I’ve taken just one tablet today. A single white milligram pill of prednisolone, swallowed for old time’s sake, to keep the eczema off my skin or as a bulwark against pain. I don’t know. I used to take forty of these things daily. It’s gone on for so long.
I’m heading for UHW (University Hospital Wales) for what is euphemistically called a procedure. This one is to insert a small camera on the end of long flexible rod and look inside my bladder. Guess where they insert it. I’ve had it done before but the anticipation remains icy and deadening. The joy of cystoscopy. Someone should write the book.
Ambulatory Care, which is what it was when I began attending a decade ago, is now known as The Short Stay Surgical Unit. This, presumably, because attendees had no idea what the word ambulatory meant. At reception a woman asks me which of the two addresses shown on the admission form is correct. I tell her the latter and she looks at me blankly. The second one, I explain, pointing. Another word lost to English forever.
Reception was new at the start of the nineties. Back then hospital management were really keen on making clinical areas look homely and welcoming. The place was done out with wallpaper, carpet, ashtrays, wooden-armed armchairs and a forest of potted plants. Filing cabinets were hidden . You were supposed to feel comfortable here much in the way you were in rooms where funerals were arranged or rapes reported. But twenty years on things have changed.
To start with there are the notices which ban things: food and drink, smoking, verbal abuse. There’s also a new one that also bans electronic cigarettes. This was rushed into place to forestall arguments at the desk made by those who insist this sort of smoking to be totally different from the other sort and therefore okay. The notice they had showing a drawing of a phone with a line through it, however, has disappeared. Around me the elderly (almost everyone here is over sixty) fumble with their mobiles. They carry them, they imagine, to fend off emergencies. Today they are explaining to relatives, friends, and mis-sold financial product compensation fixers that yes, it is a nice day but no, not now, they’re in hospital.
The framed art works have also been added to. Ambulatory Care always went for prints of flowers which are still largely in place. Giant reproductions of ivy and maple leaves, huge red poppies in two varieties. To them have been added Christmas decorations, strings of tinsel stuck in place with cellotape, plus an artificial tree. The sound system which in the past has always played stuff by Manfred Mann and Gerry & The Pacemakers is loudly knocking out Christmas songs from Bing Crosby. Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, Let It Snow and the inevitable White Christmas which as far as I’m concerned he can dream about for as much as he likes, I’m not joining him. The music has a nineteen-fifties austerity saccharine slush to it that gets inside your ears and won’t leave. I’d put my iPod on but then I wouldn’t be able to hear my name being called.
I’m there for 40 minutes. The tape rounds on itself and begins to repeat. The receptionists all hum along as they shift files from one stack to another and then forget where they’ve put their pens. Eventually I get inside. This is after two further sessions of sitting in line in different rooms, a blood pressure measure, an arm labelling, a questionnaire completed, an authority to proceed signed, clothes into a plastic bag and special pants put on.
They find something. There’s a dull sinking in my stomach. With my agreement they then decide to remove it there and then. I’m strapped up and the growth is sliced and cauterised, both sides. It takes around five minutes although this feels like fifty. It's not without discomfort. By way of diversion the Muslim nurse tells me she’s finished her Christmas shopping which is reassuring to hear. I haven’t even started mine. I then get my glasses returned to me and I’m helped back to the post-op area. Seats, trolleys, dumper bins. I get handed a cup of tea. “You can go home once you’ve passed water”, the receptionist tells me. “Have a biscuit, they usually make you feel better”. It's hard to resist but I manage it.
At the desk a cluster of ancillary staff and nurses are discussing household cleaners and how you can’t get Ajax anymore. This is true. Ajax, the wonder product, used to be able to see off just about anything. If you had a tin at home you were ready for the world. Just like prednisolone.