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Have you been to a Harvester before?

An Andi Reiss original

An Andi Reiss original

Hospital food, it’s a joke right? A horrible, tepid, over-cooked, bland, tasteless, colourless-less-less disaster. On the plus side, the risk of getting any form of food poisoning from it is minimal, thanks to it containing less than micro amounts of anything constituting food; it’s a comestible fuel, something to get through and forget about like a one night stand. It should be noted that having never had a one night stand, I’m not sure about that, although Lord knows I’ve had many offers; you wouldn’t believe it if I told you! It’s three. And all on the same night. From the same man dressed as a woman. Or maybe the other way around, I’m not sure it was dark. Regardless, it was a three-times repeated offer of casual sex, lasting a period of time equal to one night, although possibly less. It’s just a shame I didn’t have my wallet on me.
So, hospital food is crap. No actually it’s not because it’s free. Gratis. On the house. Nada. And when has anything free been crap? When have you ever said “no thanks, that’s crap” to someone saying “Hey, here’s a rusty angle-poise lamp; it’s missing a spring, it doesn’t work and somebody has drawn a penis on the shade with a Sharpie. But it’s free!” And thanks to somebody some time ago, who didn’t say “no”, I’m now enjoying that lamp as it dangles precariously above my head.
Patients love to complain about hospital food but anyone who’s happy tucking into a Subway Prawn Cheese Bolognaise foot-long on the ‘outside’, has no right to bad-mouth the Turkey and Basil Quiche with gravy in here. Although, if you don’t like turkey, you’re pretty much screwed. It makes an appearance on every menu and much like Gonorrhoea, albeit marginally tastier, it’s here to stay; Turkey Cottage Pie, Turkey Lasagne, Turkey Sausage…but never a whole identifiable bit like a leg which leads me to believe that either a kitchen porter is supplying horribly mauled birds from midnight parking-lot turkey fights or the NHS catering budget can only stretch to a Grade E minced product. Assuming it’s the latter, although that’s not saying the former isn’t feasible, I imagine pre-mincing, the turkeys were horribly unhealthy, scraggly birds, harbouring a range of mutated cross-species viruses and carrying all sorts of bugs, toxins and inexplicable fatty lumps. Do we want to eat these aberrations of the avian world?
Yes! They’re FREE.

Another reason hospital food is worth its weight in amputated body parts, is that it alleviates the incredible boredom of the hospital day, which settles in promptly once the initial excitement of waking to find you haven’t died or worse, crapped in the bed in the night, subsides.
Waiting for the arrival of the menu, so you can choose what you’re having tomorrow, is an exciting delight. But it doesn’t end there as you’ve no doubt forgotten what you ordered yesterday, which is already in the process of being half-heartedly prepared, to arrive as lunch today. And even if you do remember, it’ll look nothing like you expected it to, so you have the fun of trying to work it out – sometimes even tasting it doesn’t give away any clues. I told you it was exciting. Of course, you could look at the accompanying ticked menu, included on the tray to prevent any dispute as to whether you really did choose the Tuna Omelette and a raspberry mousse that tastes like worm medicine.
“I keep telling you Nurse, I haven’t got worms!”
“And I keep telling you that’s because you keep ordering the mousse”.

