We’re Only Human


Pain is weakness leaving the body

Bruce Gordon

Having had a couple of days off I was perturbed to have spent the second one with palpitations causing my heartbeats to flutter away like untuned vintage car. Despite knocking on the door of fifty I consider myself in good condition. I run five days a week, lift weights three days a week, play racket sports twice a week and have hobbies that can’t be considered sedentary. I am active at work (especially at knocking off time), have a respect for healthy-ish food, don’t smoke have a resting heart rate of fifty. My only excess is alcohol and even that is only just north of government recommendations. By and large I consider myself as fairly healthy. So you can imagine my angst a while back at discovering that every now and then the old jam tart would go a bit Jack Douglas on me. (Jack Douglas of Carry On film fame who would, without provocation, randomly throw out his limbs in an uncontrollable manner). Happily these episodes would not last long, ten or fifteen minutes or so. However, on this particular occasion it had started its usual fluttering and had continued to do so throughout the day. That evening I was sat there trying to convince my irksome organ that I wasn’t stressed about its unpredictable shenanigans, secretly feeling quite stressed, when my better half returned from the grindstone. This was distinctly advantageous in two respects.

  1. She’s a woman, thus always right.
  2. She’s a  senior health care professional which arms her with the political skills to tactfully dispense the sort of advice that middle-aged men, and indeed women, don’t want to hear in a way they would be happier hearing it.

The nugget of wisdom that she plonked onto my over already crowded plate was that I should really pop myself along to the local hospital and let them poke and prod me. knowing begrudgingly that there was more than an ember of truth in what she had decreed I reluctantly made a note to self that I would patronise the local walk in centre when I finished work the following day.

I don’t work nine to five. I work shifts. These shifts have no regular pattern with the exception of either be either am or pm. The start and finish times differ every day. Luckily for me the following day I would be finishing at 0840. The disadvantage being that in order to finish early I would need to be rising from my coffin at 0215 for an 0320 start! Still, it would afford me the time to sort out my faulty ticker and still leave time to crusade through my to-do list before it was time to liberate my ten-year old daughter from the clutches of academia.

The following morning I pulled up in the car park and made my way to the ticket machine. I consider it the ultimate insult to be in failing health and have to pay for my car to sit there. It’s not that I begrudge paying for it while I receive treatment, it’s that 90 percent of what I’m paying for is wasted on me sitting around waiting. Still, despite the injustices of profiteering off of the backs of unfortunates, I paid up (for an hour) and made my way through the main doors and scanned for signs that would lead me to a receptionist. Eventually my endeavours bore fruit and I arrived at a desk with an uninterested young woman who handed me a clipboard with a form attached to it and instructed me to complete it and return it to her. I did as requested and she retrieved it from me with a smile which at best said ‘There’s got to be more to life than this’ and at worst said ‘If you’d died before you got here it’d have saved me doing the paperwork’. The waiting room was filled to the tune of three people, obviously still a bit early for the hypochondriacs, Munchausen and general malingerers. The malingerers tend to stand out as they are typically the ones popping out for a fag every five minutes. Thinking that it was unlikely that I’d have to revisit the ticket machine I camped down and tried to reclaim some of the sleep I’d previously been deprived of that morning.

Three quarters of an hour went by before a nurse poked her head through a set of double doors and in a loud voice mispronounced my name. I followed her along the corridor and into a room that had the appearance of being able to save lives. Pumps, machines, long tubes and things with wires festooned around them. She was polite, friendly and thorough. She checked my details and wired me up to an electrocardiogram. She waited while the machine spewed out a foot and a half of paper, ripped it off and went to seek someone of higher office. Higher office wandered back in with the aforementioned piece of paper pointing out blips that had no place being there. She gently explained that owing to more blips that there should be I should attend the local hospital in order to undergo more tests that they, as a walk in centre, were unable to carry out. She explained that an ambulance would take me there as chest issues were considered worthy of such. Now of course I was concerned about my health but the parsimonious side of me was calculating the escalating cost of my car in the car park. Also knowing the answer before I asked it I nevertheless enquired about my return journey as the hospital was a good seven miles away through heavy traffic. I had suspected correctly, the nurse informed me that I’d have to find my own way back. With a child to collect and the costs increasing I elected to drive as the hospital was on my way home so it made sense in more ways than not to do it this way. Well it did to me. The nurse clearly had reservations. She had broken out the frown that she saved especially for people who confess to smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods with additional salt. I twisted uncomfortably in my chair but determined to hold my resolve. Eventually she relented, placed her look back into the ‘frowns various’ compartment of her head for use on another day.  She registered her disapprobation and explained that if I was to take this course of action that I would have to sign a release which I readily agreed to.

