The Bastard Noose: Eating, Sleeping, Washing & Crapping

This isn't just food. This is NHS food.
Subtitle: The Little Things

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I'm told my The Bastard Noose posts are all a bit sad and depressing. Can't think why. Because I’m so desperate for affection I promised a lighter post, so I thought I'd run through the facilities in the Emergency Department. Obviously it isn't a hotel (at least, not until the building is inevitably sold off and restored as a “boutique resort” with ironic medically themed rooms and the birthing pools turned into jacuzzis), but I was there for eight days which is longer than I’ve stayed in most hotels.

In the spirit of a happier tone on my part, here is a breakdown of the ED’s hospitality in case you ever have to spend a night or more(!) in a bay there. Or really in any hospital ever, for anything.

Private hospitals don't count, obviously. They have a much nicer atmosphere which you are more likely to die in.

The Room

A room that isn't a room, without four walls. A table which isn't a table, it folds and wheels. No daylight or sense of time. Is this a hospital stay or a philosophical conundrum?

Travelodge it isn’t, but Bay 13 did share some similarities with the less than salubrious hotel chain. My first night I had to compete with my appointed stalker, which are not available in Travelodge, and drunks (more on that in a later post) who definitely are available in Travelodge.

Drugs, too, though perhaps different ones which are occasionally available in Travelodge. I imagine. I was promised a sleeping pill, but after several hours of pass the buck between the staff, I decided to kick back and enjoy the show. All while desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the lady who apparently never blinked and had no intention of averting her scarily intense gaze. 

WiFi can be purchased by the day, a rip off yet worth every penny. I also bought a PPV fight and sat in my uppy-downy bed watching two blokes take lumps out of each other. I could have saved myself £20 and just pulled the curtain, but it felt a little voyeuristic.

The uppy-downy bed isn’t very comfortable, but once you’ve wolfed down some eventually available hospital grade sleeping pills, put your eye mask on and ear plugs in, you can get a good four or five hours kip a night. Genuinely better sleep than I was getting at home. 

Eating

Tricky this one. Admittedly the food is not as bad as it used to be, and there is choice. If that choice turns up, which frequently it didn’t as if I was in the loo or if the person running round the literal mad-house taking orders missed me. That happens and you ain’t eating.

Breakfast was the most reliable meal of the day in terms of actually arriving. 6/7am is the quietest time in the ED, and a dose of drugs with a lukewarm tea in a polystyrene cup was usually pretty welcome. Sadly the choice was fairly lacklustre. Bread with jam- not toast as it’s a health and safety risk, or a choice of children’s size cereal, but not the fun ones. I had a brain image (I’m trying to avoid the word mental where possible) of the NHS purchasing the Kelloggs Variety Packs and giving all the fun ones to management. Somewhere in that hospital was a senior manager scoffing down three tiny boxes of Coco Pops.

I relied heavily on cheese toasties from Costa, kindly brought to me by my family as I wasn’t allowed out of the department alone. Tea and coffee too. This wasn’t entirely an act of altruism as after my relatives had agreed to one, admittedly kindly offered, ED cuppa they decided Costa was preferable and buggered off there as much as possible. At least I think that was the reason.
"Frosties? Not on my watch!"
Lunch and dinner were from the same menu, which was fine as it wasn’t too limited provided you got in first. Rock up mildly late and it's what few sandwiches are left. Once my choice was between a carrot and hummus wrap and hunger. I fumed with an empty belly. You can take my life, but you'll never make me vegan.

Being a bit of a foodie I tried to mix up my orders, with varying results.

Best: the roast chicken was surprisingly alright, as was salmon with hollandaise sauce and the bolognese- which was spoilt only by arriving still in the microwave plastic and film sheet.

The Chinese chicken curry was acceptable but contained what I can only describe as a small army of sultanas. I have long thought that anyone who puts sultanas in anything other than cakes (which I don't eat) is a thoroughbred psychopath; the unholy culinary offspring of Gordon Ramsey and Myra Hindley.

