Tuesday, 11 October 2011


A young Afro-Caribbean girl in the opposite bed was disgusted by the Rumanian woman and after one of her blasts from mouth or backside, would use an air-freshener all around her own bed.
She went home and I was left with the gypsy woman, who added to her repertoire of noises with a mobile phone on full blast. There would be a burst of rustic music, singing, then she would scream into the phone, at all hours of day and night. The little nurses were powerless to stop her. I don’t think she knew what silence was. I asked the nurses, with difficulty as they didn’t understand me much either, to ask her translator to tell her to put the mobile on silent. It didn’t happen so I asked to be moved and they obliged me.
I was back in a larger ward. Opposite me was an Australian girl was crying because she said she couldn’t have children. I asked her about her partner. She said he was in Australia but he was “unreliable,” and they were breaking up anyway. My Polish friend told me in a text, to tell the girl to pray to John Paul II as apparently he is very good at getting women pregnant, or go to the shrine or Our Lady at Guadeloupe in Mexico. I didn’t bother.
Doctors came to scrutinise my abdomen, which looked like a smashed up turnip, with bands of blue and yellow. They looked worried and some murmured apology or at least regret that this had happened. They set up a drip with antibiotics.
I noticed with some fascination that my genitals had swelled up. There was something like a rubber band over the top and they hung below like rough pieces of MDF. There was a granular feel about the skin, perhaps like cardboard rather than anything harder. I could tell all this might take some time to put right.
Next to me was an elderly Afro-Caribbean woman who seemed well educated. She had visitors during the day, unlike me, and I enjoyed listening to their conversations.
One morning as we were having breakfast a young black nurse came in the ward and shouted at us: “Good morning Ladies! Don’t you want to see each other?” She tore back all our bed curtains and tried introducing me to the lady in the next bed who was eating her breakfast. We both ignored her.
She tried this again one night, bursting in and shouting, “We are supposed to be able to see you!” and tore back all our curtains. I put mine back immediately but in the night when I had to make my treks to the loo, I saw that some women had put their curtains only half way back, as if a little afraid of disobeying orders.
Curtains were the only thing we had to keep out the permanent light, and to give us some privacy. In bed I could see the days stretching out in their barren, antiseptic way. Some of the ceiling tiles are lights and while you wait for the final drugs round that signals the end of the day, you have to lie on your back looking up at them until they finally put the lights out at about midnight. There is no real darkness and no quiet, no where to hide, except being your curtains.

I was woken one morning by a trudging elderly black nurse with a face like a pot-bellied pig. She came at me with the thermometer thing they put into your ear, banging it so hard on the side of my head that I groaned. She tried again but failed to get it in to the hole and trudged off without a word. Another case, I thought, like Omar for wondering, how on earth did someone like that get the job? Later I heard some of the doctors joking that the nurses couldn’t even take a temperature properly.
In the day time I was back with my hedgehog brain, feeling humiliated about my lack of visitors. Now our hospitals have moved to Sparta, when visitors did come they could have a hard time. Alec, the handsome young editor, visited me on his way to and from work and one evening went off to get some coffee. The nurses are not allowed to make any drinks for visitors. Instead of telling him that there was a small vending machine in the kitchen, they directed him downstairs again to the Costa Coffee shop. That was closed so he went off looking for somewhere else. He was nearly half an hour away. I pottered off to the nursing station to ask if they knew where he’d gone. There was a young east European woman doctor sitting there.
“You must love him very much if you are so worried when he goes to buy coffee,” she said with an unpleasant sneer.
I was taken aback and retreated to my bed to wait. He eventually came back with his oversize polystyrene cup. He was cheerful as he’d got the gist of the place – a functioning, grinding machine as utilitarian and hard as an old mill or work-house. He gave me a couple of pounds to give the nurse for a paper the next day and I was extremely grateful as in the rush to get into the ambulance I hadn’t put any cash into my bag. How can you keep cash in a modern hospital anyway?
How I longed for the old WRVS trolley ladies, my mother’s friends now long dead, or the kindly husband I have never found.

The vicar from Ealing had contacted the chaplaincy at Hammersmith, there was a photograph of three beaming chaplains on the wall, asking them to visit me, but they never came. I was also and worrying about asking anyone to give me a lift home for a second time, worried about my cat, and realised uneasily that all that food I’d bought for when I couldn’t shop was slowly mouldering away in the fridge. Would I be able to get anyone to shop for me?

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