Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fellow patients

A patient whom for the purposes of this account I have dreamt up the name Mungo, was in the bed next to mine, and keen to know all about my accident and my treatment and my occupation, but rather keener to inform me about his, and indeed to keep me abreast of his suffering.

Which was considerable.

He'd had more-or-less the same injury - his involving painting the house from scaffolding - or rather the descent therefrom - but his agonies were evidently of a deeper order than mine. And indeed of anyone else's. Luckily he had a very good sense of humour, and was always ready to laugh at anything he had to say.

"Did you say you aren't in pain - wait till you have exercises, hah! hah! hah! - Oooh, ooh, ooh. - Hullo, mate - what are you in for? A cut finger? Where did that happen? Stewart Island?"

Mungo's inquisitiveness at every new patient and his groans of pain and the details of his life story, always related at double-forte, became something of a fascination for all of us, though I believe I was the only patient who kept notes. Among much more I learnt that he had been a journalist, had been asked to stay on after retirement because he was so good at his job, and that his wife wanted a new door; but I only discovered his date of birth and his middle name from the fact that we each of us had to repeat it to every nurse who gave us any drugs, to make sure there were no mistakes.

Mungo coached all of us on his medical history so thoroughly that we half-expected a Test at the end. He taught us that his normal bowel motions were once in five days, that his other leg had been broken, got infected, and that the doctors had had to remove so much from it afterwards that now one of every pair of shoes had to be built up for him to walk upright. "And they were experts! hah! hah! hah!"

His social familiarity with the surgeons was something we came to admire. "Hi mate! - that was my first consultant, the one who just walked by. He must have not recognised me. Hah! hah! hah! - That's why he didn't stop, I expect."

Whenever a new patient was admitted his suffering abruptly became acute, necessitating a great deal of groaning, and the groaning was exacerbated by any enquiry of the nursing staff. But luckily he kept his sense of humour and was always ready with a witty quip -
"How are you getting on, Mungo?"
"Oooh. Ooh. Ooh. Not good at the moment - hah! hah! hah! hah! hah!"

His knowledge of the world, and especially of officials, was all-encompassing, no doubt because of his extensive journalistic experience. He had scant regard for officials, and indeed for any expertise at all, and was happy to intersperse this information between his  remarkably frequent calls for the nurse.
"Oooh, ooh, ooh. Sorry, love, it's all a bit wet - didn't quite get to the bottle in time. - I was painting the bloody house, hah! hah! hah! - as soon as I found out the cost - hah! hah! hah! - thirty thousand dollars they wanted - hah! hah! hah! - the bloody Health and Safety! You just have to stretch one metre and it's obligatory scaffolding! And you know how much that costs, hah! hah! hah!"
I did wonder if it cost less than the repair to his femur, but then the Accident Claims Corporation are paying for that, the luxury of living in a first world country with health care that isn't run by Americans.

Unluckily for him a friend-or-relation had provided me with green earplugs and when he addressed me directly through the separating curtain I was able to affect deafness, although on the one occasion he suddenly jerked the curtain apart and demanded "How long did the doctor say you'd be incapacitated?" I was forced to reply "I'm sorry, Mungo, I don't feel like talking just at the moment" and he as abruptly jerked the curtain closed.

On his last night he put on a virtuoso performance for us all. A lovely Maori bloke had been admitted after a hip replacement, and a boy had come in with a double-broken leg from a scooter crash, and we were all uncomfortable but we all put out our lights at nine to sleep. Except for Mungo.

Mungo so far had managed to awaken everyone every single night by switching his light on at 3 am to read, and to ask the nurses for a coffee, and another morphine tablet, and it even got to the point after a particularly well-enounced display of groaning, where one nurse actually lost her professional equilibrium when asking the standard
"Did you have a bad night then?" by adding "Do you ever have good nights, Mungo?"

So on his last night he kept his light on.

Till eleven.

Till twelve.

Till 1 am.

Then he switched it off.

Lulled into a sense of complacency we all started to drift off but five minutes later the light came on again.

Then off.

Five more minutes, then on again.


And then he summoned the nurse. Most patients try to whisper at night but Mungo didn't want anyone to miss out on the action so he announced loudly,
"Hello dear. Could you just reach my bottle. I just thought it was time I got some sleep.  Can I have one of those blue tablets? Thank you dear. Oooh, ooh, ooh." This was at 1.25 am.

At 2.25 his light came on once more and he called the nurse again. "Oooh, ooh, ooh. Can you rub my back with a wet flannel love. It just won't stop itching." 

Exactly when Mungo called the nurse and asked her to make him a cup of coffee I don't know - I was finally beyond taking notes. But the new kid then rather cheekily said
"Seems like hospital's not a good place to get a night's sleep," and the Maori bloke burst out laughing.

In the morning Mungo was a different person altogether. The thing that appeared to turn him into a quieter character was the appearance of his wife on discharge from hospital. Apart from making her go and get a wheelchair  - not sure why, because you don't get let out till you can walk up and down stairs safely on crutches - it did rather appear that she was the dominant partner in their relationship. It also appeared that she wasn't best pleased at the prospect of having him at home.

My sister-in-law, a specialist orthopaedic nurse in Australia, said a very odd thing when she telephoned to see how I was.
"Yes, Richard, every Ward has one."



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