‘‘You’re five foot and twelve inches’’
My next appointment was a week after my trip back to Bart’s, and it was at the local hospital to meet with the nurse who would be working with me on my rehabilitation programme. The hospital wasn’t too far away from where I lived so I decided to walk to it as part of my daily exercise routine, and my friend Ben came along to support me.
As we got nearer the hospital there was a low mist covering the streets. Despite being daytime the streetlights were on and added an orange tinge to the fog. It was the height of winter so there was that grey gloom in the sky that’s typical of British weather at that time of year. With the mist, orange haze and grey sky overhead it all added up to an eerie atmosphere as we walked.
The hospital was a lot smaller than Bart’s so it didn’t take long to find out where to go. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’d been told that we would be discussing an exercise regime with meetings on a weekly basis.
We settled down in a small and cramped waiting room and a nurse came along shortly after our arrival and called my name, gesturing that we should follow her. She was quite short and had an air of bewilderment about her. We stopped in a hallway next to the waiting room and she said:
‘‘ooohhhh you’re very young, are you still at college?’’
I was surprised and not sure if she was joking or trying to be nice. I responded playfully with ‘‘I’m thirty years old, do I look seventeen? That’s quite a difference,’’ and glanced at Ben who was chuckling to himself.
She responded abruptly with “oh, well you never know these days!” before going on to say: “you Western lads have it all; cars, houses, mortgages and so young. It’s not like that in Africa.’’
I turned towards Ben who was looking back at me with a bemused expression to match my own as we wondered what she was going on about and where the comment had come from. Hesitating I asked what she meant: “It’s easier over here and I’m just never sure, as you do look so young. It’s the way things are,” came the response.
I stood in the hallway not sure what to expect next and felt an awkward pause. Not knowing what to say I remained silent and waited for her cue. She continued without a fuss as if the previous conversation hadn’t happened: “ok, I need to measure your height and weight, please stand here against this wall,” she said, gesturing accordingly.
I turned to have my back against the wall and she got out a measuring tape, lining it up against me and in a definitive tone said: ‘‘You’re five foot and twelve inches’’.
I paused, then chuckled and coughed at the same time in amazement, looking at Ben who by now had his head in his hands, and I said: ‘’do you mean six foot? I thought I was five foot eleven inches so maybe I gained some height in hospital!’’
Muttering under her breath she said: “oh yes, well, it’s all the same,” and rolled the tape measure up quickly. She then asked me to step on some scales and I wondered what she was going to come up with next. Thankfully she confirmed my weight as 67kilograms.
‘‘Right, follow me into here please,’’ she said and we went into a long but small room which had a low ceiling. It felt like an afterthought in the architect’s design. By now I wasn’t sure what to expect so thought I’d let this play out and see what happened.
We sat down and she asked me how I was and what procedure I had. I paused for a moment in shock and despair. I could feel the disbelief in Ben who was standing over in the corner. She had carried into the room and placed on the table next to her a big folder with my name on it, which clearly contained all the notes from the past few months.
“Don’t you know? Haven’t you read the file and been briefed? Isn’t it all in there?’’ I asked, pointing to the folder. Nonetheless, I was taken aback by this and immediately thought I had better tell her to save any confusion. So I summed up the operation, the type of valve and what had lead to all this.
“So you went for the tissue valve and not the mechanical one? Oh dear that’s not what is recommended.’’ She said.
I chuckled and refrained from reacting to her. I suppose it made sense for this to carry on in the same the manner it started.
‘‘It’s a personal decision and I felt this was best for me.’’ I replied.
I think Ben was banging his head against the wall at this point and about to demand that we saw someone else.
She told me the rehabilitation sessions would take place at a centre nearby and didn’t feel that I needed to start at the hospital with the first round: “the majority of patients start at the hospital where you have lots of help and go through all the different exercises very slowly to begin rebuilding the movement and strength,’’ she said, but as I had walked to the hospital she could see that I was already beyond phase one and so I could start at phase two.
I quizzed her more on this, not feeling too comfortable with the advice after the charade that was the previous fifteen-minutes: “It’s fine, you needn’t worry. The sessions are every Tuesday from 14:00 and here is the address,’’ she said. Handing me a letter she continued: “the exercise routine is followed by a discussion from someone who comes in to speak on various topics, a medical expert, psychological expert etc. to help and offer advice.’’
The idea of meeting people who had gone through the same thing as I had, and then experts in different fields helping with advice on medication, adapting mentally to the situation and how to deal with things emotionally appealed to me greatly.
Ben and I then left and walked home, discussing and laughing about the last thirty minutes: ‘‘it’s a good thing you didn’t go there for any confidence building or support, because that’s the last thing you got! I mean, what the hell was all that about?’’ he said. All we could do was laugh in amazement between ourselves. If Ben hadn’t been with me I would have thought I had imagined it all.
We walked through the fog and as it started to lift we mentioned how the whole situation could almost have been another reality that the fog had taken us to, it was so surreal.
The meeting reminded me of scenes from the TV show Fawlty Towers, so I decided to nickname the nurse Manuel.