If you’ve never seen Victoria Wood’s “Two Soups” sketch, I’ll briefly describe it to you. A couple are engaged in some sort of tense discussion whilst awaiting the arrival of their meal – or at least the first course of their meal. Cue Julie Walters as an ancient waitress with scary false teeth and an old-fashioned hearing-aid cord dangling from her ear.
Asked what the soup of the day is, she totters backwards and forwards from table to kitchen, kitchen to table, crabwise, a seemingly infinite number of times, so incredibly slowly, forgetting the question en route. When she finally emerges through the swing-doors from the kitchen with the two plates of soup she manages to empty both plates onto the floor, but brings them to the table nonetheless. Best just to watch it – it’s not that long, and it’s on YouTube.
Well I had that kind of day. The infected hand had brought me to the hospital for one last time, or I sincerely hoped so. Sign me off, sign me off. Oral antibiotics please was the refrain running through my head as I queued in the Friends of the Hospital shop for tea, and a cheese-and-pickle roll. And lo and behold an ancient female Friend of the Hospital was engaged in re-supplying the coffee machine. Standing on a stool with her back to the queue she was tremulously attempting to open foil bags full of coffee beans that wouldn’t open, and find various other bags of stuff that needed to go into various slots and canisters in the innards of the machine. I felt sorry for her, but I have never (since the Two Soups sketch) seen anyone do something so very slowly and so very badly. But after all, she was a volunteer.
“I’ll just have the cheese-and-pickle roll,” I said. I only had half an hour.
I don’t do queueing up. That is, I do queue because everyone in this life is forced to wait and wait for all manner of vital goods and services, especially in Britain. Everyone queues in Britain, and the odd foreigner who pushes is regarded with horror, and proof if proof was needed that British civilisation never did reach other parts of the European Union, nay, not even as far as Calais on the boats.
I queue because I simply have to, but mentally I suffer. Over the years I have perfected my Patient Face, a mask of ethereal, Mona Lisa-like serenity to be worn whilst staring into the middle distance. Inwardly, like everyone else, I seethe.
In the clinic I tell them my appointment is at 10 o’clock, knowing I won’t be seen until at least half past and maybe not for several hours, if it’s a particularly bad day in A&E. This clinic is where the walking wounded of A&E end up. I wait with people who have bad feet, slipped bandages and bad stomachs, with fretful, feverish children and people who arrive in wheelchairs that take up half the floor space. The man next to me screws his eyes tight shut and clutches at his heart. He is obviously trying not to groan. Why have they sent him here? I wonder. Surely he is dying of a heart attack? But there is nothing I can do.
And then I am sitting in the squeaky plastic chair next to the nurse/doctor. She is typing, possibly updating my notes prior to (please God!) discharging me back onto oral antibiotics. She types with one finger, at the speed the Two Soups waitress walks. She does not talk to me while she is doing this. I can feel my heart racing just from the sheer tension of this silent wait. Then she turns to me, as if surprised that I am still there. “I am finished with you,” she announces. “Season’s Greetings.”
And then I am sitting at another hospital – the local one – awaiting a blood test. I have taken my ticket which says B59. They are the same tickets you get from the delicatessen counter at Sainsbury’s, when you’re after some non-standard type of cheese. Everyone in front of me in the queue turns out to be very, very old, and not to be able to get their arms out of or into their coat-sleeves. Outside it is icy. There are very many layers to shed/don. Then there are the elbow-crutches. Don’t get me started on those.
And now I am sitting at home. I have had to scribble out a timetable to accommodate the ingestion of more tablets than I have ever had to ingest in my life. One lot has to be taken three times a day with food, another three times a day but no specific instructions re food, and the third set has to be taken either one hour before or two hours after a meal, four times a day. This proves almost impossible to fit in with my normal eating times, so I am having to stretch out the times between meals, unnaturally.
I am very hungry, but hey – I see there are only ten minutes to go. By the time I get downstairs and have microwaved one of those tasteless old-person’s meals, it will be OK to eat. OK to eat!
And not soup.