Yesterday I had a very stressful day!
Most days, Andrew phones me when he’s on his way home from work. It’s often around 11pm, and we chat about our days while he’s on the bus, and I’m usually getting ready for bed.
Then, when he reaches his flat, he has to end the call, because there’s no phone reception in his building.
Then, even if we’ve already talked for 30-40 minutes, he calls me back when he gets inside, on Whatsapp, which uses the internet connection instead of phone reception.
I like the fact he doesn’t just wrap up the call outside his building, but wants to keep talking for longer.
On Thursday night, he phoned me on his way home from work, and, as usual, when he got to his building, he said, “I’ll call you back on Whatsapp in a second.”
“Will you take ages to call me back?” I asked.
Sometimes he says he’ll call back in one minute, but then decides to have something to eat and do homecoming tasks like opening post, so he ends up taking about 20 minutes to phone me back.
I totally understand that there’s stuff he wants to do when he arrives home, but sometimes it’s annoying, if it’s coming up to midnight and I’m ready to go to sleep, but thinking he’ll call back any minute.
However, on this occasion, he said, “I’ll definitely call you back in 5 minutes.”
So, I lay in bed, waiting for him to call me back.
Five minutes went by.
I started reading, while I waited. I wasn’t exactly sure how long had passed, but it felt like a very long five minutes.
I looked back on my phone, to see what time the call ended.
Twenty minutes had gone past.
This is very annoying! I thought.
I did my final bedtime things like cleaning my teeth, and tried to read, but I was too annoyed to take in the pages of my book.
When it got to 12.05am, a whole hour had passed since he hung up.
This is a piss take.
I tried to call him, and it rang, but he didn’t answer.
I was really pissed off.
I sent him a message saying, “you said you’d call me back in 5 minutes, an hour ago.”
I went to sleep. I was surprised I managed to get to sleep as I was wound up, but I did.
In the morning, I grabbed my phone as soon as I opened my eyes. I expected to see a message from Andrew, but there was nothing.
I also noticed that the message I had sent him the night before, only had one tick next to it.
I know not every country uses Whatsapp as much as we do the UK, so I’ll explain the tick system.
On Whatsapp, when you send a message, once it has successfully left your phone, the message has a single tick in the bottom right corner.
(If there’s a problem with the message leaving your phone, like you having no reception or internet connection, it shows a little clock icon instead.)
Once it has successfully reached the other person’s phone, it shows two ticks.
Once the person has opened the app and read your message, the ticks turn blue.
I saw this meme once, which sums it up quite nicely:
(Although you can turn off the last feature – the ticks turning blue – and I have. I like to give more of an air of mystery. I often take ages to reply to messages, as I’m being a perfectionist about what to say in my reply, and I like to give the impression that maybe I just haven’t seen the message yet. So for me, my ticks never turn blue. I can’t see when people have read my messages, and they can’t see when I’ve read theirs. But that’s not relevant to this story, and you can’t change any of the other ticks.)
So, my message didn’t seem to have reached his phone. But when I had called him, it had rung, so I assumed his phone was switched on and functioning.
I was really pissed off, but while I was getting ready for work, I started to worry.
What if he hadn’t called me straight back, as promised, because something had happened to him?
He does have a small, benign brain tumour. What if he had a brain haemorrhage or something, and that’s why he didn’t call me back?
What if he was lying unconscious in his flat, while I’m being pissed off with him?
It didn’t help that I had my hair cut the day before, and had chatted to my intimidating, Bulgarian hairdresser about going out with policemen. Her husband is a policeman, and she told me yesterday that he’d had two heart attacks from the stress.
Other, more realistic, possibilities were that he sat down for a moment when he got into his flat, and fell asleep, and that’s why he didn’t call. This was quite possible, as he was exhausted from working 1000 hours a week.
But he was working the next day, and I would’ve assumed the next morning, he would’ve got up for work, realised he never called me back and quickly messaged me apologising.
It did seem like something wasn’t quite right with his phone, because my Whatsapp message still only had one tick. However, when I called him, it rang, so I thought it wasn’t completely out of action.
One possibility was that he fell asleep, then when I phoned him, it used up the last bit of battery, and then ran out, which is why my message hadn’t gone through. I actually thought this was the most likely option. His phone is always about to run out of battery, by the end of the day.
However, I would’ve expected him to get up for work the next morning, and charge up his phone, and a second tick to appear.
This is what was making my panic.
Why had he not got up this morning and sorted out his phone?
Was he unconscious?
I know that I do assume the worst, because I had a boyfriend that died in dramatic circumstances.
With Balthazar, it wasn’t even just the way that he died.
On a separate occasion, before we lived together, I had phoned him when I was leaving work, at 9pm. He answered and said he already was on his way to my house. He was cycling.
It took about 30 or 40 minutes to cycle from his house to mine. I would have expected him to get to mine at 10pm at the very latest.
At 11pm, he still wasn’t there. I started to worry, and tried to phone him, but he didn’t answer.
