There had been a hissing sound in my room since being admitted but feeling like the brown stuff leaking out of the vent above the window looked, I couldn’t generate enough interest to investigate. However, some hours later my temperature had plummeted to a pathetic 103c and the hissing remained. So with bravery and dramatic gusto, I reached for the call button. For the patient, this little button is a huge reassurance; it is a lifeline to the healthcare professional who I know that once alerted, will come quickened with haste to my side, should I be having a Stroke or more urgently, need a little packet of 2 digestive biscuits; 20 minutes later, the nurse came in.
‘YES? What is it?’. This does not convey the unprecedented levels of annoyance in his voice.
‘Err, there’s a hissing noise coming from that valve’. With a monumental look of disinterested irritation, he stared at the valve before wiggling it, much in the way a plumber might do so prior to announcing ‘it’s going to cost 4 grand’.
‘It’s only oxygen’ he said angrily.
‘Oh that’s a relief’ I said, adding “I could do with some more of that” which is the sort of pathetic attempt at a joke you make in the hope your attacker will pity you and not throw something heavy: in this case, it would have been a small box of latex examination gloves – not fatal but those cardboard corners can jab.
‘I’ll call maintenance’.
‘Oh I assumed you were Head of Maintenance, the expert way you jiggled it’. Nothing. Flat-line. Not even a forced grimace. Just a tiny fraction of a muscle twitch, like a little distant flare to the white rage of explosive hate erupting inside.
‘No. I’m Steve. I’ve been on duty for 11 and a bit hours of my 12 hour shift. I’ve been pooed on, puked on, shouted at, laughed at, pushed one way, pulled another, I’ve spilt urine on my shoes, banged my knee on a wheelchair, dropped my lanyard into a bedpan, stuck a needle in my thumb and I forgot to call my Gran; it’s her birthday’.
‘Oh, how old is she?’ I asked, rubbing my transplant scar, trying to look small and defenceless. Shaking his head a little in disgust, he turned to leave. I said ‘Look, forget about the gas, I’m sure it’s OK. I’ll just smoke in the other corner’. Suddenly, Steve was back in the room, frowning dramatically and pointing a shaky finger at me.
‘Don’t even joke about that. Seriously, it’s not funny, entirely not funny’. I looked at him with alarm and he continued, almost in the style of an educational video ‘You see, Oxygen is flammable. Highly inflammable. One little spark and…’ he put his hands together and making a little explosion sound, threw them open. Pausing for dramatic effect, he then whispered ‘Kabloomy’ adding ‘AND it’s bad for you’ as if being at the centre of a raging gas fuelled fire wouldn’t in itself be bad for you. I nodded and asked ‘Kabloomy?’.
‘Yes. It’s bigger than Kaboom. Much bigger’. He looked at me for a moment and then started shaking his head again in disbelief at something. He then bellowed ‘DON’T DO IT! Smoking really is bad for you, you shouldn’t do it in here, over there or anywhere! Ever! Idiots smoke!’.
‘Actually, I don’t smoke, I was just joking”.
‘There’s nothing funny about smoking’ he said with dramatic gravitas. I nodded but then thinking I should actually be shaking my head, I did that instead. I did not want to do or say anything else that might enrage angry Steve. Still shaking his head, he left.
A fascinatingly dull few hours later, I pulled myself out of bed to shuffle along the ward in the hope of seeing some patients who looked worse off than me. Reassuringly, there were two. On my way back to the room, I looked out of the window and saw Steve, sitting outside on a grubby plastic chair, drawing deeply on a cigarette.