Eventually, the grumpy man who smells of Lambert and Butler comes in with the menu. He hates me because I never have a pen to fill it out and visibly shudders as I reach for his with my germ-ridden hand, from my disease- ridden bed. At least, that’s pretty much what he’s thinking, although frankly the fact that it was behind his ear in the first place, not to mention determinedly chewed and still a little wet on the end, makes me wonder whether I should even be looking at it let alone holding it. But the excitement of deciding on ‘Brown’ or ‘White’ roll overcomes me and I disregard the dangers of his bacterial Biro and start choosing – Braised turnip Hotpot, tick; not terribly appealing but Turkey and Cream cheese sandwich doesn’t sound right at all and I can only tolerate so many omelettes the consistency of Nana’s slippers. She’s not my Nana, she’s in the room two doors down. She shuffles loudly along the corridor, 4 or 5 times a day, mumbling things about the demise of Woolworths. It’s repetitive but not boring, as there’s always something different attached to the back of her slipper. Yesterday, it was a Turkish delight wrapper and a leaflet about Blood Pressure; the day before, what looked like an entire, gradually unwinding roll of surgical tape was trailing behind.
Next on the menu, ‘Starch Options’. Todays ‘options’ are Rice. More of an option really. Vegetable choices are ‘Mixed, Side Salad or Gravy’. Really? Then for ‘Dessert’, Semolina, Jam Tart, Ice Cream and Drained Tinned Pears. Nothing wrong with any of these puddings, they’re all perfect, so I choose them all. I’m always tempted to tick the ‘Special Diet’ box and receive my entire lunch ‘Soft Moist’ or ‘Pureed’ but I imagine it would just all go into a blender and arrive in a plastic beaker with a straw. When the grumpy man returned, I radically changed my mind and went for the omelette after all. When it arrived, I regretted my decision.


There are many aspects of being in here that are irritating, upsetting or just plain horrible. There’s also some good stuff, like listening to other patients and their interactions with the medical staff. This morning, as I spread a yellow, gloopy substance on my toast – I believe it was ‘Spread’ but it looked suspiciously like a misplaced sample from the Abscess Clinic – the bloke in the room next door started frantically calling out
“Nurse? Nurse! Nurse! Nurse?! Nurse? Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!…”
This went on for quite sometime, as nobody seemed to consider it important enough to investigate. This can happen when a patient is overly demanding and expects constant attention, gaining a reputation as someone who overreacts or when the nurses are all too busy outside, chain smoking and necking Red Bulls.
Eventually, one of them took pity on the shouting man or just happened to be walking in that direction and went in. By this point I was so excited to hear what horrible bodily incident had afflicted this chap, that I even stopped watching “Cash in the Attic” and craned my neck to listen in.
“Yes Mr. Carter, what can I do for you?
“Nurse! Nurse! Nurse! Nurse…I’ve dropped my toast”.

When I’m not in here, I’m often visiting the outpatients department for various blood tests, drug descriptions and to catch up on exciting news from 5 year old copies of Chat magazine. For one recent visit, I arrived early, hoping to nip in at the beginning and avoid everything about everyone. But I’d been beaten to it by a man in beige slacks, hiking shoes, a polo shirt and a saggy V-neck with a tri-band of colour around the V – a classic renal patient ensemble. I imagined his name was Derek.
As I sat down, I knew I was in for trouble. He immediately put his copy of What Car 2006 down and smiled at me, nodding in that way that should be accompanied by that ‘Keech’ noise that some people like to make. What is that noise? And is that even how you spell it or should it be ‘quiche’? I doubted Derek knew.
“Nice and early” he said. My heart sank. I had come two fucking hours early to my appointment and if my consultant didn’t take pity on me, I could be stuck talking to dazzling Derek for a very, very long time.
I thought about pointing to my throat and mouthing ‘I can’t speak’ – I’ve done that before – but he’d already heard me say ‘hello’ to the phlebotomist. I considered mouthing to him that I’d contracted an aggressive throatal virus in the last 5 minutes but that seemed unlikely, not to mention difficult to explain without talking.
So instead I asked “What time is you appointment?” almost adding Derek at the end.
“9.30” he replied, cheerily.
“You’re one and a half hours early”
“Well you know what they say, a stich in time…”
This was irritating and I wanted to ask ‘how does getting here 90 minutes early save you time exactly?” but remembering my erratic blood pressure I took a deep breath and picked up a magazine from the table.
“Ooh, what’s that one about?”
“I don’t know, I’ve just picked it up” I said and then felt mean. Looking at the cover I added
“Something about the Ambulance Service….” but it was too late, the words were out of my mouth and a little spark ignited in Derek’s eye.
“Keech. I had a terrible time with them…” And so the story came; the plan to wallpaper the cloakroom, the trip to B&Q, the ladder that was his father’s, the fall off the ladder that was his father’s, the terrible pain, the tumble down the stairs, the long wait, the terrible pain, the wrong diagnosis, the ‘foreign’ nurse, the terrible pain, the transplant, the drug side-effects, the ‘cyst, down there’…
“So here I am. What about you? I felt like I’d been violated.
“It’s a long story” I said and went back to my magazine
“Oh” he said but before he could carry on…and he WOULD have carried on, I was called in.
On the way out, I saw him sitting on his own and once again I felt a bit mean. Behind me, a doctor called
“Derek Richards?”
Really?! Brilliant, just brilliant! The elation and joy lifted me.
“Nice talking to you Derek, good luck with that cyst”.

