It should be clarified that I am not in a private room in a private hospital on a private island. Somebody implied that I must be, due to the frequent references to my room and my bathroom and my alphabetised Nancy Drew Mysteries collection in my walnut bookcase. As suggested by the assorted stains, the various smells and the war-time issue blankets, I am actually a guest of the NHS. However, I am frequently located in one of the ‘side’ rooms, which while separate are still on the ward. These special rooms are normally reserved for visiting dignitaries, celebrities and Justin Bieber, assuming of course that they meet the exclusive criteria required for entry – violent diarrhoea and vomiting within the 48 hours prior to admission. And as I am frequently admitted with viral infections – thanks in part to my compromised immune system but mainly my interest in pretending to be a dog and crawling around public toilets (there’s a name for it, I forget) – I often present with the required explosive levels of poo and sick to be put into a room. This comes of course with much murmuring irritation from my fellow ill-folk, whose poo-and-sick-free status gets them a bed on the communal ward.
“Curse my fully functioning bottom and stomach!” they shout at 2am after being woken up yet again by all the belching, farting, moaning, crying and noisy-dying going on around them.
Still, I have paid my dues, having spent plenty of time on various wards, including Renal, Coronary, Infectious Diseases, High Risk and Children’s, the latter being odd as I was 37.
In fact, the first few years post-transplant were sadly entirely diarrhoea free and it was quite sometime before I was finally upgraded.
Depending on the hospital, the style of room varies. They can have electric beds, en-suite bathrooms, fully-operational blinds and windows that actually open. One I stayed in looked as if it had previously been a storeroom, whilst my last one still was; there was a stack of chairs in one corner and a box labelled Lost Property in another. Rummaging through it was fairly entertaining, right up until I picked up a grey wig for closer examination and pricked my finger on a vintage syringe lying underneath. I had wild dreams that night of dramatic news headlines – “Vintage Smallpox virus makes deadly comeback” – but it was only on BBC Points West so I didn’t take it very seriously.
The object that best defines the quality of the room is the television; some have new Freeview digital ones, whilst others have terrible pay-per-view ones where you have to spend £10.00 to watch Murder She Wrote. This current room’s one shares a remote control with the televisions in the other three rooms and we take turns to operate it. Having to watch other people’s daytime television choices is a real eye-opener to the general publics viewing habits. I could get out of bed and change it manually but its become imperative that I find out whether Shirley and Martin choose the studio in Malaga or the Fisherman’s cottage in Whitstable.
There is a risk with the indivdual side room; if it doesn’t receive a napalm level of hose-down, following the previous occupants departure (now happily at home with their family in the Home Counties or deceased) there is a good chance that you’ll ingest some sort of lingering airborne virus with claws and fangs and bad breath. Wearing an American football helmet and swinging a baseball bat at anything that buzzes past won’t help you either, as these virus things are pretty small. Some of them you can even balance on the palm of your hand. Imagine! So instead you should come armed with a jumbo dispenser of Hand Sanitiser – just pull one off the corridor wall before you go in – and the ability to hold your breath for the entire length of your stay.