Hospital Tales

Sally was a slovenly middle-aged woman in the cubicle next to mine.  Every evening she would shuffle into the room.    Every night we would have the same conversation.  Sally would sit on the edge of my bed and launch her monologue.  ‘Oh, Louise, they’re threatening to extend my section.  Again.  I’ve been here for more than a year already. They want to keep me here another year.’  She put her head in her hands.  I reached out to touch her shoulder.  It was a futile gesture  As was the advice I gave her.  All the standard stuff.  ‘You should speak to your solicitor about overturning your section.  You have to go to a managers’ meeting and, if that fails, onto a tribunal.  If that doesn’t work, you could take your case to the civil courts.’  But these words were wasted.  Sally shook my hand off her shoulder and stood up.  ‘What shall I do, Louise, what shall I do?’  It was a rhetorical question.  Sally walked over to the door of the dormitory.  ‘I feel like I’m being buried alive.’  Still dejected and downtrodden she stepped out into the hallway.

‘They only have so much power, you know,’ I called out after her.  ‘They’re not invincible.’

Sally half turned.  ‘That’s what they want you to think.’

When Sally’s husband came to visit I began to think that Sally may have had a point.  He was small, squat and misshapen but when Sally saw him she seemed to shrink back into herself.  She spoke to him in a frightened, tremulous voice.  The voice of a little girl.  As she grew smaller, he seemed to expand.  For the first time I began to feel compassion rather than contempt for this wretched woman.

‘You know what’ll happen if you don’t cooperate with me, with the docs?’  He leaned closer to her.  ‘You’ll never get out of here.   You’ll be in here for the rest of your life.  Do you get that?  Do you understand that, you stupid fat cow?’

Later I heard him speak to Sally’s consultant and key nurse.  ‘You don’t know what it’s been like for me, doctor.  I’ve got the kids to look after.  I wish I could have her home.  I really do but look at her?  What use would she be?  It’d be like having another kid about the place.  Besides, how do you think the twins would feel, seeing their mum like that?  Maybe in a few months she can come home for a weekend and then maybe she can be discharged but not now.’

The staff nodded and smiled and agreed with every word he said.  They were collaborating.  They were helping Sally’s husband to bury her alive.  It was then that it occurred to me that one day someone could do the same to me. For I too had been reduced to a state of childlike dependence.  We all had.  Weak, afraid and unknowing.  Emotionally fragile and often intellectually inept.  Our heads were on the block and the axe could fall at any moment.

Sally’s words echoed in my head.  ‘What shall I do, Louise, what shall I do?’

I was useless.  I could not help her.  Two drowning people could not save each other.  Unless, by some miracle, one of them learnt to swim.

I knew that Sally would never again be a full time mother to her twin boys.  And that they would grow up to be just like their father, betaying their contempt for their mother every time they addressed her.

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