Monday 3 December 2012

Please keep your horror stories to yourselves!

 Yesterday I was in hospital having what these days they euphemistically refer to as ‘a procedure’. I’ve had the same thing done a few years ago so I wasn’t worried about it in the least.

Well, I wasn’t, until I started to talk to my friends and loved ones, who saw it as their urgent duty to fill my tiny brain full of tales of woe.

What is it that possess us when it comes to spreading bad news? Why do we eagerly launch in and upset both strangers and our closest with stories we heard that happened to people we know that were just terrible?

In my tiny personal experience of being in Irish hospitals, the staff have been uniformly kind, patient, cheerful and expert. There’s a good reason why Irish nurses are so revered in England: it’s because they’re wonderful.

Also please understand that I’m scribbling here solely about a quirky tick of human nature and not of the recent tragedy at Galway Regional Hospital. Nurses and doctors aren’t responsible for the law. This colyoom’s venue is irrelevant. It just so happens that I was going in to hospital, which was enough for my mechanic to set the ball rolling:

“Jeeze Charlie, good luck with that. Did I ever tell you about my knees? Well I was told I’d have to wait years for an operation, you know how it is, and then sure didn’t I get a letter saying that I was due in for the op on Saturday in two week’s time. Fantastic!

“So there I was telling a friend of mine who’s a doctor himself, about my knee op coming in so quickly, and he asks if I’m sure it’s on a Saturday, and I says yes, and he says well that's a bit funny because that orthopaedic surgeon is a friend of his, and he knows the fella never works on a Saturday.

“So this doctor friend of mine goes and calls the hospital and says he’s checking up for a patient who’s having his knees done on that day and they say to him that no, I’m not having my bloody knees done. I’m having an operation on a gastric ulcer. A gastric feckin’ ulcer?

“So he tells ‘em that no, I’m not having an operation on a gastric ulcer because I don’t have a gastric ulcer and whoever the person is who should be having an operation on his gastric ulcer had better not be having a knee replacement instead!

“So just make sure you read that consent form, eh Charlie? That’s all I’m saying.”

Thanking him for his sanguine advice, I wander off, remembering a similarly terrifying incident that happened a couple of years ago.

The Snapper was meant to have a procedure, but after fasting and waiting all day in the clinic, she was sent home as there were no beds. Some days later I was having a blood test taken at the same hospital, when the nurse asked me if I’d like to visit my wife.

“Do what?” I asked
“Well, she’s on the ward around the corner.”

We then entered one of the most bizarre dialogues I’ve ever experienced, during which I tried to convince her that my wife was absolutely most definitely at home in bed and not on the ward at all.

For a reason I’ve never been able to ascertain, she insisted for several minutes that the Snapper was definitely in a bed on the ward.

Finally I blew a gasket, suggesting to her in strong terms that if I were her I’d already be zooming into the ward to check out who the poor woman is who isn’t and has never been my wife. Surgery, blood groups, drugs … it was all too horrible to contemplate.

Trying to purge these terrifying tales my from mind, I was waiting my turn in the hospital ward yesterday, when they wheeled in a man who was coming out of anaesthetic.

A few minutes later a nurse came in, picked up his chart and said

“Did they put you out? I have no idea, no idea at all? Come on, let’s get you off all those tubes.”

She then encouraged the man to get out of bed, which he was clearly not ready for, and then she was gone.

I suggested that he take his time. He smiled, agreed, leaned back on the bed, and we started to chat. He was an old school country gent, who wouldn’t let me say a bad word about the nurse.

“Sure but she only meant well!” he said, “Few years back wasn’t I in here for a hip replacement. Just as they’re about to give me the anaesthetic, I look down and see they’ve only gone and put a huge black cross on my right hip. ‘Twas the wrong hip altogether. ‘Twas the left hip needed replacin’. At first I didn’t want to say nothing, but in the end I did speak up, and hoh my, y’shoulda seen ‘em! Running around in circles they were! Only about to take out my good hip and leave me with the bad one, weren’t they!”

I let rip a stream of juicy expletives and felt yet more trepidation about my upcoming visit to the operating theatre. I’d read the consent form, knew they were on the case, but these were not urban myths I was being told. These were real memories coming directly from the people who went through them.

For reassurance, I wandered down the corridor to visit the Snapper, who had her head buried in a book as she waited diligently for my release.

Asking her why it was that people found the need to relate such nasty anecdotes to someone about to undergo medical unpleasantry, she said:

“I don’t know my love. I do remember though, a woman I know went in to have an infected ovary removed, only for them to take out the wrong one and leave her sterile!”

“Thanks sweetheart. I feel much better now.”

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