Monday, 6 December 2010

Food, glorious food!

I woke on Friday 24 September feeling both wiped out and with a low appetite.

In fact, I have minimal recollection of the events of the main part of the day, although they would have included my eating breakfast and lunch out of necessity rather than enthusiasm. Will you therefore forgive me if I take a small diversion to reflect on my experience of hospital that had just ended?

In some lights the account of my stay in Aspen Ward could appear tinged with ingratitude for the many acts of both duty and kindness I received from the numerous members of staff I encountered. Also, I have in recent weeks spent a number of hours viewing and participating in the discussion board set up by IWMF, which–you will recall–is the foundation set up in the USA for sufferers from my particular lymphoma. From this it is apparent that our American cousins have to spend much of their time negotiating the small print of health insurance contracts before they can be sure of receiving the treatment that they need. As you will see in due course from my own dealings with the NHS yet to be recorded here, we in the UK face our own battles to secure treatment, particularly with more esoteric substances, but our struggles are as nothing compared to those across the Atlantic. The NHS is a system that is beyond the wildest dreams of most people in the world: access to healthcare that is essentially free at the point of need, that fulcrum of stress and anxiety.

The system is of course imperfect. What is so frustrating however is that some of the imperfections should be so easy to rectify that much misery could be averted on a daily, no, an hourly basis. For example, at the root of the delay in my CT scan appointment was a clerical error by the ward over the actual time of the appointment: having been told by me of the time of the appointment and shown the hospital's own letter confirming same, some person or persons on the ward proceeded to record the time as an hour later than it should have been. This basic error was compounded by the staff administering the appointments in the x-ray department, who failed to respond to requests both for information and action from my brother and from other hospital staff. At least, I think that’s what happened, such was the tangled mess of communication that became apparent.

My fervent prayer is also that there is some creative soul out there who could address the whole issue of the soundscape of hospital life: the bleeps, buzzers, bells and hooters (all right, I made up the last one) that fill the air and torment both conscious and subconscious mind. We are so used to suppressing conscious awareness of the noises that pollute our everyday modern lives, particularly in the city, that we are for the most part unaware of the stress that has been caused to us physically and psychologically. Against my utopian instincts bottom-line, bean-counting arguments can no doubt be marshalled in profusion; nevertheless the health service of all places should be the one that addresses itself to the healthy use of sound.

What then was positive about my experience in hospital?

At the most basic and vital level an infection that could have killed me or at least made me seriously ill was defeated. For this and for all the efforts of hospital staff to attend to my various medical needs, I must remain ever grateful. There was (with one notable exception) good humour from most staff that made this potentially alienating time much easier to bear. When deficits of language placed wit and repartee beyond reach there was at least kindness.

The hospital as a whole also generally gives the impression that it is run efficiently for the benefit of patients. On entering the building there is a bustling energy that is quite palpable and itself gives one hope that here at least one will be well cared for.

Hospital food was far from all bad, the lamentable tuna salad of my penultimate day notwithstanding, although there is always, it seems, the proverbial “room for improvement”.

Sausage Casserole: my first meal as an inpatient.
6/10 for this one.
Mention of food brings us back to the crowning moment of Friday 24 September, which was chicken korma prepared in the evening by my daughter and my son's girlfriend, upon both of whom be countless blessings. Indian food is just about my favourite of all and the warm spicy aromas met my returning appetite halfway. The meal that we shared that evening cheered me no end as it was clear evidence of returning health.

My wife was elsewhere, having gone with my sister-in-law to see Così fan Tutte at Covent Garden, a welcome respite for her as well as a musical treat. For me on this occasion however a wholesome meal was sufficient pleasure and, with the company of my family added to the mix, gave me renewed strength.

A scene from Così fan Tutte by the wondrous Mozart, like so many dramas from the past a tale of mistaken identities.
I wonder if the fascination of such tales was helped by the scarcity of mirrors and the lack of photography.
Disguises of course still make for great stories: witness nearly any episode of Spooks.
Note also how steamed up we get about the sporting (if that be the word) of the niqab.

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