I’ve decided to say something to Arnold: to enquire how he’s feeling; ask if I can do anything for him; find out if he wants to talk. Mind you, I’ll have to watch what I say. You know how it is in hospitals: sometimes patients aren’t in the mood for conversation, for one reason or t’other. They like to lie quiet to think and worry. Yes worry: will I come through this?; how long have I got?; why me?; what have I done to deserve this?.
At other times, they need cheering up - a something or someone to distract them from their health problems. That’s how it is with the man in the next bed to me.
"Arnold. Are you awake?" I ask.
"Yes, John. What is it?"
"How are you feeling, today? Is there any change from yesterday? Can I get you anything?"
"A bit better, I think - but it won't last long. I'm not needing anything, thanks, unless you can find a new body for me to replace this mangy, old thing."
“Aye. I don’t think we could make up one decent body between the two of us from all the working parts we’ve got – and that aint many.” He seemed to be in the mood for a bit of talking, so I thought I'd try some humour on him. "I don't know about you, Arnold, but I'm glad it's not a mixed ward I'm in again. I couldn't suffer it."
"Why's that, John? Didn't some fragrant, fruity, female form raise your blood pressure?"
"That was the only thing they raised. I had these two old broilers next to me, one on either side. They were always yappity-yapping to one another across my bed. I had to put on the earphones and turn up the volume to get away from it."
"Knowing you, John, you'd found ways to annoy them."
"I did, actually. This guy in the day room used to tell us dirty jokes, when there were no women present. He had us in stitches."
"Or out of them - as the case may be."
I appreciated Arnold's witticism, so I carried on with my story. "When my pals came to visit me in the ward, I used to tell them these jokes - loud enough for the old broilers to hear. Although they screwed up their faces, there was one joke that really made them grin all over. Another time, I heard laughter coming from beneath their bedclothes. One told me she'd been in the Wrens."
"Did that change your opinion of her, John?"
"No. Not really. Well, yes it did. She showed me a photo of herself in her uniform. She was quite attractive in her day. I could have torpedoed her lovely hull, no messing. But, they were still old broilers. If they’d only been a couple of dollies, I wouldn't have minded one iota. I could have told the pair of them bedtime stories before tucking them in for the night."
"Your bed, no doubt, John."
"Chance would be a fine thing, Arnold."
"What about the nurses, the ones who tucked you in. You must have appreciated the heavage of the cleavage."
"Aye. There was this Irish lass. Had I been a few years younger, I...."
"Years? Decades you mean, don't you?"
"Aye, Arnold. You're right. Don't the years fly in?"
I lay back in my bed, stopped talking, and thought about the way that Arnold was trying to cope with his anxiety. It was admirable. He’s due for an exploratory operation any day now. I looked sideways at him and noted that his face winced every so often. Something inside was wrong. His family's solemn expressions confirmed this when they came to visit.
What the hell are those pains that shoot through my
pelvic region with varying intensity. O God, please don't
let me suffer, but if you decide it has to be, I hope the time will be short.
Should I approve of euthanasia? Come to think of it, I did many years ago, when it was 'Youth in Asia.' What a terrific time I had as a nineteen-year-old National Serviceman, in Singapore for eighteen months. It was a holiday in the sun at the government's expense. Seems a long time ago, now.
I've read it somewhere: prisoners-of-war, who are sentenced to death, become very perceptive of people and things. I can note every expression on the faces of Arnold's visitors; I can sense the falsehoods in their smiles and conversations; their limp handshakes tell me a lot about them. Am I under sentence of death? God forbid.
What about the other men in the ward? All of them must be past retirement age, by now. Most of them had been in the forces. Maybe old war wounds playing up. That fellow in the corner bed had a leg amputated yesterday. He hasn't moved once since his return to the ward. I suppose he'll be heavily sedated. Poor bugger.
The fellow opposite, another who tells jokes, wears a bag. He said he's got trouble with his waterworks.
Simon, over there, is maybe getting out tomorrow. Good luck to him.
Hurray. Here's the tea trolley coming. I can hear the cups rattling. What a welcome sound! Arnold's heard it too. I’ll wind him up. "My round today, Arnold. What will it be this time: a pint of best bitter, a double scotch and a couple of cigars?"
"Thank you, John. Ask the lass if she'll charge it to the National Health Service."
I liked the lass on the tea trolley, because she always called the men by their last names. It's what you might call a mark of respect like.
"D'you hear 'im?" I asked her. "What d’you think about that, then?"
"I’d charge it, if I could," she said, "but aren’t you forgetting something? Al…, I mean Mister Truro isn’t allowed anything to drink without the doctor's consent - and that includes tea."
"That's only by mouth, Lass," I replied. “If he lies on his belly, he could try taking it in another way."
Arnold laughed. "I could maybe manage that, John, but I'd be struggling with a cream bun."