The wailing, oh Jesus the wailing.
Something grim has happened to somebody in a nearby cell. She’s trying to broadcast its full misery, but the walls are too thick to render her harrowing “It’s spread to my aaaaarrrrrrse!” as anything clearer than the terminal howl of a bombed Palestinian.
Still it’s less annoying than the arsehole who seems to spend most of the day scraping chairs across the floor above, or whoever fills many hours with the sounds of glass being squeegeed, despite the fact the windows don’t open so I can’t push them out.
As you know I aim to provide a public service with the screeching bullshit I write. So here I’d like to tell you about my experience as an NHS inpatient, so you know what to expect when you eventually take your first tentative step on the road to the hospice. So far I’ve been incarcerated in HMP UCLH for 21 days with no imminent prospect of parole. You get less for, oh, something to do with Barnard Castle. What do you want from me, topical?
I’m in my own room so I can’t get sick off the monsters who stalk the ward. It has its own bathroom complete with shower, and a chair in that shower to remind me I’m as robust as a pensioner pre-hip operation. There’s a TV with no remote, which, given I can’t move about without heaving for breath, means I’m left setting it to ITV3 and deadening my little grey cells with a few Poirots.
I do have this tablet, which I’ve filled with a load of what’s turned out to be complete shite to watch. And there’s my phone, my link to the world and the people who care for me.
I’ve certainly come to appreciate my well-meaning but simple friends. When they ask how I’m getting on and I tell them I have the shakes, a number of them, a high number, reply that it’s not all bad then, alongside a wanking emoji. Just to follow up, mate, would you rather get one off the wrist from a seasoned pro, technique honed over years of boredom and increasing broadband speeds, or a jittery old fuck less likely to provide a happy ending than to tear off your helmet?
Yes, I have the shakes. Never before has drinking hot tea been something to dread. I’ve spilt so much water over the bed sheets the staff don’t even bother with the mildly disgusted, pitying looks any more. I now have neck muscles like Brock Lesnar from flicking my head around the room trying to catch pasta.
My poor-man’s Parkinson’s is down to either neurotoxicity or cytokine release syndrome, both a result of Science, which I now hate. I’ve had a days-long fever, tiredness like an ill-prepared Three Peaks challenger rolling back down Scafell Pike, a Trotskyist headache and a back door off its hinges. And above all, I’ve had low blood pressure.
Oh I will desecrate the grave of whoever first linked blood pressure with illness, and in turn linked it to the nurses in this hospital. Now let me be clear, the nurses are lovely people. They are friendly, patient, diligent, and show genuine concern for the inmates’ well being. They might be fit too but they’re all in masks, bastard bloody virus.
But when I hear the rumble and rustle of the blood pressure machine and plastic gown, I want to barricade my cell, butter myself up like Charlie Manson, and maybe shake some lunch around the place to replicate a dirty protest.
In they come. My arm is wrapped. We wait excitedly for the bag to deflate and…85 over something (really only the first number matters). It needs to be at least 90 for a pass, according to Gavin Williamson. Now that’s topical.
So now we have a problem. The nurse asks if I’ve been drinking enough water. I’ve been drinking more water than an MDMA fanatic but every one of them asks, every single time, because somebody’s told them water is the silver bullet for low blood pressure. I drink another jugful, it goes up to 95 over something and as they leave I’m reminded to drink more water.
Every three hours, including all through the night, this process is repeated. Then one night I pretended to drink the water. Up from 82 to 98. Either just the thought of water is enough, or the machines are taking the fucking piss.
Sure enough I’ve had the number go up by 20-odd when the nurse switched to the other arm, and when they decided to try another machine. At no point do they wonder if maybe it’s not me. At 2.45am this morning I said to the ghostly presence beside me, in the light of a bed that glows the colour of Slimer, “When they let me out I’m going to buy one of these machines and smash it up.” Stef’s deadly serious reply – “Really?” – has only hardened my resolve.
In hospital, expect no respite. There are constant visits from nurses bringing pills and oral solutions and of course blood pressure machines. A registrar is in daily to check my brain function, by asking a series of fiendish questions (“What’s this?” “A pen.”). People bring meals, and someone always wants to change the bed sheets when you’re still in it at 8am. Someone sometimes pops up wanting to test your ‘grip strength’. The Carry On films were all true.
A man has been in to fix a screen that serves no-purpose beyond pay-TV, which didn’t previously turn itself on at 7am but thankfully does now. Two more have been in with a huge cone to check an air filtration unit in the ceiling, and I’ve had a man checking the room’s water temperature for so long I very nearly pissed the bed. Two nurses were in here earlier concerned that I haven’t been pressing the button for assistance enough, making me wonder what type of whingeing berk they normally have to deal with.
And then there’s the cleaner, usually a corpulent, ageing West African woman, who communicates in grunts and leaves the place in exactly the same state plus the smell of bleach. She can fuck off, this cleaner. She shambles in unannounced whenever she likes and ignores me entirely. As I’ve written the last few paragraphs she’s been in here, and as a nice boy it goes against every instinct to ignore the ghastly harridan.
But I’ve managed it. The other day I was asked to shit in a little pot for some reason. As I glumly made for the toilet I noticed her outside about to come in. I opened the door and politely asked if she could wait a few minutes. She grunted in confusion, stared at me. I showed her the little tube that really couldn’t have been for anything other than a stool sample, complete with tiny spoon, and pointed to the bathroom. She frowned again. I said “just a few minutes please” and shut the door. A minute later, as I pondered the physics of shitting through a 1cm aperture, I heard the door open with a grunt. Ignoramus.
Of course, each hospital sentence will be unique to your own choice of internal catastrophe or limb off. You may have no cause to be ferried, in bed, at 3am, 14 floors down for an emergency chest X-ray that shows, phew, the tumour’s still flourishing, and fuck all else. Perhaps you won’t need to be told, for the 10th time, exactly how to implement the lying to sitting to standing method of avoiding a head rush like an especially slow child who gets nosebleeds.
But whatever you’re expecting from your stay, there are some universals. You’ll expect the worst, but it won’t be that bad beyond the interminable tedium. You’ll find spending hour after hour in bed is quite enjoyable when there’s nobody around to call you a lazy bastard. And the food will be fine. There’s just no other word than fine.
Just make sure to bring your very, very best blood pressure with you.