King Of All The Dogsbodies

Public service announcement: Before we start, can I acknowledge that the Christmas references at the beginning of this post are out of place now that summer is upon us – these days, I’m either doing my job as an NHS hero or catatonic from doing my job as an NHS hero, so it takes longer to write stuff. Also, while we’re at it, can I ask that people stop buying NHS staff Cadbury’s Heroes, because everyone is fucking sick of them. End of announcement.

Silent night, holy night. At Runton, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin – Becka, who has numerous children – the Estate sleeps in Heavenly peace, untroubled by the annoyances of the modern world, or indeed by anything much at all, except the noiseless rusting of the Victorian greenhouse and the nibbling of trees by deer wandering around the glamping fields. It seems likely to remain in statis until summer at least, with those of us comprising its estranged Estate Management team scattered hither and yon across sundry East Anglian villages or, in ‘Anton’s case, a kennel in Leeds, where he remains in business as a widely disliked electrician. Joe and I also have other things to do, of course: we remain a haphazard but effective IT help desk and, to my enduring disbelief, I have become a trainee nurse. Well, a trainee trainee nurse, as established previously. Joe valiantly keeps Runton alive, in the sense that bacteria are alive, with sub-zero classic film nights in the restored barn and discussions about skinning wild game with the survivalists for which Runton has long been a magnet, even when the only thing most people needed to survive was Bake Off going to commercial telly.

The world has been turning, of course. The Russian invasion of Ukraine

is awful, at least it took attention away from the Winter Olympics. Also, the middle class didn’t have a chance to sort everything out by writing ‘Love Wins’ in rainbow lettering across Red Square, or gluing themselves to public transport, because they were busy watching a bunch of fellow Lauras snowboarding on their gap year, which is what the Winter Olympics basically is. This is history now, though: as I write, we’re in the middle of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of which, as a constitutional monarchist, I approve. Joe, Becka and their numerous children are in London taking in the festivities but, despite my monarchist leanings, I have no especial desire to wander around in a comedy union jack hat all weekend. In fact, the nearest I’ve been to a joyous outpouring was celebrating seeing a Spitfire while walking the dog by insisting that, as a family, we ate fish and chips afterwards while I played There’ll Always Be An England on a loop on my phone. The two public holidays were nice though and, as we don’t get paid public holidays in the NHS, I also now have an opportunity to work extra days to make the time up, which is a lovely bonus treat.

At work, the hospital exists in a state of insistent and unrelenting chaos, but for my immediate clinical colleagues there is a surprising amount of standing around during the working day. Less so for us trainee trainee nurses, for whom there are no end of menial things to be getting on with, but still a surprising amount. I should stress that this is peculiar to our little Radiology unit, which comprises four operating theatres into which we book patients. This means that the ball is in our court far more than the rest of the hospital, and because we are a theatre-lead unit, it only takes one surgeon to call in with COVID and the of the theatre team have nothing to do. We have a small ward for monitoring patients – or, as I insist we refer to them, contestants – pre- and post-procedure, but we don’t have overnight guests, which means that we function more with the atmosphere of a genteel private clinic than a publicly funded hospital. I mean, we are in a publicly funded hospital, but our secret lift to Level 4 is difficult to find, not for use by the unescorted public, and does a fine job of keeping the bedlam at bay. It also means that I can bring patients to the attention of clinical staff when bringing them in by announcing something along the lines of ‘Put your hands together, give it up, go wild, go crazy for Ethel, representing Great Yarmouth, and still rocking the main stage at 94’ to lift the mood a bit. This seems to please everyone and, as I say, we are bored quite often, so I shall continue to do it.

You may rest assured that the rest of the hospital is not like this. For future reference, the bits you want to work in are chemotherapy (the patients are independent and look after themselves), the mortuary (for, now I come to think of it, much the same reason) or paedeatrics because it’s a larf and most of time the parents do everything. I’d like to end up in maternity, as I would find the prospect of dealing with two patients at once interesting, although like paedeatrics they don’t employ males so I’d have to identify as a woman first. I could just identify as a midwife and start immediately, I suppose. Anyway, I remain generally weirded out by hospital life, and it’s worth remembering that I never wanted to be a nurse, let alone a trainee trainee nurse. Admittedly, it does seem an unlikely thing to have undertaken by accident, but that is more or less what happened when I blithely agreed to ‘give it a year and see what happens’ as a general Radiology dogsbody, mainly because I wasn’t really paying attention to what was being said to me. The term ‘dogsbody’ in this case is ill-advised, as although a dog could do most of my work, it would be more expensive to employ. It isn’t an aspirational post either – when neighbours ask my current girlfriend why I’m never around these days, she says I’m in prison.

That said, my rise to prominence is already underway; such is the shortage of staff that literally within an hour of passing my probation exam, I was awarded mentorship of all the other trainee trainee nurses, and therefore King of all the Dogsbodies. They need a bit of mentoring, too; during a written test, one of them was asked to list the PRIDE mnemonic representing the values to which the hospital and its staff allegedly conform. I expect the R is for ‘Respect’ and the E is for ‘Excellence’ and so on. You get the idea. Despite being a bit unclear myself when faced with the same question, I was nonetheless able to answer correctly because it is written on every single physical and electronic communication the hospital puts out, including, I couldn’t help but notice, the test paper itself. Unfortunately, my mentee failed to notice this, and failed the test as a result, prompting me to remark that perhaps the E is for ‘Eyesight’, and the I might mean ‘In Fucking Front Of You’. He successfully lobbied to retake the test on account of his autism, which is a relief, as staff of this calibre explain why, for a twelve hour shift with no paid breaks or lunch, we take home £55. Anyway. ‘There’s no ‘I’ in hospital’, as I am fond of pointing out to my little team, and with this as our motto we march forward together.


Main: Jubilee decorations by children. There are about fourteen tons of this stuff distributed around the place.

Inset top: Preparing a liver biopsy. My job is to hand all this stuff, and sundry other needles and spikes, to the bioper while they work on the biopee. I like to use these terms rather than ‘patient’ and ‘consultant’, because ‘biopsy’ is quite a jolly word when you think about how it actually sounds and that.

Inset middle: Sid eating a Jubilee cake. Although the flag is edible, I told him that eating it would be treason, which I will not accept in my house.

Inset lower: Ultrasound scanner. I tell patients we have to put this entire machine inside them to see what’s going on.

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