I'm afraid that following on from last week's rather sad entry this column isn't going to get a great deal cheerier. I have to take the story back to the hospital. I feel a terrible compulsion, a duty even, to finish the tale.
So we left me having just received some relieving news from the urologist. It's Thursday tea-time, July 25 2013. Emma has to go. Apart from the odd trip to the scanning lab with a bag of piss on my knee, she has been by my side for the last 17 sleepless hours. Both of us are sleepless, but she is bedless. She's spent the entire time sat in a less than luxurious chair trying to help me make sense of all the rubbish that has spewed forth from the mouths of medical professionals. She can't take tomorrow off work aswell and, since I am now just mildly grumpy and suffering only from palpitations I am assured will get better, it is better if she leaves me to it and tries to get back to normality. She will be back tomorrow night when they inevitably refuse to discharge me.
Taking her place are some members of my family. I really appreciate their visit though it drives me quite mad at times. Without them here, all there is to do is stuff my face with junk food (which hurts because I'm getting oral thrush from all the drugs I have been on) and listen to the craziness going on in the ward around me. More on which later. For now my dad, my sister and two of my cousins are kind enough to visit in what is still, despite the improvement in my fortunes since seeing the urologist, an hour of significant need.
'I'll give you a kidney'. says my cousin Jo.
It's the first thing that comes out of her mouth when she sees me. Or at least it is the first thing I remember her saying. She might have asked me how I was or how long I was going to be in or something, but looking back at it now my memory is almost certain that she skipped all of that and just decided instead to offer me one of her kidneys. As kind an offer as this is it has a couple of basic flaws. Firstly, I don't need one and, despite what nonsense has been discussed by the medical people so far, nobody has suggested that I do. Secondly therefore, such an offer could be construed to be a little on the negative side. As if I don't need one right now, but trust me our kid you bloody well will do one day and then what will you do? While Jo and my sister Helen discuss at length which one of them will be donating the kidney that I don't need I turn to the men, my dad and my other cousin Alex for a less dramatic level of conversation. Alex has brought me more football-related literature than I am hoping to have time to read in here. I'm pleased that it will relieve the boredom when everyone has left, but find out later that concentrating on trying to read actually increases the intensity of my palpitations. That kind of luck is unsurprising to me. Things have been a bit that way in the last few weeks.
Before they go Jo and Helen kindly agree to go to the hospital shop downstairs for me (I'd go myself but I'm still attached to a large bag of urine). They return with the greatest gift a hospital patient can receive. Yes, there is some junk food because I'm about to be bored enough not to worry about how my mouth is, but there is also a fan. Not just any old fan. A Spiderman fan. Writing this three months later I can report that I still have it. As I type this I can see it sitting on the old PC in the corner of the room. The PC that broke about six months ago and just sits there uselessly while I manfully carry on trying to write blogs like this on my laptop without losing large chunks of articles due to its erratic nature. It's been ok so far tonight. I need something wooden to touch.
With Emma and the rest of the family gone I really start to notice my fellow patients on Ward 1C. The first thing I notice is that three out of the four of us are called Stephen or Steven. The one exception is the man to my left, Michael. Michael seems to be profoundly deaf and can only speak at a very hushed volume. To my eternal shame I don't know any sign language despite the fact that there were one or two deaf children at my school. So even if Michael had wanted to communicate he would have been up against it with an uneducated communicator such as myself. I don't think he is much in the mood for it anyway. At one point during his stay he has four or five members of his family and medical staff around his bed trying to convince him to go for the infamous camera down the throat scan. I never find out exactly what he is in here for but I am happy to report that Michael eventually agrees to go for the scan, so hopefully his condition has improved since then. He was moved to another ward in the middle of that very night for reasons you never get told nor really feel it is your business to ask. Hospital is a bit like that.
Also moved that night is Stephen/Steven number one in the bed opposite mine. But not before he has found time to describe to me his love for all things military. He was in the army, and is here now because of the after-effects of a blast in Afghanistan. His lungs got damaged by the cloud created by the explosion. He can't eat or drink anything without throwing it back up. He also is going for the infamous camera down the throat scan at some point. Only he is a lot more cheery about it. His best army tale is of his friends in the boxing team. Anyone of them, he assures me, could easily be a world champion in the professional ranks. Not being the shyest person in the world I can't stop myself asking the obvious question. If they could be world champion boxers (who don't forget make millions of pounds) why would they not do that instead of going out to obscure parts of the world risking their lives. Particularly in a conflict which began in what can best be described as morally, politically and legally suspect circumstances. They just love the army, he explains. The camararderie. The mess halls. I nod enthusiastically while scepticism engulfs my entire being. I like Stephen/Steven number one. He's both prinicipled and thoroughly entertaining. But quite mad, I fear.
Stephen/Steven number two lying in the bed diagonal from me is not so entertaining, but he has it rough. He needs to take on oxygen at regular intervals due to whatever disease he has been struck by. Not only that, but I count five times during one day that he has to endure the dreaded blood gases test. This is no ordinary blood test. I had one myself in the observation ward early in my visit, and the pain is pretty shocking. The injection goes right into the bony part of the wrist just where it meets the bottom of your hand. His dismay at being subjected to another of these tests increases with each one and it is hard to watch. It's also hard to get to know Stephen/Steven number two. When he is not being violated by blood gas tests he mostly sleeps and breathes heavily through his mask. He is also moved to another ward in the middle of the night before the end of my stay.
Eventually the others all settle down to sleep for the night. With the palpitations preventing me from hitting the land of nod I just lie there listening to the sounds of the hospital. The nurses chatting, the deathly howling of what sounds like a tortured child down the corridor, and the thunderous beating of my own heart, particularly at the precise point when my sleep-craving eyes attempt to shut.