Two hospital beds down from my friend, Joyce is in for her hip. She’s in a lot of pain, poor Joyce, but she’ll be home soon she keeps telling people hopefully. She’s 101 years old and lives at home with her son who was disabled in a car crash. She definitely is used to constant company. Sometimes as I sit with my friend I find I have to tune her calls out. “Nurse … Nurse … Nurse … Nurse … Nurse … Come to me … Nurse …” Her vowels are Northern, but she lives in Bloomsbury. “This was all night last night,” says my friend with an affectionate smile. She likes Joyce despite the constant cries. I do too. “Hospitals aren’t sleep friendly places,” she shrugs.
This is a bustling overspill ward in Euston at the UCL Hospital. The nurses are brilliant but their work is constant. When one of them can do so, they come to her. “Are you alright Joyce?” She’s not alright. She’s in pain and scared and not at home. But they’re doing everything they can, it’s clear. They just can’t sit with her. They are so patient and so compassionate. They’ll be changing a drip across the ward and will occasionally cheerily reply “I’ll be with you in a second Joyce!” And they will, but they can’t make everything better all at once. I wish they could, for my friend as well. They wish they could. Wonderful compassionate men and women.
She’s not in a good way, my friend. Her internal organs have taken some damage. They’re testing for all sorts of things, but more than anything they’re flushing her system. They’re not pulling their punches either when they talk to her. They drop the possibility of death onto the table quite casually in front of her mum. Her temperature is all over the place. Her blood pressure is really low. I don’t like seeing her like this. I think she’ll be okay. But I don’t like it. I mentioned yesterday that I’m allergic to hospitals. That’s part of it. I don’t want to think of her being in one, with Joyce. Although it’s perhaps helpful for me to be here. Like shutting yourself in the closet when you’re claustrophobic.
The woman in the bed between her and Joyce looks really fucking angry about life in general. She has something of the JK Rowling through a hedge backwards about her and she is definitely pissed off about being in hospital and doubly pissed off about being next to Joyce, who developed her tactics even over the hours I was there. “Nurse, it’s all gone wrong. I’ve pulled the catheter out. Nurse, I’ve done a motion in the bed!” “The catheter’s in fine, Joyce. There’s nothing there, you’re all clean.” So patient the nurses. And back to work. The inside of their heads must just be an ever growing expanding to do list with constantly shifting prioritising, all carried out peacefully and kindly.
I stay with my friend for as long as I can. Now I’m getting ready for a show. I’ll probably swing by again tomorrow…