Wednesday 24 June 2009

The Great Escape

14st 10lb, 5.6 units. A typically lousy start to the day. The first thing I spotted was that the milkman has failed to pick up the direct debit form I carefully put out for him last night, in an envelope inside a plastic bag in case of rain. Presumably he thought it was intended for another random passer-by called Chris. I was further miffed, on taking out the bottle of milk already in the fridge, to find that it was lukewarm; the thermometer showed 10ºC rather than the desired 0-5º, and the cheapjack built-in fridge we installed in December, on the assumption that we would be moving out and renting the place, does not run to a control for adjusting the temperature.

The early news from the hospital was that The Baby’s latest blood test for jaundice was fine, but that Mrs H had not yet received the ‘all clear’ to go home. I was heading for the shower after this when there was a loud hammering on the front door; I could tell that the man from Parcelforce was clearly less than gruntled by my cry of “Oh for f***’s sake! What now?” before I opened it.

By the time I arrived at the hospital at 2 things had moved on, and Mrs H had been assured that she would be out of the place “by tea-time”. We laughingly speculated whether this meant PLU tea (4) or working class tea (5.30 – 6) but we turned out to be badly wrong on both counts.

In the meantime The Baby had begun to show the signs of a hospital-acquired infection, with green gunk seeping from one of his eyes. A midwife promised to bring some sterile solution to bathe it, but never returned. Then an implausibly youthful female paediatrician randomly wandered in and started talking about the desirability of The Baby having a BCG injection because he was deemed to be at increased risk of TB, presumably because of his dodgy Iranian connections. Mrs H pointed out that her parents had not lived in Iran for nearly 30 years, and I added the firm assurance that “I won’t let any bloody wogs into my house”, though I am not sure it did much good. However, she did at least confirm that we would be going home later in the day.

Later, around 4, I noticed that The Baby’s eye was now exuding a LOT of green gunk, and suggested that we might do well to seek some advice. Mrs H became tearful at the prospect of being detained in the hospital a further night, and was further demoralized by the midwife who came in answer to the bell saying that it was perfectly treatable with something they could get from the pharmacy … only the pharmacy closed at 5. She took a couple of swabs and told us to await a paediatrician. And we waited, and waited. I have rarely been so bored as I found myself in that grossly overheated hospital room this afternoon. We had opened the day’s haul of cards and presents within the first 10 minutes, I had read the Daily Telegraph from cover to cover, and I was finally reduced to attempting both the cryptic and quick crosswords – something I have not done for years.

And so it dragged on, and on. A midwife came in and said that she would chase the doctor if he did not turn up within half an hour, though she had already shouted at him once today and was not in his good books. (Hospital joke: What is the difference between a midwife and a Rottweiler? Rottweilers don’t wear lipstick.) The paediatrician finally came and looked at The Baby’s eye, and said that it needed to be treated with ointment every four hours, and …

“Don’t tell me,” said Mrs H, “We can’t get it until tomorrow because the pharmacy’s shut”, adding that if that were indeed the case they might as well find her a bed in the mental health unit and wheel her straight round there.

“No, no,” said the bloke, clearly sensing a woman on the edge. “We will just give you some.”

After another hour or so a woman wandered in and said that “Linda” would be along shortly to give Mrs H her discharge talk. About an hour later someone called Victoria actually came and did just that, then did that Colombo-like “one more thing”; they had to print off some papers on the computer and get Mrs H to sign them, which would take “ten minutes”, which again turned out to be more like an hour.

We agreed by the time we left that the NHS was designed for the benefit of its own staff and the unemployed, who have no other calls on their time, and that we would not be having another baby unless we could afford to do so privately.

I went down to the car with Mrs H’s bags while we were waiting for her release papers, feeling like I was springing someone from behind the Iron Curtain, and returned to her ward with The Baby’s car seat. We finally escaped at 8, just as the shifts on the ward changed and we would presumably have been doomed to start the whole process all over again with a new set of people. I felt like a man who had passed through a creaking tunnel just before the roof fell in. Never has a bottle of pink fizz and a Chinese takeaway been more eagerly anticipated or wholeheartedly enjoyed.

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