The day got off to a bad start, only to get worse. To be fair my Doctor gave me no solace and his vagueness of diagnosis, left me wondering what the point of him was. Eventually he referred me to A & E, where I went and will continue the events of that first day in hospital, with a story about a South African doctor with the weirdest bedside manner ever. Trust me, while it was no fun for me, if you are of a fan of the unpleasant, you’ll enjoy this I’m sure.
In triage, a very positive nurse from the Philippines told me a bit about himself, before engaging me with intelligent, useful questions, the type my Doctor should have asked, while he took my blood pressure, did an E.C.G., took my temperature etc.. He then handed me over to a rather large, young, junior Doctor from South Africa. He had the look of a man that played at Number 8 for some pain-hungry, all blonde, all enormous, rugby team in the Transvaal. The type of guy you’d be weary of taking a lift from on a dusty African back road, for fear your remains would never be found. On the one hand, he was probably handsome beneath his PPE, all blue eyed, tanned with a quiff of blonde hair, but on the other hand there was an air of serial killer about him. Maybe I was reading into it way too much for a first meeting. I am a people watcher, but I do tend to over analyse. It’s the writer in me.
He was the first Doctor I encountered in the hospital, tasked with unravelling what turned out to be a complicated mystery with a twist or two along the way. But that’s the medical stuff. That’s the boring stuff. At that moment I was in excruciating pain, I was there, hoping for a resolution. and there he was, a man with the eyes of a serial killer, examining me. He said little but stared at me intently. He poked and prodded me, asking the occasional question. Just when I thought he was done he said something which at first seemed odd, perhaps because of his Springbok bluntness, but more by his insistence on repeating the strangely phrased statement.
Quite simply he said “next I’m going to send you for an X Ray … and then I’m going to stick my finger up your bum.” An Irish doctor would never put it like that surely and I wasn’t having any actual problems in that department specifically. But then he repeated it, still holding me in the same intense blue-eyed, I’m going to tackle you into touch and try to break a bone while I do it type of stare.
“An X ray … and I’m going to stick my finger – up – your bum.” Now what made this worse was, he showed me the aforementioned, offending, rather large and bony, standard South African back-rower’s middle finger. As if that wasn’t enough, he actually raised it up in a literal ‘up’ movement in time to what he said. And then he left the examination room for a minute. It was only when he returned, that I noticed there was a rack of disposable gloves on the wall which had four separate dispensers; small, medium, large and extra large. You guessing? Yep- extra large.
Now for the sake of not corrupting my readers, I shall draw a curtain around what happened next, much like he did before performing the procedure. He sent me on my way, telling me to follow the footsteps on the floor to find X-Ray. I didn’t see him again and you know, looking back, I really hope he actually works there now. But that wasn’t the half of it. I was poked, prodded, pinched, injected, had lots of bodily fluids tested and then the fun started.
There was a problem you see. Apparently they discovered multiple issues. They were pulmonary and gastric in nature and their exact locations were so close to each other, that it was giving double positives for every test. Team after team had a go. They said my body was a magical mystery. I told them that’s how I managed to marry such a beautiful woman. No one laughed. I normally laugh at my own jokes, but frankly even I was too sick to be bothered.
Eventually it all became a little more serious, when they discovered a surprise package in the collection of problems I had brought to them that day, and this one was life threatening. Everything changed at that point and they immediately began my treatment in the emergency department while they set about looking for a bed for me. Oh my Lord what a kerfuffle. It was one crazy ER day and beds were like hens teeth. Eventually at 11 pm, I found myself sitting in a ward with what looked like the cast of Thriller. I know I’m no spring chicken but holy God! By the time I was hooked up to IV’s and tucked up in bed, it was midnight and the old man snoring and farting fest began. It was like living at the edge of a swamp in toad mating season. One guy actually started barking in his sleep. I was like “seriously, you put me here!”
But then, the piece de resistance. At 4 am and forgive the language but I shit you not, auld Johnny, a deaf old coot with dementia, broke out into song, but not just any song. Oh no! He sang a collection of familiar, Irish, miserapauling ballads, to make you feel worse than you already might have felt, when you were transported to Van Diemen’s Land or wherever you were sent back in 1798. One after the other, an 82 year old, deaf, dementia sufferer, giving it socks in the night. There was ‘Where only the rivers run free’ and ‘Peggy Gordon’ and the hits kept coming. He only stopped to pick a fight with the nurses. A part of me smiled, but the sick, in pain me, wondered if I’d have the strength to hold a pillow down over his face long enough to shut the fecker up if not actually put him and the rest of us out of our misery.!
The morning was a long, sleepless time coming but with morning came the hope of clarity. I did manage to nod off between 5 and 5.30 but I must have bent my elbow because it set off an alarm on my IV monitor. The nurse had briefly mentioned that it happens and if it did I just needed to press the green button to restart. What she didn’t consider was how wrecked I’d be, and startled in my exhaustion, I pressed everything until it stopped. But then there was the problem of how to start it again. Me being me, I switched it off and on again until it asked me for dosage and time. There was what looked a default option or two and I rolled the dice. It started, I’m not dead so whatever I did worked – piece of cake. Any normal person would have called the nurse.
