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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

An unscheduled visit to the other side
for Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,
Delightful meeting you at the A&E ward, and hope you've had good news about the possible heart attack. However, you lazy boring American swine, where's my Costa coffee???

As I recall, you swore blind (just after we hatched the plan to break out of hospital together and just before they hauled me off to this lousy cancer ward) that the minute they sprung you you'd be up on Surgical 8 with a cup of Costa? So, what's your excuse?? Don't tell me you're still there???!!!!!

Yours, still turning nose up at the hospital coffee,

Dear Sheila,

Your surmise is more or less correct. I've only just gotten out, with renewed respect for someone who's been in and out like a blinking yo-yo for the past four months, like you -- and, even though it sounds a bit corny, with renewed respect for the truly incredible dedication and warmth of the A&E staff at the PRU (Princess Royal University Hospital, to the unitiated, in Locksbottom, Kent, UK).

I don't believe I've ever met a bunch of people I liked more at sight: the athletic guy with the mop who kept mopping under my bed because he liked Nadal, who was playing on my TV, the Serena Williams lookalike with a great sense of humour who was anti-Mauresmo, the nurse who kept coming into our little ward and saying: 'What, are you STILL here??' upon seeing me, and, most especially, the blonde nurse who I talked out of giving me another of those Warfarin ice-cold injections in my tummy, who said, 'Well, all right, according to your blood result it wasn't a heart attack, anyway.' (I felt so affectionate towards her that I had to prevent myself from telling her that I would like to have her babies ...) Even the hospital porters were brilliant, one taking the trouble to come back to A&E ward specially to tell me where they'd taken the woman with a fractured arm and no friends or family, so that I could pad up and visit her (after visiting hours, very spooky. I seemed to be the only one moving in the hospital, and the ghosts of all the dead peopled the empty halls ...)

The doctors were also brilliant. I especially liked the one who came in, saw the immortal mess that I had managed -- in a mere three days -- to create between self and window, and said, 'So who's been throwing all of her toys out of the pram, then?' -- though she wasn't a patch on the fellow tennis-playing one who promised me, one more test permitting, that I'd be out in a couple of hours ...

Things I didn't like: the fuss-pot doctor who said I'd have to come back, as an outpatient, to go on some boring treadmill while they checked my heart out for the umpteen-millionth time, the food, from which everything resembling taste had been thoughtfully removed, lest the sheer excitement induce some kind of fit or seizure, the lack of decent bar facilities, the thoughtless way some people purposely got taken ill or had crashes IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, no less, just when the rest of us A&Eers were trying to get a spot of well-earned rest (I say well-earned, but I don't mean it, unless such rest is earned by fidgeting while watching the covers go on and off of Wimbledon all am and pm).

Yes, the boredom was irritating, interspersed with unnerving shots of anxiety, but probably the worst part of all (something I'd never appreciated during my appendicitus and other occasional bouts of hospitalization before) was its prison-like aspect. You can't eat when you like, or move around when you like, they don't let you wander (much), you can't be visited when you like, people are constantly making demands on you (more blood out here, another scan there), you have absolutely NO CONTROL over your own timetable, and YOU CAN'T GET OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Never has a car park (usually soggy with the rain) been eyed with such longing as was the perfectly exquisite A&E car park directly outside my window. It seemed to me some kind of nirvana, completely under-appreciated by its citizenry, who were free to wander off to a pub or a Costa's ... while I felt practically manicled to my bed, making the parts of my bed move up and down in sheerest frustration, watching the covers being pulled over Wimbledon ...

I suppose this is because it wasn't a heart attack, in which case I'd probably have been happy enough just to be looked after. Because it wasn't, I just felt impatient. In the end I was reduced to putting on my make-up and doing cartwheels every time a nurse or doctor was in the vicinity, in hopes of a reduction in my sentence.

And yet, oddly enough, I'm glad it happened. I learned such a lot -- and most of all from you, Sheila. I learned how someone with two horrific brain tumors (and maybe a third) could still defy the odds, defy the doctors, and laugh at life. I learned from watching you how you can reach out to people who are lonely and who need it (like poor old Lois). I learned how little I have to complain about, and how my daughter's footstep could light up (not only my life) but an entire hospital ward. I learned how lucky I was -- and how important it is to share luck like mine with other people. (How's that for motherhood and apple pie???)

Right, I'm off to Costa to get you a coffee, and, with luck, smuggle in a small bot of wine, just as we fantasized someone would do for us, slipping it through the windows beside our beds.

Stand by to see me, a cart-wheeling messenger from the (comparatively unreal) world.

Ever your ally,

Copyright © 6 July 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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