It is 9am, Tuesday. Prepared for a long day, I settle into a chair in the corner of the eerily empty Oncology Outpatients waiting room. First a clinic appointment, then a blood test, then a long lunchless wait for my scan (fasting) at 1.15.
Enter a shocked orderly: he has just seen a man striking his wife on the head with her hospital notes !
This inhumane behaviour contrasts strongly with the patience shown by the young man on the desk as he deals with the next patient to arrive. Old and frail, she seems uncertain not only of her date of birth but even her name, let alone whether she should actually be at the hospital today.
Eventually, against all the odds, he traces her on the computer, and gives her detailed instructions about how to get to the wing where she is actually expected. Full of gratitude, she totters away.
Summoned by Benepal
Nearly an hour after my appointment time – par for the course according to a couple of old hands who regularly book a similar time slot – I am summoned in to big chief Benepal, flanked by ‘my’ nurse and a medical student.
I tell him about my latest side effect: swollen tongue and dry mouth. Rather to my surprise, he opens a drawer, whips out a torch and has a look – just like an ordinary GP. Nothing visible except a few bites on the edge of the tongue. ‘That’s me,’ I explain, fatuously.
As with the burning pins and needles in my hands, now mysteriously disappeared, thank goodness, he can offer no explanation. More to the point, he promises he’ll come up to the treatment room on Friday to give me the scan results.
On this occasion, my blood test happens immediately. Denied the usual long wait in the clinic, I now have to find somewhere else in which to kill 2 hours. Instructed in my letter from the scanning department to ‘drink normally.’
Marks and Sparks and peppermint tea
I decide to go to the pleasantly shady M&S outdoor café, where I order a peppermint tea. Then I stroll about discovering various gardens which the hospital has created for the benefit of staff and patients.
After my scan, about to get dressed. I notice I’m bleeding from the dye-needle incision. I open the cubicle curtains and inform a passing nurse, who rushes off to fetch ‘someone’.
The ‘someone’ turns out to be the doctor who did the scan, armed with lint and sticky tape. He tells me that quite a few people have bled today. He sounds surprised. I suggest, smilingly, that it might have something to do with him. He smiles back.
Friday dawns wet. When I arrive at the hospital– early after a record bus journey – the Day Room is empty, except for the television, unmuted. I ransack the room but can find no remote control.
Now a couple appear, settle down and start laughing over the Daily Telegraph. The man exudes booming bonhomie. I mentally dub them typical Richmond burghers, and indeed subsequent conversation proves me right. They are from East Shene, the posh bit, up by the Park.
More from the rude businessman
In the treatment room we are joined, if that’s the word for the action of someone utterly unforthcoming, by the rude business man and his ipad. As last time, I eavesdrop (it is hard to do anything else) but to no avail – all conversations consist solely of jargon and acronyms.
The nurses are jubilant – they have, after days of searching, found a cache of leads, necessary for charging the dripstands – hidden away in the adjoining ward. Instantly, we are all plugged in.
I have my own little drama. The nurse brings me the usual cocktail of pre-med drugs in a small white tub, and as usual I carefully tip them out onto my book cover for ease of taking.
One instantly rolls away out of sight. But which one? Guiltily I summon the nurse and, admirably suppressing a sigh, she scrutinises the remaining pile and supplies me with a replacement: a medium sized white one. (I later find I am sitting on the original – how can this be?)
The wonderful assistant James is on holiday, but his place is well filled by a young woman of Eastern European origin who combines cheerfulness, efficiency, initiative and a charming desire to help everybody as much as possible.
It is not her fault that my lunchtime egg and mayo in brown bread is stale. Ominously labelled ‘Patients’ Supper’, it has a distinct smack of leftovers.
I am finished by 2.30 but still no sign of big chief Benepal to fulfil his promise. Two phone calls and an hour and a half later I’m told to pop down to the clinic, which I do forthwith.
Big chief Benepal appears at last
As clearly as I can, I explain myself to the nice young man on the desk. (Thank goodness it’s not the jobsworth.) Soon, Benepal appears discreetly at a side door, beckons me to follow him, ushers me into a side room and waves me into a chair. Bad news? No, just courtesy. Scan ‘Fine, absolutely stable, just what one would expect.’ So it was worth the wait.
I head for the bus, driven by an angry driver who sounds his horn frequently and is having a row with a passenger whom he has apparently at first refused to pick up at a ‘request stop.’ Mercifully, we soon get a change of driver.
Meanwhile, a man in his thirties, white, smart- casual in dress, has been ranting away to an embarrassed young black man, clad from top to toe in black, about the driver in particular and the world in general.
Then, without warning, he morphs into normal conversational mode. When he gets off he and the younger man agree to phone or text each other to arrange a meeting next day, though to my certain knowledge no contact details have been swapped.
Once home I enjoy wine on the patio (the weather having much improved) followed by a meal at our favourite fish restaurant – delicious grilled salmon.