With paper work in hand I headed for the second medical establishment of the day. Battling through heavy traffic I pulled into the multi-storey car park and went to investigate the parking costs once again. Pay on the way out. They clearly weren’t missing a trick here. I wandered into the main reception, armed myself with directions and set of in search of the Medical Ambulatory Unit, it was now 1100 and my day was not really going as planned. I’d spent an hour and a half at the walk in centre. Surely I’d have to be looking at the same again at least. Plans for my to-do list were looking precarious.

As I walked into the unit I noticed the waiting area once again was low on meat. Of course this means nothing in a health service waiting room. New bodies will arrive, go on in, come out and disappear again while you just sit there twiddling your thumbs gnashing your teeth and trying to make sense of the inequity of it all. I smiled at another ‘I’ve seen it all mate’ receptionist and went to take a seat, choosing as we do not to actually sit next to anyone in case they have something iffy or break protocol and start giving you a run down of their most intimate personal health issues. Again I closed my eyes in an attempt to recharge, ward off the potential needy types and hopefully make time go faster. It didn’t. After an hour a doctor came and walked me to a chair with a bed beside it and asked me to take a seat. He asked me lots of questions the answers to which I could tell he didn’t like before wiring me up once again to an ECG machine. He compared his foot and a half of paper with that of the nurse seven miles away and frowned. Apparently it was as clean as a whistle. Collecting himself together he proceeded with his next course of action which was divesting me of some blood. I turned away. I don’t like needles. I have no real explanation why though. They hurt but not much, I’ve had worse. People are just strange and that includes me. After draining the contents of half an arm he explained that the results would take an hour to find their way back and that I should take advantage of the hour by having some lunch and wandering back to the department for about 1315. Navigating the labyrinth of corridors eventually led me to the shop located in the main reception area. I purchased myself a Mexican salad that was about as Mexican as fish and chips. It was overly small and overly expensive. I sat and ate it on my own watching my plans for the rest of the day go to shit.

My post prandial return to the MAU saw a new set of conscripts in the waiting area but wearing the same dejected expressions as the previous residents. Once again I found a strategically situated chair and adopted my ‘don’t talk to me’ body language and closed my eyes as an extra layer of protection. I was tired and fed up with looking at weird people and playing guess the malady. Everywhere else time marched on in a uniform fashion. Evolution evolved, people aged, paint dried and time in the MAU defied physics. Then just when I thought time had actually stopped it kick started again. The doctor appeared and asked me follow him into a consulting room. Eagerly brushing the cobwebs from my person I, like an obedient puppy dog, followed on his heels keen for a prognostication and to rid my nostrils of the smell of disinfectant. Once in the room he sat me down made his excuses and, much to my incredulity, retreated once again. I looked at my watch and was horrified to see the time was 1440. I had forty-five minutes to be diagnosed, return to the car, stand and stare in disbelief at the parking charge, battle traffic to the school, find a parking space which would be as easy as finding the secret of alchemy and scoop up my daughter who be just itching to point out my time keeping inadequacies. My doctor finally returned plus an extra one who looked less earnest and more experienced. Doc 2 lifted himself up onto the couch opposite me and poured over the first print out. He regurgitated the same questions to which I reiterated the same answers. There was a pause and he seemed to form a conclusion. It was about age, extra beats, beats from the bottom of the heart and about its commonality in the grand scheme of things. He reinforced this by explaining that the blood tests were negative in way that proved his point. Finally he said there would be an ultrasound scan appointment in the post but it wasn’t urgent. With only forty minutes left to go and wondering which part of the schedule home I was going short cut I needed to ask one last question. Which was ‘will I be safe to play badminton tonight.’ Smiling congenially he answered with a resounding ‘of course, playing badminton tonight won’t do you any harm………’

That’s was all I needed to hear. With a brevity which was barely on the fringes of what could be considered polite I professed my thanks, shook their hands and shot off through the corridors in search of the way out. Bursting out through the main entrance and fighting my way through the smog of smokers all huddled together looking sad, sick and miserable I headed for the car park. Knowing time was at a premium. I spent less time than usual staring in disbelief at the parking charge hoping that I’d read it wrong. I joined a queue of like-minded car owners all muttering and cursing under their breaths about being financially raped in such an insensitive manner. Finally hitting the road I set about breaking several motoring laws in my bid to make it to the school before the final bell. Due to some luck and stretching Highway Code interpretations to the point of snapping I was stood waiting when she came out. At last things had turned around. I’d been up for thirteen hours and was nowhere near done yet.

