The Things You Won’t Allow Us, Part 1

Public Service Announcement: This was an extremely long entry which I split in two in order to get a bit of a cliff hanger going. It’s not much of a nail biter to be honest, unless your definition of tension includes absent mindedness and socio-politics. It takes all sorts though, so if this is your definition of tension, move to the edge of your seat now or, if you’re standing up, start chain smoking and pacing about in an agitated manner.

I am fond of saying that a hospital is one bunch of fat depressed people looking after another bunch of fat depressed people, and that the only way to tell staff from patients is that the patients are lying down. There is more to it than this, of course: consultants are generally called James or Ben, whereas matrons, charge nurses and ward sisters are called Laura and Lucy and Ellie. Everyone else is called Lauren and Ellie-Mae. Patients are called Ray or Phillip or Mary or Liz. You get the occasional Kirsty and Helen among both staff and patients, but I am to date the only Paul who has ever been in a hospital, and as such I am a medical pioneer.

As mentioned last time, my pioneering spirit has seen me become de facto supervisor of a little band of trainee trainee nurses. We are like the A Team, except that we don’t have any useful skills, we don’t have a van, and no one but the NHS would hire us to do anything whatsover. A dog could do most of our work, but we are cheaper because we bring our own lunch in. Then again, it is cannon fodder such as we who run the hospital, and everyone acknowledges this. Myself, I do everything from setting up operating theatres with all the drugs and what not to working directly with surgeons and scrub nurses during operations to wheeling patients, most alive but some very much the opposite of that, around the hospital, to proofreading and editing hospital literature – which gives me an opportunity to remove awkward phrases such as ‘medical doctor’, and replace them with ‘doctor’, and take the chance that people won’t assume their liver biopsy will be carried out by a time traveller in a phone box.

I enjoy a day of assisting with liver biopsies. Essentially, you’re a scrub nurse, working intimately with both the surgeon and the patient. I like to relax patients beforehand by saying I’m a bit of a fainter when it comes to needles, so can you hold my hand and tell the surgeon if you see me keeling over, etc. Fortunately, I’m not a fainter when it comes to anything at all or I’d have a hundred reasons to pass out every working day but, rather pleasingly, I do sometimes have patients saying ‘You alright, Paul?’ to me, mid-procedure. I also sometimes ask if they’re OK with Labradors because the surgeon is blind, or do they mind if we have a kebab before we start because we’re very drunk, and so forth. I mean, obviously, you have to read the room before this sort of thing but, as I am fond of saying – ‘If you can’t muck about during surgery, when can you muck about?’.

While I do not yet perform such a prominent role in our hospital’s main theatres, they are also often surprisingly light-hearted places. This is good, because it shows that the theatre team is confident and relaxed. You wouldn’t want your operation carried out by people who were anxious and nervy, after all. The first time I was in main theatre to, I think, assist with some kind of urology expedition I spent the entire time discussing childbirth with the anaesthetist, explaining that at the moment of my son’s birth all I could think of was Kit Kats, as they had those mad chunky single digit ones in the vending machine down the corridor and I was very peckish at the time. He sympathised, because there was a Full English deal on at the canteen – any nine items for 99p – when his daughter was born and, despite her being successfully delivered two and a half hours before the offer ran out, he still only just made it. He went for maximum variety, including fried tomatoes, probably I suspect as a celebration of the earth’s wondrous bounty. I’d have had six soft poached eggs and three slices of light granary toast myself, but becoming a father is quite tiring and each new dad needs to regain his strength as he sees fit.

All in all, the ability to be not quite in the moment is a valuable asset for anyone working in a hospital, and if you’re thinking of working in one yourself – perhaps to fulfill a lifelong ambition of being tired and poor – I strongly recommend you learn how to do it. I mean, pay attention and all that, obviously, but also try and think about something else quite often or you won’t get through your first week. The results can surprise you. For example, during a recent routine liver biopsy, I realised that I needed to start a trade union, and save the working class. It was quite a remarkable moment, although obviously under the circumstances I had to keep it to myself.


Main: The biscuit tin in A & E. As usual, it doesn’t have any custard creams in it, because I routinely steal them on behalf of the Radiology team.

Inset top: It will never not be the Jubilee in our staff room.

Inset middle: The scrubs cupboard. XL and XXL usually run out first. The NHS is so fat.

Inset lower: This used to be part of an airfield during World War Two. I let my dog run around and go nuts here now. The arrow is pointing towards Germany.

2 responses to “The Things You Won’t Allow Us, Part 1”

  1. I am pacing and smoking as I type – in anticipation of part two. Your insight is particularly timely as I am talking my Mother for a heart scan today. This follows an appointment with a heart specialist about six months ago (we are pretty certain he was a heart specialist). My Mum suspects they were banking on her not living long enough to take up the scan and is now convinced this is a new NHS policy to cut waiting lists, which she generally thinks is a good thing.

    • Nothing would surprise me with the NHS – it’s a madhouse, honestly – and the waiting list theory seems perfectly plausible. Still, fingers crossed for the scan, of course, even though it makes both typing and smoking tricky.

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