The surgical ward is a bizarre and confusing place. It’s a little bit like purgatory except, if you’re there for a gallbladder-ectomy (they literally gave me nine leaflets with the proper name on but I’m the worst), the stakes aren’t really that high. Instead of purgatory between life and death it’s purgatory between being able to eat a four-cheese pizza knowing that you might feel like you’re dying for several hours afterwards, and being able to eat a four cheese pizza knowing that the only thing that will might kill you is your terrible diet, and that probably won’t happen for at least a few more months.
Upon arrival in the surgical ward I am handed a gown and no instructions for how to wear it. The nurse draws a curtain around me and I curse myself for not asking as I debate the merits of having the gap over my bum or, well, the other side. I go for the bum because I used to watch a lot of scrubs and I think JD would approve. The nurse comes back and measures my calves, and I think back to the the night before when I weighed up the pros and cons of shaving my legs and decided the cons had it. They’re pricklier than is probably necessary. I hope she doesn’t snag her tape measure. She brings me back a pair of surgical stockings in a size extra large and I resolve to spend a lot less time on the coast path when I’m up and about.
I am easily the youngest patient. There’s probably thirty years between me and the next one, so I sit in my gown, in my corner, and read my book, destined never to fit in. The rest of Team Gallbladder fight it out in a passive-aggressive competition to establish who’s been suffering the most.
“I had a Chinese takeaway a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t get out of bed for two whole days…”
“My Christmas was a nightmare.”
“My doctor says I don’t have lots of stones, I just have one giant stone.”
I tune out the noise like the well-practised nerd that I am, and go back to my book, but it’s not long before they’re calling me from across the room.
“Excuse me? Hello? Sorry? Hi. Are you wearing knickers?”
I inform the Witches of Eastwick that, as it happens, I am not wearing anything whatsoever under my gown. They’re not happy. They don’t want the surgeons to see their lady bits. The insides of their abdomens are totally fair game, but god forbid the surgeon twigs that they might be in possession of a vagina. I tell them I just thought no underwear was the right way to go because that’s what they seem to do on Holby City. I’ve never seen Holby City but I think my Scrubs references would be wasted on them.
They call over a nurse who tells them that, yes, they should be removing their underwear. After much outcry she scares up a few pairs of what look like cycling shorts made out of the same material as our surgical stockings. That way the doctor can cut them off if wearing underwear for an operation turns out to be wildly unhygienic. I think we all know which way it’s going to go.
“Do you want some?” She asks, waving a pair in my direction. I politely decline. I’ve already been without undies for a couple of hours and I’m feeling so liberated at this point that there’s a good chance I may never go back.
“She’s young.” One of the old ladies says, because apparently she feels the need to dismiss my being the only person who is actually doing as she’s told as youthful confidence.
The grumbling stops when we hear the sound of shoes on the floor. The closest thing to shoes anybody is wearing are the nurses whose crocs make no sound. We all look up to see a kindly old man in the doorway. He’s dressed in black and wearing an actual dog collar, because he is an actual reverend, and I am not wearing any underwear.
He slowly walks around the ward, stopping to make small talk with each of the patients as if we are dying, instead of having mild problems with digesting fat. He spends forever talking to the two queen bees of the surgical ward – one of them came from a village I’ve never heard of which I gather is quite far away. The other one also comes from somewhere too. They both know members of the clergy that this member of the clergy has also heard of. I start to worry that the members of the clergy I bring up will not be anywhere near as fascinating to him because they won’t have a hundred mutual vicar friends and also my clergymen don’t exist. I feel very aware of my downstairs al-fresco situation.
I decide instead to one-up the lady from a long way away by telling the reverend about my dad driving all the way from London just to drop me at the hospital and take me home again. The vicar nods vaguely and walks off in the direction of the TV room. I am gutted that my genuine attempt to make small talk was such a failure. This was supposed to be my first genuine conversation with someone in a dog collar that didn’t include the sentence “I’m sorry I deliberately sang the wrong words to When Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”. Instead, Like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m cold and I’m ashamed, lying naked on the floor (chair).
The coven goes back to their game of ‘who has it worse?’.
The nurse gives us all a handful of preemptive painkillers.
I turn the other cheek and enjoy the breeze.