life, poetry

Out Of The Mouths of Doctors

Your blood is
highly uncooperative.
If you were my daughter,
I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with you.
I’ve decided that you are not currently in crisis
because you’re wearing clean jeans,
so you’re free to go!
You have a very shy cervix.
I would let you borrow my pen
but you’ll probably steal it so…
Either my blood pressure monitor is broken
or you’re on the cusp of death right now.
It’s funny because you look normal.
You can live without water,
stop complaining.
Are these from rough sex
or do you always bruise like a peach?
Look at the state of you. It’s such a shame,
you could look really pretty if you made a bit of effort.
We’ve run out of vegetarian options
so I’ve brought you 4 pots of jelly.
Yeah, you don’t seem stupid enough to fall pregnant.
You can press this buzzer any time you need help,
but please don’t press it, it’s annoying.
At least when you’re mentally ill,
life is never boring!

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poetry, prosetry

The Great Escape

Accidentally OD’d.
Honestly, it was an accident.
Remember going downstairs.
Remember going out the door.
Remember speaking to a man at the side of the road.
Woke up in a hospital.
Bed. Ward. Harsh lights. Ugly gown. IV drip. The usual.
Two nurses counting the silver rings on my fingers.
What is happening?
Ah, helloooo! She’s waking up now, good, good.
What the fuck is this?
You’ve been unconscious for some time, darling, but you’re in the hospital and we’ve been looking after you.
What?
You just stay still and I’ll call the doctor.
No, what? No.
Hey, hey, hey, this mask stays on and just keep your arms there for me. Are you hungry? You should eat something, little lady.
No, no, I need to go now.
Blackout.
Woke up to a nurse trying to spoon-feed me custard.
What is happening?
Just try to stay still.
No, no, no, no.
You have to wait for someone from the mental health team to see you but it’s going to take a while and you need to stay conscious long enough to sit and talk to them, okay?
No, thanks, no, I’m fine, really, I’d like to go home now please.
You have to stay here. You’ve hurt your head and your body is very poorly right now.
No, I’m fine, thank you, I need to phone my dad and check he’s okay, where’s my phone?
I don’t know, darling, is this your bag?
Yes, that is my bag, where’s my phone?
Ummm… there’s no phone in here.
Where’s my stuff?
This is all you turned up with.
What? How did I get here?
Ambulance I guess, darling, you were on a different ward before you came here.
Oh, what? Fuck. Is it very early morning? Or just morning?
No it’s dinnertime, coming up to 8pm.
On… Wednesday?
Nooo, it’s Friday night!
You’re fucking joking me.
Hey! There’s no need for that language.
I’m so confused. I don’t like this. Oh my God.
Just try to relax, please, come on.
I need my meds now if it’s dinnertime.
No, no more medication for you.
No, you don’t understand, I need my meds. I need my lithium, venlafaxine, quetiapine, propranolol, I have to take them now otherwise I’ll have a breakdown, withdrawal symptoms start straight away if I don’t take them on time and it’s so horrible, please, I have to take them at the same time every day, please, I’ll get so ill if I don’t have them, you don’t understand.
No, we can’t do that.
But I need them.
Well, you’ll have to wait until you’re stable and you’ve seen the psychiatrist and we’ll see what the doctors decide.
No, please. I need them now.
Just stay there, I’ll try to find a doctor. Keep the mask on.
10 minutes drifting in and out.
I have to leave.
I have to go home and get my meds.
Where is my phone?
The security guards finish their shift at 8.
Must leave before the new guards arrive.
Limited time frame.
I’m on a mission from God.
Mask off.
Disconnect wires.
Gown off.
T-shirt on.
Shoes on.
Sunglasses on.
Grab bag.
Try to walk in straight line past nurses station.
Run.
Hide in the toilets.
Wash face.
Peel off all plasters, bandages, visible ECG electrodes.
Rip off I.D band with my teeth, wash off blood and make-up, try to look like a passable human being.
Run.
Realise that I’ve successfully absconded without being chased by security or stopped by police:
normally I get caught at the bus stop.
Blackout.
Wake up on my kitchen floor.
Grab my meds.
Find a note in my letterbox saying “Feel better x” in unfamiliar handwriting.
Panic.
Get to a bus stop.
Wake up on his doorstep all confused.
Do you have my phone?
Oh my God, you’re alive! No I don’t have your phone, what the hell happened, we were so worried?!
I don’t know what happened.
Come here.
Hug.
Please can you help me?
Of course, you’re safe now.
Can you please get all these fucking ECG stickers off me? I think I missed some.
Yeah, let me have a look at you.
Just get it all off me, I don’t want it.
Cry.
You’re safe now, babes.
Thank you.
I’ll put the kettle on.
Thank you.
Hang on, what’s all this?
Oh, shit. Another cannula.
Wires and tubes dangling out of my arms.
Rip it all out.
Shower.
I’m so tired.
What happened?
I don’t know.
You don’t have your phone?
No, I thought you had it.
No, I don’t.
Fuck. That was my dad’s phone as well, it had all his photos and contacts and old text messages on it.
Shit, don’t worry, we’ll look for it, baby. Maybe the hospital has it?
Doubt it.
Wait, so you ran away whilst on psych watch and you’ve lost your phone… they’re going to go to your house, you know. They’ll be looking for you.
I just want to sleep, I’m so tired, baby.
Sleep.
Something bad happened in Barcelona, didn’t it?
I don’t think I should tell you about that right now.
Sleep.
Brucie’s dead.
I thought he died ages ago.
Nah, you’re thinking of Terry Wogan.
Sleep.
My favourite pizza.
Meds.
My favourite person.
Try to stay awake.
I don’t think I should drink champagne.
You don’t have to, I’m just celebrating the fact that you’re alive.
Just about.
Just about.
And it is Friday night after all.
Sleep.
I need to sleep for a while.
I need to sleep for a week.
I’m sorry.
I love you too.
Sleep.