The next couple of hours were a blur of juggling the requirements of the kids. Dropping off, picking up, feeding and eventually ending up at the sports club for my six until eight game of badminton. Badminton is a strange game. It consists solely of volleys and, when played professionally, is considered to be the fastest racket sport in the world. I don’t play professionally but I can play a fair game. I got stuck in, tiredness being replaced with adrenalin, serotonin and all those other feel good hormones. It’s satisfying to hear the thwap of a correctly executed smash or to watch as deftly placed touch sends the shuttle flopping its way tantalisingly over the net. Cleverly moving your opponents around the court through skilfully placed shots before delivering the coup de grace. Of course we are all taught  these skills and hone them through constantly playing over a number of years. One of the first things you learn is how to play safe. One of the golden rules, real school boy stuff is never, absolutely never, ever, ever, ever turn and look behind at your teammate as there is a possibility of getting a shuttle in the face. In my case it was my eye. Not the bone that surrounds my eye or my eyebrow or just off my nose. The very centre. Momentarily I was blinded. It bloody hurt and, as I was in motion when this full baseline clearance shot was impeded by my unprofessional arrival, I also started to fall as I’d lost balance, what with all the lights and everything going out. However my other senses didn’t desert me. I ‘felt’ my team mate catch me to protect me from further injury. I ‘heard’ the collective laughter of my friends as I groped around trying to orientate myself once more and I ‘tasted’ lager in the bar after the abandonment of the game with my still sniggering friends. However despite liquid refreshment my eye had developed an opacity that was to my mind concerning. I kept blinking in an effort to restore my previous optical quality but the fog refused to lift. Seconds clumped together to form minutes which in turn clustered together forming an hour. Still the mist persisted. I drove home with my one and a half eyes and flopped down into a chair to contemplate why, having successfully dodged one of dame fortune’s bullets I had done so by stepping sideways onto one of her banana skins. Seeing my consternation my good lady enquired as to how my evening went. I explained the events of the evening including fog, humiliation, heckling and theories of karma. She listened carefully. She ignored all the whingeing and esoteric theory and, pragmatic as ever,  prognosticated that I should attend casualty. Again. In the same day. Again. I weakly claimed that I was fine which she countered with pure logic, to wit, one malfunctioning eye. She then proceeded to back her argument by contacting the afore-mentioned casualty department who concurred with her assessment. Knowing I was beaten I collected myself together and accepted her offer of a lift for my third visit of the day to a hospital department. I arrived at A&E and placed myself in the system via a receptionist who viewed me with the same ‘I’ve seen it all’ expression which I had seen twice before that day. Perhaps it was a standard issue expression. Perhaps the facial blandness is part of the induction course for NHS receptionists who are taught to communicate non verbally with a variety facial contortions which include ‘I’ve seen it all’, ‘you must be joking’, ‘don’t even think about it’, and ‘I suppose you think that’s funny’. Processing form in hand I returned to take up residence in one of the waiting room chairs that must have seen every conceivable bodily fluid ejected onto its upholstery at one time or another. Dutifully my driver for the evening smiled me a ‘it’ll be fine’ smile. I replied with my ‘I’ve been awake for 19 hours now, I just want to go to bed but trying to keep a stiff upper lip’ smile and began to take in my surroundings. Traffic was light in the waiting room but it was early yet. Fat people in leggings with food stains down their fronts were draped over some of the chairs ticking the box for that particular stereotype. A bloke in a wheelchair with a nasty looking leg from a bad football tackle. Foreigners talking to a foreign nurse neither of them really understanding each other’s accents. Obviously a crowd of smokers all stood outside the hospital completely missing the irony. The ubiquitous fat woman sat in her pyjamas presumably not long out of her leggings. The pensioner, dressed smart enough for an interview and presumably would never leave the house without a shirt and tie despite the lateness of the hour, quietly watching the circus unfolding around him. The crying baby enters stage left which means the only one missing for the full set is the loud drama queen that thinks he’s ten times worse than he is. Another ten minutes fills this void. In he stumbles in shirt undone, loud and dramatic, claiming a heart attack, clutching either his pectoral muscle or his collar-bone in an affectatious way but way east of his heart. He takes to leaning over the chair backs groaning like a performance for RADA. That is until he spots the footballer in the wheelchair. It seems that late tackle and dying swan were old school friends so he plonks himself down next to him and they start reminiscing, his dodgy ticker now forgotten. I sit and watch flotsam and jetsam of mankind being swept along on a tide of illness collecting on the hospitals shoreline and long for my bed. I’ve spent long enough in hospital today to last me ten years. Just at the point where I’m seriously considering removing my affected eye with my penknife a nurse comes out and calls my name. Needing to distance myself from now heavily populated waiting area I hasten out in the wake of the nurse. I’m placed in an uncluttered examination area. She asks a series of questions peers at the offending eyeball and finally squirts it with some dye and inspects it via a special magnified scope. All is deemed well and the diagnosis is just superficial bruising and the vision should sort itself out in a day or so. We exit through the nearest door, fold ourselves into the car and make good our escape. It was gone midnight when I finally rolled into the bed that my alarm clock unceremoniously ripped me from 21 hours earlier. The moral of this tale? The lesson to take away? The points to ponder? In all honesty I’m not sure but simplistically I’d say hospital parking charges are immoral as they are a tax on the sick. Hospital tests are processed faster now than they’ve ever been. Time in hospital waiting rooms inevitably stands still in defiance of physics. Never look back when playing racket sports and as fragile as we consider parts of our body to be we are generally better built than we think.

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