I am not a good patient. Active people generally make very poor patients and as it is only the lure of unwritten words which keeps me still for very long, I feel terribly sorry for anyone assigned to look after me when I’m ill. It can’t be a welcome task.
I had several nurses during my recent stay in hospital. The first – let’s call her Jane (because that was her name) – was a kindly lady in her early fifties, with a misplaced sensitivity which caused her to lower her voice to an impossible hush when referring to anything gynaecological. “Now I see from your notes you’ve had your inaudible whisper removed,” she said when she took over. “Together with your inaudible whisper and both your inaudible whispers.” At her side like an ever-present shadow was a pasty looking nurse seemingly around twelve years old, on her first placement with the ward. Each step of my care plan was explained in painstaking detail to this student nurse, who appeared not to mind such patronising tutelage, making copious notes in a shiny blue notebook on which was written ‘Gyny’ with a childish flourish. I wish I could have seen what how she translated the inaudible whispers.
At eight o’clock the night nurses took over and Jane and the student shadow would bid me farewell, hoping my inaudible whisper wasn’t too uncomfortable overnight. They were replaced by a sullen, mealy-mouthed girl with a name badge which inaptly read ‘Sunny’. It became my mission to extract a smile from Sunny, so I beamed with vigour as she administered painful injections and read from my notes with staccato honesty and none of her predecessor’s discretion. No chink appeared in her less-than-sunny vista and I resigned myself to her impeccable yet impersonal professionalism.
I spent the day of the operation in a morphine-addled haze in which Jane and Sunny merged into an alarming double act, finally coming round the following morning. I felt well enough to sit up in bed, fire off a few emails from my phone and drink copious cups of peppermint tea. I was bored within an hour. Neither of the aforementioned nurses were on duty and I was distinctly lacking in entertainment, so I persuaded my nurse-of-the-day (Liz, a rotund redhead with a vague smile and unsteady hands) to get out my laptop on the pretext of watching a film. I spent the morning pitching feature proposals and was embroiled in an email discussion with an editor when my consultant walked in. I shut the laptop guiltily. “Is that work?” She asked. “No.” I replied, with my fingers firmly crossed. She eyed me suspiciously and bade me stash away the laptop and watch daytime television. “It’s the only time it’s acceptable.”
By the third morning I’d had enough. It was time to escape. If necessary I would tunnel out using the little plastic stirrers which came with my tea, hiding the rubble in my pyjama pockets. Fortunately my consultant agreed that I’d be better off at home, and asked the nurse to remove the one remaining tube in the back of my hand. After waiting over an hour (“We’re just doing the ward rounds, I’ll be along later to take it out”) I decided I couldn’t wait any more. I’d just take it out myself. I’ve had dozens of them in my time – how hard could it be? Lacking a third hand, I used my left foot to apply pressure to the back of my hand as I pulled the tube out with my other hand. Simple. A small bleeding issue ensued, but nothing I couldn’t stem with some balled-up DVT stockings and a pillow.
I finished my packing and pressed the buzzer to request my discharge papers and meds, confident that Jane wouldn’t mind my DIY approach. Footsteps marched along the corridor and Sunny opened the door with an impatient air. She took in the blood-stained cloth, the abandoned Elastoplast and tubing, and I braced myself for my flogging.
“You took it out yourself?” She grinned. “Fantastic – saves me a job!”