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prosetry

Killing Time

In the hospital there is a shop. It sells newspapers and sandwiches and biscuits and cans of liquid sugar and tissues and balloons that say IT’S A BOY. Just outside of this shop there is a crate of books. There is no real literature in this crate. Just books that are easy to read, books that help you to kill time, books that probably aren’t going to change your life in any way. Some are 50p and some are £1. This isn’t much money to spend on temporary escapism. I always look at the books but never buy one. I only read soul-shattering books. I enjoy trying to put my soul back together afterwards. I looked at the books and wondered how many of them I’d actually bought.

When my father died I got all of his good books, his ‘proper’ books. The hundreds of crime/thriller novels he had amassed over a 20 year career in Time Killing were no use to me. I used to work in the Crime and Thrillers department of a top publishing house. I’ve read enough dreadful manuscripts with flimsy plots and ridiculous twists to last a lifetime. But they are perfect books to waste time on. So I donated them to this hospital and to a day-centre for homeless people. When I was a frequenter of that day-centre I remember being sad that there were no books. If anyone needs escapism, it’s people on the streets. And if anyone needs to kill time, it’s people surrounded by death and disease, waiting to receive their own slice of bad news.

So I’m looking at this crate. I spotted a few titles that I reckoned were my dad’s. I ordered a lot of them off the internet for him. He loved the idea of paying 1p for a book. I never told him about the £2.80 delivery charge. He always paid me the penny he owed me for the book. Even though that man owed me nothing. There was a Simon Kernick that I was sure was my dad’s. Its pages smelled like cigarette smoke. There were some James Pattersons and Lee Childs. I didn’t want to look at the books anymore. I went upstairs for my appointment with the neurologist. It was an appointment I had waited 3 years, 4 weeks and 3 days for.

I didn’t know that the neurology department is right opposite the ward where my father died. I did not like being there again. I paced around and around and around. An elderly woman stared at me suspiciously. “My dad died in there,” I said to her, pointing at the door. “Oh,” she said, walking around me. A man with a laundry trolley came towards me. “My dad died in there,” I said to him, “right through there. He died.” He said, “I’m so very sorry to hear that, my girl,” and went on his way. I told every person that walked along that corridor, “My dad died in there.” Anyone who’d listen. Anyone who wouldn’t listen. Some mumbled things, some expressed condolences, some looked frightened, some ignored me altogether. I just had to tell them. I don’t know why, but it was essential.

I punched the wall outside the neurology department and caught my little finger on the edge of a wooden frame. The frame fractured and I got a splinter caught in my skin, right on the joint. In the waiting room, a man was reading a crime novel. I didn’t read a crime novel. I picked at the splinter on my finger. I kept clawing until my name was called, long after the splinter had come out. The neurologist told me that my brain is broken and my nerves are shot. I told him that I already know that. I waited 3 years to find out something I already knew. And in all that time that I spent waiting for a letter, a referral, an appointment, an MRI, a CAT scan, a thousand blood tests, in all that time I didn’t read a single crime novel.

I went outside for a cigarette. On my way back in I looked at the books. There was a book called Private Vegas, part of the ‘Private’ series by James Patterson. I remembered ordering 8 books of the ‘Private’ series off the internet for my father. He paid me 8p. I picked up Private Vegas. It was well read. I had bought it for him second-hand. I opened the book and tucked in the back page was my receipt from the Book Depository. I put the book back in the crate.

I went downstairs for my blood test. The receptionist was reading Stuart MacBride. I introduced my father to MacBride when I worked at the publishers. He was always chuffed to bits when I’d bring early proofs or publicity copies of the latest thrillers home to him. He was so proud of me. Living the dream. Living the nightmare. The phlebotomist gauzed up the hole I’d dug in my little finger.

As I was leaving the hospital I walked past the crate of books again. Private Vegas was gone. Sold to another stranger killing time. That’s all life is, though, isn’t it? Killing time. We are all just killing time.

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life, prosetry

Quarantine

weather

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.

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