Hospital Part 1: Proper Fucked Up
“To be born you have to come from a pretty dark place.” – Parkin Proverb
A Day In The Life Of New Timber Ward
“Ice. Cold. Milk”
“Alright love, in a minute.”
Ian is an elderly stroke victim. Like a handful of others on the ward he’s proper fucked up. He barely says anything except a few ‘yes’ and ‘no’s’ to the nurses and spends most of the day staring into space.
So I give a little a double take when this poor old guy, this shadow, drops this beautiful little sentence.
“Alright Ian, I’ve just got my hands full at the moment.” Nickon is doing the rounds, changing another guy’s feeding bag.
She’s used to this. Ian demands this everyday.
But for me, it’s the first day it sticks. Today is the day my memory starts working again (well, the rudimentaries at least) and it’s as good enough start as any.
I’ve always been a people watcher and now I’m right in the thick of it. There’s weird shit going on everyday. Some days I don’t know which way to look.
And today Ian’s outburst really stays with me. I am something of a word lover (or was) and there’s real pleasure to be derived from the old guy’s three word poem.
He scowls at the nurse.
“There’s no use giving me that look, I’ll be with you just as quick as I can.”
Ian is not in the mood to wait.
“Ice. Cold. Milk.” He says again, louder this time.
“ICE. COLD. MILK.”
Ok, let’s rewind a bit. I always wanted to start this (whatever this is) with those three words, with that tiny lost sonnet but now I have, let’s take a couple of paces back. Back to the morning. How about a day in the life of New Timber Ward? That sound good? Right, lets go.
8.30am and I’m woken by the breezy ‘Good mornings’ of Trudy, who is one of the matrons of the ward. Now, I don’t want this to sound rude or naughty and bear in mind that Trudy is a handsome woman. But she does look matronly. By that, I mean I’m talking about her… (I know it’s early in the morning to be bringing this kind of stuff up) there is no two ways around this … I’m talking about her breasts. They are, well, big and definitely robust. Imagine a Hattie Jacques for the 21st century. Trudy isn’t as big as Hattie was but her boobs have a similar kind of … command. Her boobs have authority. You wouldn’t mess with these breasts.
Anyway, she wakes up the ward with an accompaniment of nurses who go about changing bags and handing out the tea and toast. And whereas my bag gets changed, there’s no tea and toast for me. I get yoghurt and thickened water. This, however, is a pretty new procedure.
A while ago I was getting nothing in the way of normal nourishment. What I was getting (to stop me wasting away all together) was being sent into my stomach via a tube that goes up my nose and down the back of my throat. An NG (which stands for Nasogastric tube. Get it? Naso – nose, gastric – gut).
Now, the NG is the first port of call for the attentions of a confused and agitated patient. How we love to pull that sucker out. Just come round in a hospital ward? No idea what’s going on and how you got here? Got a ruddy great big tube going up your nose? Well, that’s one thing you can take care of. I, apparently, yanked it out a number of times when I was dazed and confused and I have seen a number of the old darlings on the ward give theirs a good grappling. Poor old Ashley’s done it so many times they’re thinking of cutting a hole and surgically putting a tube straight into his stomach.
So until a short while ago it was just the tube for me. Apparently I became a water bore. I was so thirsty I would rhapsodise about it constantly and regularly ask the nurse (with a sweet smile) for a cup. There were instants of a swiped glass disappearing down my dry, dry throat. On one occasion a report had to be filled out. Now I’m on the thickened water (think the kind of slime that might hang off an alien in an old Doctor Who) and my attention and focus has shifted onto yoghurt.
In pretty much most conversations I will tell you how much I love yoghurt. And I do. I fucking love yoghurt. Fucking love it. So, I gaze around the ward at the cereals and toast with a mild sense of jealousy but mostly I’m digging the Peach Melba.
A quick word about my fellow inmates; they are, mostly, old guys who have had a stroke. There’s Ashley, Lionel, there’s Graham (who’s got muscular dystrophy) and host of other codgers who couldn’t play patticake if their lives depended on it. There’s a really naughty gang in the next ward (Gang? Can you call a collection of OAP stroke victims a gang? If not, what then? What is the plural? A drool of stroke victims?) but I’m still bed bound so you’ll have to wait to meet them. There is one guy who’s my age, in the next bed and a real tonic to all the lopsided senior citizens but more of him later.
