There are three places I’ve never wanted to get familiar with in life: prison, Fubar and hospitals – yet recently – the latter became like an old friend who’s overstayed their welcome after arriving for tea unannounced “to catch up”.
I say this because hospitals have been in and out my life like an old friend for various reasons; a problematic kidney when I was born, a severe migraine when I was ten, and the loss of a loved one at thirteen, and again at fourteen – so not really a friend at all.
On November 18th, 2020, the day after my 21st birthday, that ‘old friend’ came unannounced – but this time was different. This time it stunk of disinfectant, operated like a war zone, and exuded an icy, cold distance from its staff who examined me from meters apart, to its interior that had me feeling like nothing was within my reach – not even normality.
And like an old friend, I felt obliged to stay… I did just take a seizure after all, I thought.
Arriving at the front doors, my boyfriend and I were greeted by staff standing armed with disinfectant like the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace – but I’m afraid the only royalty there was in its name: ‘Inverclyde Royal Hospital’.
After checking in, I was directed to a specific part of the building & with my hand wrapped in my boyfriend’s, proceeded to the lift where a receptionist stopped us: “You can’t go with her, sorry.”
As if hospitals weren’t already a place where you could be in a crowd of people and still feel so lonely, I thought as I said my goodbyes.
Though I understood that we were in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I still couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t just saying goodbye to my boyfriend, but goodbye to all the necessary information I needed to provide the doctors with about my seizure, as my memory was corrupted – and my boyfriend was my only witness.
Still, I rattled my brain hard for the memories of what I was told happened and relayed them to a petite, curly-haired Irish doctor who stood 2 meters away from me in a vast, four-bed room on J- ward.
Though I soon became familiar with the doctor, the nurses passed in and out of the room like little heroic enigmas, tending to the elderly women in the room yet unsure of me. I could see their brains doing overtime, trying to figure out why a fully clothed girl in jeans is lying on top of a hospital bed. That, and the fact that I pulled the average age of that room down considerably. Yet still, they tended to me, albeit with slight distance and confusion, taking my blood pressure and temperature but never prying for information or engaging in chat.
I can’t say I was disappointed that they never engaged in chat, I’d have been no use anyway. I was still trying to come to terms with both the trauma of my experience and my fragmented memory but though my mouth struggled to speak, my eyes and ears couldn’t have been more alive. As the hours ticked by waiting, that’s all I would find myself doing – listening and observing.
I couldn’t help but be startled by the sight from the bed beside me, a poor, old woman strapped up to the ventilator, the mask on her face signifying a very different message than the mask on mine, as I heard her every struggled breath. When she wasn’t struggling to breathe, she was shouting ‘Help!’ And ‘Sandra!’ repeatedly.
This is real, I thought.
Though I couldn’t have been sure that she had fallen victim to this virus, I could only be sure that what she was experiencing couldn’t have been far off of it – and the reality of losing my breath, depending on a machine for the oxygen in my lungs, falling victim to this virus. It all became too real to me.
Yet, what picture I could paint clearer in my mind – and what ached me the most – is if that were my loved one lying in a hospital bed, deprived of the one essential natural source that should not be taken from us by anything other than time itself. That ached a harsh reality through my person.
It reached 6pm, and I had become well acquainted again with my ‘old friend’ for the past 9 hours. It stayed not only for tea, but for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and yes, it truly overstayed it’s welcome – but I feel no anger towards it, for there was lessons certainly learned – and realities that I was forced to face.
This is real.