The Godfather: Peter Corris on hospitalisation
Recently I spent a day in hospital for a minor procedure to correct an irregular heart rhythm. As a hospital experience, of which I’ve had several over the years, it had its ups and down.
Check-in was at the fairly brutal hour of 7 am, which involved getting up an hour earlier. There follows a curious procedure – you walk through the hospital to the lifts, go up a floor to register, and go back to a pathology centre just inside the main entrance, then up to the cardiac floor again.
Escorted to the ward you undress, put on the hospital gown and climb into bed. ‘Prepping’ for the procedure involves checking blood pressure, medications taken (none that morning and ‘nil by mouth’ of any kind beyond midnight the preceding day), checks on blood sugar, foreign artefacts present, previous illnesses and allergies and the insertion, not always painless, of a cannula.
Then you are informed, say about 8 am, that the procedure will take place at 2 pm, giving you six long hours to wait.
My strategy is to take my ereader with me to occupy the time but if the ward is very brightly lit I can’t manage to see the text. So it was this time.
Here came one of the positive experiences such as I have had in similar situations before. I struck up a conversation with Ted, the man in the bed next to mine. It’s a curious fact that the reserve about one’s personal doings and situations, typical of Australian males, falls away in the hospital ward. Ted and I yarned away about matters of interest, not so much our shared heart problems as things like the unsatisfactory state of politics and family matters. It transpired that in common we had three daughters and a slew of grandchildren; that we were both interested in AFL and other sports, films and rock music.
Jean, present when we were both settling in, observed that we both wore two hearing aids and that Ted, like me, had an English wife. Our yarning filled a gap as the nurses, universally kind and helpful, performed further tests and doctors, obviously busy, gave us the information we needed.
In my case the nurses had a lot to contend with – diabetes, gluten intolerance, vision impairment. I remember Jean saying how much, at an earlier hospitalisation, she admired the temperament of the nurses who, when summoned, always asked how they could help. ‘I think I’d be more likely,’ Jean said, ‘to say, Oh, for goodness sake! What is it now?’ She wrongs herself.
After a snooze it was down to the operating room where what everyone refers to as the ‘zap’ was carried out. Anaesthesia is dangerous in all circumstances but the doctor, the anaesthetist and the nurses were calm and reassuring. I woke up in the ward scarcely aware that anything had been done.
Ted was taken down for his turn and, as it happened, the lights in the ward had dimmed and I read Ian McGuire’s excellent novel The North Water (2016) until I was able to persuade the doctors and nurses that I was fit to leave. A few more tests, extraction of the beastly cannula and I was free to go.
I left thanking the nurses, shaking hands with Ted, who’d returned, and deeply grateful to live in a country where such a potentially life-enhancing service can be performed free of charge for those with the awareness to access it. This and much more we owe to Bill Hayden and the Whitlam government.