Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Bureaucratic Crevasse

The sensation of having fallen down a crevasse between two medical departments in a hospital, (let’s call them the “Lungers” and the “Hearties”) can seem acute at about 5.30 am on a Tuesday morning in January when there’s nearly three hours before the feeble sun might start practising at being springtime.

Ian Patient can hear a hacking cough from another section of the ward, and the sound of a night nurse shuffling papers and clicking them into folders. A distant sounding radio is faintly playing pap pop and Ian Patient can almost but not quite, recognise some of the tunes.

In front of him Ian Patient can see two china teacups placed on the edge of a porcelain sink. These are the only purely white objects around apart from a bit of the corner of a bedsheet that Ian can see out of the corner of his eye. Nothing else; walls , polystyrene ceiling tiles, formica panels covering piping, bed, plastic blind strips hanging in the window ( with a gap in the middle), is wholly quite white. It is all pale grey or sickly green, or in the case of the floor lino speckled with dark grey flecks. Bits of the chair and bedside cabinet are beige wood, the steel rubbish bin is mushroom coloured; the most colourful object in the room is a yellow plastic sharps bin fixed halfway up the wall that Ian Patient faces, not quite on a level with three grey plastic light switches situated in the same wall.

Ian shouldn’t complain he’s doing a cheap, quasi-voluntary health cure in the poor man’s Priory. He has a room to himself with en suite facilities (the grey lavatory door is just to his left). Ian hopes that he is not ungrateful and then immediately wonders what he should be grateful for. He’s paid taxes in every one of the thirty eight years of his working life and still some since; but that’s for the facilities and skills of the NHS and its staff. He is grateful for the care and patience shown to him.

“Money can’t buy me love” as Beatles say.

Ian feels some satisfaction to know that business executives and the like probably pay more than he’s ever earned to get hospital rooms to themselves, albeit ones with flowers and probably more interesting décor. But, then again, he wagers that these fatcats have a way whereby they don’t personally pay and somehow working stiffs are subsidising them. Ian wasn’t even a working stiff any more, he got an occupational pension awarded on the basis of ill health and even that was less Tax. The thought was working in Ian up into an enormous, lefty frenzy so that he was ready to gnash his morning Weetabix with the fangs of righteous proletarian fury.

This was what sensory. deprivation was doing to Ian, and myriads of other intelligent beings everywhere.

Earlier Ian caught himself sitting on the loo, picking little flakes of dead skin off his toes and for a moment stood outside his present self, as a former younger self, looking in through the bars at London zoo. He was then almost on the point of getting ready to take a couple of puffs of his inhaler, as he was supposed to every morning, but he thought and planned his journey across the room to the bedside cabinet carefully so as to make this experience last as long as possible.

One of Ian’s keepers, nurses, a tall young Filipino, comes in to take Ian’s blood pressure, temperature etc.: he looks like Cochise in a Hollywood western but does not address Ian as “Kimo Sabe” or suggest that he has a forked tongue; he says “he early bird catches the worm.”

“Yuh” Ian says in a grunted non-committal reply past the thermometer that had been placed in under his tongue.

When Cochise was gone, Ian set off on the inhaler quest and then a far longer safari along the grey corridors where the phlosflorescent light is mixing with dawn. He was aiming to discover if there was a three pin electric socket in the Patients’ “Lounge”.

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