The Bastard Noose: Finding the Funny


I’m rather proud of my ability to find humour in things others are reviled by or at least uncomfortable with; it has certainly helped me throughout my time in hospital and beyond. In all of life’s ups and downs, seeing the funny in something can be the slither of hope. If I can still laugh, I can still live. With that in mind, I bring you the tales of Barbara and an unnamed gentleman, both of whom I came across in my first twenty four hours in Bay 13. Stories I could twist any which way, but will try to find the funny in.

While I hope Barbara (not her real name) and the man I describe are well now, I also hope my lottery ticket wins next week.

My troubles felt as if they paled in significance with those of the poor souls who wandered or were escorted through the ED. It made me feel sane, then guilty for being that selfish. Every person has layers, levels, branches. Only it seemed the leaves were falling from many of these poor trees like it was late autumn (which it was but that’s really just coincidence). Some were uprooted completely.

It isn't, but that Emergency Department felt immediately like a mental health ward. When I arrived the man in the bay next to me, a tall, built geezer who sounded lucid at first, had two appointed stalkers to my one. A lady later that week had three and a manager, but I honestly could not find any funny in her situation, even with my dark sense of mirth.

Security, Sunday league football referees in stab proof vests, were hovering this man’s bay, desperately trying to justify their existence while they hit on the nurses. This gentleman, and he did seem gentle for the most part, was in hospital because he'd turned up looking for his tea towels. Tea towels he was certain the hospital had taken from his flat- fast tracked to a sectioning he wasn’t happy about.

This poor man was unwell and desperate, but I saw the funny. Even then I laughed like a bastard. The gent was clearly in need of help- much more so than me and my middle class existential angst. I know where my tea towels are, they just don't form an adequate noose. The funny, the irony of that horrible humour, stayed with me.

Unfortunately, or perhaps beneficially, this little window into another's mental health was just the beginning. I will try and do the people I came across justice as humans, which they all were in abundance. Give me one tea towel man or Barbara over any auditor, it's a much more fun afternoon.

Later that night I discovered that my proximity to the parade of audibly and visibly upset, distinguishably mentally ill people was because I fell into that same category. That being one which the staff have to keep an eye on. I was probably listed as one to watch on a wipe board somewhere- damning permanence to anyone with experience of the NHS. The pressing issue that first night though was the aforementioned Barbara, heard through my curtain, the literal fourth wall, like a radio play. A radio is what your parents listen to The Archers on.

Unable to sleep, not yet possessing any of the requisite drug prescriptions or sensory deprivation equipment to offset the noise, I lay in the uppy-downy bed neither up nor down.

At about midnight, like Cinderella's deliberately forgotten twin, Barbara swaggered and staggered into the ED. Although my veneer of concealment held true to outgoing issues, those issues on the outside coming in I learned were on a one way street. With no speed limit. Initially very, very annoying, once I accepted I wasn't going to sleep Barbara was very good entertainment. I apologise for speaking of her this way, but she really was fucking hilarious.

Clearly absolutely hammered, singing at the top of her crumbling lungs, shouting nonsense and badgering the staff to the point of frustration, Barbara was both the reason I couldn't sleep, and the reason I didn't. The nurses were incredibly professional, patient and good natured with her, though clearly finding the Barbara show as funny as I was, even in their fraught environment. It was gone midnight and the ED was backed up out of the door still.

I began to notice that there were contradictions in some of Barbara's claims. Naively at first trying to believe some of the utter nonsense that flowed from her like like slurry from a sluice. 

“My father was the Prime Minister!” She exclaimed on more than one occasion.

Given that I couldn’t see her and she sounded South London seventy, so late fifties, that would make her father twenty to forty years older than her. Who was Prime Minister that many years ago, I wondered; before realising anything earlier than Thatcher and I’m stumped. Churchill? Jacob Rees-Mogg?

It was like drowning a very big bag of kittens containing Barbara. Kittens, for those who don't know, are notoriously difficult to drown en masse.*

She was loud, drunk and from what I could gather eating chips she'd bought in with her off the floor having dropped them. Advised by the nurses that it might not be healthy to eat off of the ED floor, Barbara was sadly, hilariously, determined not to be restrained or quietened that evening. After about round five of “Simply the best” I warmed to it, particularly her devotion to vocally attempting the guitar parts. Clearly some of the others did, too, as after a while it lodged in their brains despite the tuneless, wandering cover version she was performing on repeat.

Barbara soon had a little choir helping her out, and the nurses’ firm requests for quiet became sterner. Like a parent scolding a child for something wrong but ultimately hilarious, like wiping poo on a stuffy grandparent’s precious carpet, you could hear the joy they were finding in the absurdity of it all.

Eventually it all went quiet. Barbara had evidently wandered off and nobody seemed to be that upset. Given I couldn’t see the situation, only hear it, I assumed that was that and the hubbub ambled on as I sat bored in my bed. My appointed stalker still cutting through Bay 13’s (relative) darkness with the powerful beams of her unwavering stare. 

Listening to the staff's chatter, I heard one nurse returning to the station ask,

“Ooh who bought chips?”

“DO NOT EAT THOSE CHIPS!”

Barbara eventually showed up again, at least in conversation. She’d clearly done a runner and the staff had been subtly trying to find her- I hadn’t heard any comments. The giveaway was a doctor rocking up to the nursing station and asking if they were still looking for the drunk they had lost. The doctor thinks she’d found her in an out-of-bounds waiting room somewhere deeper in the hospital. Barbara had gone for a kip, alongside the brand new bottle of vodka she’d been out to buy.

"Oh for fuck's sake."

Barbara was a very sad form of comic relief, and a portent of what was to come as an inpatient. I desperately hope Barbara is well now. I am realistic enough to doubt it.

The emergency department is a magnet for incredibly ill people: the very sick, the old with no one else, the disturbed, the aggressive. The desperate, and we are in desperate times. Nurses, staff and volunteers handled this caustic cauldron of crazy with utter humanity, total love and empathy. I held less love and empathy at the time, I was tired. I just found it funny.

Days wore on and while there are many little titbits I could pass on from my notes. The notes, my family and I grew increasingly concerned with the pressing issue- the hospital’s need to move me on. The trust was fined for every hour I was spending in Bay 13 having surpassed the arbitrary targets the government impose lacking any comprehension of how hospitals work in the real world.

By about day three, I was more than a little keen for this to happen too. The battle for a bed raged until day eight, a bone of contention as the NHS bed crisis became startlingly real. Beds are hard to find.

*I apologise to all kitten lovers for that joke, I always gently drown them one by one. I get a good deal for the lean meat from a well known cat food manufacturer for it, too**

** also a joke


It is completely unrelated but I would like to send a lot of love and joy to Fran and Adam on their wedding Xx

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