Last year I got to spend time being treated in three different hospitals.*
First up, King’s College Hospital after Clapham – as a reminder of the extent to which I should despise that particular part of Lambeth – tried to kill me. Having collapsed in the street and stopping breathing for a while, I can remember nothing of the next hour or two, other than a brief moment of lucidity in which I threw up copiously but with great precision in the back of an ambulance. A shift change at the hospital, and the desire not to diagnose me with something that would require me to stay in overnight, saw me discharged with no clear idea as to what had happened: food poisoning from an overpriced Clapham brunch seemed unlikely, but the symptoms did fit poisoning by strychnine or a particular kind of mushroom, so perhaps the food had been contaminated; or maybe it was brain seizure.
Second, six months later, Bristol Royal Infirmary, and a neurologist pissed off at the unconscionable delay in me getting an appointment to see him, amused by the suggestion of food poisoning, not entirely sceptical of the food contaminant possibilities, but pretty certain it was a tonic-clonic (or grand mal) seizure.
A few weeks later, Southmead Hospital for an MRI scan. Everyone says the MRI is claustrophobic, but looking at the machine I could not see why. However, lying down and sliding into it – with my head in a brace to restrict motion, headphones cutting off the sound and a Hannibal Lecter-ish mask over my face to keep me from smashing my nose to a pulp if I panicked and sat up suddenly – I started to be convinced. I moved the panic button from my right hand to my left so that I would not press it unless I really did need to get out of there. The headphones allow the people in the control room to speak to you, but their real purpose is to protect you from the noise. MRIs are really really noisy. Even with the headphones on, you can hear enough clanking and grinding, humming and screeching, to picture giant lumps of magnet whirling around at a deadly pace just inches from your head (I am pretty certain this is not how the machine actually works).
It was a lot like the mid-90s, trying to sleep in a too-small pup tent a couple of fields over from the worst ever rave.
I resolved to close my eyes and count off the minutes – one Mississippi, two Mississippi – but you cannot keep up even that kind of minimal focus. And after about ten or twelve oddly drowsy minutes without hearing from the control room, you begin to wonder whether they have all been killed by zombies. And just how long should you stay in the machine before scrambling out to go and check?
And, finally, a week or so later, back to the BRI for an EEG. Twenty-four electrodes glued to your head, and another fifteen minutes of lying still, not exactly falling asleep. This included three minutes of continuous willed hyperventilation, which is not easy and leaves you giddy and a bit nauseous, and a couple of minutes of having an extremely bright light positioned inches from your eyes flickering at increasingly rapid bps to see if it triggers another seizure. Mid-fucking-90s again, again.
Some time in early 2015, I guess I will be back there again to find out for certain that they haven’t found out for certain what it was all about. Ho hum.
*In the whole rest of my life, I have only ever been treated in hospital three other times.** Once at Derriford A&E on Christmas morning when muggers left me unconscious in an alley (the subsequent generosity of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board enabled me to buy my first ever computer, but it was an Amstrad, which was a lot like being mugged all over again). Then Wycombe General, every other Friday for eight months when I was having chemotherapy. And the BRI a couple of years ago when I slipped on ice and dislocated my shoulder, an injury I blame on gentrification – nipping to the shops to buy garlic and olive oil rather than making do with an onion and some lard.
** Actually, thinking about it, this is not true. There have been a couple of others, but mentioning them would kind of ruin the effect.