Sunset on the Whittington Riviera

Truly, I feel for you. Your job, family and life in general teeter on the rim of a slop bucket of decisions made by a government so erratic it makes Jair Bolsonaro look like Jacinda Ardern. Old Aunt Doris, may her Covid-riddled cadaver rest in peace, left everything to the bloody cat shelter just as your pot to piss in sprung a mortgage-sized leak. And as if things couldn’t get any worse they’re threatening to make you go back to work, ending the laziest and therefore greatest few months of your adult life.

Still, you’ve got your health. So quit fucking moaning.

Robust health isn’t something I can boast. In the past three weeks alone I’ve had a 5-inch needle stuck in my lung through my back, while lying on my front thinking of England and what England’s done for me; had a troublingly jolly man shave my groin, but only the right-hand side of it, in order to stick a sizeable plastic tube into that particular leg vein that dooms any movie character shot in it; and been plugged into a machine, called Artemis for some reason, that sucked out all my blood, thankfully putting most of it back in before I’d used up all my Tony Hancock gags. Two days ago I was greeted for an 8am appointment with the words: “Are you being harvested today?”

As a result I’ve been conscripted into our nation’s army of shuffling gown-wearers for whom hospitals become second homes. Sunrise to sunset on the Whittington Riviera.

I cannot testify about the state of hospitals shaking with viral spluttering, because my particular affliction demands I inhabit more rarified booths and corridors, but these places are surely all much the same. Over there, for example, is a man moaning.

Hospital moaners are in the right place in my opinion because every hospital comes with a mortuary in its lower floors and so their final journey will be swift and cost the NHS little, for I will dispatch them. They moan about their treatment, as though the whole point of the service is anything other than to get them as well as possible as quickly as possible so they’ll go go go away.

And they moan about delays. Believe me, nurses are not often found standing about idly. There is no staff surplus. Frustrating though a wait can be, not one person in this building wants somebody like you in here making sounds like a goat for a minute longer than necessary.

These are the ones upset with the hand they’ve been dealt, bent on taking it out on professionals trying to help them, rather than simply beating their kids like normal people. But that’s not to say there aren’t aspects of hospital life to complain about. Yes, even this patient’s patience can be tested, if you can believe that.

The food is actually tolerable, when for whatever reason you’ve not brought two soggy rounds of cheese and tomato like a good boy. A selection of standard plane-style meals in plastic trays, factory sandwiches too often containing filthy cold egg, and somehow ‘fish and chips’, which I’ve never seen anyone try. Various drinks and smoothies, but otherwise BYOB.

But then there’s the tea.

Only sending the tea trolley round twice a day is inhumane. The tea’s grim, grey, in a miniscule styrofoam cup and the tea marshal is impervious to the words ‘not too much milk please’. But if she thinks I can live off two cups in eight hours she must be fresh off the boat. If that line offends you, and you won’t tolerate a tongue-in-cheek reference to the huge numbers of ethnic minority NHS staff who help prolong my existence week-in week-out, and who I will stoutly defend with whatever gasps I have remaining, then I am not the scrivener for you. But, Jesus wept, the fucking tea.

I’ve also enjoyed watching politicians scurry about frantically scraping up equipment from anywhere they can in belated response to staff ‘complaining’ that shortages are causing deaths. Boo hoo, coronawimps. Some of the gear in non-Covid clinics looks like it last saw action in 1940s Coventry. I find special joy in wheeling a drip stand to the toilet, in the event I’m denied the singular treat of pissing in a cardboard bottle and passing it forlornly to an impassive nurse. Every drip stand handles like a shopping trolley, its five wheeled limbs fighting me, each other, a set of apparently hidden, randomly applied brakes and whatever pools of fluid they may encounter along the way. If it tips over, and the bag of whatever radioactive muck they’re putting in me splits, I’m expecting one of those alarms that goes off in a TV crime drama when it’s obvious to everyone but those inside the lab that no amount of fumigation will save them now.

Still, as a certain type of friend will tell me, at least I get to ogle nurses, surely not all of whom can be Hattie Jacques. Once again we have coronavirus to thank for fouling up our 2020 in unforeseen ways because all the nurses are forced to wear masks all the time. She has lovely eyes and a pretty Irish lilt, but you won’t know until you’ve had her locked up in your cellar for 14 days’ quarantine whether she has teeth like the ones Bart Simpson glued into his head.

Yeah I’m getting to know hospitals pretty well, with their general air of steadfast humiliation. But though it might seem strange, I’m not really complaining. No I don’t like or enjoy it, but in some odd way it’s an experience like no other that should be viewed with a curious if critical eye.

And just as I was typing that, in hospital, I was told I have to be in here again next Monday for a few hours I previously believed to be my own. And when in a month or so I have to spend an unspecified number of weeks actually living in a hospital ward 24/7, while you lot sit in sunny pub gardens laughing at how crazy things were in June, my sanguinity may evaporate as swiftly as respect for the pilots of Burnley.

At that point I might start moaning like fuck. But until then the target of my ire is anyone who undervalues or underpays the NHS. I wish great ill on those who would privatise it, chop it up, reorganise it or say that any member of staff at any level is ‘not deemed to be providing a service’ as one fuckwitted health minister said of student nurses recently. If any NHS denigrator wants to test its capabilities first hand I know a number of people willing to provide that service for them, me included.

But for all I’ll defend them, I can’t recommend a trip to the hospital as a happy junket. Just as The Thick of It looks more and more like a documentary as time goes by, so my mind fills with the horribly accurate exploits of Roy Figgis and Archie Glover in Only When I Laugh, described by one reviewer as ‘intermittently rewarding’, which sums up my life quite well just now. 

Any more cost-cutting on the tea service and I’ll be volunteering for the full-body option the next time a large Slav offers to harvest me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *