To Pass The Time Along

Public Service Announcement: This is a slightly bitty post, as I am experimenting with writing entirely on work time, either while waiting for the East Block lift, which is never in a hurry, or in the cardiovascular outreach office, an airless cupboard which has not seen natural light since 2002.

I was on a train recently when the driver announced via the public address system that we were ‘to prepare ourselves for dreadful news’. As my old friend Rachel pointed out from distant Nebraska, this is not a comforting way to address passengers on a mass transit system but, as we were still in Norwich station waiting to set off, there seemed little immediate cause for alarm. The news was that the Queen had died, and that the moment Smiths fans had been waiting for since 1986 had finally arrived. Well, not me, as I am both a Smiths fan and a monarchist, but still. The lady on the seat next to me immediately turned and said ‘My God! What do we do now?’ and I said there was no point asking me as I couldn’t believe it, even though we had been following the news of her physical deterioration at work all day. The Queen had, in fact, passed away as I was cycling onto Riverside from Barrack Street via the Bishop’s Bridge roundabout on the way to the station. Upon arriving home, I woke Nid to pass on the unhappy news. He had a considerable cry but, after his concerns about ‘what happens to the Spitflier’ (the Spitfire we saw during the Jubilee celebrations which he believed the Queen to be piloting) were addressed he promised to ‘defend the new King’ and went back to sleep. Thus, in our corner of the Realm, the three hundred year reign of lovely old Queen Elizabeth II was consigned to history.

Still, in the midst of life we are in death, as Agatha Christie, who should know because she was murdered on the Orient Express, would doubtless remind us, and my work up the hospital is an unending opportunity to contemplate mortality. Consider, for example, a nephrostomy, which is a surgical procedure whereby a thin tube is inserted percutaneously into your kidney to Lyin’ Eyes by the Eagles. It’s always Lyin’ Eyes by the Eagles, because patients under local anaesthetic can listen to their music of choice, and those with compromised urinary function love the Eagles. Lyin’ Eyes pops up on the ‘This is the Eagles’ Spotify playlist just as the catheter goes in, and during Tequila Sunrise, I will say ‘OK Ray/Joan, I need you to take a deep breath, deep as you can, and hold it till I tell you, OK?’ in my ‘now-pay-attention’ hospital voice.

(Tone of voice is more important than you might think. In common with people dealing with children or dogs, I have to use my ‘now-pay-attention’ voice, because if they don’t take a deep breath, they will enter cardiac arrest as New Kid In Town starts. If this was to happen, I assume the background music would return to Chaka Demus and Pliers’, cover of Twist and then Shout, which gets more airtime than you would otherwise expect in a clinical environment, because younger patients usually want ‘stuff from the 90s’. This, then, is the soundtrack to interventional surgery in the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital in the second decade of the twenty-first century.  Abba also feature regularly and, as an after thought, we will all have to get used to them singing about the ‘Dancing King’ now. It’ll be an adjustment but we’ll get used to it I expect.)

Anyway. I never tell Eagles fans they are a breath away from cardiac arrest during a nephrostomy. This raises an ethical point, as the information is clearly relevant and, assuming they have the capacity to understand, should they not know? I would argue that to do so could worry the patient out of a procedure which, equally clearly, it is in their best interest to have. Conversely, if I was too jocular, they might not take it seriously and inhale their way to the mortuary which, as the person who would have to wheel them there, only adds to my workload. My work is full of dilemmas like this.

Then again, I have learned that no good songs have ever been written about being on a highway in your mid-forties, thinking about some stoner you had a go on twenty years previously, which seems to be pretty much all the Eagles’ lyrical content concerns itself with, apart from the unforgettable Hotel In California, which is presumably about doing the same thing but drunk. The pleased-with-itself music of American baby boomers is fucking insufferable. Actually, I shall revise that, as I once sold a load of t shirts to the Doobie Brothers, most famous for Listen To A Bit Of Music, at Camden Market and they were a right larf. At around the same time, I sold stuff to Jon Squire of the Stone Roses, either Cagney or Lacey from Cagney and Lacey, the Blue Man Group and the lady responsible for shredding and burning Taylor Swift’s underwear after her two shows at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. What halcyon days they were.

If I ever find myself having a procedure – not beyond the realms of possibility, as I appear to be presenting symptoms of peripheral arterial disease – I want twenty five minutes of white noise played as my music of choice, the same as at my funeral. At my funeral, I’ve always wanted to have a list of names of a) the people in the congregation I never really liked and b) why I never really liked them read out as I am gathered unto God, so there is a running order to be worked out there. Maybe white noise, then the names of a) the people in the congregation I never really liked and b) why I never really liked them, then a minutes’ applause (as is the modern way), then the national anthem, then speed dating among the single members of the congregation to lighten the mood. Yes, that sounds lovely.

So there we are.


Main: Northrepps church.

Inset top: An operating theatre, aka procedure room or suite or lab. I’m lobbying to get a pool table put in to make it less formal.

Inset middle: The ‘box’. If you are ‘running’ for a theatre you sit here and prepare anything that might plausibly be required during a procedure in case someone in the room asks for it. It’s relatively simple to run for a specialised room like this, but in main theatres it is extremely complicated and requires skill, speed, and detailed knowledge.

Inset lower: Scrub room with trough-style urinal.

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