Thursday, 8 November 2007


I just remembered that Baldrick, in Blackadder, couldn't pronounce the word "hospital." Hence the title.

Pixie has written a very eloquent post about her hospital experiences from a couple of years ago, and one thing she wrote was about how, at first, being in hospital was in some ways quite enjoyable. This immediately triggered a memory. Now here's where we go off at a tangent in that respect, since I didn't have anything life-threatening or potentially devastating: I had been admitted for a minor operation to remove a lymph node, in order to test for any signs of Hodgkin's Disease.

In the event the results, thankfully, proved negative. My brief stay in hospital, meanwhile, felt like a real adventure.

I was the youngest (aged 18 and 3/4) on the ward: everyone else appeared to be middle aged or older, and I remember the man in the next bed to me had the most excruciating cough, you could tell he was in great pain and I pitied his poor lungs. Still, regardless of our comparative ages, we were all rendered infantile to a degree: the way we were all spoken to (imagine me being referred to as "Mr trousers" at the end of every sentence, in that tone of voice which lowers and then goes higher again); the way a bunch of grown men - and me - were all confined to our beds, wearing pyjamas.

This way, you know your place: you're there to have things done to you, and to be cared for. To be at the mercy of the routine and decisions of others. I'm not saying this in an entirely critical way, but in my experience it's just part of how it all is. In the same way that I like being at airports, but they inescapably make me feel guilty of something with all the scans, questions and checking of details.

Speaking of pyjamas, I'd recently bought myself some magnificent stripey ones, the really old-school kind with the pocket, and little to keep them up except for that cord that ties around the waist. They were rather oversized as well. They were the real deal though, I got them from an oddly esoteric shop situated down an alleyway which specialized in gear which had otherwise not been seen for a long time. On the hospital ward, thus attired, I remember a nurse coming along and, in that tone of voice saying "now then Mr trousers, you need to go to for your x-ray, the x-ray department is down the corridor, through the doors and second on your left."

I had already lost some of my self-consciousness since I had been examined, poked and prodded, shaved - and worst of all, discussed like I wasn't in the same room - and after a while I found I wasn't bothered about the seeming indignity, I was able to view it with a sense of humour. I could have sunk into the ground though when I tottered through into the x-ray department in my oversized, grandad-style pyjamas and found that this was in the outpatient's department. This meant that everyone else was fully dressed, wearing thick overcoats and scarves - it was January - and they all seemed to turn and look at me and to stifle giggles.

Everyone who was waiting was sat in a big semicircle of chairs, and there was one empty seat right in the middle. I decided to be bold and just sat down in the middle of everyone, carefully arranging myself so that my pyjamas didn't inadvertently reveal more than they needed to. I was still getting funny looks, so I just would give whoever it was a winning smile. I felt so incongruous, I just shed my self-consciousness (nothing else though, thankfully) and enjoyed the daftness of the moment.

Later, a couple of hours before I was due to have my operation, I was back in my bed idling the time away and having the occasional moment of anxiety. I remember a nurse coming in and saying "now you've got to take these tablets Mr trousers, and don't get out of bed after you've taken them because you might feel a bit dizzy."

This was what I had been waiting for: pre-med. My mother had told me about this.

Having taken the tablets, I lay back in bed with a sense of expectation. I waited.

Nothing happened.

I waited some more.

Still nothing. This was very disappointing. I had been lying there for maybe half an hour.

Then I sat up, and I felt I had sat up not just at a right-angle to the bed, but at a right-angle to the whole of reality. Shit! I felt great!

A nurse wheeled a patient past my bed. I gave them the victory salute, accompanied by the thoughtful words, "Fucking Dig It!" I then lay back down and saw the clock swimming around on the wall. Time distortion seemed to be happening as well: half an hour went past in five minutes, and vice versa. I sat up again: the transition from lying down to sitting up was like an amazing, epic journey. So I kept lying back down and sitting up again.

People were often walking past: my bed was right next to the ward entrance. Whenever someone did walk past, it was a real effort to keep my mouth shut, so I didn't. "Who needs acid house when you've got this shit?" I asked, not unreasonably (to me, at least). Amazingly, no-one told me to shut up, and I believe that people regarded such questions as merely rhetorical.

Since one or more of the tablets was a muscle relaxant, then finally I succumbed and just sank back into my bed, languidly watching the time pass in its uneven way, punctuated by people going to and fro: my exclamations to them were now rather more lazy. Finally a nurse and a couple of hospital orderlies came along with a trolley, on which I would be transported to the operating theatre. I looked at the trolley and started burbling on about whether they had any ice cream. I was still burbling on about it after they had lifted me on to the trolley and were wheeling me down the corridor.

They starting asking me questions: my name, my age, where I lived. I couldn't give them a straight answer, since as far as I was concerned they were asking such hilarious questions. Finally a rather stern tone of voice from one of the faces looking down at me signalled my need for compliance.

General anaesthetic was fantastic too. They put a plastic widget in the vein in my hand through which they gave one injection. A masked face looking down at me then informed they would be giving another injection, and asked me to count to ten. "How cliched," I thought, "you won't get me counting to ten". I could feel a cold liquid spreading through my hand as the second injection went in.

"One...two...three...four..." I could hear my voice counting. Was that me? I was disappointed in myself. I then felt my legs detach themselves from the rest of my body and drift at some speed to the ceiling. Then my torso followed, and I was out.

The seemingly psychedelic distortions of the pre-med tablets had worn off by the time I was being brought back to consciousness, to be replaced by a weary kind of weirdness. As I was slowly coming round I was perturbed to see a familiar face and hear a voice I hadn't heard since I had been at play-school, perhaps fifteen years previously. More than three quarters of my life ago.

"Hello trousers, remember me?" Shit! One of my play-school teachers! I must be dead! I was convinced of this - why on earth else would she be bringing me round after an operation? The haziness of this slow return to the offices of awareness was like one of those rather hackneyed dream sequences you see on television. Here was a figure from my past as seen through a soft-focus lens. I think I asked her if I was dead as well, though I'm not sure whether this too was taken as a rhetorical question. The more I came round, the more convinced I was: her facial features became ever clearer and this seemed to confirm my thesis.

Finally she told me she now worked as a nurse, and suddenly that made sense. So, I was still alive after all. Back on the ward, I witnessed someone die late that night, but I'll save that for a different (and no doubt very cheerful) post.

Meanwhile, completely unrelated to the above ramblings, here is a picture of Iona, especially for Merkin.