Bell, Book & Handbag Part IV
Maureen experiences the National Health Service
Placed in alphabetical order the things Beattie hates most would run to several volumes rather like the Encyclopaedia Britannica. However under ‘B’ you would find ‘Being shown up’ and under ‘M’ you would find ‘Making an exhibition of yourself’. Under ‘R’ would be ‘Ruining a perfectly good day out’. Being taken to hospital having rendered myself unconscious in a public place meant I had definitely transgressed all of those and probably a few others along the way.
I have to admit coming round with Beattie threatening to topple over on top of me in the confined space of a speeding ambulance was enough to make anybody suffer a relapse. Somewhere she must have read, heard, or ‘just happened to know ‘that the best way to keep people conscious was to keep talking to them. I’ve heard that too, but I thought the idea was to ask them questions to keep them thinking. Instead she just rattled on with no need for me to even draw breath. She was doing enough of that for both of us. Now normally when she starts I switch off but I figured that this time round it was safer to stay awake. The first hint of a dropped eyelid and she’d be breaking all my ribs in a mis-guided attempt at CPR.
‘Now pay attention Maureen, as long as you can remember your name, your address and the name of the Prime Minister they can’t touch your pension money! Now who are you?’
I think I said ‘Maureen Truscott, 53 Palmerston Terrace and David Cameron’, but even I couldn’t be sure with the oxygen mask clamped firmly across my face. I wasn’t even sure she was telling truth. All that sounded like another urban myth put about by social services to keep the elderly in a state of perpetual terror: like bogus gas men and the friend of a friend who ended up with their replacement knee joints fitted back to front. Still somewhere in a haze of incipient concussion and analgesics I could dimly recall the tale of Polly Albright. Legend has it that she said ‘Margaret Thatcher’ whilst she was still coming round from having her veins done. After that it took her son Nigel three weeks to get her out of Willow Bank Home for the Elderly, by which time she was word perfect in ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary ‘ and could never bring herself to sit on a plastic chair again. It is frightening how quickly people become institutionalised; especially when they like embroidery.
So I have to be extra careful. I haven’t got a Nigel to look out for me. I’ve got twin daughters, Cilla and Sandie, but I haven’t heard from them since they were six so I can’t see either of them lifting a finger to help their poor old mum. As they say in those detective movies, that Beattie also claims not to watch, that leaves me in a very vulnerable situation. So there we were in casualty. Me on a trolley, a nurse trying to do her best to get me booked in and Beattie doing her damndest to get my rings off before they were stolen.
‘I know they’re not worth anything’ she said getting in everybody’s way and almost dislocating my fingers, ‘but they are all you’ve got. Some of these porters can’t tell the difference between rubbish and the real thing. Evadne Collier lost her watch and her engagement ring. Both of them heirlooms and both of them turned up in that pawn shop near the cobblers.’
Eventually Beattie was asked, told, and then forcibly made to sit outside by two men in security uniforms. They must have taken her some way away because it all went terribly quiet allowing Staff Nurse Carol to get on with her forms.
It was just as well I said that I was sorry about my friend Beattie because in the confusion she had me down as Mrs Hathaway. Poor soul, it can’t have been easy trying to fill in the paperwork with Beattie pushing her out of the way all the time and demanding to know when she had last washed her hands.
Staff Nurse Carol said it was ok. Apparently since the cut backs they were used to psychiatric patients wondering about the place now that they all had their own keys. She said that they just didn’t have the time to keep locking them in and out. Apparently only last week one of them even turned up in the operating theatre dressed as a surgeon. When she laughed I got a strong whiff of cough mixture. When she called me ‘Beattie’ again I started to panic.
‘Maureen’ I said quickly. ‘My names Maureen Truscott and I live at 53 Palmerston Terrace and the Prime Ministers name is Gordon Brown. And I didn’t fall. I was pushed!’
‘Yes of course you were Beattie,’ she smiled, ‘Actually it’s David Cameron. Just make sure you get it right if Sister Mottram asks you. She’s very old school, but not in a nice way. She hates dust. Well if you ask me she doesn’t care much for patients either. But that’s between us. Better make sure we’ve got your brakes on hadn’t we? Don’t want you rolling away and getting lost! Now let’s see if we can find a porter with enough English to get you down to the ward in one piece. We don’t want you falling into Bogdan’s hands do we? Not after what happened last week when he left that patient in .....’.
She checked herself before adding that I was lucky the old lady in bed three had died that morning or I would have had to been sent to the Princess Di on the other side of town.
‘Oh’, I said, wondering if I should be marvelling at my good fortune.
Staff Nurse Carol paused and checked her watch.
‘Just between us they’ve got MRSA but keep that under your hat or this place will be swamped. God knows we’ve got enough on our hands with the cystitis epidemic let alone having to cope with a flesh eating virus.’
‘Now don’t you go worrying yourself Beattie’, she added. ‘She turned up in a goods lift of all places. Mind you if we hadn’t been stock taking and noticed we were one drip short she might still be there now!’
No doubt she was doing her best to establish what I believe is called ‘rapport’. But to be honest when she confided that last week alone they had lost 15 swabs and 2 pairs of forceps I think she could tell from the look on my face that all she was doing was putting the wind up me; that and the fact that I was now wearing a wristband with the wrong name on.
She gave the pillows an extra puff and straightened the covers. Apparently there was nothing to worry about. All I had to do was concentrate on getting better.
‘After all these things always turn up,’ she said brightly. ‘Usually at the sight of a post operative infection but we always get them back and after a quick boil they’re as good as new.’
She parked me in a side ward and I watched her disappear, the NHS in action, squeaking her way down the corridor. You could tell from the way she walked that she’s rather be wearing sling backs and working in a nice office. Yet despite the fact that she reeked of cough mixture and her foundation hardly bothered to conceal her acne she seemed a nice enough girl. I mean it can’t be easy dealing with death on a daily basis. Once upon a time nursing was a vocation. Now people were forced to do it because they couldn’t get jobs in travel agencies. No wonder she looked so demoralised.
And she wasn’t the only one. There is nothing like being abandoned in an empty ward without your wig and your top set of teeth for making you feel old and unwanted. The fact that I was dying for a wee didn’t help either.
© Ian Ashley 2014
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