Hospital Life (Part 3) - My Personal Breakfast Club
"TEARING THE HEAVEN FROM HELL"
In St James’s hospital in Dublin’s fair city, in amongst all the labs, the hi-tech equipment, the fancy drugs and the outstanding healthcare workers, lies the best medicine of all… the chit-chats.
A country fella in my Cardiac ward was on the phone to his mate. At the same time a Northside Dubliner auld dear was on the phone to her sister. The cross conversation had me suppressing so many giggles I thought my arteries would burst and set off my heart alarm.
Country fella: Well g'wan, were you playing cards last night?
Auld dear: Sure I haven't got out of bed
Country fella: Did you make much money?
Auld dear: Absolutely! Don't ya know! OKie DOKie
Country fella: You can relax now, Cheerio!
I had to leave the ward before I cracked up, leaving a dribble of chuckles in my wake.
I might have been the youngest in the ward, but I was definitely the most boring. Having exclusively worked in Finance, I didn’t have any stories of working with celebrities or danger or dangerous celebrities.
In St James’s, you never know who will end up beside you!
The chap to my left was in his 70s, he wore 16 inch oxblood doc martin boots instead of slippers. He had travelled the country in his youth playing with the Big Bands, his son was a famous Hollywood movie director (swear to god - I saw him come in during visiting hours). The man across from me was a criminal defense lawyer who could tell you where all the bodies are buried up in the Dublin mountains! He was a great man for the True Crime recommendations on Netflix.
One of the long term ladies on the ward rang her best friend every night. I think I looked forward to it even more than she did. Here was how the one-sided chat went one evening…
"Ann, Ann, stop the lights. Stop.the.lights!"
"Ann, don't even TALK to me, don't even Taaaaaalk to me, g'wan"
"This is it. THIS is it. This IS it. This is IT!"
"I knew it, sure didn't I know it. I had absolutely no idea."
"Ann, Ann, it's in the bin, the bin Ann...Ann, the bin...the bin, the bin, the bin...Ann."
"I know, I know...oh, I know, I know, I know, I know"
"God Bless, godbless, g'bless, gblessgblessgbless"
The ward was a mix of six men and women. I personally couldn’t give a hoot who was in the ward with me or how many. It’s actually more comforting to have nurses popping in and out even if they are not there to see you specifically. Plus there’s the chats you can have (or overhear) that keep you from, oh I don’t know, writing an endless blog post!
Sometimes, if the older folks in the ward couldn’t get a passing nurse, they would ask me to walk them to the toilets. Of course I was happy to oblige (as long as they didn't need me to go into the toilet with them, I’ve got enough scars, thank you). On one such trip, a middle aged man in the ward stopped us to tell us how into the environment he was (?!).
"I'm a huge nature guy, oh yeah trees, etc, into them big time. If you drive through the Phoenix Park of an evening, chances are you'll find me there...lying down on a park bench."
Okay?! Good to know, park bench, thanks for sharing!
An old gent from the North shuffled across to me one evening. He had been asking me every few hours if I was OK? I felt perfectly fine and couldn’t work out why he felt a need to constantly check on me. When he got close, he asked me ‘did I mind the mixed ward?’ Between the departures and arrivals, I was the only woman left and the only person under 80 (OK, let's be honest, I was the only person under 45) there was a touch of death and dreariness in the air - but I left my response at “It’s grand”.
He went on to tell me a story of a man who would wait until the lights went out, and then prowl the ward staring at the other sleeping patients before choosing one to hop into bed with! “The nurse had to be called”, he said with great theatrics. What a story to impart to the only female on the ward. Was HE the midnight prowler ?! That said, I wasn’t bothered, best of luck to him or anyone who wanted to jump into my hospital bed, it could barely fit me!
The Northern man was replaced with an ancient Dubliner called Billy. He found all the standard inquiries from the nurse highly intrusive, and would answer every question with a question of his own.
Nurse: “Now, Billy, who makes your food at home?”
Billy (defensively): “Who makes YOUR food?”
Nurse: ”Who gets you dressed?”
Billy: ”Who gets YOU dressed?”
On and on it went.
During the night, poor ole Billy let out a blood curdling scream. I had my defibrillator procedure the day before (just as well, me heart!), I was thrown into all sorts of arrhythmias as I tried to ascertain what the hell was happening. I had sat bolt upright in bed in fright, which caused significant pain to shoot through my chest from my recent operation. My eyes settled on the terrified man across from me, changing from eighty to eight years old in front of my eyes, as he frantically waved his frail arms, the look of a terrified child consumed his face.
“There’s a fire, a FIRE!” Billy was shouting and helplessly trying to get out of bed. He looked directly at me through his cataracts and yelled “Why are you just sitting there Seamus? Do something, there’s a FIRE”.
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” I was shouting back as I scrambled for the call bell, obviously there was no fire (and needless to say, I’m not Seamus). The nurse came and sorted Billy out. He gave me/Seamus a ‘you-were-gonna-let-me-burn’ glare before going asleep.
Getting the ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) took a bit out of me (by adding something electric and metal into me). One of the men on the ward told me how it was explained to his father when he had the same procedure many years before, it was all about getting used to having a foreign body inside your chest. His doctor used the analogy of a lodger, it didn’t go so well…
Doctor: Do you have a lodger?
Man (confused): No
Doctor: Have you ever had a lodger?
Doctor: How would you feel if you had a lodger in the future?
Man (getting angry): Are you fkn looking for a place to live or wha?!
Over Breakfast, a new old guy called the nurse in to tell her he never slept a wink last night, not a wink. (He was sparko all night, by the way).
“I'll tell ya why” he said “I went asleep and I woke up, then I went asleep a second time and I woke up, then, you're not going to believe this, I went asleep a THIRD time, and…”
We all looked up from our porridge ready for the twist.
“...I WOKE UP!” he said, genuinely surprised and delighted at his own conclusion.
“Isn’t that lovely” said the nurse and went back to saving lives.
Speaking of great stories, remember it’s the ones you tell yourself that count the most. The tricky part is tearing the Heaven from the Hell.
On one of my last days in hospital, the man to the left of me spent the day throwing up, he profusely thanked every nurse that tended to him. The man to the right of me stayed for 24 hours and complained for 25 of them, he berated the nurses and threatened to report them all to the Irish Times because he had been waiting one day for a procedure (I had been waiting a month by then).
When I left St James’s I thought it was like graduating from university. I made it! I survived! I somehow passed the test! Sure, I’d miss some people and the craic (and the hours spent doing absolutely nothing) but I was excited about what the future had in store.
Within a few months I was back running, I even started running every day, a little challenge, keeping up a streak (a running streak, calm down). I ran 100 days in a row, then, unfortunately, things started to go wrong...