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Another hospital drama

In a bizarre quirk of timing, not seven days after writing about (among other things) the remote possibility of being an Extra in the BBC’s hospital soap Casualty, I found myself donning PPE at the entrance to a ward in my very own local hospital and striding forth with my very best acting chops at the ready.

I like a challenge (Do I? Do I really? I think I may be kidding myself as well as you on this one. But let’s go with it.) 

The first hurdle was to find a place to park. Unusually for me, I had to take my car (all will become clear) and, in anticipation of confusion, I had looked up where the hospital car parks were earlier in the day, and found out how to pay etc. I even loaded up the special parking app on my phone – obviously, this was different to either of the ones I need for other local parking. Why make things straightforward? Anyhow, pleased with my forward planning, I noted just before I left home that the hospital car-park was showing as ‘Quiet”. Excellent.

As I turned into the main site entrance just five minutes later, I realised immediately that ‘Quiet’ must be code for ‘Completely Full and therefore gridlocked’. Ho hum. I decided that I would opt for the larger space near the maternity unit which would surely be quieter. Aren’t all babies born in the middle of the night?  However, when I got there, it was apparently closed – although others seemed to have got into it, and indeed be driving around in it, some of them quite obviously going the opposite direction to the worn white arrows on the tarmac. OK, I’ll go out and start again.

I recalled that the parking information online had told me I would be photographed on entry to the site, my number-plate captured, and thus my time would be monitored so that a calculation of the correct fee could be made for me to settle on departure. 

As I turned into the main site entrance for the second time, it crossed my mind that I was perhaps confusing the monitoring camera (which I couldn’t see, despite having plenty of time to look this time because I was immediately in a queue). I did another circuit, this time loitering briefly in the central area along with a couple of other cars whose drivers eyed me suspiciously – sizing me up to judge whether, should a vacant space become available, I would unfairly speed into it. I drive the kind of car which is often heartily disliked by others, but one of its features is that it is rather less nippy than most of the smaller vehicles on lurking duty and the chances of me executing a reversing hand-brake turn into a tiny space before my competitors were next to infinitesimal.

Once again, I emerged onto the main road and then swung for a third time into the main entrance. Tired of the main car park options to my left, I boldly took a right turn towards Accident & Emergency. Getting closer to that Casualty dream? Well, it most definitely DID also say that this was the direction to a further public car park. But I’m afraid this must have been a lie because, once past the ambulances (eyes firmly fixed elsewhere) and a couple of police cars, there was a tiny space in which about 30 cars had already jammed themselves, leaving no turning space and resulting in an interesting, and far too long for comfort, reversing manoeuvre on my part. I tried hard to look professional and focused as I sailed, backwards, past the paramedics, policemen and bleary-eyed relatives who, presumably (hopefully!) had other priorities than marvelling at my fabulously executed eventual three-point turn.

Once again I left the premises, and proceeded to perform two more circuits and bumps (not literal bumps, fortunately) of the main car parks, gesticulating angrily, then the last time hysterically, at the probably non-existent camera just in case someone could actually see me, before giving up and finding a roadside space next to the rear entrance to the hospital, which required one of my existing car-parking apps and was – typical! – cheaper. I immediately forgot my frustration in self-congratulatory smugness: not only was this location cheaper than the hospital car park, but it was almost certainly closer to the department for which I was headed. I am an actual genius.

Sadly, this genius was also by now more than ten minutes late but, buoyed by my success, I strode happily up to the nearest hospital signpost and, although perhaps a little sceptical by this stage as to the accuracy of signage hereabouts, followed its directions to the largest building in sight and entered via a busy doorway. Here goes.

I had dutifully donned a new disposable mask which I had remembered to bring from home. I knew which floor I needed and I headed confidently towards the lifts.  I reckon if I had been a tiny bit more confident, I would have made it unmolested,  but my eye was drawn to a couple of hospital staff sitting to one side of the corridor on the approach to the lifts. Their gaze locked with mine and I was asked to explain myself. My mission duly stated, they reluctantly agreed that I could pass, but I was handed a brand new mask in a wrapper and asked to put it on. My remonstrances that the mask I was already wearing had only just been removed from its own wrapper seemed initially to cut no ice, but then for some reason they relented. I am sure it looked completely box-fresh at this stage. I tried to give back the mask they had handed me. A small unseemly wrangle ensued. Apparently I had touched the mask, it was therefore ‘unclean’, and the stern lady quite definitely no longer wished to have it. I have kept it as a memento, in the bottom of my bag with all the other useful bits and bobs (and used masks that I know I should throw away, and will definitely never use again, but keep forgetting are in there until the latest theatre door-keeper highlights them with his little torch before sighing and letting scruffy-bag-lady into the foyer, judging that she may not be an actual terrorist, but is certainly breaking several of the laws of hygiene and good order).

