Four of Clubs: On Hospitals and Reality

I felt like reading this one aloud. In retrospect, I should have taken the trouble to memorise it and set up a proper camera rather than recording it with a webcam while reading it from a screen. The story I refer to, which I did not actually reread before writing this, is after the break.

A card with pictograms for disability and toilets and food

When I was a teenager I wrote a story about my experience staying in Starship Children’s hospital for a while, and presented it to a writing class. I mentioned that I was somewhat glad, after several weeks there, to get back to the real world.

“But surely you can’t get much more real than a hospital,” a middle-aged woman in the class responded.

This puzzled me at the time, but I think I understand now. Reality is pain, and sickness, and IV drips, and wheelchairs, and bed pans, and rarely going outside, and machines that beep all night, and parades of doctors taking turns prodding and asking if it hurts, and teenagers who know they will not live to adulthood, and healing, and nurses at your beck and call, and surprisingly good food delivered to you in bed, and visitors that bring better food to overcompensate, and a play specialist who comes by regularly to play with you, and a games cart that comes by less often with new games, and glass lifts facing the atrium that have a view of the playground and all seven different-coloured storeys, and an in-house movie channel that shows mostly The Lion King, by request, and an in-house radio station that plays mostly Mysterious Girl and Wonderwall, also by request.

Anything else you think you experience is merely the product of your deranged imagination.

This is the thing I mentioned that I wrote in the middle of the night before I’d finished my last story. It’s all true, except that I may be mixing two different hospital stays, and I don’t remember how long I was actually in there for either time.

On the subject of games carts in hospitals, check out how much money my donation of CERN books and souvenirs raised for Child’s Play during Desert Bus for Hope:

This donation had nothing whatsoever to do with my having stayed in a children’s hospital and enjoyed the games cart. I didn’t even think of that till afterwards. I donated stuff because Dammit Liz asked, and when Dammit Liz asks, I answer. They got a few facts wrong in the video, but I loved the lab coats and the enthusiasm. Also, I loved that Graham was able to sing Tom Lehrer’s The Elements when I challenged them to.

Oh! I just found the original story that this is about. I wanted to read it before making the video of this one, to refresh my memory of ‘reality’, but I couldn’t find it. It even refers to a few things that you’ll find out more about in my next post. Just for fun, here it is. I wrote it on April 7th 1995:

Heal Heel

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. OW. OW! After thinking this every step 1 took since Monday night, (It was Friday) 1 decided it was time to tell my mother about the pain in my left heel. She immediately took me to the doctor, suspecting that my Achilles tendon was tearing off the bone. The doctor confirmed that the pain was where the tendon joined on to the bone and sent me to the Starship children’s hospital for X‑rays.

Once there,, there was the usual three hour wait. broken up by several different doctors coming in every hour or so to push my foot around until it hurt. During this time I managed to read everything that was in the room ‑ a Sesame Street book, a Victoria Plum book (about a fairy) and a brochure on how to talk to my parents (my mother read the accompanying brochure entitled ‘How to talk to your teenager,’ but we still had nothing to talk to each other about.) We noticed several patients with drips in their arms being pushed along in their beds wearing ill fitting hospital nighties. looking like there was something serious wrong with them. We noticed the sound of the electric door that needed oil. I hate that sound. After exactly three hours, several more doctors made my heel hurt, took X‑rays, blood samples, urine samples, my pulse, my temperature and every other completely irrelevant test that they could think of.

All of the tests came back completely normal, but, disregarding my mother’s more likely diagnosis about the tendon, they decided that there just might, perhaps be a tiny bit of a chance that I had an infection in the bone, so they put a drip in my arm, covered it with ‘fishnet stocking’ and admitted me. This was the chance I had been waiting for ‑ I wanted to see if the meals were better than the old children’s hospital, which we had nicknamed ‘the flea pit.’ As 1 had come straight from school and hadn’t intended to stay in hospital, 1 had only my school uniform, so ended up wearing a hospital nightie.

