After the Break

The difference between “Help!” and “Oh, help me”
is a profound thing, and it’s midnight. A woman
in a unit across the corridor, disturbed, confused,
and I’m in no condition to diagnose, much less to help.

Besides, the nurses’ station is closer to her than I am,
and if they think she needn’t be helped, that’s it. A doctor
comes in to my dark unit, switches on a dim light,
checks I’m awake and takes my whispered history.

She measures my temperature, blood pressure,
asks if I’ve eaten – I haven’t – takes a note
of allergies. It’s a routine that should have happened
before the shift change, but what can you do?

The nurse has rigged up a sling on a pole
from bandages and tape. It’ll help reduce swelling
before the op, keeps my arm up. The proper support
has a Name, but they’ve run out, and this will do.

I’m used to turning in the night, but now I can’t
and it’s hard to sleep. I doze, time to time.
3am and a new nurse checks me. The sling
needs tightening, so he does it. Another doze.

5am, another shift change, and some kind
of morning routine is kicking in, on all the units
of the ward. Another check, another history.
I forget when the woman stopped calling,

but it’s quiet now. Tea is offered to the two other men
in the 4-bed unit, but not to me – I’m NBM. I’m told
I’m on the first list, should be done by 10. It’s OK,
I’m in no position to question. I’m not thirsty anyway.

Anaesthetist pops in, takes my history, tells me
what will happen. Surgeon does his early rounds,
tells me what he’ll do to me, assistant takes my history.
Some time in the morning I sleep, drowsy with painkillers.

Morning slips by, lunch is not offered. Doctor checks me,
says it’ll be the afternoon list. I can’t go anywhere.
Then the porters come in, wheel my bed into the lift,
take me down to the prep room. Do they still use pentothal?

I wake in a new ward, having forgotten the names
of all the staff who’ve introduced themselves to me
in the last 24 hours. I’m offered tea, but it comes up
immediately. I can’t stop vomiting. I lose a lot

of the fluids I haven’t been drinking, and they decide
I’ll have to live with them for another night.
I react badly to a pain-killer, BP drops
and I feel faint. I forget its Name.

I need to pee but, cast on one arm,
drip and support on the other,
I can’t fasten my gown behind me.
Past caring that my arse is showing,

I shuffle across the ward. On the way back
a nurse ties the tapes ‘to give me some dignity’
but that’s not what I need most.
I want to go home, and the next day,

after a ward round that doesn’t happen,
and a couple of phone calls
to get round Irregularity of Procedure,
I do.

Colin Will

If you have any comments on this poem, Colin Will would be pleased to hear them.
(And you might care to look at www.colinwill.co.uk.)