In another bout of engineering (with a very small e) genius ( with a very big head) a coupe of days later I fixed my bed whose electronic control were only partially working. So bored I was at that stage, that rather than wait for some hospital repair guy to appear ‘eventually’ I used the power of google to find the technical manual on line and troubleshoot the issue. It took me half an hour sitting in a chair with my iPhone, to eventually reset the bed’s controls. if only they knew what I was up to.
Early on the second morning the real fun started. Three of my neighbours were definitely not firing on all cylinders and at least two of them were stone deaf. Now adding to the mix is the fact that we have a lot of very fine Indian nurses working in Ireland. The challenge this presented was their use of vocabulary and their slightly different pronunciation, which while excellent for your average patient like me, caused mayhem with the bunch of old, deaf, bewildered Dubliners around me. To add to the confusion, old men with thick Dublin accents using slang with every second word, can be a challenge for someone from outside of Dublin, let alone from somewhere like India where they use much more correct form English wording. Perhaps a demonstration might help.
The ward sister who happened to be from India, came in and said :Good morning John” to one guy. A different man answered and said “God I forgot where I was, I thought you were my daughter.” The nurse said “Good morning” to him and a totally different man who thought she was speaking to him but didn’t hear her correctly said .. “sorry?” Caught off guard she replied “What?” and he came back with .. “you said you got something for me?” Confused she clarified “No, I said good morning.” And then the original guy answered her “Morning”. FFS! The whole day was like that. There was always some misunderstanding or other, so that there always appeared to be two people having two totally separate conversations at all times. It kept me entertained at least.
Before the next morning had a chance to find itself, the same ward sister was challenged with, “ What’s wrong with my tongue?” as she checked on one of her patients. She gently explained that the doctor would talk to him in the morning when it was time for their rounds. It was My singing friend Johnnie, no doubt a bit of a bully at home, a man brimming with the chauvinism of his time, and not happy being dependent on this strange woman. He didn’t like what he heard one little bit. He had mis-heard her. “In their own time!” I thought to myself ‘Oh God here we go’ and I wasn’t wrong. That little battle lasted a good fifteen minutes as Johnnie was demanding to get an answer to a question, he decided he could win on. ” Is it right that they should see me when it suits them and I cant see them when it suits me…is it?” Trying to explain that the doctors would visit him on their rounds as they did every morning at 7.30, just an hour away, didn’t placate him. She had the patience of a saint.
The catering staff come around every day and took meal orders for the next day, They asked Johnnie if he would like Lamb or Gamon? Again the hearing issue kicked in. “Salmon?” he queried. “No – Gamon, Lamb or GAMON,” It was repeated slow and loud so he could hear. Johnnie again goes, “Salmon?” Patiently the rather experienced woman slowed it down and toned it up even more. “Not Salmon John, it’s GAMON.” She spelled it out for him literally. “G.A.M.O.N. GAMON. you have a choice of LAMB OR GAMON.” John looked at her. He had the look of a man thinking hard and then decided. ” Grand so, I’ll have the salad.”
When she came to me I told her I’d have the salad too and she told me I’d get a salad over the head if I wasn’t careful. Aaah Dublin wit, you can’t beat it. Speaking of which, Dublin hospital porters are a breed onto their own. They never shut up. One lady took me to get an ultrasound and on the way I got her life story, She managed to squeeze in her family structure, she had three sisters and one brother, her father was dead and her mother was in a home with Alzheimer’s – the home didn’t have Alzheimer’s – just the mother ( her words not mine). I got the full run down on how that effected them during the lockdown and discovered which sister was the ‘awkward one’ which one was the emotional one etc. I got to learn where she drank, how many pints she managed to get in during the period where the pubs were open for a while but where, due to restrictions, you could only stay for a set time. I know what she had to eat and where she lived. I wouldn’t mind but it isn’t a big hospital, it was only a short walk! On the way back up to the ward, she stopped my wheelchair and had a gossip not once, but twice, with other members of staff, She cracked me up.
On another trip (I want say to which test for fear of identifying the persons concerned.) The porter told me that the person running that department was an arsehole, To be fair I agreed as I had the privilege of listening to her as I sat invisible In my wheelchair outside, while she single handled, treated everyone like sh*t (staff that is) and even as a patient I could see how things were falling apart around her through lack of management skill. But anyway the chatty porter told me she had reported him for being insubordinate and not having enough respect for her. I asked him what happened and he told me that he told the disciplinary committee that she needed a good ride. ” That actually got me in even more trouble” he said, and I wasn’t surprised he had been reprimanded. He was camp as Christmas and very funny, but clearly need to reign his mouth in.
I escaped the clutches of whatever was after me and was released from hospital late on Wednesday evening thank God, but I took a lot away with me. Again, I was reminded of the preciousness and precariousness of life, the importance of living while we can. I recognised how calm I had become in old age in the face of adversity, and how I took even the darkest situation to be something that having survived it, I should be grateful for, more than anything else. I was also reminded that I watch people and I think that helps me with characterisation for my books. There is always something to take away from every experience in life.
Being a melancholy man at the best of times, the solitude of hospital never sits well with me. In COVID times, there is the added Burdon of not having visitors to shape our day. But my visit to hospital this time was thankfully short. Recuperating at home now, I have time to get my strength back and look forward to how best use whatever extra time my most recent narrow escape has given me. So now if you’ll excuse me, I have another book to finish…
Haven’t read a Max Power Book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up. Max Power’s books include ; Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy. Here are the universal booklinks and associated sites where you can find out more about Max Power’s writing and his current and planned releases Books;