You hand over lots of things when you’re admitted to hospital, mostly metaphorically but sometimes physically too; my consultant has the exact same gold ring that disappeared from my room while I was having a biopsy. She swears it’s hers and proves it often by reciting the heart-warming inscription to her on the inside, written all those years ago by my parents.
Most patients try admirably to hold onto their dignity but it’s a challenge to do so. NHS staff are mostly very good at stepping back from awkward situations to allow the patient a little privacy. Sometimes, it’s the simple act of knocking before entering the patient’s room or perhaps saying “Mr. Smith?” before pulling back the curtain, allowing Mr. Smith to respond “I’m having a poo in here”. Mr. Smith has no doubt been in hospital a long time and life goes on. And the more time you spend in hospital, no matter how horrible everything is – especially that creeping red stain at the bottom of my curtain, that divides me from ‘the coughing man’- you become normalised by your surroundings and experiences and your dignity sets sail in a blanket covered in your own faeces that leaked out during the night. And no, I’m not Mr. Smith…or am I? Actually, am I? I don’t know any more, I’m on a lot of drugs.
Take for instance urine and the need in many cases for it to be weighed, measured, spun, sniffed, dipped, observed and discarded. Nurses do this to my piss every day; they also have other interests, like smoking and casual sex with their colleagues. To facilitate said actions with my urine, they provide waterproof, to a point, disposable – thank God, imagine putting your willy in a hole some other man’s willy has already been; horrible – cardboard bottles with optimistic circumference openings. They do offer even bigger ones, should Burt Reynolds be admitted but I’m quite happy with the ones from the children’s ward thank you.
My first time in hospital, I took my bottle somewhat sheepishly from the attractive nurse, blushing a little as I carried it into the bathroom, knowing she was thinking how I’d be sticking my thing into it. She wasn’t of course, she was wondering when her next smoke would be and what next to choose from the giant Quality Street tin on the desk, with the card saying “Thanks everyone for making my stay so easy and do you know what….in the end it DID fall off”.
Diligently filling it – although not quite, it is 500ml – I left it on the side and nervously pressed the bell.
“Hello. Are you OK?” the nurse asked, flicking her hair which made the impressive collection of pens in her top pocket dance exotically.
“Er, the bottle is in there”. I pointed towards the bathroom as if I was identifying a pervert in a line-up and turned away, horrified that she would soon be carrying a vessel of my warm void in her hands. Thank God she was wearing gloves too because I’d dribbled a bit down the side.
From there, my concern went steadily downhill; first I wasn’t doing it in the bathroom, then I didn’t bother closing the door. And then, three days ago, dignity had well and truly left the building, with its pants around its ankles. I had the bottle in hand and was about to let rip when there was a knock on the open door. I wasn’t aborting now, I’d got this far.
“Oh I’m sorry” she said, as she came into the room.
“No, no I’m just finishing”. I hadn’t even started.
“Oh OK, if you’re sure. I’m from Pharmacy, I just need to speak with you about your Tacrolimus, it’s changed. Is now OK?”
“Sure, I’m clear all day” I said smiling, which was light-hearted but did nothing to detract from the fact I still had my penis in a cardboard bottle.
“Oh well it’s the same dose but now once…” she stopped. As regardless of the short drop into cardboard, she could clearly hear the unmistakable sound of peeing; the mission was on; there was nothing remotely military about the act, I was simply peeing into a bottle but I’d watched The Cockleshell Heroes the night before and it had struck a chord.
“I’m going to come back” she said.
“Really? Sorry. But I have nearly finished”.
“Yeah, I’ll come back”.
“But I really have finished now” I said as the door softly closed.
I wondered whether that had been awkward and decided it hadn’t, which confirmed that dignity had indeed passed away, somewhere between keeping my penis in a cardboard bottle – not separately from my body of course, although that would be some mantelpiece ornament – when a stranger was in the room and choosing to continue peeing into the bottle regardless.
I had a re-enactment picture to post, to give you an idea of the incident from the pharmacists’ point of view. But I’ve lost my nerve. Instead you just get the line that would have followed the picture…
“Forget the Hot Dogs darling, we’re having takeaway tonight…”