Wagon Wheels

This is not a Wagon Wheel.

This is not a Wagon Wheel.

So I spend a lot of my time in hospital, hey I’m there now. It’s not all bad; it’s a 10 minute walk away, the nurses are relatively attractive and the vending machine still sells Wagon Wheels for 10p. 10p?! There’s No.1 NHS Accounting Fix right there; increase the price to 20p. Sure, there’ll be discontented grumbling from the shuffling catheter-wearing masses but think what the extra cash could buy. A new renal ward? A water machine in outpatients that dispenses regular coloured water, not the brown type? Or maybe it could even go towards training, to equip the cleaner with the skills to pick up that dis-coloured swab that’s been under my bed for the last 4 days.

I seem to have a lot of time to kill today. ‘Kill’– a verb I avoid in here, particularly on day one of ‘Junior Doctors stumble through a Ward Round’; their shaky speech and even shakier hands do little to reassure me as they grope around attempting to diagnose my condition, which will come back as a chest infection or imminent cardiac arrest. So as I sit here in bed, waiting for antibiotics or the Crash Team to arrive, I’ll be posting updates. As my health declines, you’ll read about the excitement and joyful anticipation of starting dialysis or the work-up to another transplant. If you read nothing, I’ve probably died, in which case please contact the Daily Mail and make up some story about how I was left naked on a gurney in the visitor’s car park for three weeks. Some posts will be retrospective; as I gaze wistfully out of this dirty window at the upturned green plastic chair filled with rain water and cigarette butts, I’ll draw on my experiences from past medical moments. Others will be in real-time, so you’ll be able to ‘feel’ the phenomenal pain of urinating for the first time after having a Stent removed, at the same time as I do. Exciting and stingy. To make this an interactive experience, you can re-enact this procedure by inserting a semi-flexible rod into your penis and urethra – if you don’t have a penis, that’s’ your problem – all the way into your bladder and then take it out again.
What else have you got to do today?

And the good news?

This blog is about the NHS and kidneys, mostly mine. I have three, two of which are the size of walnuts and getting smaller every day. On the popular UK nut size scale, the next comparison will probably be a brazil, then a hazelnut, then a pine nut and finally the consistency of ground almonds. What’s that you say? Almonds are FRUIT? That’s the kind of craziness that makes life worth living. The third kidney was my father’s. He fearlessly gave it to me in 2001, right at the point that mine pretty much gave up on filtering toxins from my blood – lazy little fuckers. Lucky timing? No, we had been working up to the inevitability of transplant since 1999, when their underperforming was first diagnosed with a prognosis of slow decline leading to the medical term ‘completely knackered’.  Now, nearly 13 years on, I’m looking at partying with the NHS surgeons once again, as my dads begins to run out of puff. It’s done sterling work, seeing off all manner of viral nasties, bacterial onslaught and toxic high-dose medications but it was never going to last forever. Of course, there’s a waiting list for a new or more accurately a part-worn used replacement. Here’s hoping that someone with a good match dies – in the nicest possible way of course – or a friend or relative steps bravely into the flickering NHS spotlight and says ‘take mine, after all you are my brother’. Hang about, the relative who says that would have to be my sister. Damn, if only I had one. Hang on, I have! And she’s going to give it a go. Good on ya Sis. Of course, it’s not entirely one-sided and altruistic, donation is a two way street. In return, I’ve bought her a ticket to see Roger Waters next month. A trade of equal measure I’m sure she’ll agree.