Friday, 19 February 2016

Une Semaine de Bonté: A Week in Papworth
Who are we: Staff (2)

Dennis had a particularly trying time on my last night in the ward and Luiza was on duty. I thought Dennis was going to die but Luiza was a scornful of my concern. Dennis, as it happens, was running a high temperature and was delirious. During the night he wandered over in my direction and took the top off the central heating radiator then sat down on it. What are you doing, Dennis, I asked. A poo, he answered. The toilet is just outside the room on your right, I said. Right-ho, he said and set off in that direction. Over the rest of the night he was seeing a succession of doctors who examined him and pumped him full of anti-biotics.

I had two physios, one English, one Mexican. One had glasses the other did not. The Mexican with glasses, Fernanda, told me she was a writer. What do you write, I asked. Short stories, magical but material, she said. Do you mean Magic Realism, I asked. Yes, she nodded so I talked a little of Hungarian proto-magic realism, particularly about the Sindbad stories of Gyula Krúdy. She listened and made a mental note. I did three or four laps of the ward corridor with her and clambered up and down stairs.

The other physio, Alice, was cheerful but firm as she taught me ways to breathe, to march on the spot, and to extend my arms into the air, then reach down towards my knees. The more the better, she said. A mile a day, or half an hour at least. It seemed a hard command. Twenty laps of the ward, she demanded when I had only ever done four. But my blood pressure rose and my heart rate became irregular so they dosed me for that and 20 laps became 8.


Of the night nurses Melanie was my favourite, A tall, blonde, slightly gawky girl, she tried to help me and give me whatever I needed. She’d stroke my arm and call me my lovely, and my beautiful. Everyone else did that of course - it was the social language of the hospital - but, in her mouth, these things sounded different and had another dimension. It was not that she treated me like a special case. Everyone was special to her, it seems. She loved what she was doing, she said.

We had non-business conversations. Her first degree was in Graphic Design, she told me, but after a year or two's work in that field, she decided to retrain as a nurse. Her father, a headteacher, was not pleased about it but gave in at the end. In the meantime she had formed a long term relationship. But that broke up as she came to Papworth so she was living in nurses’ quarters now. She’d had a house and felt foolish selling it.

It was the non-essential things, as ever, that made the difference, especially in my half-hallucinatory condition. Her sense of generosity and interest mattered to me. Not that she asked me anything about myself. I was asking the questions but she was willing to wait, answer, and talk. It was she who removed the catheter.

When she came on duty one night she took a look around. Men! she snorted. It was not as clean or tidy as she would have it. When I come back I am definitely coming back as a man! But then when a female colleague was nagging at her and fretting she turned to me in confidence. Bloody women, they never stop whining, she said.

She had a great many other people to see in the course of her work. Her shifts, like everyone else’s, were of 13 hours duration.When she went home, especially after night duty, her routine was to go to bed and stay there until it was time to come in again. On her penultimate night she had given up her day-shift sleep to baby-sit for a colleague.

The night she clocked off - my penultimate night - she kissed us all a fond and proper goodbye but immediately returned,  hauling Mark and Atilla by the arm. Mark had said he would wash my hair the previous day but hadn't done so.  You are my witness, she told me, He is to wash your hair, is he not Mark? Mark looked awkward but smiled and said OK. Then she gave both Mark and Atilla a hug and executed a splendidly gawky dance out of the room. I didn’t see her after that.

There are times any patient feels needy but is too proud to say so. I was too proud myself. The vast mechanism of the body - I mean my very own body, the one standing and typing this - combined with the mechanism of the operation and then of the immediate mechanistic period after in hospital - is constantly detaching tugging away from self. The body becomes an it that is the sole concern of the hospital. The patient watches it behave or misbehave. There is a sense of both wonder and desolation about the detachment.

The spirit has wit and affections and interests and obligations. The body is, as Delmore Schwartz had it,' the heavy bear who goes with me. ' In whole life bear and self are one. In hospital the body is almost all.

One more post to come on this subject.

1 comment:

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear George

I asked our friend John whether he had any advice for you. His advice was to become vegetarian, drink (mainly) water and try not to do too much during the first year. I hope that this is helpful.

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish