Back to what I now term, from honest observation, the “International Health Service.”
The op for a repair, a hernia caused by the original op, was to be done on August 31st and I expected to be up and about by Saturday the 3rd in time to take some paintings of mine to the Discerning Eye competition up near Piccadilly. I got into the show at the Mall Gallery last year, and I had three paintings finished, framed and ready to go.
I thought it would be a small op, as it seemed like a small hernia. It annoyed me a bit, a slight bulge in the swim suit, a slight ache when I was standing up for a long time at parties.
This repair job meant a short spell back in the Victor Bonney Ward – well it’s not called a ward now, they’ve got some other name I think, and it does not resemble a ward that you would recognise; neat lines of beds with nice covers, lines of bedside closets topped with flowers, juice and cards. VB resembles a high-tech kitchen in some giant factory.
The first thing I noticed as I took up my prone position as a patient, or as they are now called, clients, was that I was the only English person there. That film, The English Patient, couldn’t be called that these days as the title is almost obsolete. Opposite was a young pregnant woman half Chinese half African, in for a suspected appendicitis. Next to me lay a thin pregnant girl from Bangladesh with bad morning sickness. Opposite sat a Rumanian gypsy woman aged about sixty, cloaked in a blanket, sitting upright and with a set expression on her face which made her look rather like a squaw. No idea what she is suffering from as she hadn’t a word of English. She had a translator by her bed most of the day and a large mound of relations at night, but the nurses couldn’t even get her to indicate where the pain might be.
Her only word was “Ka ka,” and when her relations were not about, she had her own tone language composed of noises – belching loudly with a wide open mouth, breaking wind and between these, “Oof, oof” noises by way of saying she couldn’t help herself.
Sometimes for the nurses trying to examine her she’d make a keening, whining noise which I used to hear when Roma gypsies were begging with babies on the underground and outside Harrods.
At night her relations don’t want to leave and the tiny Philippino nurses tried to shoo them out. I didn’t think they’d go. The girl next to me said there had been a fight the night before and security had been called to remove them. A Polish nurse appeared and persuaded them to leave. As they left the ward one of them had picked up the word, “bye bye,” and said it over and over in a kind of high mocking tone. Hidden behind my blue curtains it sounded as if we were haunted by the malevolent ghost of old Harry Corbett.
The next day I met my first Brit when I received a visit from a hearty woman anaesthetist in a track suit, and began to realise that this might not be the small op I thought. She asked if I wanted an epidural “to get some pain relief on board.”
Like someone who fears an exam, I started asking everyone, “This will be OK won’t it, and it’s only a small thing, isn’t it?”
You might need to give yourself a bed rest for a week after this,” a nurse told me. I couldn’t believe that would be necessary. I was still picturing a little key-hole wound.