Bell, Book & Handbag Part IV

experiences the National Health Service

in alphabetical order the things Beattie hates most would run to several
volumes rather like the Encyclopaedia Britannica. However under ‘B’ you would
find ‘Being shown up’ and under ‘M’ you would find ‘Making an exhibition of
yourself’. Under ‘R’ would be ‘Ruining a
perfectly good day out’. Being taken to hospital having rendered myself
unconscious in a public place meant I had definitely transgressed all of those
and probably a few others along the way.

have to admit coming round with Beattie threatening to topple over on top of me
in the confined space of a speeding ambulance was enough to make anybody suffer
a relapse. Somewhere she must have read, heard, or ‘just happened to know ‘that
the best way to keep people conscious was to keep talking to them. I’ve heard
that too, but I thought the idea was to ask them questions to keep them
thinking. Instead she just rattled on with no need for me to even draw breath.
She was doing enough of that for both of us.
Now normally when she starts I switch off but I figured that this time
round it was safer to stay awake. The first hint of a dropped eyelid and she’d
be breaking all my ribs in a mis-guided attempt at CPR.

pay attention Maureen, as long as you can remember your name, your address and
the name of the Prime Minister they can’t touch your pension money! Now who are

think I said ‘Maureen Truscott, 53 Palmerston Terrace and David Cameron’, but
even I couldn’t be sure with the oxygen mask clamped firmly across my face. I
wasn’t even sure she was telling truth. All that sounded like another urban
myth put about by social services to keep the elderly in a state of perpetual
terror: like bogus gas men and the friend of a friend who ended up with their
replacement knee joints fitted back to front. Still somewhere in a haze of
incipient concussion and analgesics I could dimly recall the tale of Polly
Albright. Legend has it that she said ‘Margaret Thatcher’ whilst she was still
coming round from having her veins done. After that it took her son Nigel three
weeks to get her out of Willow Bank Home for the Elderly, by which time she was
word perfect in ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary ‘ and could never bring herself
to sit on a plastic chair again. It is frightening how quickly people become
institutionalised; especially when they like embroidery.

I have to be extra careful. I haven’t got a Nigel to look out for me. I’ve got
twin daughters, Cilla and Sandie, but I haven’t heard from them since they were
six so I can’t see either of them lifting a finger to help their poor old mum.
As they say in those detective movies, that Beattie also claims not to watch,
that leaves me in a very vulnerable situation. So there we were in casualty. Me
on a trolley, a nurse trying to do her best to get me booked in and Beattie
doing her damndest to get my rings off before they were stolen.

know they’re not worth anything’ she said getting in everybody’s way and almost
dislocating my fingers, ‘but they are all you’ve got. Some of these porters
can’t tell the difference between rubbish and the real thing. Evadne Collier
lost her watch and her engagement ring. Both of them heirlooms and both of them
turned up in that pawn shop near the cobblers.’

Beattie was asked, told, and then forcibly made to sit outside by two men in
security uniforms. They must have taken her some way away because it all went
terribly quiet allowing Staff Nurse Carol to get on with her forms.

was just as well I said that I was sorry about my friend Beattie because in the
confusion she had me down as Mrs Hathaway. Poor soul, it can’t have been easy
trying to fill in the paperwork with Beattie pushing her out of the way all the
time and demanding to know when she had last washed her hands.

Nurse Carol said it was ok. Apparently since the cut backs they were used to
psychiatric patients wondering about the place now that they all had their own
keys. She said that they just didn’t have the time to keep locking them in and
out. Apparently only last week one of them even turned up in the operating
theatre dressed as a surgeon. When she laughed I got a strong whiff of cough
mixture. When she called me ‘Beattie’ again I started to panic.

I said quickly. ‘My names Maureen Truscott and I live at 53 Palmerston Terrace
and the Prime Ministers name is Gordon Brown. And I didn’t fall. I was pushed!’

of course you were Beattie,’ she smiled, ‘Actually it’s David Cameron. Just
make sure you get it right if Sister Mottram asks you. She’s very old school,
but not in a nice way. She hates dust. Well if you ask me she doesn’t care much
for patients either. But that’s between us. Better make sure we’ve got your
brakes on hadn’t we? Don’t want you rolling away and getting lost! Now let’s
see if we can find a porter with enough English to get you down to the ward in
one piece. We don’t want you falling into Bogdan’s hands do we? Not after what
happened last week when he left that patient in …..’.

checked herself before adding that I was lucky the old lady in bed three had
died that morning or I would have had to been sent to the Princess Di on the
other side of town.

I said, wondering if I should be marvelling at my good fortune.

Nurse Carol paused and checked her watch.

between us they’ve got MRSA but keep that under your hat or this place will be
swamped. God knows we’ve got enough on our hands with the cystitis epidemic let
alone having to cope with a flesh eating virus.’

don’t you go worrying yourself Beattie’, she added. ‘She turned up in a goods
lift of all places. Mind you if we hadn’t been stock taking and noticed we were
one drip short she might still be there now!’

doubt she was doing her best to establish what I believe is called ‘rapport’.
But to be honest when she confided that last week alone they had lost 15 swabs
and 2 pairs of forceps I think she could tell from the look on my face that all
she was doing was putting the wind up me; that and the fact that I was now wearing
a wristband with the wrong name on.

gave the pillows an extra puff and straightened the covers. Apparently there
was nothing to worry about. All I had to do was concentrate on getting better.

all these things always turn up,’ she said brightly. ‘Usually at the sight of a
post operative infection but we always get them back and after a quick boil
they’re as good as new.’

parked me in a side ward and I watched her disappear, the NHS in action,
squeaking her way down the corridor. You could tell from the way she walked
that she’s rather be wearing sling backs and working in a nice office. Yet
despite the fact that she reeked of cough mixture and her foundation hardly
bothered to conceal her acne she seemed a nice enough girl. I mean it can’t be
easy dealing with death on a daily basis. Once upon a time nursing was a
vocation. Now people were forced to do it because they couldn’t get jobs in
travel agencies. No wonder she looked so demoralised.

she wasn’t the only one. There is nothing like being abandoned in an empty ward
without your wig and your top set of teeth for making you feel old and
unwanted. The fact that I was dying for a wee didn’t help either.

© Ian Ashley 2014

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