Astute readers will, no doubt, have noticed my extended absence from these pages. Have I perhaps been immersed in a mindfulness exercise requiring total seclusion and severing of technological ties? Well, no, as it happens. Was I called away to fly to a far flung destination yet to be connected to the twenty-first century? Not that either, and anyway, if such a place exists I sincerely hope that no airline begins flights there. Or had I simply had enough of the persistently atrocious blog stats which accompany my efforts? Of course not. As we all know, it is the pure pleasure of writing which brings us back to the key board; such trifling matters as whether anyone reads my posts do not signify. (One of these statements is false).
My non-presence has a rather more prosaic explanation: I have spent the past two weeks shuttling between home, work and a hospital eighty miles away from both in order to visit my mother and her new knee. I shan’t bore you with the personal details of her medical sojourn, the post-operative complications, collapsing lung and embolism, all of which transpire to keep her prisoner on the orthopaedic ward. Nor shall I recount the experience of twice driving to the hospital directly from ten hour flights; the second occasion I was awake for over thirty hours.
Spending so much time in a vast location like a British teaching hospital does have its upsides. After the initial horror of being there at all has worn off, after regaining my breath having held it for the thirty seconds it takes to walk through the wall of smoke fortifying the main entrance, and after having deciphered the outrageously complicated signage which would surely confound even the brightest of wartime code-crackers, I begin to take note.
There’s much to see: patients, nurses, doctors, visitors, machines, noises and those unmistakable hospital smells: a story with every glance and sniff. And once I start to mine this rich seam of Hippocratic detail, I can’t stop.
Naturally, there are the characters.
Firstly, the double amputee sitting in a wheel chair outside the entrance, smoking endless cigarettes; he attracts pity and disgust in equal measure. Has the horror of losing both legs not shocked him into kicking the habit? Does he have no shame? Is this his last pleasure in life? Or, more intriguingly, is he a visitor? An unlucky ex-serviceman come to visit an ailing parent perhaps? A victim of a frenzied shark attack nervously awaiting the arrival of a longed-for child? The possibilities for this one character alone are endless.
Then there is the man who is wheeled by on his bed, a scaffold of wire and pins piercing his damaged head; the stuff of horrible nightmares. How did it happen? Accident? Suicide attempt? Daring experimental surgery to correct a debilitating skull deformity, performed by a dashing, yet frowned upon doctor?
Or how about the terrified student nurse who hangs on every word and every action of her agitated mentor. When will she make her first mistake? Will it be fatal? More importantly, should she tell someone about the good-looking young patient in bed number five and his habit of revealing himself to her in a state of obvious arousal? If she does, they’ll have to move him.
And when did the woman who brings tea to the ward last see her family back in Africa? If she only eats once a day there will be more money to send back for her child’s education. She hands out her cups with a smile which masks a thousand lonely tears shed in the confines of a damp bed-sit.
Finally, those visitors in the coffee shop: she quietly weeping, he bearing up. Have they just bid a final farewell to a dear friend? Or are they about to? Does she have a pathological fear of hospitals? Has he chosen this moment to inform her of a long-standing affair with her sick friend? Are they performance artists from the local college?
Then add to the mix the sensory overload of details: the incessant bleep-bleeping of machines: machines to dispense drugs; machines to pump air; machines to measure life’s force; and machines to provide the force to measure. The urgent alarms: alarms to call the crash team; alarms to call the nurse; alarms to summon rescue from the bathroom. And the bleepers, pagers and, now they are allowed, the constant ring-toning mayhem from a dozen patients’ mobile phones and the accompanying one-sided moaning and groaning.
Not to forget the smells: smells of disinfecting washes and ointments to mask, incompletely, the smells of functions completed in public.
A couple of hours spent in a hospital and I have more inspirational material to work with than I could imagine. All I had to do was pay a little attention. It certainly makes for a more fulfilling and useful hospital visit.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and whilst sitting at the laptop, staring hopefully at the wall does, sometimes, bring forth the seed of an idea, getting out there where life (and death) puts on its show is guaranteed to produce a bumper harvest of ideas. Just don’t forget your notebook.
Perhaps I’ve had that mindful experience after all.
Happy convalescing, Mum.
© flyingscribbler 2012