Today proved my theory that life in London (and as a Head) is never predictable. For the past three days I have been getting what I assumed to be chest pains. These were severe enough this morning to convince me to make my way to the hospital. Well that and the fact that completely out of the blue the school Receptionist walked in at 7.30am and said directly to me: “Last I dreamt that you had a heart attack.” Regular and dear readers will know how much stock I put into omens and signs. Therefore, the school Receptionist’s words were hardly out of her mouth before I was reaching for the car keys.
I don’t like going to the hospital. Period. Not even to visit people. Mrs Head works in a hospital and I don’t even like picking her up from work. So it was a bit of a decision just to get myself down there. Until the Receptionist shared her dream, that is.
To cut a long story short, four hours and numerous tests later we found out that it wasn’t a heart attack. It is a stomach ulcer. The experiences of this day have reinforced my opinion of hospitals, however.
For the sake of clarity, dear readers, it is not the premise of hospitals that I dislike. Far from it. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the staff who work in them, tending to people very much in need. Likewise, I am very proud to live in a country that has a world class National Health Service. Medical care is free in Britain. In my view medical care is a human right (like education) and therefore should be free of charge, but corporate medicine rules in my American homeland and in other countries around the world.
My issues with hospitals revolve around the fact that as soon as one walks through the revolving doors; all dignity and sense of self-determination are surrendered. This was my experience today. This is the source of my disquiet.
I decided to make the journey across London to the hospital where Mrs Head was working. My wife met me as I was making my way to the curtained cubicles of the cardio-screening department. We were led by a cheery nurse who asked me to undress. I have seen some of these so-called niche films on the internet; where the nurse requests that the male undresses.
But this plot was different. I was handed one of those tie-at-the-back hospital gowns that sports the name of the hospital in a repeated and undecipherable pattern. I am a large man, dear readers. I assure you one-size-fits-all, most certainly does not, in my experience. Therefore the ties at the back left, let’s call it; vents. And at the risk of giving you dear readers too much information, I choose to ‘go commando’ most days. You get the rather abhorrent picture.
The cheery nurse (who most certainly was not the star of Nurse Sluts Want it Bad at medicalvixens.com- I did ask) instructed me to recline on the medical bed and that she would return presently. The curtain surrounding the cubicle was left agape. Various passers-by were treated to the sight of me demurely keeping my knees tightly clasped together as they peered in. I smiled back and called out to each one that I had a contagious and deadly disease and that they shouldn’t get too close.
At one point I pulled the sheet up and over my face, lying very still. The passers-by now slowed as they walked past, thinking that some poor soul had left this world. As they peered in, I sat bolt-upright, issuing a ghostly “Boooooooo.” They didn’t stare after that. I can entertain myself.
Eventually Nurse Trixie (or whatever her name was) returned for the obligatory blood test. As aforementioned, I am a big man. Therefore, my veins are deeply buried in the fleshy logs I call arms. Extracting blood is always a challenge. In fact it is not uncommon, after 6 attempts, for the nurse to call upon every medical student in the vicinity to observe the proverbial ‘getting blood from a stone.’ Twenty stone to be precise.
A slim American woman entered the cubicle and introduced herself as Dr. Gina. I instantly identified her Bostonian accent as well as the fact she was barely older than my daughter. Resisting the urge to find out, as a junior doctor, when Dr. Gina last slept for more than 12 minutes, I submitted myself to her battery of questions and physical prodding.
I knew Dr Gina was aching to ask the question. I knew it was coming. It always does. She didn’t disappoint: ‘Are you a…smoker?’
In my mind, everything stopped. The clock on the wall stopped ticking. The passers-by outside the cubicle, who by now had gone to fetch their kin-folk to see a real zombie, stopped shuffling past. A imagined voice called out over the hospital intercom system: ‘CODE RED!!! CODE RED!!! SMOKER IN CUBICLE 17, REPEAT SMOKER IN CUBICLE 17!!!’
Medical people seem to assume no one smokes. If they do smoke, it MUST be the cause of all ailments. Lost your leg in a car crash? You must stop smoking. Got a hangnail? It is because you smoke.
I anticipated Dr Gina’s reaction by answering her question with “Twenty five a day but if you had a shitty job like mine you would smoke as well. So I will stop you there before the lecture starts. And I hate the Boston Bruins.”
She smiled and said “You already knew what I was I going to say.”
As if to get even for making her deviate from the script, Dr Gina sent me for an x-ray. This involved me walking down the corridor in my generously-vented hospital gown which, well, let’s just say made everyone think the moon had come out early this Summer Solstice. My wife, a more modest and sensitive soul than I, suggested I wrap a sheet around my waist during the journey to spare the innocence of any children, infirm or weak-of-heart we met en-route.
I padded down the corridor in what looked like a white sarong. I made a point of peering in each cubicle along the way; resurrecting my earlier zombie joke with an eerie ‘Boooo’ as I walked past. Young children screamed and clambered behind their fathers. An elderly Portuguese woman kissed her rosaries and shouted “Diabo!”
Half an hour later and I was back in cubicle 17 and waiting for what Dr Gina had promised to be ‘one final test.’ She explained the procedure which would involve her (in her own words) “fitting something into my back passage.” Evidentially this will take the form of a camera somewhere in the not-too-distant future but for today’s purposes it was to check for blood seeping from the hole in my stomach.
I am able to recount her words precisely dear readers, because she repeated the conversation 5 times. It is my theory that she was in fact psyching herself up for the job at hand. I assumed the position and confided in her that I took back everything I said about MY job being stressful- if she had to stick stuff up a fat Yank’s arse 9 to 5, her job was worse than mine. As far as I was concerned she should be smoking 50 cigarettes a day. She earned it.
As she ‘entered’ she asked if it was causing discomfort. I tried to answer honestly. “It certainly is different,” I said.
I was allowed to get dressed whilst she prepared a sheet that informed me I had a 33% chance of having a heart attack in the next decade unless I lost weight and stopped smoking. I retorted with, “That means I had a 66% chance of not having a heart attack.”
Dr Gina smiled. I thanked her, genuinely, for her humanity. I resisted shaking her hand though. I knew where it had been.
Keep the Faith,