Chemo Club Blog12

ros aitkenAn ‘air of confusion and delay’ in the Cancer Ward

 By Ros Aitken in London

‘Twas on a Thursday morning… I am setting off for my blood test a day later than normal, so busy are they.

As seen from the bus, Wimbledon (and nowhere else) is festooned with Union Jacks, presumably saved from Andy Murray’s triumph and now loyally proclaiming the royal birth.Press the buzzer

The treatment room entrance is  securely fastened, with a notice instructing one to press the  buzzer. There are 3 candidates, the last and most imposing of which eventually opens the  doors.

The Day Room has a glossy display of information on how to survive the heat and a spanking new fan. (Any connection?) The old fan lurks sulkily in a corner. A notice warns of severe staff shortages, but I get shown straight in and am on my way home almost before my appointment time.  I have a promise that I’ll be rung this evening if my white blood count is too low for them to give me my chemo tomorrow.

No phone call, so here I am at the bus stop at 7.30 on a glorious summer morning.  I’m joined by a neighbour and fellow cancer patient, en route for a blood test at a different hospital.

His treatments are far more drastic and invasive than mine, and his side effects far more alarming. Nonetheless, he gives me a resolutely upbeat account of his current traumas, including a description of his own kitchen, now itself resembling a doctor’s surgery.  As so often, I feel fortunate.

‘A pronounced air of confusion and delay’

Today at St George’s there is a pronounced air of confusion and delay, from which I am thankfully to suffer only slightly.  Several patients are expecting treatments other than those which have been actually dispensed or arranged for them.

I wonder if in the holiday period some kind of power struggle has emerged between the doctors, supposedly in charge, and the anonymous Pharmacy, forever on the spot, and therefore in a position to overrule doctors’ decisions with impunity.

One husband of a patient is particularly angry, threatening to take his complaint immediately ‘to the top’ as ‘this happens every 6 weeks.’  It doesn’t sound too appalling an inconvenience to me, but then, they are young.

The ‘grossly fat man in shorts

I have more sympathy for him than for a grossly fat man in short sleeved top and shorts. He complains not only about the delay in receiving his chemo, ‘not prescribed until 4pm yesterday’ but about the fact that he has seen big chief Benepal himself dressed – wait for it – in shorts. (All the nurses immediately rise to the defence of their boss.) Gross fat man occupies his resented wait sprawled in a chair with feet up and mouth open, displaying acres of tattoed white flab.

Later his wife arrives. She has exactly the same bad-tempered down-turned mouth as her husband.

Another attendant wife spends the hours silently scrolling through emails, scarcely ever even looking up, let alone talking to anyone, including her husband the patient.

Better adjusted is an elderly lady accompanied by her daughter, over from Australia.  An amazing coincidence: chatting to the nurse to while away their unexpected delay, they discover that in a week’s time, nurse and daughter will be on the same flight to Singapore, daughter en route for home, nurse en route to see her mother in the Philippines.

Perhaps part of today’s disarray is due to the absence, ill, of the wonderful, all competent James.  Not only is lunch late – and no tuna in brown bread – but the poor overstretched nurses have to bring it round themselves.

‘I am free!’

I am free by 3.30 and as usual take the lift down to the ground floor.  In the heat, all the lifts malfunction, and this one suddenly announces ‘Floor 2.’

I am all agog – there are no buttons for Floor 2 in any of the lifts, which normally glide past it without stopping.  Rumours abound.  The lift does indeed halt and the doors open, to reveal a large notice stating ‘Staff Only.  CCTV cameras in operation.’  I long to hop out and explore.

But sense prevails and instead I go  to meet Tom at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and enjoy the reflected glory of a friend who has had 2 prints accepted.

Thence to our favourite trattoria off Regent Street where we sit outside in the balmy evening air and watch both passers by and the staff, who carry out ever more tables and chairs – just like being in Italy. Carpe Diem.