My first room‑mates were not much company. The only bed left for me was in a room with two babies in incubators. They wriggled about in their cute babyish way while the incubator made noises that were half‑way between clicks and beeps every time the babies breathed. Such a cute sound. Later that night 1 was moved to a room of my own. 1 was pushed along in my bed with a drip in my arm, wearing a hotel nightie, and looking as though there was something seriously wrong with me. I only had a sore heel! I managed about four hours sleep that night, which 1 soon found out was usual for people in the hospital. I was awakened at four to have a drink, as it was policy to ‘nil by mouth’ patients on the first night in case they wanted to do something to them in the morning, even if there was no chance that they would have to. For a while after that a baby in the room next to me was howling. I could swear it was yelling ‘OW. Ow! Owww! Oh shit.” That wasn’t the baby. A rustling of paper towels and a few more swearwords soon quietened the baby, but not for long. Coming back from the toilet later I noticed that a musical toy had a longer‑lasting effect. Maybe it would help me to get some sleep too. At five they gave me antibiotics through the drip, which happened so quickly that it left me wondering if it had really happened moments later. At seven my mother came in, along with a cascade of student doctors who surrounded my bed to have a turn at prodding my foot. They decided that I should not walk, but as the only wheelchair that they had left was a commode, I didn’t leave my bed unless I had to.

After an awkward one‑handed shower, (the drip made me feel like there was more wrong with my hand than my foot) I was moved to yet another room, where I had an unoccupied bed for a room‑mate. Apparently, the Easter bunny didn’t know this, as it offered the bed an egg. I don’t think the suit had eye‑holes. The bed was not unoccupied for long though ‑ soon a girl called Alexandra (who had done extremely well in soccer trials only to break her leg in three places while practising at home) was wheeled in. I never discovered her last name, and apparently neither did the doctors, having spelled her name at least five different ways and still not getting it right by the time she left the next day.

Shortly after that, the empty bed was wheeled away, to be replaced by one holding a four‑year‑old girl named Lovlean who also was suspected to have a bone infection in her hip. She had been at the hospital for several weeks, and all of her tests had been normal as well. Perhaps I did have this mysterious infection. It turned out that her father was a taxi driver who had driven me to school several times. That night I listened to ‘Radio Lollipop,’ which managed to use most of the jingles off Mai FM, replacing the station name with their own. such as ‘Auckland’s hottest music… Radio Lollipop.’ They would then proceed to play some of their ‘hot’ music ‑ ‘Bananas in Pyjamas.’ They also don’t recognise talent when they see it; I entered a colouring‑in competition and didn’t win.

The next day, Monday, some people came around with a trolley full of toys and games, so Lovlean and I blew bubbles and made patterns with the pegs on the Chinese Checkers board that I had borrowed until my brother came in bearing gifts of wine-gums and pineapple lumps. Being the helpful brother that he isn’t, he helped to eat the lollies and finish off my packet of ‘Golden Fruit’ biscuits. At around 11:30 that night I sped along the corridor in my bed to join the ‘funky girls in room 11,’ as I had heard them being referred to as on the radio.

The next morning, as I waited for the curtains to be opened to ‘unveil’ my new roommates, I listened to a young girl who I heard somebody call ‘Alex’ utter cute complaints about such things as having to wear hospital knickers, and sobbing in a cute five‑year‑old sounding way. When the curtains were opened, I discovered that my roommate Alexander was a five‑and‑a‑half year‑old boy in traction. He had been ‘nil by mouthed’ for no reason as well; not a smart move on the part of the hospital as his mother hadn’t had decent sleep for three and a half weeks and was ready to hit someone. Across the room from me was Gillian, who was about my age and had scholiosis (curvature of the spine.) The other funky girl I didn’t really get to know.

For ‘school’ that day Gillian was set to work designing an experiment on which was better at making hair grow out of Marmite and Vegemite, following the experiment on Holmes where a man smeared Vegemite over his head to see if it would make his hair grow faster. I suggested Marmite shampoo, but there wasn’t much time to develop this idea as I left the hospital that day. We both began designing pictograms to convey a more understandable version of ‘Nil per mouth,’ but neither of us could outdo the nurse’s suggestion ‑ ‘Don’t feed the animals.’

So, after making the most of my free lunch, I left the hospital through those squeaky doors (I hate that sound) and entered the real world. I noticed that all of the doctor’s training had paid off, as on my discharge notice they had come up with the expert diagnosis of ‘Left heel pain.’ So my heel is still sore and the doctors still have no idea what’s wrong with me, but the food was good. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow…

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