
about it as he drove me home today; the first time I've seen him in 
quite some time, due to our combined schedules.



I was prescribed some antihistamines (conventionally used to treat 
allergic reactions, but apparently also used in this context for their 
sedative effect), to keep with me for a little while, but I'm not 
required to take them. With any luck I'll never have to, and certainly 
don't intend to unless absolutely unavoidable.



By the time I'd left the doctor's, evening had arrived, and doubtless 
the others in the year had long since been in Jim's bar making merry and 
celebrating the end of term. I really hope they're having a great time, 
and that it continues long into the night. It certainly turned into a 
beautiful summer evening (if the view from here was any indication of 
the weather in the city, at least), which I'm glad for on behalf of the 
year group.



As I type this, I feel almost completely recovered, though fatigued. 
Only the slightest tremor remains in my hands, and I'm sure that will 
settle down quickly enough. 
I waited until dusk to travel back into the city and quietly retrieve my car, in 
order to minimise the chance of running into anyone I knew. To do so 
would have been at least uncomfortable and at worst quite humiliating. 
I've never before lost control of myself like that, and to do so in a 
public place is something that will take some time to come to terms 
with. I have no idea whether the whole year saw Tommy retrieving the 
wheelchair and thus put two and two together, but then this post will 
eliminate any doubt as to its purpose anyway.



I sat no exam, nor in the end did I get to attend the much 
anticipated and looked-forward-to end of year celebration, and I thus 
missed the chance to say goodbye to everyone for the summer. I guess it 
doesn't do to think too much about that at this point. It was certainly 
an ignominious and rather ironic end to my year.



I'm aware that my condition earlier wasn't my fault, nor should I feel ashamed, 
nor should I lament the loss of a night which will doubtless be repeated 
many times next year. I'm further aware that what I suffered is 
incredibly common, and shouldn't be interpreted as exposing weakness. 
I'm aware of all those things intellectually, and have no need to 
hear them again. For right now, as is natural, they all seem neither 
relevant nor particularly true.



As I type this, Fiona is out at a 70s-themed party with her 
friend Michelle and others from her work. I'm troubled that I caused 
her so much worry this afternoon, but I'm really glad she's out enjoying 
herself now. It's pleasantly quiet here at the moment, and emotionally 
I at least feel not quite actively sad, but rather <em>still</em>. I can't 
completely dissuade myself that the whole thing served as a warning from 
Fate about the dangers of becoming too wrapped up in oneself. This 
day certainly does feel like an ending, though in a very different way 
than I'd have expected this morning.



I'm signing off now for the weekend, as it draws close to midnight 
and the silent arrival of my 25th birthday.