I’ve never liked hospitals. I don’t even like going in them as a visitor. They’re full of sick people and I try to avoid them at all costs. Most of all I hate waiting and that’s what you do in hospitals – wait. If you go with your partner you wait around until he/she has been seen. If it’s you, then you wait around until your number is called.
You wait and wait and wait until you’re so bored you start looking at the dog-eared magazines that are always there, and have been there since the hospital opened its doors over a thousand years ago.
There’s never a Hustler or a Men Only or a Playboy in there - I mean, what would be a better way for a man to spend his time than looking at the wide open beavers in the Readers Wives section and wondering how on earth these wives got talked into degrading themselves in such a way?
The magazines you’ll find in every hospital waiting room are always the same – there’s the obligatory Reader’s Digest (every waiting room should have one), an oddly old fashioned magazine that’s only ever read by people who don’t like reading. And if you don’t like that there’s OK, Hello or Woman’s Own. If you’re not a woman there will be a selection of specialist magazines like Glue-Licker's Monthly and other equally obscure magazines that are primarily aimed at the mentally retarded who can find nothing better to fill their time than to stick things onto other things or record meaningless numbers into notebooks that will be chucked out with the rest of their rubbish when they’re dead.
Back in 1989, when I was working as the deputy editor of the Marham News, the editor told me that he had been ordered by the Station Commander to escort a group of aircraft enthusiasts (they’re like train spotters, but instead of recording meaningless train numbers in their notebooks they take down meaningless aircraft tail numbers) around the Unit. When he took them into a hangar and showed them a Tornado aircraft they were disappointed to find that it had the tail number of TA197.
“We don’t want to see this one,” the self-appointed spokesman for the group said. “We’ve already seen it. We want to see TA198.”
“Why?” asked the editor, who couldn’t for the life of him grasp why grown men would indulge themselves in such a pointless obsession.
“Because we haven’t seen that one,” came the reply.
“But it’s exactly the same as this one.”
“It’s hardly exactly the same,” snorted the self-appointed spokesman in a derisory tone, turning to his deluded disciples who were all sniggering behind their hands at the editor’s lack of understanding of the important but pointless historical research they were carrying out. “It has a different tail number.”
They were, apparently, making a list of all the different aircraft tail numbers on all the RAF Stations in the area, which would then be compiled into a book which they were planning to publish in the near future. Why anyone would want to publish such a book, let alone read it, is beyond my comprehension.
I'm digressing here, but taking a book with you into a hospital waiting room is a reasonable option to consider when combatting the boredom of being there in the first place, but that option wouldn’t even cross your mind if you were suffering from a major trauma. The last thing you would think about if you were lying in a pool of your own blood with an axe in your head is, ‘I must nip home first and select a well written book with interesting characters revolving around a fiendishly devised and totally believable plot from my extensive and comprehensive collection of Dan Brown books.’
For a start, Dan Brown is incapable of writing such a book, and secondly – you just wouldn’t.
If having to put up with the crappy magazines wasn’t enough – there’s always one kid in there who is bent on destroying the world and making everyone’s life a misery by making as much noise as possible. He shouts, he cries, he bangs things against other things while his modern parents look on because they don’t believe in disciplining him in case it affects his human rights. They don’t consider your human rights as you sit there in silent rage thinking about all the different ways you can shut their precious child up – because, not only are you suffering from an injury sustained from a night of heavy drinking, you’re also nursing the world’s worst hangover and the last thing you need, in small room bereft of any kind of intellectual stimulus, is a kid that you want to kill.
So why are we tortured like this in hospital waiting rooms? I’ll tell you why – it’s because when you finally get called in to see the doctor and he tells you that you’re dying from some unpronounceable incurable tropical disease and that you only have a month to live, the only sensation you can feel, as you take in the terrible news, is one of relief – because nothing could be worse than spending another second in that waiting room.
It’s ironic, then, that as I get older I seem to be spending more and more time in them. My knees hurt from time to time because I have a touch arthritis in them, probably due to all the road running I did when I was younger. My back and shoulders ache from sitting hunched in front of a computer all day long. My eyesight is failing because of the same. I can’t hear as well I used to and it takes me longer and longer to recover from a late night out involving alcohol. And as for dancing – well, the day after we were married my wife told me that if she had seen me dance before our wedding day she would have called the whole thing off. So, no change there then – and even though I like dancing (even if those around me don’t) my knees ache for days after the event. As an ex-punk, however, it’s disastrous – when you can no longer pogo it’s the end of life as you know it.
