I did not think, as I walked the cliffs near Land’s End, that I would not go home that night. But I slipped and broke my ankle because I wore flip-flops in the rain. I had my fall on the cliffs above a rocky bay called Castle Zawn, home to the remains of RMS Mülheim, a German cargo ship wrecked here in 2003.The coastguard carried me off the cliffs on a stretcher. I was in hospital for a week. If it was penance for the flip-flops, it didn’t feel like it. I love hospitals.
I know it’s different for people who are mortally ill or poorly treated, πor have lost someone they love. But I knew I was going to leave and get better. So I loved the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro.
I am a workaholic, even if I get little done; I have a four-year-old boy, even if my husband does most of the mothering. This time in hospital, then, is my holiday.
In the Urgent Care Centre, I am given Entonox (nitrous oxide and oxygen) with my own demand valve. I love Entonox so much that I begin to think I am very clever to have broken my ankle. A doctor tries to squeeze my ankle back into place.
‘This will hurt,’ she says.
I hear my scream from far away; then I start laughing. Later, the nurse catches me laughing so hard that I hit myself in the face with the demand valve. The demand valve has my teeth marks on it. The Entonox is taken away. But this is OK. I have no pain. I think I may have no ankle.
I am placed inside a fabulously named ward: Trauma One. I write on Facebook, ‘I am in Trauma One.’ I get many ‘likes’.
A new doctor says my left ankle is a sausage that has burst its skin. Deflate the sausage and it can be re-stuffed; but I cannot lower my leg for five days. I like that he doesn’t do medical jargon; that my body is an English breakfast; that I am getting medical care that would cost $50,000 in America, for free.
I am the youngest on Trauma One by forty years. My ward mates are charming because they are whacked on morphine.
‘What a beautiful smile,’ says a nurse to the ancient lady in the opposite bed. Yes, I think, if you were on that many opiates, you would have a beautiful smile, too. The smiler cannot hear; so we wave at each other, and do the thumbs up, or thumbs down. We applaud – or condole with each other – over our bedpan adventures: thumbs up or down. We are divers in a tiny, curtained sea.
I can do anything I want in Trauma One, if I do not attempt to get out of bed. I ring my bell repeatedly – for water, a fresh pillow, fresh bedding, medication, a hug. I think it is like being rich. No one complains how many visitors I have, or at what time; no one minds if I use my mobile telephone. I have no chores, or childcare to do; I read and watch TV. The nursing staff seem engrossed in a charm competition. As soon as I think they cannot get more charming, a more charming one appears.
I remember this charm from the maternity ward, which had competitive midwifery, as they battled to give my baby the most stylish and comfortable swaddling. But hospitals make me giddy. I remember I flirted with two young doctors in the maternity ward, my feet up in the stirrups, a baby stuck in my birth canal.
The charm, however, is dependent on my not getting out of bed. One woman gets out of bed twice in one night, and is wheeled away. My rational mind thinks she is taken nearer to the nurses’ station, so they can watch her. My irrational mind thinks – who knows?
My mother comes and asks me, ‘Do you want a private room?’ I look around Trauma One and think – what, leave all this?
The food is disgusting. I like this, too. The hospital is a diet clinic, and I need one. i always thought I would crawl along a corridor for sweeties but I can't. I ave solved my own obesity crisis.
Soon I am taken from Trauma One to Theatre Direct. I sulk, for Theatre Direct sounds like it is selling cut-price breast augmentation in Slovakia.
I remember the operation as being only yet more people being charming, while giving me the kind of drugs you would never get on the street.
The anaesthetist tells me a story about teenage boys swapping tags, and almost getting each other’s procedures. I’m allowed to draw an arrow on my leg and I’m given a self-service morphine drip. I’m not one to waste morphine; so I refuse to sleep and concentrate on not acting too happy in front of the staff. Instead, I watch Rob Roy on my iPhone. I think it’s a masterpiece but I’m very high now. Does it matter that I’m treating the NHS as a drugs cartel with a hotel attached? At midnight, the nurse asks, ‘Do I want anything?’
‘Yes, please. I want strawberry jelly.’
And, smilingly, it comes.