Melissa Kite

The surreal purgatory of A&E

The BB’s father could not be discharged because he had not been admitted

The surreal purgatory of A&E
[Photo: sudok1]
Text settings

‘This is my father, and his pronoun is he,’ said the builder boyfriend, checking his dad into Accident and Emergency.

‘And how do we address you?’ said the personage at the reception desk. ‘You can address me as they,’ said the builder b, who was happy to go along with the way the hospital wanted to do things, if only to entertain himself during what was obviously going to be a long wait.

His father had fallen on top of a gas canister in their building yard and he was now in so much pain they suspected he had broken his ribs.

So off they went to a London casualty department that turned out to be something called ‘secondary’ in NHS jargon, which meant that if anything was seriously wrong it would require the involvement of a specialist from the ‘primary’ hospital down the road.

But, in any case, the process of becoming embroiled in our wonderful system could only be started by engaging with the ultra-woke check-in desk.

As his father groaned in agony, not minding whether he was referred to as he, she or that old git so long as someone did something to stop the pain, the BB decided to avail himself of the only rights any of us seem to have any more.

I would have requested the pronoun nya, because I identify as a Norwegian forest cat. But I’m just awkward like that. The BB was content to dabble with a bit of gender fluidity as his father was scanned and put in a bed in a corridor because his ribs were smashed and his lungs were slightly bleeding.

As the wait for a specialist began, the texts from the BB poured in, initially to describe the same encounter he always has in hospitals, which is to say he met a man with a leg missing who only went in for a broken ankle and caught MRSA.

I don’t know if it’s a different man every time, or whether the same one-legged man follows the BB around south London hospitals to frighten him. Either way, he always meets him.

Hours later, he was told his father would have to stay the night, and they must wait while a bed was found on a ward.

But while the patient was given refreshments, the builder b was refused a cup of coffee, so he blagged his way into the staff canteen. Uh-oh, I thought, as he texted.

Ten minutes later, he messaged to say he was queueing behind a Pakistani doctor who was holding everyone up to ask: ‘Is the bird halal?’

To which the Polish canteen lady replied: ‘No, I’m Catholic.’

Shortly after that, the BB texted to say that all the staff at the hospital seemed to be engaged in similarly cross purpose conversations, about every kind of medical matter, with people of all nations speaking to each other in such a variety of languages he got the impression none of them could understand anything. And that was before they even attempted to communicate with an English-speaking patient who was groaning in agony. ‘I’m using Google translate,’ he said.

That evening, his father was still in the cubicle and the running commentary I was getting was becoming ever more surreal. At around 8 p.m., he rang to say the lady in the cubicle next door was screaming after falling out of the bed for the second time.

Five minutes after that, he informed me that he could hear a heart monitor alarm going off and he was worried she was dead. ‘They’re all running in there now… They’ve got the jump-starter on her…’ And so on.

By 9 p.m., the BB’s breaded chicken fillets with a garlic butter filling (it’s a complex situation, is all I’m saying) were done to a crisp and he texted to say his father was being moved to a ward any minute now.

Two hours later, he texted to say they still hadn’t found him a bed. Shortly before midnight, he arrived home shattered and ate two over-cooked breaded chicken fillets with a garlic butter filling.

His dad, meanwhile, continued in the corridor all night with various n’er-do-wells screaming around him, including a youth handcuffed to a bed. So when the BB went back the next morning he decided to get him out of there.

He was then told his father could not be discharged because he had not been admitted.

Thankfully – for I feared this state of purgatory might continue in perpetuity – his dad was then moved to a ward.

More scans were done. But in order to tell us what they said, they needed that specialist from the primary hospital to look at them.

No matter. Because he had been admitted, he could be discharged. So at least, as they say, he’s home.