It is hot in London. A twenty degree heatwave and Londoners have gone mental. Hyde Park is awash with walkers, roller-skaters, cyclists, footballers, sun worshippers, book readers, dogs eating ice cream. The other parks too: Regents, Green, St.James, Richmond, Clapham (Common). Rammed with people who will be red-faced tomorrow.
My social media feed, starved of usual as I have no friends, is gluttonous today. My phone buzzes. Requests to: “hit the park”, “crack open the Pimms”, and “play some frisbee”. Only on London-hot days do my acquaintances deny their proletariat roots and drink fucking Pimms. They will return to work on Monday and compare blistered foreheads with their colleagues, complaining how the sun was “too hot”.
I ignore my phone, knowing I will be spending the day in the hospital.
Walking through the entrance I am struck by how empty it is on a Sunday. No volunteers on reception, no sign of anyone playing doctors and nurses. The coffee shop has its shutters down and the cafeteria has only one hot option. What patients are around seem to be the nucleus of a mini-obesity epidemic. Not one of these rotund people are able to move without structural support, or a lumbering waddle. The National Health Service in this country is under as much strain as that guy’s walking stick. I move up two floors using the stairs, feeling the burn.
Inside the Children’s Ward my daughter is stick thin, a skeletal contrast to the flesh on show downstairs. She smiles as she sees me, pushing the last few wispy strands of her hair behind her ear. It seems silly and futile given how bald she has become, but she likes what remains and refuses to cut it short. I kiss her and she wrinkles her nose, telling me I smell of bananas, which is weird as I don’t like bananas.
There was a chance she could have gone home today, just a few hours of freedom, before returning that evening to continue her medical cocktail. Time out is not much, but it is an oasis of happiness for a little girl who has spent the last seven days quarantined.
That hope is snatched away by a frugal Government. It is Sunday and funds cannot stretch, it seems, to more than a single Doctor covering the entire fucking hospital. They take blood at 06:00 to check if she can leave for the afternoon, they return at 18:00 to say it is now too late to sign her release. I have never been good at stifling my sarcasm in the face of stupidity, and fail once more with my reply to the Doctor.
We wait in the room. First she sits on her bed, then on her chair, then back to her bed, already planning ahead to go back to her chair later– there is a dearth of options. Together we do sticker books, read stories, squidge Playdoh, dress dollies, watch television. Between distractions, she stares wistful out of the window, with more sadness in her eyes than a four year old should ever experience. She asks, “Is it hot outside Dad?” And I reply, “Too hot, cupcake, you wouldn’t enjoy it much.” She laughs and wrinkles her nose, knowing I am lying, but accepting because she has no choice. So she goes back to staring out of the window at the trees, the car park, and the crew-less ambulances abandoned outside A&E. I pick glitter from beneath my nails while she shuffles to her chair.
I am not complaining that I have spent a day indoors and not in the sun. There is nowhere I would rather be than at my daughter’s side, but my preference is not in a hospital, watching her suffer the side effect of treatment.
I hope every one of you reading this had a better weekend than I, and if you didn’t, I am so sympathetic.