Worst: fish and chips (see top picture), hands down. The chips were undercooked and the fish was even more so. Thanks to the lid they put on it, they'd all sweated up too. The chips sagged as you picked them up. All of it was grey, barely distinguishable from the disheartening, droopy plastic plate it was served on. I didn't eat a bite.

Further to that, They shut the kitchen at 5pm, so dinner comes incredibly early. If you are older than 3 that is.

Top tip: if you are able, stock up on food which won’t spoil quickly, chocolates and sweets are fine, but after day 3 your body will crave sandwiches and salads. They’ve swapped the Burger King for an M & S which I suppose is an improvement, and it does do a nice line in healthier munch.

Washing

Problematic. The Emergency Department does not have showers, which isn’t a surprise because the only people supposed to spend more than a few hours there are the staff. I wasn’t too bothered at first. Part of my nonchalance about anything more hard work than an old fashioned stand up sink rinse was that at the time I naively believed I’d be gone in a matter of hours. Whisked away to the five star luxury of a mental health ward, with its locked doors, quiet halls, warm showers and Nurse Ratched. 

When the reality kicked in, I had to seek hygiene-asylum elsewhere, invading neighbouring wards in my civvies and getting turned away as if I’d wandered in off the street looking for a shower and a hot meal. Which to be fair is pretty much exactly what had happened, only I’d had a cold sandwich instead of a hot meal because they’d gone, and I’d been there several days. In the staff's defence, the smell was off-putting even to me.

Fortunately I’m well connected, or more accurately my mum is, and after more days than I care to mention she called in a favour; I had a very welcome shower in another part of the hospital. Marvellous. 

Crapping

It’s a public toilet, the loo in a 24 hour a day Emergency Department. I can’t paint it as being any nicer than what you can imagine. What I can do though is explain how much worse it was than you might imagine.

You get used to the rancid smell and the blood, I even mastered going for a poo with my saline drip along for the ride. It does take a bit of practice, but you gotta make mistakes to learn. However, my stand out memory is of wandering drearily down past all the other poor patients in varying states of despair, pain and nakedness. I was plugged in to my phone, listening to music to drown out the screams. I'd mastered the art of eyeing the gap between the door and the frame to see if the lock was across to save rattling the handle, which I really hate when I’m logging out.

The lock wasn’t across, so I swung the door open with all the cocksuredness of a veteran at this shit. Bugger. There was a guy sat on the Thomas Crapper. I hurriedly apologised and went to shut the door, bowing, rushing and swiftly tangling my headphone cables around the handle. I panicked and desperately averted my gaze as I fumbled around trying to unpick the fuckers and not look like I had a faecal fetish. 

After what felt like ten minutes I got the headphones off the handle and shut the door. It would take me another day to untangle the little bastards from one another, but that’s by the by. Suddenly it dawned on me that the guy in the room not only had not moved, but was slumped over and definitely unconscious. In my haste I’d not taken it all in. I went up to a security guard and told him about this. The guard seemed a bit put out as he was busy trying to look important to the nurses, but he wandered over.

I heard the radio go, the crash call go in, and before I’d made it back to Bay 13 doctors were rushing past me. Don’t worry though, I found another toilet.

The Staff

With the exception of one or two doctors, still a small percentage given the number of them I saw, the staff were absolutely amazing. Doctors, nurses and I’d like to send special love to the volunteers, who were unfailingly polite and helpful and just lovely. The doctors were, erm, doctors. Masters of non-committance and vagaries.

The nurses were fun, funny, compassionate and frankly made the stay so much easier on what must be one of the hardest (I know for a fact there are no “easy” nursing roles) areas of the hospital to work in. I did comment at one point that they were aesthetically pleasing, too.

My sister countered,

“Yeah but Ad, they've seen your notes.”

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