Subtitle: Brought Down to Earth with a Thump.
In my youth visits to the hospital were either grudging attendances on sick kin or occasional visits to A&E. One time I enthusiastically picked up and eraser thrown at me by a work-mate then as I stood found myself lifting a cast-iron engine block mounting cube (a lump of metal you bolt an engine block to on a surface table for marking out or measurement – it takes two people to lift it) with my head underneath one of the mounting studs, which subsequently slid down. I noted the lump of scalp on the end of the stud, slapped a hand over my forehead and fled to the toilets where, in the mirror, I was greeted by the sight of a flap of my scalp lifting on each pulse of blood. In recent years my visits to hospital have become more frequent and come to involve death; you get older and more people you know get seriously ill and sometimes die. Like Alan Wood in the dedication in Cowl, and like my father last year. However, I’ve never needed to go beyond A&E for a problem of my own. Last Friday I thought to myself damn, my bottom is sore, and wondered if I was paying the penalty of my drink-sodden lifestyle with piles. Over the weekend the pain in my arse grew, unrelieved by haemorrhoid cream, but I managed, much to my surprise, to get an appointment with the doctor’s on Monday. To be fair the doctor was probably misled by my mention of piles and probably, having to deal with dim patients was why he asked me three times if I’d had them before (I hadn’t) and if there was any blood (there wasn’t). He also didn’t get to inspect matters too closely since, after his first attempt, he had to peel me off the ceiling. He prescribed a cream, but it didn’t do any good. Now here’s where the bottom humour starts to wane as soreness turns to pain and then PAIN. After a day in bed I got to see another doctor on an emergency basis. He tried the anal-inspection routine then after digging my fingernails out of the wall came to a conclusion: pain like that was probably due to an infection, probably an abscess. He prescribed strong painkillers and antibiotics and, if things weren’t getting any better within 48 hours I would have to go to hospital where, under general anaesthetic, they would probably have to open drain and pack the abscess. The pain killers kicked in for a while, at least enabling me to get out of the car, but thereafter it seemed I might just as well have been eating Smarties. You know the expression ‘writhing in pain’? … well I certainly do now, only I was writhing the top half of my body and my feet because any movement of my middle section resulted in an invisible demon shoving a soldering iron up my arse. I was making noises too – little grunts and groans were escaping no matter how much I clenched my teeth. Coughing was to be avoided at all costs, because the demon swapped his soldering iron for a red-hot poker at that point. I spent a night like this, seeing every hour on the clock. In the morning Caroline called up the second doctor who immediately referred me to hospital. Just a case of getting there. I could no longer sit in the passenger seat so lay down in the back then upon arrival walked from the car park with the alacrity of a 100-year-old. After signing in at A&E where I was referred a long wait ensued, during which I was unable to sit down. Next an assessment nurse saw me and was sensible enough to forego bottom inspections and admitted me. I have to wonder if her job is to increase efficiency or slow down the admission procedures, just to keep things within those government targets. After a further long wait during which I stood supporting myself on the arms of two chairs I was taken into a cubical to be checked over by a junior surgical doctor. This involved her asking me numerous questions, delivering homilies about my smoking straight out of the New Labour Book of Truth, then she proceeded to part my buttocks and subsequently remove my hands from her throat. I jest, of course, but right then I wanted a pump-action shotgun beside me: “You touch this without giving me drugs and I spray your head over that wall!” Some of the next bit comes second hand, because I can’t really remember much of it. I ended up on my side on a bed, behind A&E, Caroline departed and I was wheeled down to a ward. Despite my pleas to allow myself to sort myself out a nurse had to be helpful, then backed off when her tugging on the under sheet pulled on one buttock and I shrieked. Another nurse, aware that I wasn’t having a little joke about how much this was hurting, helped me change into a gown, confining that help to pulling off my socks and shifting my pants and joggers out of the way. Now came the wait for surgery, obviously nil-by mouth. I lay there listening to the moaning and whining all around me. The guys either side were in to have various limbs lopped off whilst those in the beds opposite had recently lost large portions of their insides. I felt a bit of a fraud, but the demon was still there with his soldering iron and I was venturing into delirium territory with the electric bed nearby sounding like rain on the roof and everything seeming a bit weird, a bit out-of-kilter. Pain is no fun at all, but neither is the discomfort of lying in one position for hours on end so, despite this stirring the wannabe electrician demon into action, I had to move to relieve aching back, neck, buttocks and dead arms. At about 9.30 in the evening I did this again and noted that the demon must have been taking a tea break. Then I realised something was cold and wet and reached down to find a couple of slimy buttocks. Managing to shift myself I saw brown and pink plasma soaking the under sheet. I called over the nurse who changed things for me and I was actually able to stand beside the bed while this was being done. He then put down some nappies on the bed for me to lie on, and I was able to lie on my back for the first time in three days. No surgery that evening – too busy – so I was able to eat a sandwich and have a cup of tea. I was told I would be able to have breakfast and something to drink, but nothing more afterwards because I would probably go under the knife that afternoon. Sometime after midnight I fell asleep until about six in the morning whereupon I found that someone had dumped a cupful of strawberry sauce and custard underneath me. I got rid of the soaked nappy in a surgical waste bin and grabbed another gown. When it came to being washed I used the ward shower. I ate breakfast, felt a lot better, and began to question whether surgery under general anaesthetic was a good idea now, but it was difficult to find anyone who had a clue about what was going on. Finally one I assumed to be the consultant, with his train of juniors in tow, turned up. One of the juniors (the politically-correct anti-smoker) checked me over. She used rather more caution with my buttocks this time, which was a bit stable door. The diagnosis was that nature was taking its course and I was done there. No surgery. All I needed was a dressing on my bum and the needle taken out of my arm, which took six hours to get accomplished… My impression: a lot of competent dedicated people running around working their butts off, along with the usual slackers you’ll find anywhere. But mainly it was an impression of disorganization, people doing the jobs they knew but phased by anything that fell outside of that, buck passing and ‘not my responsibility’. All the signs of crap management, which is odd, since under Labour the NHS is now oversupplied with managers.
I wonder what they do?