In short, I’m starting to fall apart.
I was in the Almana General Hospital the other day, waiting to see the excellent orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Hassan, about my knee. The acronym for Almana General Hospital is AGH, which (if you put an A before it and an exclamation mark after it) spells the death cry of a German soldier in the Commando comics of my youth – “AAGH! SIE HABEN MICH GETÖTET, SIE BRITISH SCHWEIN HUND!”
As an ex-pat I’m lucky because I have a BUPA card, which means that I get seen fairly quickly (provided I have an appointment) and if I need anything done (like a brain transplant) I’m in and out before I know it.
It’s what happens afterwards that takes time. My wife, Jackie, needed some medication after seeing the doctor at a different hospital and because they didn’t have that medication in the hospital pharmacy she was told to obtain it from the pharmacy that was outside, but still attached to the hospital.
They didn’t have any there either and so the next day I drove around every Pharmacy in Al-Khobar with the prescription and at each one I was told no, they didn’t have it. The next day I decided to try the Pharmacy outside the hospital again, just on the off-chance that the drugs may have been received.
I waited patiently in line to see the pharmacist until it was my turn. He looked at the prescription and then went into a back room. I waited and waited and waited and when he finally emerged he told me that they did have some, but I couldn’t have it because I had to get it from the Pharmacy inside the hospital. “Right,” I said, and went to the Pharmacy inside the hospital as directed and was told that they didn’t have any but the Pharmacy outside the hospital did, and that I should get it from there. I went back to the Pharmacy outside the hospital and told them that the Pharmacy inside the hospital had told me to get it from them. The Pharmacy outside the hospital said that they couldn’t give it to me because only the Pharmacy inside the hospital could give it to me.
“But the Pharmacy inside the hospital haven’t got any,” I said.
“So, if I go back to the Pharmacy inside the hospital they’ll tell me to come back to you because you have some.”
“Yes. We have some, but we can’t give it to you. Only the Pharmacy inside the hospital can give it to you.”
“But they don’t have any.”
“And you do.”
“And you’re part of this hospital.”
“So why can’t you give me any?”
“Only the Pharmacy inside the hospital can give it to you.”
“But they don’t have any.”
“That’s right, but we have some.”
“So, if you’re part of this hospital and the Pharmacy inside the hospital don’t have any but you do, then you should be able to give it to me.”
“No. Only the Pharmacy inside the hospital can give it to you.”
And so it went on for another thirty minutes. The only reason I gave up was because the call for Al-Fajer (evening prayer) was sounding, which meant that the inside and outside Pharmacies would be shut and I would have to wait around for forty minutes until they opened again.
I would have given up much earlier had I been younger and lacking the patience to argue whether the outside Pharmacy could give me the prescription that the inside Pharmacy didn’t have, but when you’re younger you don’t want to waste time on petty bureaucratic nonsense. As you get older it’s that sort of thing that makes time go slower, thereby giving you the impression that you are somehow extending your life.
And here I still am – older but not necessarily wiser. My joints ache a bit from time to time and I say “Neerrrhhhhh,” whenever I get up from a chair, but I have no intention of giving up and becoming an old man.
I intend to grow old disgracefully.
When my wife was working as an Art teacher at the British International School of Al-Khobar, one of her older male colleagues stated, “I pulled an all-nighter last night.” The middle-aged teachers were impressed that such a man, coming up for retirement, could perform a feat of endurance that they could only dream about, until he qualified his statement with: “It’s the first time in ages that I didn’t have to get up halfway through the night for a piss.”
There’s a line in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart and the gorgeous Donna Reed are canoodling outside the old house that would eventually become their home. They go to kiss each other but stop and an old man sitting on his porch shouts, “Youth is wasted on the young!”
And that’s just the way I feel. I have this theory that we live our lives the wrong way round – as youngsters we have the stamina but we don’t have the knowledge or the experience and as we grow older we gain the knowledge and experience but lose the stamina.
I’ll be sixty in seven months and I can categorically tell you that I do have the knowledge and the experience and sometimes, if I wait long enough, I even have the stamina.