After breakfast is served I watch Dave on my TV (every bed has one) and then it’s time for my injection. I’m in bed all day and apparently the blood can clot in such circumstances, so I have an injection to thin mine out. It stings a bit but I’ve got used to it. I strike it lucky today because Trudy does it (and she’s really good at it) and then, with the help of a transfer board, she gets me in my wheelchair and wheels me down to see my brain Doctor.
Stuart is one of the specialist docs who can wear what he likes (smart casual), probably has the word neuro somewhere in his title and it’s his job to work out exactly how damaged my brain is.
In the accident I received a quite serious brain injury. Minor bleeding at the front but mainly it received a good shake. Think of those industrial machines that are designed to mix paint. Imagine one of those going off once or twice with my head in its grip.
So exactly how bad is my brain bruise? Well, the voice doesn’t bode well. You know the voice that bullies used to put on when they called someone a ‘Joey’? If you’re too young for that particular piece of Blue Peter related playground abuse trivia then bear with me. Imagine a voice you might put on to intimate that someone was retarded. Well, what I want you to say, in your best simpleton voice (right from the back of the throat, a bit pissed, cutting all the sharpness off any consonants, kind of like you’ve just woken up), is this: “My brain is a bit damaged. A bit fugging dam- ag- ed”.
That’s it, nice and loud. Really spack it up. Yes, that’s right. Extra special.
Well, I sound kind of like that but worse.
But Stuart isn’t here to help me with my voice. It’s going to be ages till we address that relatively minor issue. Stuart is here to make me do tests so he can find out exactly how and where my brain is injured.
Before we go any further, a quick word about Stuart. He’s a nice bloke, always well turned out, but most importantly (for me at least): he is short. Now, I’m not a chap of great stature (clocking in at an imposing five foot five) so it always makes my day when I meet a man who’s more diminutive than me. Now I’m guessing Stuart is (it’s not like we can stand back to back in my current state), so I have given him a nickname in my head for my own amusement. I have named him this: Stuart Little.
So this makes me laugh (which isn’t hard at the moment) and it raises a smile from my parents. My mum, in particular, finds these little jokes quite heart warming. Stuart Little? That’s quite amusing. Like good old Dave. Well, he can’t be that brain damaged!
So … how brain damaged am I? Good question and one that Stuart is intent on answering. We chat and he sets about testing me. Mainly it’s easy picture puzzles and odd one outs and things like “Mouse is to mammal as tuna is to…”. Piss easy stuff basically. I start having fun.
“Linger: change one letter to make a new word”.
“That’s easy” I scoff. “Winger, Minger, Ginger!”
He laughs and, without missing a beat, hits me with:
“So, what year is it?”
“What’s the year?”
And fuck me if I haven’t got the foggiest. What year is it? I flap my lips, shrug and then offer, helplessly… ‘1998?’
This has flummoxed me. It was fine a minute ago when I was acing things (whilst gently mocking them) but then he had to go and drop that on me.
What fucking year is it anyway?
“I’m afraid it’s 2010 Dave.”
“Of course it is,” I reply and, you know, of course it is … but shit … for a moment there I didn’t have a clue.
I’m wheeled back to my bed feeling humbled and none too cocky anymore. At least I got the prime minister right. Well, sort of, I said Gordon Brown but he was still prime minister when it happened. I blacked out to a labour government and came round to a coalition. A lot can happen when you’re in a coma.
So it’s back to the ward for lunch and I have yoghurt, which I really enjoy. And I mean really enjoy. I do love yoghurts. Fucking love them!
Then the Ian poem occurs and I usually have a visit from the folks at this time but not today because I have physio.
My physio is the head of the physios. The big boss. A svelte balding man with gentle, knowing eyes – Simon. Simon likes smiling enigmatically and intoning wise little sayings like ‘mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power’, then he bends your leg behind your head.
Actually, I lie for comic effect. I’m not up to that kind of contortion yet. Today he’s being kind. Just gently stretching me. Making me stand for minutes (that’s right: WHOLE minutes!!!) at a time.
Although the exercises are very delicate and soft I still work up a sweat. And then an exhausted man is bundled back up into his chair and taken back to the ward where he will partake of a little snooze, well, it has been a busy, busy day!
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