I was very worried that something had happened, but I tried to calm myself down.
It was probably fine, wasn’t it?
At 11.30pm, my doorbell rang.
I ran down the stairs and opened the front door, but I was distraught to see that it wasn’t him, but was a random stranger. It was a young man, who looked like he was in his late teens.
“I’ve found your friend?” he said, pointing, down the street.
I came out of the doorway and saw Balthazar, stumbling down the street, wheeling his bicycle.
It turned out that he had been very drunk as he’d cycled over (he had a bit of a problem with alcohol for a while) and had fallen off his bike. This lovely lad had found him lying on the cycle path. He’d managed to find out where he was going, and helped him struggle to my house.
I was so overwhelmed by the situation that, afterwards, I didn’t show any gratitude to the young man. I think I just stammered something like, “oh, right, thanks…” while I tried to work out what to do. I always felt bad for that.
I managed to get Balthazar up the stairs and into my bedroom. His head was bleeding profusely, and his hands were covered with blood and cuts as well. I tried to stop his head bleeding, but quickly realised he needed to go to hospital.
I called for a taxi, but he lost consciousness while we were waiting. I thought the quickest thing would still be the taxi, so when it arrived, I ran out and asked them to help me get him into the taxi as he was unconscious.
“No, we can’t take anyone if they’re unconscious. You need to ring an ambulance instead.”
I called 999, starting to feel very panicky.
The ambulance came and we went to hospital. After an initial triage and some basic bandaging, we waited for hours in A&E.
Most of the time, he was asleep across the chairs, but every so often, he’d wake up and say, “I love you and I’m in love with you.”
Eventually, they glued his one of his eyebrows back to together and gave him a brain scan. He kept apologising for using NHS resources, having an accident while drunk. After we’d been there for most of the night, they decided it was safe for him to go home.
A few days later, I took him back to hospital as he was behaving strangely, and I was worried because of his recent head injury, but after more tests, they decided he was OK.
Over the next weeks, it took a while for him to recover from the head injury. One time, we were in a department store, Christmas shopping. I was talking to him about some trousers I was considering buying for my brother. Later on, he confessed that he hadn’t known who I was, in Debenhams. He had thought, “why is this lady talking to me about these trousers?”
Sometimes, he would walk around with one eye closed – the eye underneath the eyebrow that had been glued back together.
I would say, “you’ve only got one eye open!” and he would say, “no, I haven’t! I’ve got them both open!”
I would gently open the closed eye, with my fingers.
He would then breathe, “Wow!” as a whole new world of vision suddenly opened up to him.
He was fine in the end, and made a good recovery, but this was an example of a time I was very worried about someone, thinking something had happened, and it HAD!
And when he died, I had been worried about him for a while, but I had never thought to worry about the actual house catching fire with him in it.
So, I do know that I think the worst, more than the average person.
However, this situation was weird. Within a margin of error, Andrew is very reliable. He might take 20 minutes call me back when he has said 5, but he always calls me back.
If he realises he hasn’t done something he was supposed to, he immediately puts it right.
His phone seemed to be at least kind of working.
Maybe there was something wrong with his Whatsapp, so I sent him a normal text message, saying “Are you OK? I’m worried.”
I drove to work. If he had fallen asleep, and then his battery run out, his alarm wouldn’t have gone off.
But eventually, he would wake up naturally, see the time, rush into work and at some point, put his phone on charge.
Maybe he hadn’t been able to phone me back using Whatsapp, because something was wrong with the app on his phone. His phone does seem to be on its last legs.
But then I couldn’t understand why he didn’t phone me back using normal phone calls, or his work mobile to call me instead.
When I got to work, I talked to my colleague about it. She said it would probably turn out to be nothing, but she could understand why I was worried.
We talked about what my options were.
“Do you know any of his friends or anyone who can check if he’s OK?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t met anyone!”
My only option, really, was to call the police station where he works, and check if he turned up for work. That seemed a bit extreme and embarrassing though. But if he hadn’t turned up, they’d probably be concerned too, and the information I had would be important.
I didn’t want to overreact, but equally, I didn’t want to find out later that he had been unconscious and I’d done nothing until it was too late, because of fear of embarrassment.
We agreed I’d wait til lunchtime, then she suggested I send the kind of message we’d send to a patient we were worried about, and give him a deadline. I could say, “if I haven’t heard back from you by a certain time, I’ll call your work to check you’re safe.”
My colleague said, “when this all turns out to be nothing, which I’m sure it will, you need to get a contingency plan for contacting each other.”
I had two patients that morning. Each time I came out of a session, I checked my phone.
By lunchtime, I was really worried.
I went outside, where it was quieter, and tried to call him again. On Whatsapp, it rang and rang, but there was no answer. When I tried it as a normal phone call, it went straight to voicemail, which is what I’d expect if the phone was still in his building, where there’s no reception.
I sent him another Whatsapp message: “I’m really worried something has happened to you. Please let me know if you’re safe.”
Again, only one tick.
