Monday, 12 May 2014


 Kidney stones - ouch!

My friend Soldier Boy is in hospital. Five days ago he woke up with the worst pain he’d ever endured and headed off to A &E, where he was admitted with a suspected kidney stone.

After being told to fast, so that they could operate on him, he slept the first night on a trolley in A&E’s corridor (correction: he didn’t sleep, because he was on a trolley in A&E’s corridor!) since which he’s been on a ward, fasting every day, hoping that the operation might happen.

At 9pm each day the doctor has come around and told him that the operation wouldn’t be happening that day, so he doesn’t need to fast any more, but he has to fast from midnight as they might operate on him the next day.

Soldier Boy then has 3 hours to find something to eat, after the hospital kitchen is closed.

For the first few days he was quite understandably in a rage, but now he seems accepting of the process.

“I’m in a washing machine, Charlie. I have to wait for the end of the cycle.”

I have been a very poor visitor, my platitudes feeding his rage, his rage making me wish I wasn’t there.

At the age of 17 I spent 6 weeks on an orthopaedic ward, after snapping both my femur and tibia in two. Hospital days start early, then seem to drag on forever. You dream of the calm and quiet of the night but, when darkness finally falls, one of the patients on your ward throws a crazy fit and robs your sleep, until you’re longing for the daylight again.

For a while I was that crazy guy. They put me on 4-hourly morphine injections which had me screaming shouting crying out in opiate-fuelled delirium. I felt as if I was clinging to the ceiling, looking down on the ward.

After a few days one of the lads further down the ward told me that there was a plot to kill me. Driven demented by my explosive vocals, the other patients had decided that if I didn't shut up at night, there’d be one morning when I might not wake up.

Incentivised somewhat by that vital little sliver of info, I refused to take any more painkillers. I was going be in pain for months anyway, so I might as well get used to it.

What seemed to a teenager like a singularly sensible and conveniently macho decision has taken its toll on my life, because during the ensuing weeks, I built a tolerance to pain that has ill-served me.

Pain is there for a reason. It’s your brain’s way of telling you that there’s something wrong with your body. Through a combination of hospital horrors, English Public School rigours and not wanting to look a wuss, I’ve serially ignored pain over the years, only seeking treatment when what was once a mere injury has developed into a permanent condition.

Sorry if I’m getting all medical on you. It’s part of my culture. Jewish people are as obsessed with illness as the Irish are with death. In the same way that Irish conversation is peppered by the passings of people you barely knew, Jewish chit-chat is riddled with illness.

It’s not just a matter of establishing who is suffering from what. Oh no, there’s a world more to it than that. Once you’ve revealed your illness, you have to be ready to field a barrage of questions:

Is it chronic? Is it terminal? Who’s your doctor? Did you get a second opinion? Who’s your surgeon going to be? Do you know her success rate? Have you checked out other surgeons who might have better results? What drugs have they got you on? What dosage? Are you feeling side-effects? How long will you be in for? Right, I’ll be there first thing tomorrow morning.

When one of my family is in hospital we don’t so much visit as move in and set up home. During my much-missed dad’s long decline, we spent months as a family sitting all day in hospital rooms. We’d swap shifts, eat endless Marks and Sparks sandwiches and prepare the patient for the specialist’s weekly visit.

"Don’t just tell him you’re fine, Dad. He needs to know."

To pass the time I used to take breaks from my father’s room, walking in circles around the corridors, where I discovered that it wasn’t only us who were obsessed with health, medical matters and moving into the hospital as a family.

Nearly all the BUPA rooms were taken by either Jews or Arabs. The sight gave me comfort, even amidst those desperate months of sadness. It made perfect sense. Of course, the trouble stems not from our differences but our similarities: our attitudes, behaviours and yes, the obsessions we recognise in them yet dislike in ourselves. If the stories are to believed, we’re all family. Both Judaism and Islam came from Abraham.

I’m bringing Soldier Boy a copy of Ken Bruen’s ‘Purgatory’ to read. A big fan of the Jack Taylor series, I love the way Galway City is a co-starring character in each book. 

Poor Soldier Boy is stuck in his own purgatory, waiting day after day to be operated on.

Oops! I’ve missed a call. There’s a voicemail from my doctor.

My blood tests are back. Can I please call the surgery?
Now it’s too late to call. The surgery’s closed.

Well, look who’s in his own little Jewish purgatory now. I’m sure it’s nothing. A vitamin deficiency; a cholesterol blip; maybe I’m anaemic again.

But my, those test results came back within a few hours. 
The doctor told me they wouldn’t be back for days.
What’s the rush about?

I’m not being a hypochondriac. I'm just fulfilling my cultural imperative!

©Charlie Adley

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