There is a chasm, a deep trench along whose edge we all walk many times in our life. The irony is that the temptation that leads us to fall over the edge or leap to its blackest depths, are emotions of vastly contrasting origins.
We fall in Love, we dive into rage and blindly adore or hate, all inevitably casting us from the safety of the ledge, to the unknown of the abyss. But then there are other devastating and incredibly powerful emotions that that lay in wait for us as less obvious structures. The very fabric of our lives is infested with cracks of despair and I am currently doing my best to avoid stepping on the rotten planks beneath my feet, as I know they cannot bear the weight of my happiness and want me to fall into the deep. Last November I had an all too close encounter in this same hospital and tomorrow I again face the fear that history might repeat itself.
So I distract myself. Today my view is from a hospital window. I choose now to look for as many chinks of light as I can and I find them in observation and human nature which makes me smile. Here in this place of healing, there is an obsession with bowel movements. The condition of all of the patients in this particular part of the hospital has really little to do with bowel movements, but the wonderful nurses here seem nonetheless obsessed with the question. Fortunately for me, the response from one patient kept me entertained for a good ten minutes last night and sometimes, ten minutes can make a big difference to your day.
“Did you move your bowels today?” This simple question requires a yes or no answer really, but oh no, there’s always one.
“Yeah.” The voice without a face answered in an inappropriately loud voice. But happily he didn’t leave it there. “I had a poo this morning. Come to think of it I had a good clean out last night.” Enough information? Let’s leave it there was my initial thought. You’d think so wouldn’t you?
“If I eat chocolate I can ruin meself,” he said before continuing. “Had a bar of whole nut on Sunday, cleaned me out.” Then he raised his voice and repeated the last bit in case anyone in a 500m radius couldn’t hear. “Cleaned me out.” But he wasn’t finished.
“I had a wee…well…I had about 5 wees. Do you need to write them down?” The nurse replied no and from the tone of her voice I think she was retreating, but this man was not to be stopped.
“What about the runs, cause I had the runs on Monday after being cleaned out on Sunday. Does that count? That’s when I ruined meself.” It went on and on and I sat looking out my window, listening to the anonymous voice, smiling.
This morning a 14 year old intern, tried to question and lecture an eighty five year old man on his drinking habits. They weren’t even reading the same book, let alone being on the same page.
“How many units of alcohol do you consume each week?” It meant nothing to the auld lad.
“I don’t drink Eunice.” His reply was a gem. Never drink larger.” Even I was confused. The boy doctor tried to simplify the question for the man whose age was further exacerbated by his poor hearing.
“Not Eunice …Units…How much do you drink?” The old man laughed.
“Chance’d be a fine thing. I haven’t had a drink since I came in here.”
“No, sir, How…much…do…you…drink.” He spoke as loud as he could.
“I’d have 2 cans of Guinness.”
“A week?” He needed unit numbers for his calculation.
“Jaysus no… a night… sometimes I’d only have 1.” He sounded contrite.
“So you have one or two cans of Guinness a night?”
“I might have more.” I could hear the exasperation in the medical child’s voice.
“Three?” He was determined to work out the units.
“Might be 3.” Finally!
“So you have 1 to 3 cans every night?” Doctor boy was being sure of his unit calculation, pen in hand.
“Of Guinness?” The patient clarified.
“1 to 3 cans of Guinness per night?” the Doctor had finally tied it down. You could hear the “Oh yeah!” in his voice. But then the old geezer just threw it all up in the air again.
“I could have 6 or 7…”
It was so much fun, yet another gem that went on for long enough to drag me across a few more planks of despair. It is all around me here. The ubiquitous whistling Dublin hospital porter, every now and then whistling Spanish Eyes, as he passes the door as if on some cosmic hospital porter loop. His colleague, the singing Dublin hospital porter, with a broader range from Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra. They all have a pure, magical, lilting belief that they have a magnificent voice, surely there is a school somewhere that teaches this art, for I have yet to visit a Dublin hospital and not hear one croon his way down the corridor.
Then last night my amusement turned to sadness. At 3.30 am a registrar was discussing patients with nurses outside my door, when a thick Dundalk accent started shouting. It sounded like an old woman.
“LIAR!” She was accusing someone but it soon became clear she was talking about the doctor. “LIAR! He’s a kidnapper! He’s a kidnapper. Somebody help me please.”
A nurse tried to calm the clearly distressed lady but she became angrier, more distressed and suddenly, my fun of eavesdropping became an altogether different thing. It soon became clear that she was suffering from some form of dementia or memory loss and was convinced that the nurses and doctors were holding her captive. This morning I again heard her, only this time she was insisting on sitting on another person’s bed. She was screaming that she could sit where she liked in her own house and wanted to know what all the people were doing there. Suddenly my amusement felt shallow. I was seeing real anguish no matter how untrue it was, the lady in question was living a nightmare. I needed cheering up again.
Back to my window watching. The sun is shining now, tomorrow I face into the unknown again, and until then I must find a way to while away the hours. There is the obsession with tea of course, (that’s a whole other blog) time is counted here by when the next cup will arrive and I was beginning to despair this morning as patients checked out and checked in. The old voices were leaving, gone my amusement at others around me. I have been left bored and alone waiting for the next cup of tea to arrive. But it feels like I’m waiting for something more significant than tea…and then I heard him, right outside my door.
“Doctor is there anywhere I can put me cat.”
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