Hospitals and machines, they go together like six cans of coke a day and diabetes. There are ones that monitor you, ones that diagnose you and ones that dispense chicken soup, although hopefully not for you because it’s nasty and there’s always a clump of undissolved powder stuck to the bottom. Some machines keep you alive and some try to bring you back to alive from dead. If unsuccessful, the next stop could well be the mighty Duotronic 3000 embalming machine, a true King among corpses.
Without machines a patient’s chance of survival would in many cases be greatly reduced and hospitals would be little more than a collection of horribly brightly lit spaces with filthy floors, populated by the shuffling undead. A lot like shopping at Tesco at 2AM. And whilst these machines are currently extremely helpful, last night I dreamt of a terrifyingly dark, robotic future when they won’t be; they were still doing what they were built to do – supplying oxygen, administering drugs, displaying heart rhythms etc. – but they complained a lot about it and were really grumpy. And whilst the dream was not as nerve-shredding as the premise of The Terminator, at one point I did have a particularly challenging run-in with a sandwich toaster, and a Betamax video player I laughed at in the 80’s stamped on my toe.
One glorious Opioid en-robed day, I was awaiting the arrival of my lunch with elevated, if drowsy, anticipation after becoming trapped in the loo earlier and missing out on breakfast. Lunch time is a big deal in hospital, breaking the fascinating routine of ‘Eat Grape, Read May 2004 Grazia, Eat Grape. Repeat’. With the tell-tale sound of lunch getting closer – the Kitchen Porter swearing as the trolley got stuck in the lift – I manoeuvred myself and my table into an optimum bed-dining position, far enough away that I could stretch out my arms a little to eat but near enough so that I wouldn’t drop chicken into my surgical drain. As the door opened, the familiar sight of the plastic tray with the plastic dome over the plate appeared, although the lack of visible condensation on the underside of the cover was worrying; a sign that the food beneath had never been very warm.
Sure enough, my ‘fricassee’ was cold, ‘as cold as death’ I slurred aloud, unnecessarily. This was the fourth day in a row that my lunch had turned up devoid of heat, even though I had repeatedly and incoherently scrawled ‘Cold Cold Cold!’ in the ‘We value your feedback’ section of the menu. As I reluctantly picked up my fork, I thought to myself that the most sensible thing to do would be to reheat the chicken myself, by using the ward Defibrillator located in the corridor.
Not usually associated with food preparation, a Defibrillator delivers an electrical counter-shock to the heart, disrupting the abnormal rhythm associated with a cardiac arrest and allowing the heart function to hopefully return to normal. With the clarity of mind that comes from no longer being on IV Tramadol, this would have been a ridiculous and no doubt fatal way to attempt to make my lunch more palatable. At the time I thought it was brilliant. And even if it didn’t work, it would at least be immeasurably more entertaining than watching Heartbeat…the show, not the reassuring muscle contraction.
Struggling out of bed, I was promptly apprehended by a nurse who asked me what I was doing. And with the crystal clarity of a drunk person explaining to a police officer that they’re not drunk, I answered. Carefully helping me back into bed, she kindly suggested that in the case of my cold, dry chicken chunks and 900 volts, successful re-heating would be unlikely and instead, a messy, savory death entirely probable.
The following day, my lunch was hot. Steamy hot. I think the nurse had something to do with that, perhaps suggesting to the kitchen that warm food might limit some patient’s stupid ideas and help keep them alive. So for that I’m grateful, although as it was a Cottage Cheese Salad, in this instance it might have benefited from being cold.
Thanks to Andi Reiss for the sketch.