One way or another, I've spent a lot of time sitting around in hospitals in the last decade. This is a shame, as I hate hospitals; truly, madly, deeply. But both of our kids have the misfortune to have a chronic condition (Crohn's Disease) that has required periods of hospitalisation and regular checkups with their consultant, so we have had an enforced intimacy with the interior of our local hospital.
This week, for example. My daughter had a checkup scheduled, in that oh-so-amusingly precise way that hospitals use, for 16:20 pm. Effort was expended to uphold our end of the deal honourably. For once, I left the office the second I stopped being paid at 15:00 pm, drove across town to fetch her, dumped our things at home, arrived at the reception desk at 16:19 precisely, and handed over the paperwork. But, as usual, now that we were entirely in its hands, The Hospital seemed to lose any feelings of honour towards us, or the other thirty or so other parents with squirming babies, rampaging toddlers or sullen teenagers already crowded into the "waiting area". We had simply to wait.
At first -- for about twenty minutes -- there were no chairs free. Everyone was hot, fed up, bored, irritable, not least at having to endure the hell that is other people's sick children. Medical staff came and went. Then a name was called, and an enormous tattooed woman who had been spread impressively over two chairs gathered up a child from the "play area", and we got to sit down. Then my daughter was called to be measured and weighed. Another 30 minutes passed.
Now, our consultant is a decent bloke. An affable Pakistani with a dry sense of humour and a genuine, personal interest in "his" kids, the ones like ours that he has been seeing year in, year out since they were first admitted to his care. He constantly pops in and out of his consulting room, badgered on every side by nurses, junior doctors, and administrative staff. He is the walking definition of a Terribly Busy Man. But he seems blissfully unaware of the fug of frustration, as thick as pipe smoke, that is building in the "waiting area" (and presumably thickens every day), and the daggers looked at him every time he emerges and fails to call the next patient. We are, it seems, mere materiel, until our brief moment in the sun.
Hospitals seem to function on the (false) assumption that time is elastic. But, the only elastic element is our time, those of us who have been waiting an hour or two for our appointments. Today, as it turns out, was a good day -- only an hour's wait for a ten minute review, followed by a 40 minute wait for blood samples. Other days have been bad -- it only takes a mislaid form, or an emergency elsewhere in the building, and it can end up feeling like you have been forgotten. And, sometimes, you have been.
I've never been good at anything involving blood. Some years ago, I had to give a blood sample and came over faint and dizzy. The nurse hauled me into an ante-room for a lie down on a bed, and said she'd be back, and not to try to get up before. After a bit the feeling went away, and I began to enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that follows a dizzy spell. Not being a watch-wearer, I had no way of judging the time that had elapsed. I supposed that I had better wait, as instructed.
Deep relaxation shaded into reverie, which faded into sleep. I was woken, an hour or so later, by a new nurse demanding to know who I was, and why I was there, snoring on the ante-room bed. Apparently the original nurse had forgotten I was there. At the time it seemed unique and amusing, but I now know that hospitals are like vast three-dimensional video games, where the staff are made almost randomly to follow multi-tasking paths that branch off constantly into fresh, more urgent or interesting realities, until the original reason for stepping out into the corridor has been long forgotten.
Meanwhile, in the "waiting area", unhappy people are slowly twisting in the wind, waiting for a call that has begun to seem as improbable as a lottery win.