I went up in the lift and followed more signs, encouraged by the helpfulness of the last one. And thus it was that, only one quarter of an hour after the allotted time, I arrived at the requisite ward and introduced myself to the ward-sister (or someone who looked quite important at the nurses’ station). “Oh, you’re Jackie! That’s great. So good to see you.” Weird. A bit over the top – luvvie, almost.

“This way.” We marched along the corridor. “Right, here we are. You just need to put these on first.”

Aha – my costume. A choice of Small, Medium and Large surgical blue nitrile gloves (chose Small – I have stupidly tiny hands), and a fetching white disposable polythene apron. No-one was going to help me into this – it was one of those do-it-yourself jobs. Note to self – if ever doing this again, put the apron on first. After an age pulling those horrid gloves on, I realised that unravelling the ridiculously flimsy ties and neck-halter elements of the apron was completely impossible. A kindly passing nurse obliged with the unravelling, but no-one seemed to want to assist with tying the tapes around my middle and, despite repeated attempts during the next couple of hours, I’m afraid to say that that apron was never fully secured at any point. It’s just possible that will-power and static electricity played some sort of part in the semblance of tied-up-ness I managed to achieve most of the time. At least, from the front.

And so began the jolly farce which was today’s assignment. The nurses continued to flit in and out on cue to change bedding or silence an alarm. A smiley young porter made a brief appearance early on with a wheelchair, ready to whisk the star player away – but his enthusiasm was quickly dampened as a different-colour-scrubbed nurse declaimed her one disappointing line: “We’re waiting on the pharmacy to send one more pack of pills before we can discharge him.”

Exit porter, ward left – pushing wheelchair.

We waited around. I realised I had put my apron on (insofar as it was on at all) over my coat, and wondered idly why it was that I was not massively over-heated. My previous experience of hospitals was that they were always far too hot. It turned out that the window was pushed open as far as it could go – almost certainly a pandemic precaution – so that explained it. Our star player was wrapped up carefully in a thick dressing gown over his pyjamas, and we managed some chit-chat although, whilst sitting close to the open window may have been Covid-safe, it was also incredibly noisy. We were regularly deafened by the insistent thump-thump-thumping of a demolition vehicle repeatedly smiting a huge pile of ever-decreasing concrete pieces which had once been the hospital stores and delivery bay (I know this, because in a previous incarnation I delivered several boxes of home-sewn scrubs there). No wonder the other (non-starring) patients on the ward remained stoically non-verbal throughout the proceedings, preferring to stay in ‘seriously ill’ character.

By now, I realised that I would need to extend my parking time. Fortunately the friendly app on my phone reminded me and as I shelled out a further 65p, I was able to pat myself on the back once again that this was an absolute bargain.

Eventually, it seemed that my turn had come to play my part. A full set of drugs had materialised, a charming nurse (with a beautiful but sadly non-projecting voice especially through her surgical mask) proceeded to test our hero on his understanding of the dosage of each tablet. My role here, it seemed, was to repeat all questions in a louder but quite definitely not patronising voice, hiding my own irritation that we were still close to the thump-thump-thumping window. How could anyone realistically be expected to hear over that? Still, the next action sequence would be more exciting, and as a second porter – much larger than the first – hove into view, we readied ourselves expectantly.

Sadly, the props department had failed us and the porter had arrived without his wheelchair. He ambled away, muttering forlornly, and we were left to twiddle our thumbs in time to the thump-thump-thump, which was becoming more and more tedious. 

My parking app alerted me again and I fed it another 65p – perhaps slightly less enthusiastically than last time.

FINALLY – the larger porter returned with an actual functioning wheelchair, we loaded up and set off triumphantly up the corridor, our hero graciously waving farewells to the lovely nurses. Remaining firmly in character, I tried to explain where exactly I was parked. After several misunderstandings – no NOT the front of the hospital, no NOT in the sexual health clinic car park (might that have actually been even cheaper? – note to self to check for any next time) – it transpired that the porter was partially deaf. (Perhaps he had been working too close to the demolition site. Thump-thump-thump…) This was indeed strange dialogue.

The porter turned out to be a natural with the wheelchair and also a canny navigator. Once we had our destination agreed, he spirited us through ‘staff only’ lifts and subterranean corridors, from which we rapidly emerged, blinking, into the light  – to find my car not twenty yards away. Offsite yes, but perfectly located and with the passenger door splendidly accessible for our be-wheel-chaired star. Oh hurrah!

And cut!

You may be thinking this was an odd Supporting Artist performance. Well, yes I suppose it was, but I must now own up to the fact that, whilst I suppose I was indeed ‘supporting’, the only artistry (or acting) required on this occasion was for me to play the part of someone who can actually go into a hospital ward without passing out! A self-confidence trick, if you like. For which I reckon I would be due an Oscar or an Emmy, if they had not recently been so devalued.

For this was not a fortuitous Supporting Artist job, but a favour to provide a lift for a friend.

Whom I have now unexpectedly seen in his pyjamas. (Do they not allow going-home clothes any more?)

Oh well, he’s now also seen me ludicrously dressed up like this – so we’re probably evens.

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