Three days on T ———– Ward
Last week I spent more time than I had anticipated on a male side-room of the diabetic/endocrinology ward of a large South London teaching hospital, in an attempt to entertain my son, interned for monitoring of a chest infection, even though he couldn’t remotely have been described as suffering from it. I suspect I may have got more out of this enterprise than he did, but he didn’t complain . . .
He was by far the youngest of the five patients in the room. Between them, his companions had various mobility and other problems, and they were sometimes quite challenging to nurse. But they were in the right place.
For all the dinginess of some of its older parts, there is something deeply reassuring about this hospital. It is proud of its heritage, and recently celebrated its centenary, displaying photos of its earliest years: beds in serried ranks, ruled over by a matron who brooked no opposition. The Friends of the Hospital run a small shop on the ground floor. A chapel forms part of the fabric of the original building: it’s small but airy, with stained glass windows and an altar piece featuring angels with long rose-coloured wings. The chaplain emerges from her office at the back and acknowledges individually the handful of people who have come to pray, or to think – or perhaps even to mourn. The chapel is there for those of all faiths and none.
Meanwhile, on another part of the site, they are doing pioneering work in foetal medicine and liver disease, in state-of-the-art suites, and there are over 500 research projects under way. The temperature is rising steadily on the fundraising thermometer showing their progress in generating the wherewithal for a helicopter to transform their A & E response.
The hospital sees itself as serving its local community, and the local community clearly reciprocate. Whole families gather in corridors and waiting rooms just to be close to a relative in hospital, even if they can’t all fit round the bedside. A few patients have been known to take this ‘being part of the community’ thing perhaps a bit too far: hospitalised street drinkers used on occasion to be spotted outside hostelries down the road in the high street, their drip stands in tow.
Back at the ward, tedium, tragedy and comedy succeed one another as they often do in hospital. Jerry* (or was it Alf? He got called both.) slept most of the time, but had to be woken up for injections and other procedures. Behind the curtains he yelled his head off and swore at the nurses, but would apologise to them profusely afterwards. Dave was extremely thin, and as a result when he headed for the toilet, his trousers sometimes headed for his ankles. Perhaps attempting to prevent this, he somehow managed to secure his bedding to his trousers, so the next time he ventured out of bed, his sheet and blanket came trailing after him . . . One afternoon he sat on his bed and delivered himself of a Pinteresque monologue about what he’d really like for supper: ‘ . . . a sole meunière, with a half bottle of white wine – a Loire white, maybe – and then a cup of coffee . . . ‘
For all the demands on them, the nurses still found time to chat to the men, and I noticed that they had taken to catching up on their admin work on a laptop, sitting in the ward rather than ensconced behind the nurses’ station, and becoming part of the microcosm of the small ward.
What can I say? I ♥ the NHS.
* Not their real names, of course.