Part 3 ‘What Do You Think Of Them Apples?’
Being in hospital provides a licence for patients to become quite personal in conversations. “What’s wrong with you/what are you in for?” are common enquiries for openers. I learned quite quickly that the enquirer was not really interested in the answer – I cold have said to some “my name is Napoleon and my aim is world domination but first I have to get rid of this irritating tendency to diarrhoea.” The most probable reaction would have been “oh really, well I’m here because ….”
In other words patients are, understandably, absorbed by their own health, plus there is a cetain kudos in having something really exotic.
A young man in a ward of old codgers who, in order to ward off daytime boredom and night starvation, had brought with him a copy of ‘Nuts’ magazine, which he kept on his bed for quick access. It was immediately spotted by his male visitors who then accompanied their stay absorbed by the unfeasibly large bosoms, accompanied by grunts, winks and ‘phews’.
Kevin the Constipated had come in for a routine procedure but had developed a bad infection in a couple of toes, possibly related to his diabetes. He had also developed the habit of sleeping in his chair and throughout the night he burps, farts hiccups and is once sick. He mutters “Sorry” almost to himself, as if he is apologising to his body for the lack of control. He is a true ‘Torbay Shuffler’, sliding one foot 9 inches in front of the other as he makes a form of serene movement toward his goal. He came up to the window next to me using this strange form of locomotion, peered out earnestly and announced to no one in particular, “Looks like it’s another grey day”. On reflection this was probably an invitation to talk because he could see all of that without getting up from his chair. So why ‘Constipated’? I overheard a nurse asking him that most intimate of questions about his bowel opening (any suggestions for a better alternative?) Kevin’s answer to this was “No. And I haven’t done so for 10 days. I’m already on 10 senna.” I can’t say it was a disappointment that I was unlikely to be around when Kevin rectified this desperate situation
‘Red Nose’ was a large man, with a championship-sized belly, which for some reason, was exposed. He spoke in a gravelly voice which was nearly unintelligible, as it appeared to be transmitted through a distorting mechanism. I could not hear what he was saying but, fortunately, neither could the nurse who repeated as much as she could to get his agreement. Two of his croaked transmissions were “I should tell you that I drink a bottle of wine a day.” Aha, belly explained. “Have you done so for long?” Answer “25 years, although I used to drink more. I’ve been cutting back recently.” His second was more enigmatic. “I want to re-write my will.” Not bad for a line. Presumably he was concerned about the outcome of his stay, so the nurse held up an A4 writing pad and he scratched away at this until I lost interest.
Creeping Colin was a man who had the ability to glide silently, as if on castors. One minute he wasn’t there, the next he was. And it was not a pretty sight. Bald on top but with a long flowing fringe emerging from the base of his skull and merging at he front with a beard almost of ZZ Top length. Six and a half feet tall and dressed in slippers, long grey socks, a dingy grey dressing gown, and a reckless blue and white striped nightshirt of his own. Oh and he spoke in a croaky whisper. Something, I assumed, to do with his reason for being there. However one day I returned to see him with a woman who was just completing the task of removing his hair. A short back and sides had been administered and the same scissors had also attacked his beard. They could only remove so much and until he shaved, it would appear that he had stumbled into a patch of thin tumbleweed. From that point on he wore either a battered old fishing hat or one of the bobble variety. Later I heard a nurse ask him how long it had been since his wife had seen him clean-shaven. His answer? Never.
Notes From A Hospital Bed. Part 4. Disturbances.
If you have been in hospital you will remember that serene and relaxing it is not. The first achievement is to get to sleep at night but you may well have a selection of night moaners, screamers, complainers or determined coughers, who are committed to make sure they are heard by the entire hospital.
If you can manage some sleep then, after what seems like a few minutes you are woken by a nurse wanting to take your ‘observations’ and the desire to ensure you can answer the question about bowel movements. Your answer would be based on a tactical decision dependent on who last visited the loo and how long ago.
This is the start of a day of perpetual motion interrupted by periods of utter boredom. The drug rounds, what passes these days for breakfast, observations, a visiit from the doctor and, if you’re lucky with a gaggle of would-be doctors in tow.
Things slow a bit in the afternoon so you can gather your wits before the invasion of the visitors and their own brand of hubub. Pretty soon its evening and time to prepare for the next night where the collection of patients whose brains have deserted their bodies, to let us know about the state of their bladder, ailments or how cruel the staff have been.
Shutting out all of them just leaves you with the snoring competition.
Competitive Snoring. One guy who was detoxing, led the snoring charts for three nights in a row. Actually, as he slept most of the day, it wasn’t just a nocturnal activity. But some stiff competition arrived in the shape of Ken, a nonagenarian with a soft, semi-apologetic demeanour which concealed a resolute and determined man. The majority of his marbles were still in place, but he had such a lack of confidence in the staff that he will ask three different nurses the same question, before subsiding into a semi soporific state which involves keeping a close watch on the ceiling.
When he can forget about his bladder and passes under ‘sleep’s dark and silent gate’, he entertains us to a symphony of blocked hooter snoring of such gold medal proportions that combined with sheer persistence and volume, wrestles the crown away from Detox man.. The only problem was that Ken was slap bang next to me, having replaced Sid and his musical bottom.
Once my next door companion was Mr. Doolally Tap, although I think he also answered to the name of Cyril. He was an interactive balmpot who kept asking for whatever crossed his mind. And he directed his attention to anyone he thinks would listen. I had to hone my ‘too absorbed because I’m concentrating hard on something so important that it blocks out all extraneous noise’ look. This was reinforced by hurried scribbling, as if I’d just invented an anti-gravity device, a tapping of the pencil on my teeth, or low level muttering. If he had been there much longer they wouldn’t have been able to tell which of us was the dafter. The poor man was seriously confused, asking if the noise he could hear is “them shooting foxes” or warning the man opposite that he had a ginger cat on his bed. This was instantly worrying for the addressee who had trouble hanging onto reality at the best of times.
He kept trying to talk to me using the nonsense lingo of the truly deranged while smiling through gaps and he needed to be constantly reminded that he couldn’t get up (“I need to go to the garage”) because he was tethered by a catheter.
One night they wheeled his bed out of the ward and left him next to the nurses station after he tried to file the electric fan in his locker believing he was putting the hens to bed. Confirmation that all was not well with this man was that he had a comb over through choice rather than necessity.
Once he was puzzled by his iphone which started to ring and this made him very agitated as I think he knew he had to press a button, but which one? I showed him the mystery of the green button and he was so delighted he bequeathed me his ‘Tractor Monthly’ magazine to indicate that we had become firm friends.
Cyril isn’t the sharpest scalpel on the tray, but he’s not quite as blunt as he first appeared. Each morning when the doctors did their round they asked him a standard set of questions to test his grip on reality. Over a few days he gradually improved, his problems having been caused by too much calcium, apparently. So he began to answer correctly such question as “Do you know your name? Where are you? What day is it?” But when they got to “Can you please count backwards from 20?” his response was “Oh, no, my wife does that sort of thing.”