One of the more interesting aspects of growing older (read “old”) is the body’s capacity to deliver surprises. These are not necessarily pleasant – well, okay, not at all pleasant – like the one that arrived, unannounced, on Thursday.
There was I, minding my own business and trying to have a well-earned nap when, suddenly, the chest pains began. Fast forward half an hour and I’m on my way to hospital in an ambulance, enjoying a rather erudite conversation with the paramedic who also happened to be an inventor. One does meet fascinating people under the most unlikely circumstances.
The next couple of hours were a jumble of medical interventions inflicted upon my person, from which I emerged bearing a close resemblance to a squid, given the ten ECG leads adhering to my torso. Have you ever tried to sleep under those circumstances? Impossible. Turn even slightly and something dislodges, causing the monitor to make disapproving noises. So I lay there. On a hospital bed. Stuck in the same position. For hours.
Fine, I hear you say, cheer up – things could have been worse. So I cheered up and, sure enough, things got worse. You see, I had landed in a four-bed ward.
Okay, I thought, hopefully no-one will snore. It goes almost without saying that the moment this thought crossed my mind, the snoring began. This, gentle reader, was not just any snoring. This was snoring, the like of which I had never heard in a long career of snoring-victimhood. It wasn’t your usual drawn-out porcine ronflement, punctuated by snuffles and the occasional whuffle. This, my friend, was a hybrid demon-child, offspring of an elephant seal and an amorous camel. And it had staying power. Lord, did it have staying power! It rent the atmosphere at a rate of some 96 decibels, subsiding only to re-emerge with greater exuberance, burbling and bubbling and punctuated by sepulchral moans. It was truly a snore by which all other snores should be measured – and found wanting.
But it didn’t end there. The background cacophony of loud chatter and bursts of laughter from the nurses’ station promised sustained wakefulness, on occasions even rising above the sterling efforts of the world-class snorer. Then, just to add a note of piquancy to the entire enterprise, their endless gossip was interrupted by the woman in the bed next to the snorer, demanding that someone answer the door. Given that there were no doors on the wards, her request posed certain logistical problems. Of course she was confused, poor soul, but even my attempts at soothing did nothing to quell her determined voice.
“There’s no-one at the door, darling. You’re in hospital.” the nurse assured her, brightly, although it must be said that by the fourth repetition of this process in the space of an hour, the brightness was beginning to take on a rather metallic edge.
“Oh.” She replied. “In that case, I wish you a very merry Christmas. I hope you enjoy Christmas dinner.”
Nothing daunted by this highly unseasonable greeting, the nurse reciprocated and departed. Finally, the patient’s requests subsided and sleep triumphed, presumably owing to a surfeit of imaginary turkey and pudding.
But it didn’t end there. In the bed next to me was an elderly Chinese man. I say elderly, but I think he was a year or so older than … well, never mind. Anyway, he was given to talking in his sleep. In Chinese (well, of course he would). And grunting. But at least he didn’t snore.
By and large, I felt that I had strayed onto the set of one of those eccentric British comedies and rather wished that I hadn’t. If the late Hattie Jacques, Sid James, Kenneth Williams and the rest of the cast of Carry On Doctor had turned up, I should not have been one whit surprised.
But it didn’t end there, for down the corridor was a man for whom a stay in hospital was the equivalent of a prison sentence. “He-elp!” He shouted at approximately 5 minute intervals, occasionally adding “I’m being held prisoner!” Here was another confused soul, but one who sadly tried the patience of all within earshot. The nurses did their best to reassure him but he became quite argumentative and provoked some rather ascerbic responses. I believe the words “Just shut up!” may have been uttered on one occasion, and who am I to judge?
And, yes, you guessed it – it didn’t end there, either. Every time I valiantly tried to doze off, almost succeeding, hovering on the very brink of restful repose, a light would come on and a brisk voice would carol: “Just taking your blood pressure” or “time for another ECG” or “I need more blood.” With a fixed smile I would submit to their ministrations. After all, they were trying to help me. Earplugs would have been appreciated but hospital stocks apparently don’t run to such frivolous items.
But, after all that, my heart was found to be working perfectly well. It was all a case of the Great Tum-Tum Rebellion, also known as Reflux. Why my stomach had elected to turn on me I have no idea. I’ve always treated it well. It gets its fair ration of healthy food as well as the occasional treat, so it has no call to become vicious. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, encroaching age sees our bodies turn against us in a grievously unfair manner. I’d complain but there isn’t a warranty and, after all, I emerged from the adventure with a good story to tell and my health relatively intact.
For this, and the laughs along the way, I am profoundly grateful.