I phoned my friend Tess, who knows more about Whatsapp intricacies than I do. She couldn’t understand why it was ringing but then the messages weren’t reaching his phone.
I went back inside and tried to eat my lunch, but I was too anxious to eat.
I googled the type of brain tumour he has, to see how likely it was that he’d had a sudden brain haemorrhage or aneurysm. On the NHS page, it had all the same information he’d told me, but it didn’t say at all anything about sudden, dangerous brain trauma. It didn’t seem likely. The biggest risk was that the tumour would gradually get bigger, but over a period of months, not overnight.
Maybe this was just a phone thing.
I also googled ‘Whataspp’ and ‘phone ringing’ and ‘only one tick.’
I’ve found before, that if you ever google anything about Whatsapp, in the search results, you always get people on message boards, speculating if they’ve been blocked by people they’re dating.
There were lots of message boards with things like, “does the phone still ring on Whataspp if you’ve been blocked?”
Oh my god, has he blocked me?
Before he’d ended the phone call the night before, I had said something that might’ve been annoying, but then we’d moved on and he’d seemed fine. And blocking me like that didn’t like Andrew at all.
But then… I did have a patient who had a very violent husband a long time ago, and she hadn’t really dealt with the trauma. Years later, she would meet nice men on dating apps, but then get freaked out about getting close to someone and block them without warning or explanation. It does happen. I couldn’t bear it if Andrew had blocked me.
The official Whataspp page didn’t say anything either way about my question, but most of the other search results said that if someone’s phone is switched off, it doesn’t ring when you call them on Whatsapp. However, one question on a message board suggested it did.
If Andrew’s phone was just switched off or broken this whole time, the whole panic was over.
I texted Tess, “Can you do me a favour? I’m going to turn my phone off. Can you try and call it on Whatsapp, and then text me telling me what happened? Like whether it rang or not?”
I didn’t expect her to get the message right away, and I started talking to some work colleagues about something important – which therapy rooms we were all using in a minute, to see our patients. (As a Psychological Therapist in the NHS, half your life is spent trying to scrabble together rooms to see your patients in.)
“If we switch rooms, no one has this room booked at 2pm, so that means I can overrun with my EMDR patient, cos really… we’re supposed to have 90 minutes instead of an hour…”
My phone rang, and it was Tess.
“Sorry, I hadn’t switched it off yet! I’ll switch it off now! Thanks!”
I hung up the phone.
“…great, so if you use room 11 and I’ll use room 10. Thanks!”
My phone rang again. “Sorry, Tess, I still hadn’t switched it off! I’ll switch it off now!”
I switched my phone off.
I switched it back on a few minutes later, and saw a message from Tess saying, “I just called you now and it DID ring!”
So, it seems like it was just a weird quirk of Whatsapp – it sounds like the phone is ringing, even if you call someone whose phone is switched off or dead.
His phone had rang when I called, but probably, it had just been switched off the whole time. Maybe he was dead along with his phone battery, but it was seeming more likely that this was just phone issue after all.
He usually goes to the toilet as soon as he comes in from work – I bet he was trying to multi-task and dropped his phone in the toilet. Then, if it was broken, he couldn’t contact me on a different phone because he probably didn’t have my number stored anywhere else.
It was kind of annoying he hadn’t managed to contact me an alternative way, but maybe it hadn’t been possible. I was starting to relax.
I had a brilliant session with my 1pm patient, and when I came out, I had several missed calls from Andrew and a message.
He was alive!
His battery had run out after all, and he’d lost his charger. He had tried really hard to contact me!
He called me again and we had a quick chat. He was very apologetic and I think he was expecting me to be furious with him for ignoring me, but I was just relieved he was safe, especially once I realised he had tried to contact me several different ways.
On the phone, he told me the same story as above, but with director’s commentary:
“… and they sent the verification request to the phone that was dead, and then none of the Argoses had the charger I needed, and then I had to go into work… I wasn’t prioritising work over you, but I had to go in…”
We didn’t talk for long as I was so busy, but I was so happy as soon as I knew he was fine.
I sent him another message a bit later on, saying, “I’m so happy now I know you’re safe! I’m in a great mood.”
I was tempted to send a follow-up, saying, “I love you”, after his (kind of) brush with death, but I chickened out.
Before we finished our phone call yesterday afternoon, we exchanged email addresses, so we have an alternative way of contacting each other. I’ve emailed him my number, so he’s got that information in another place.
I also told him that ages ago, I gave his number to Tess. This is something I always do when I start going out with a guy, in case I die before they’ve had a chance to meet my family or add me on Facebook, and have no way of knowing what’s happened, so Tess can tell them.
I do know that I worry too much, because of what happened in the past, but also, this time, normal people like Tess and my work colleague could understand why I was worried.
I’ve decided to have some more sessions of counselling, through Occupational Health, because of things like this. It’s going well with Andrew, overall, but I feel so anxious all the time. It’s terrifying liking someone so much – I’m so worried he’s going to die or hurt me.