Entering my ninth day in a ward (I'm told not to name it) of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, which makes me the oldest lag. And what haven't I seen over this period, waiting for my temperature to go down so that the tube and bag from my left kidney, infected from another trapped stone - for the first incident in Turkey, see here - can be replaced with a stent.I pick up fragments of stories from patients in the other five beds - huge imaginative possibilities even when surface-undramatic.
First we were three, a quiet far eastern Christian with friendly visitors, an equally quiet Muslim gentleman who had imam's prayers sounding from some device at the key times of day and his head bandaged from an assault (racist? It seemed unlikely he'd get in an attack himself). Next to join us, a dude with a manbun and a hand injury that required plastic surgery. Lived behind the screen rattling away in conversation with his girlfriend for 10 hours; when they snuck out, I knew it was for his daily cannabis fix despite explicit instructions from the medical team that he mustn't smoke anything. The next day it all went wrong between them after one such excursion - a barrage of French expletives from him drove her away, then she tried phoning the desk, and he said he wouldn't speak to her because she was drunk. He left the following morning, unaccompanied.
Supreme drama: 5.30am, a manacled maniac loud with apparent pain, two police officers at the foot of his bed. At 6 I couldn't bear more and went and sat in the telly room while he kept setting off the alarms and causing further havoc. I was stonewalled when I asked if they couldn't give him powerful enough sedatives. I only got a fuller story from a nice nurse three days later: he'd been arrested in possession of a knife and cocaine, and as soon as he was locked up immediately 'developed' this agonising pain. Obliged to take it seriously lest they had a death on their hands, the police brought him here, tests were made, nothing found. Interesting how he quickly moved from imprecations and 'you don't know what pain I'm in' (to me, when I finally said 'shut the f**k up', and I replied 'try me') to abusing the doctor who'd treated him and asking for his number (narrated the 'he took my trousers and pants down' with a demonstration the screen thankfully prevented me from seeing. 'Stop, sir, there are other patients here,' said one of the patient policemen. He was treated with remarkable courtesy by the professionals, not by me). Drug addict or psychotic or both? We shall never know, because finally, at 11.30am, he was carted back into custody and peace reigned for a bit.
Nights are never quiet here, yet I could only feel relieved that the next admission to that bed didn't arrive, similarly, until 5.30am and proceeded to retch violently for the next few hours. Skinny, shaven-headed and tattooed in black like a Siberian prisoner, he seemed gentle and soft spoken, though in major medical trouble. A couple of hours into New Year's Day, he apparently took out all his tubes and left. The nice bay nurse for the next stint established from his wife that he'd gone home, but he had to be readmitted that night (though not to our section).
His neighbour was a gentle youth from a posh family, possibly 17, well tended by his nice girlfriend. Returning from his appendectomy, his skin was the pallor of the poet in 'The Death of Chatterton', so Chatterton he became among us.
Moved to a bed by the window of the bay at the other end of the ward, I'm now in what is otherwise a geriatric ensemble. My hero is old John, 94, admitted with a fractured skull after falling over, believed by his two daughters to be at death's door ('come and see him, he may not last' was one phone conversation). The next morning he was up, asked to shave, decided to take sugar in his tea because it wasn't very nice and talked about receiving 'the Bishop' in his home for the weekend's church assembly. Difficult to converse with him because he keeps his hearing aids out until the daughters arrive in the afternoon. Wish I could have done so last night, because a Chelsea Pensioner newly admitted, loving to talk about the army and how he laid communications for the British army in Afghanistan, had a screaming cough accompanied by groaning all night.
The rest of us are quieter. I so like my genial neighbour, such a nice man, and even the querulous gentleman opposite him who is giving the folk here a very hard time is well-intentioned towards the rest of us. But how he snores! Last night I discovered this,
and it smothered all noises other than the screamcoughing. So I still only got two hours' sleep. Well, on to the end of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, which has been an ever-increasing source of wonder, and to the conclusion of another teatralogy, the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Götterdämmerung Act 3; yesterday was the first when I actually wanted to listen to music. Meanwhile I wait for my temperature to stop 'spiking' before having any chance of going home.