Hospitals can be confusing places for patients, especially if you’re a bit stupid. To alleviate one of the often sited reasons for SPC (stupid-person-confusion) the NHS produced a poster to identify the different members of staff you may encounter whilst on the ward. Alternatively, the bins behind the staff car park are a great place to play eye spy, as you may spot a group of oncology nurses smoking Woodbine or a lone surgeon looking for body parts in the bags marked ‘FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, INCINERATE THIS STUFF NOW’.
So who are those shuffling women in Tabards, who deliver your rapidly congealing lunch, before taking away your cardboard poo potty? And even more revolting than that, what is a Tabard? Well, because I asked my iPhone I can tell you; a Tabard is a wild duck that is common in Europe, although Siri may have misheard me. And regarding the women in Tabards, I have no idea who they are. They didn’t make it onto the poster.
Anyway you can trust me, I’m a doctor. I’m not of course but it’s amazing how many people thought I was just because I was wearing a white coat. And a stethoscope. Thankfully, these days you don’t even need the white coat to pretend you’re a doctor; just a shirt from Hackett, a mismatched tie, cold fingers and handwriting that suggests you’ve had a Stroke. Surgeons can be identified by their Pringle Polo shirts or Theatre Scrubs with bloody hand prints on the front, depending on whether they’re on their way to a golf tournament or lunch, also at the golf club. If you’re a sick person and you don’t play golf, I suggest you start playing immediately; there’s a good chance that when you have a coronary on the 3rd tee, you’ll be within 20 feet of a cardiologist, although I can’t promise he’ll have a defibrillator with him. Let me know if he does will you? If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume he didn’t. There are of course many other people who keep hospitals running, from cleaners to nurses to specialists but let’s ignore most of them and their boring jobs and instead applaud the role of the Porter, the undisputed kings of hospital glamour. These everyday heroes of pushing patients around in beds and wheelchairs, perform a wide range of tasks, although specifically, they push patients around in beds and wheelchairs.
Not long enough ago I was waiting for porter ‘Dave’ (just Dave, porters don’t have surnames) to come and roll me to X-Ray. I could have walked on my own but that would have left a porter without a patient to push and instead he would have just gone up and down in the lift, over and over again, until his shift ended. I heard Dave’s operatic, chirping whistle about 3 minutes before he appeared in the door way, pushing a small-family sized wheelchair ahead of him that he’d liberated from the Obesity Unit or the Small Family Ward.
‘Did they not have one of the big ones?’ I asked. Dave briefly stopped whistling.
‘They do do bigger’. I wanted to laugh because he’d said ‘do do’ but then I remembered I was 41.
‘I’ll just have to try and squeeze in then. Phew, made it!’ I exaggerated, although without the visual clue of just how small I looked in the enormous chair, the absurdity is somewhat lost.
Dave said ‘Off we go’ and I said ‘Wheeeeeee…’
It was bigger than this.
With every corner navigated, I slid from one side of the chair to the other, accompanied by Dave’s excruciatingly lighthearted whistling. He said nothing, until about corner 5, when he spoke.
‘So, you like fishing?’
‘No, I’ve never been’
‘Yeah, it’s great. Sea or river?
‘Yeah, it just gets in your veins doesn’t it?’
‘Not yet, no. I don’t think it would be my thing’
‘What rod do you use?’ At this point I was thinking Dave is either deaf or insane but it’s a long series of corridors, sliding lefts & sliding rights and a couple of lifts that smell of embalming fluid before we get to X-Ray, I’d better join in.
‘A long one’ I said and hoped it sounded like something a fishing man might say.
‘Yeah, Greys Prowler Platinum’s my weapon of choice. And it is a weapon…deadly’
‘If you’re a trout’
‘I hear that!?’ he barked but I wondered if he did.
But not this big.
What seemed like months later and a life’s worth of fishing anecdotes, we arrived at X-Ray.
‘Here we go’ Dave sort of whistled and then shuffled away up the corridor before looking back and barking ‘Keep casting!’. He reinforced this sign-off with a rapid movement of his hands that I assume was intended to resemble winding in a fishing reel, although it was so uncoordinated that he could also have been having some sort of seizure. As he waited for the lift, he punctuated his trill whistle with wet, meaty coughs that sounded like they came from a part of his lung that had died sometime ago.
The following day I was scheduled for an ultrasound, to check that I still actually had a kidney. Waiting for a porter with a wheelchair again, for some reason I excitedly hoped I’d get Dave. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before the whistle that drove dogs crazy within half a mile radius, floated menacingly down the ward in my direction.
‘Hey! Catch anything since yesterday?’ I asked with far too much enthusiasm.
‘You know, fishing?
‘Oh, yeah. OK. I’m not Dave’
‘What? Yes you are!’
‘No, not me’ he said, helpfully adding ‘you’re thinking of Dave’
‘Really? But you look…’
‘Yeah, I know. We look similar. People say that. Often’
‘No not similar, you look identical. Seriously, how are you not Dave?’. If we’d been down the pub, he would have punched me at this point.
‘Look, I’m not alright? I’m Paul, not Dave. And I don’t fish. C’mon, geezer, can we go…’
I was perplexed and just kept staring at Not Dave, or Paul as he apparently liked to be called. This guy was Dave but somehow was not Dave. On the way to the lift, I did detect a slightly different shuffling amble to Dave’s and although Paul’s whistle was similar, it had a lighthearted wheeziness to it and none of Dave’s accompanying phlegm rattle. I was intrigued as to how two people could look so alike, shuffle almost identically and whistle in a similarly awful fashion and yet not both fish. How could that be? Really, how? They must both fish?! Surely!
On the way to the lift, Not Dave took a deep breath, stopped his high-pitched wheeze for a moment and asked ‘Do you play darts then?’.
And I thought, ‘close enough’.