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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Found in a notebook

Ward Sixty-Two

 

I was in the corner. Been knocked about a bit by drugs. So I can’t swear by this. All I can say, with hand on heart, is: this is what I saw.

First of all, it was modern, of course. Not one of those long wards with beds stretching out in infinity. Nothing like that. There were five beds in the room. Some of us were recovering, but the rest were in with gastroenteritis in one form or another.

Like Eddie, whose bowel lived a life of its own, completely independent of his will. That bowel never gave any warning of its intentions. Nothing. It turned to gas and simply permeated.

And Mr Mueller, who couldn’t stop hiccuping. He arrived with wife, daughter, and a tall, grey, hitman type who gave the place the once-over. Mr Mueller’s hiccups came to visit us all. He couldn’t get rid of them, and neither could we.

There was Rakesh, Lord of the Night, who had keeled over while in the middle of stroke 666 on his rowing machine. He was a representative of the Empire, and couldn’t believe what had happened to it, or to him: ‘I thought I was fit,’ he said. And he repeated it constantly. ‘I did. I thought I was fit.’

The last bed was occupied by Big John, so called because he was massively overweight. Rakesh thought Big John was overweight and under-liberalised. Eight days earlier he’d had a heart attack; now he was hospitalised and diagnosed diabetic. And he was already up and about and had been to a party with one of the porters who moonlighted as a Disco bouncer.

That’s how it is here. Most people go home for the weekend, so Saturday night consists of the chronically ill and those who haven’t been confined long enough for the consultants to feel confident about giving them the weekend off.

You ask around, apparently, you let it be known you’re looking for some action and that you can pay.

Then you go to a nightclub with a couple of stray nurses. ‘Nurses!’ I said, incredulously. ‘Nurses!’ I placed an apostrophe after the word.

‘Well,’ Big John said, unnerved by my astonishment. ‘They certainly had the uniforms.’

‘Can’t do you any harm,’ he told me. ‘You have a couple of pints, bit of a sing-song, maybe a dance, and Sunday morning you wake up snugly in your hospital bed.’

It must have been another day when he told me: ‘Come Dancing. I love that. It’s my favourite programme.’

There is one other occupant. She is not here. She is in the room next door, so we never see her. We call her Auntie Gem, because the nurses call her auntie, and she has the weird conception that they are all gems.

But Eddie was the star. Everyone’s favourite. Eddie, who suffered so much and always had a resigned smile. Eddie and his bowel.

It would usually wait until we were eating. Say five minutes after they’d served up breakfast or dinner. The gases from Eddie’s stomach lifted from his bed and looked around for the quickest way to conquer the total space of the ward. After a few seconds the remaining survivors paled and became shocked and panicky. Those of us who had any legs at all would head for the door. The others didn’t stand a chance. I distinctly heard one exclaim: A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a Horse. But there were no takers.

Eddie and his bowel. Whenever any of us think of him, we’ll shake our heads. Remember the Australian with the Australian wife. The shearer of sheep who couldn’t control his gas.

Mr Mueller’s grandson came one day. A giant of a lad. He sat and watched the old man hiccup. The young man was rounded with a beef neck and walk, reduced to silence now by the interminable hiccup which had visited his family. She, his wife, was much smaller, she had six or seven rings in one ear, all close together, tidily spaced. She was his blonde goddess. They shared a stall together on the market.

We were all being experimented on. This was a democratic ward. The nurses didn’t have to wear uniforms, and several of the consultants wore boiler suits. The young houseman sported pink jeans and a T-shirt with the legend: SAVE THE WHALE.

They had name tags. ID’s. But you had to guess what they were. I had always believed that Consultants were people who were too posh to be called Doctors.

They inhabited some rarefied social stratosphere and wore jackets manufactured from what one can only refer to as consultant’s tweed.

Consultant’s tweed was not available on the open market, it was not available within the myriads of outlets of the rag-trade. Threadneedle street in its heyday never sported a sample.

Why this was, I think, was because it was never made available in any other form but that of ready-made, off-the-peg, so to speak, Consultants’ Jackets.

But not on this ward. This ward was far too democratic for that. Here, they all wore worsted wool.

Eddie died on Thursday. In the middle of the night. When she heard, Auntie Gem said: ‘They should stop selling tampons today.’

Rakesh, the Empire forgotten for a moment, tried: ‘Let the blood coagulate, slowly bring to a halt the carnival of Golden Youth.’

We thought about that for a while.

‘Sell nothing that mops or repairs or makes eternally new,’ said Big John, confirming that he, too, was a poet .

I sighed deeply and showed them the palms of my hands, because all the best lines had been taken.

We were numb.

Because Eddie died today.

His last meal slid away from him and mingled with dreams of shearing sheep.

Sadie, his wife, with a face bigger and redder than the map of their country, couldn’t believe her ears: ‘Eddie, dead? What do you mean?’ She looked around at us, hoping we’d support her view that he was still alive. ‘He can’t be dead. He didn’t come in for that.’

She’d hoped to take something back home with her. More than the bundle of clothes neatly folded on his bed.

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