The NHS is a wondrous beast, but she loves an early check-in. The letter from the Western said get there for 7.30. Naturally, the Yorkshire husband thought we should leave at 6.30. We live in Leith. We could have walked it in that time. Why we were leaving so early? To beat the traffic, he said. 6.30. In the morning. Mind you, Ferry Road – he might have a point.
Surgery was booked for one o’clock. I was installed in a comfy chair. A stream of people wandered through to ask me my date of birth and present their credentials. I felt like Queen Victoria having the debutantes curtsey at court.
There was the awesomely calm staff nurse Karen. If she isn’t in charge of everything, then she should be. Then Jeffery. He does the anaesthetic. He looked and sounded a little like the upstanding hero of a 1940s black and white British film involving a tearful parting on a railway station. Stu, his junior, was more of a 21st century rave boy. Niki made me roar with laughter when she confessed to being an ‘aficionado of the male buttock’, having watched That Scene in Bodyguard on rewind more times than the plot warranted.
A delightfully bonkers surgeon appeared who told me he was from Paisley, and therefore genetically programmed to deal with sharp pointy objects, but trained to wield them wisely.
I was sitting waiting for major surgery and the only time I stopped laughing was when they bustled off to check something else, and when Karen came back and said, time to get changed.
Well, anyone would cry if they saw that gown and those compression stockings. I don’t do blue, I said, and promptly managed to get the gown on the wrong way round.
On the way to the Knockout Room, real tears started to well up. Not a problem. Karen was there with a quick medically-sanctioned hug and promise of tea.
The room for anaesthesia seemed tiny. There they were. Jeffrey, still looking like a baffled British officer in a movie about POW camps. Niki and Stu were having a snitty disagreement about the buttocks on show in Outlander and Sue, who said: “Any chance you could take me home with you? These three are driving me nuts”.
Jeffrey approached a machine reading a sheet of paper and Stu accused him of sneakily checking the user guide because he didn’t know how to use it. Everyone laughed, and Niki said...something. I’ll never know what, because five hours later, I woke up with my husband’s face looking at me with such relief.
The Knockout Room was an act, of course, and a brilliant one at that. I hadn’t walked on to the set of The Muppet Show’s famous Animal Hospital, where the cast used to look around hunting the source of the voiceover.
The minute my eyes closed I have no doubt that the joking stopped, and four crack professionals got on with their jobs. But the care that they took to make me feel, for the tiniest moment, part of a team of folk larking about was the most reassuring thing they could have done.
Potty skills helped with post-op pee
The NHS is almost as obsessed with urine production as she is with date of birth. Two fantastic young nurses helped me on my first post-surgery trip to the loo.
My peepee was the colour of blue Toilet Duck. It’s the radioactive dye that they use coming out. I would have failed every doping test in the world. The nurses proved a highly appreciative audience, lavishing praise on my performance and rate of production.
The last time anyone was that impressed by my toilet abilities was my mum, I said. In fact, when I finally hit potty training level 10, she was so pleased she gave me a Twix.
Oh, said young Nurse Whippersnapper, did they have Twix back then? No, I said. But they did in 2013.
Western General Ward 6 – an oasis of kindness in a frightening world
In the ward, I recovered from a bilateral mastectomy and spent the weekend laughing.
Shona was hooked to a chemotherapy drip that wouldn’t stop beeping at completely random moments. We nicknamed it Boris, after Mr Johnson.
Eleanor became mildly obsessed with cheese and biscuits. We plotted. There was a lift. We figured I could probably get to Waitrose for a couple of pre-mix G&Ts and a cheeseboard before the staff caught me. Never even made it as far as the door, but they gave us extra digestives to make up.
The medical team is heroic, from cleaner to nurse to consultant and on your side, unless you make a break for Waitrose, obviously. They are there just to make us better.
When the world looks grim and frightening, and full of horrible, hateful people, think of Ward 6, Western General Hospital, where there is nothing but the greatest kindness and the most selfless dedication to duty.