I visited the hospital today. This is very long, but I am pleased with it, I think? It is just about accurate, anyway.
1) What to wear.
You need to look as if you are not ill. Not too ill, anyway. You need to look healthy, but sober, as if perhaps you have come from an office. Small jewellery, light makeup, high neckline.
To dress in an overtly attractive way renders you either dismiss-ably healthy or depressingly fetishistic.
You also need to be almost comfortable. Too comfortable and you might well never leave, but however ardently you wish this not to be the case, you will almost certainly be there some time.
2) Read the letter.
The letter they send you will ask for things, such as a passport, a utility bill, and other documents which you, in a previous moment of organisation, have switched to the online equivalent of.
If you do not read the letter prior to leaving, you will not set off quite early enough to double back, but will have to, of course, because you will read the letter on the tube or the train or the bus or whichever way you think is the quickest.
Then you will have to retrace your steps and run home, and harbour in your chest that tight feeling that happens when you ardently wish that you were on time.
3) Getting there.
The following is no vanity. It will happen to you.
Let it first be said that we are all allowed to be suspicious of certain things, and whist I am in all honesty suspicious of several, one of these is people who idle their days away by taking public transport during normal working hours.
I know. Cruel? Perhaps.
But experience has taught me that if I get on the tube at twenty to two on a weekday afternoon, I will meet several men who strike up conversation with me as if I am the last barrier between themselves and oblivion; someone with a large, maltreated, jumpy dog, most likely bought explicitly for fighting, and a man so drunk that he sways against the rhythm of the train and has to use my head to steady himself as he moves to disembark.
4) Finding the hospital.
If it is anything like ‘mine’ (and loathe I am indeed to call it so), then your hospital will find you.
It will leer over you like a great grey cloud, fashioned from all the worst ideas about aesthetics that the sixties produced.
It is filthy, but cleaning would not improve it. Only demolotion would, and it is far too important for that.
Surrounding it like ants are all of the people you expect, those peripheral people who run around hospitals: men who have just dismounted motorbikes carrying organs resting on ice; ambulance crews loading and unloading people from stretchers. Be grateful you can observe these people: it means you do not need them to attend to you.
This great miasma of illness and healing is also badly signed. Not so badly that you never reach your destination, but badly enough that you half-run through the corridors for what feels to your feet to be hours.
I go to a dramatic ward, I grant you. My ward is for the problem births, for families sick with worry about new mothers, for women who can’t be mothers, for women who walk with pain or whose husband’s are impatient for a cure. I wonder whose idea it was to stick so many women ill with, or mourning for opposite things into the same greying space.
Luckily, I can creep through it, feeling guiltily fine, but this is very female pain.
My illness was once described to me, by a doctor,as ‘not sexy, or masculine enough, to warrant much research’. The whole ward throbs of that sentiment.
6) The consultation.
They are always very kind. Not unobtrusive, or vastly useful, but if kindness could heal then I would be cured through my encounters in hospitals.
Today the nurse made jokes which was sweet, and in fact, during the second examination supplied with a smile that it was nice to see me again so soon.
I rarely long for private healthcare, but I would pay BUPA a great deal in order to lie under blankets waiting to be examined rather than that thin, scratchy paper towel which barely covers your thighs.
There is the pantomime of entrances and exits: they pull closed curtain to allow you some privacy whilst undressing and wait outside the room until they imagine you have had enough time to remove your clothes and slip into that scratchy paper. They treat the whole thing as if undressing were the embarrassing part.
As if the act itself is too erotic, insufficiently clinical, to be witnessed by a healthcare professional. I would hotly contest this. I would be happy for every doctor in the land to watch me fold up my leggings on one of those wipe-clean chairs if they could forego what comes next.
I appreciate that nobody is doing this for the fun of it. That it is my illness, not their impulse, which necessitates this. And I am mostly fine. All pain is to be expected, and I am sufficiently normative, and healthy, that I am free to go. This particular doctor takes an extremely detailed sexual history of my short life, but perhaps you will forego that pleasure. On the downside for you, though, you might not be invited back in six months.
Take something sugary to relieve you.You will be shaky and exhausted, and grateful because you are ok. (I hope you are ok).
I made it as far as the park and then lay on the grass observing the grey sky and finishing a book about people far sicker than I am which I mistakenly thought might be cheering in my situation.
Be prepared to wait two hours at the hospital pharmacy. Be prepared for the world to seem curious on the journey home. But be pleased – well done – you have survived it, feeling almost no worse for wear, and certainly more grateful that the people inside the unglorious hospital building know your workings far better than you do, and even if they can’t heal you – and perhaps they can’t – they can show you how to stay the best you can be for the longest time.