Saturday, 31 January 2009

On Becoming a Semi Colon

..........which fully expected to become a full stop

Wearing a stoma bag, I find, is like having a ferret in your trousers. A very talkative ferret which mutters to itself in a cross sort of way, although I am told it will settle in due time into gloomy silence.

 In view of what he has done for me, I would not wish to seem critical of God as Designer but I have to say that the artificial arrangement with the gubbins on the outside, rather like the Pompidou building in Paris, has many advantages over the original model. So much so that in the considerable literature devoted to colon surgery there is an article on Stoma Envy among wives who are no stranger to hurried exits to the bathroom.

I was a bit worried the surgeon might miss the target organ when he mistook my wife for my daughter, not the first person to do so, I regret to say. In the event, he proved a triumph, although he admitted that I had been hard work. It took him six and a half hours hard digging, which was complicated when I had chronic kidney failure. I doubt he did much digging in the garden last weekend. It turned out he was TA and had been MO to the Black Watch (RHR) inIraq.

I was only in hospital a week, though I cannot think why I was in a rush to come home. I was treated like Haroun el Raschid, with pretty ladies by the score tending to my every need.

 And what fascinating studies they were. One, a Filipino, when I asked if all her country folk were small, put her hand to her head and said “four foot”. Then she put her hand to her waist and extended it outward saying “eleven foot”.

 She said she got angry when people criticised the NHS service. “In my country we do not have it,” she told me. “Few of us can afford doctors so we have to rely on homeopathic cures.”

 “What? For cancer ? What happens?”

“We die,“ she said.

 One of my doctors, an ex Australian SAS man, admitted to me that when he thought of the NHS he found it difficult not to cry, so noble were its aims.

 Many of the nurses have three jobs and run homes as well. We had such a pair last weekend who overheard my wife calling me “Whisker”, her rather embarrassing pet name for me. They used it loudly at every opportunity. So in revenge I called them Burke and Hare.

 Their excitement at the wonders of medicine was a delight to behold. Even simple operations sent them into transports of joy.

 “Look at that dressing.” they would say. “I have never seen anything like that.”

 I said, “You don’t fill me with confidence.” But they were too excited to hear.

I was pinioned by more catheters than St Sebastian had arrows. Taking one out the size of a Prussian bayonet, “Burke” shrieked with joy. “I have never seen one that long,” she said. “Neither have I,“ said “Hare, “Leave it in for a minute while I go and get Susan. She would love to see it.”

 By the time they took the catheter out I was rather miffed not to get a  round of applause.

 In many ways cancer was a doddle. Breaking out of the hospital was another matter. I had permission from the Escape Committee (doctor, surgeon, and bagpuss-fitter - who only agreed after I demonstrated before her and two rather startled medical students that I could fit a stoma bag unaided.

 I pointed out that I had written 26 books, night news edited three national newspapers, was a fellow of the Royal Cambrian Academy, a Member of the Welsh Academy and an award-winning broadcaster so I might just manage to stick a bag on my belly. But they had obviously set their little hearts on a cabaret so I put the bag on like fishnet tights in a strip club, singing "Stoma Weather" the while.)

 The Staff Nurse still wouldn't let me out until the prescription department had issued me with my tablets. I pointed out, with some heat, that the only tablets I had to take out were the ones I had brought in with me. Still had to wait three hours.

 None of the foregoing should be taken as criticism of the NHS. I think Aneurin Bevan is a candidate for sainthood. The country may be broke but there is still one priceless jewel in our kitty.

 I, for one, am very grateful.


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