It’s early Thursday morning and I’m sitting in the patient lounge enjoying a quiet cup of coffee before the hospital really wakes up. It’s like living on a spaceship, one which routinely docks to allow ingress of a wave of doctors, visitors and various delightful people who do things like bring newspapers and magazines, or just drop in for a chat with lonely patients.
Then the ship takes off and orbits for the day, all its occupants circulating busily, and in the evening it docks again to let all the doctors and visitors out. But there is a constant on board, the crew of nurses and nursing students and the zombie passengers who clank and shuffle and drift and occasionally pelt around the corridors and stay aboard no matter what.
The hospital is quite separated from everyday reality. The doors are like airlocks.
It’s such a complete shadow-world that in one way I feel I never really left from last time, and even when I physically get past the airlock in a few days there will be a shadow-version of me remaining to shuffle and clunk around and around and around …
The illusion is strengthened by the fact that I’m getting to know the main staff quite well, and also some of the serious Professional Patients.
I might carry on like an old hand (well in fairness I have been a patient in various hospitals a fair number of times in the past few years), but I’m actually a raw recruit compared to some people who really do spend half their lives as patients in Spaceship Hospital.
The true beauty of this particular place – apart from its delightful committed staff and excellent standard of medical care* – is the patient lounge where you can sit over a cuppa** and watch the sun rise over the hills and meet all the staff and the seasoned campaigners as they pop in for a hot drink or a juice or some fruit, or just to sit in a proper chair and feel sort of normal for a bit.
I’ve learned all manner of incredibly useful information this way. Things like how to wrestle the obnoxious, possibly possessed hot water generating thingie so that it doesn’t keep overfilling your cup and spilling scalding water everywhere; how to operate the baffling ice and filtered water machine to refill your jug like a boss; what days the fresh fruit is replenished and even more importantly, the good biscuits***; and best of all – and I only learned this yesterday and only because of the blandishments on my behalf of a dear friend – the Secret Menu Items that you can order to make your daily fare a bit more appealing.****
The hardcore patients have an excellently gritty graveyard humour and laugh about subjects of spine-tingling horror. They all name their various pieces of medical equipment (the name ‘Fabio’, suggested for my own by my dear cousin, was heartily approved by some of the most hardcore patients. ‘The Most Beautiful IV Unit in the World.’ Although my 83-year-old roommate insists that it’s called ‘Bertie’, after the last king. I haven’t been game to ask her why.)
I’ve also had the chance to see some of the doctors and nurses as they chill on their downtime, which is brilliant because nobody wants to talk about medical rubbish a second more than necessary, so instead you can exchange Dad jokes***** and chat about nice things like gardens. It’s always easier when somebody is working with you in an incredibly intimate way and you know what their favourite flower is and that they have a brother who plays football.
Now: big news. As of today I’m officially off the opiates! Hooray! (Pauses to allow you to applaud.) I’ve increased another medication to compensate a bit. As of now I haven’t noticed the difference, which is good, although the next few days will reveal more. And then later when I come off the ketamine and get back to everyday life. Wish me luck!
I’m happier about this than I thought I might be. It means that if I need them again in future, the opiates will work better for me, and it’s also much easier as a patient to not be on such medications. They are getting very hard to get hold of and there is always a slight undercurrent of ‘are you a bad evil addict?’ every time you try, even though I am lucky that my GP and chemist know me well.
I don’t judge for a moment the people who need to be on them, I’m just grateful that I’m in this position that I can at least attempt life without them. They’re the Dangerous Drug De Jour (apologies to ice) and there are so many guilt-inducing articles in the media about them at the moment. Spare a thought for the many many people who cannot function without them because of their pain, and who would never abuse them. Because things are pretty difficult for those people right now.
Well, my busy, glamorous life as a professional patient awaits. I need to navigate the shower whilst attached to Fabio/Bertie, eat breakfast (the eggs aren’t too bad with a bit of salt and pepper on them), and then I thought I might do some colouring-in while watching BBC comedies in bed. It’s a social whirl!
*I’m not a shill for the place, we do pay out a good chunk of money to be able to enjoy the benefits of me being here, but I’m also thanking my lucky stars that I live in a country that does have such a brilliant healthcare system. I’m a fortunate one.
**Not a good cuppa by any definition, but when you’re deliberately pouring nasty ketamine directly into your veins for a week you tend to get a bit less fussy about what else you shove in there. Anyway, would you prefer your hospital to spend its funding money on good tea and coffee, or better medical care? Yep, me too.
***No, I’m not telling you. The secret stays with me and the other regular patients and we’ll take it to our graves. See if we don’t.
*****Huge thanks to my Facebook friends who have sent me wonderful Dad jokes to share. Dad jokes are seriously like currency in this place.