Last Christmas I lay in a corridor in agony, surrounded by the injured the traumatised and the weak. Eventually I was wheeled into a ward – the Surgical Ward at Kingston Hospital, which was and remains the worst place that I have ever spent some time. They pulled the curtains around my bed and my wife had to leave me to look after the children. A nurse who wouldn’t or couldn’t talk to me attached a drip, clumsily to the back of my hand and my blood burst from the vein before she could slip in the tube and gushed all over the floor in an oily vivid slick. Nausea attacked as every semblance of colour left my face; my head lolled back on the foam pillow and she tutted and tried again. The blood stayed on the floor for ninety minutes.
Every bed in the ward was occupied, as was every chair in the corridor along with several more beds. There was one poor nurse for the whole ward and God knows where else and when I asked a simple question she told me that she was ‘agency’ and didn’t know. No one knew. This was Boxing Day in London and this place felt abandoned, desperate.
I did not sleep that night, the man in the bed next to me was unbearably distressed, crying, shouting, groaning and farting. I pressed my call button for him but no one came. I genuinely don’t know if he lived through that night for at about four am his bed was engulfed with doctors and nurses and he was rushed out amidst beeping equipment and panic-laced shouts. He didn’t come back. I like to think that he’s on a lovely farm now, chasing rabbits and having the time of his life….
I opened my eyes in the half dark and an apparition stood staring at me, beside my bed. I focused (unfortunately) and it was a man, of advanced age just standing and staring at me, his white hair, wild atop his head and clad in just a pyjama top. His flaccid old cock and balls hung inches from my head and the back of his legs were spattered in liquid faeces. ‘Where is she?’ He murmured. ‘Do you know?’
I pressed the call button and no one came, he turned, his bony white arse, filthy and desiccated and crossed the ward to the bed opposite and began rummaging through drawers ‘My underpants. I need my underpants’. The occupant of the bed woke in a panic and screamed at him to Fuck. Off. I have never seen such a wretched thing, felt more helpless. This man, reduced to pacing his own shit around a hospital, exposed and yes, vulnerable. He might have been a Titan, a leader of men or an athlete. He might have been a scholar or a soldier but here he was in the dying light of his life, confused and scared, covered in shit and desperate for some pants to cover his nakedness. I suspect he’s probably dead now too. I almost hope that he is because his life at that time in that place was too tragic for words. I hope that if he is alive that he doesn’t remember that night and particularly the panic and disgust in my face that I couldn’t disguise in time.