[2010 note: originally from February 2005]
A while ago I ended up in the hospital with a severe chest infection. I was in a four-bed room for the best part of a week. There must have been upwards of ten different patients in the other three beds over that time, but for some reason the room was always guaranteed to return to the following configuration. One (1) ancient and incoherent gentleman in the mode of Father Jack from the Father Ted TV series. One (1) stout fiftyish gent, a devotee of Traditional Values and prone to speechifying about the debased state of the world today. One (1) enthusiastic and emaciated user of hard drugs whose lightbulb-shaped head made pinpointing even his approximate age extremely difficult. And one (1) of me.
On my second day in the ward, the role of Traditional Values was being played by a taxi driver from Clydebank. Just to make conversation I asked if he’d ever had Marti Pellow in his cab, thinking I might get to hear an amusing anecdote about the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet propped up in the back seat trying to shoot heroin into the veins between his toes. Instead I was treated to an detailed history of the entire Pellow clan, told as an extended metaphor for the moral deterioration of modern Scottish society. I was quite weak at this point and being rehydrated via an IV drip, so this was almost more than I could endure. Luckily the nurses turned up with his discharge papers just as he was warming to his theme. He was still talking as they escorted him out past the reception desk.
I lay back on my bed and began to lightly doze. There was no-one in the Hard Drugs role that morning. Instead there was a gaunt, ashen 70ish fellow with asbestosis. The current Father Jack was heavily sedated and on a chest drain: a brown rubber tube led from each side of his ribcage down to two clear plastic receptacles on the floor, filled to the brim with murky, foaming brown fluid which sloshed up and down every time he drew breath.
–not so anxious for that pint of real ale now, are you?–
But anyway. I was vaguely aware when the new Traditional Values was led in: stout, ruddy complected, wearing a lumberjack shirt. He sat in the blue plastic chair in front of his bed. After a while I noticed strange noises coming from his direction and sat up. He was grunting to himself and violently rocking back and forward.
I got up off my bed wheeling the drip in front of me. I asked “Are you alright?” but he kept rocking and had now begun to foam at the mouth. I walked out into the corridor and said to a nurse, “The guy in the bed opposite is foaming at the mouth. I’m pretty sure he shouldn’t be doing that.”
A few nurses ran into the room, pulled the curtains around Traditional Values’ bed and started talking to him. It took him a while before he could stop grunting and rocking and respond, but eventually he was able to tell them his name, and the date, and the name of the hospital. The curtains were pulled back, and all the nurses but one left. The last one stayed, talking to the him occasionally until he had completely come back to himself.
The next day, a doctor came in during rounds. “Mr Values, do you know why you’re here?”
Values, it turned out, had no idea.
“You’re here because when you were downstairs at the sleep clinic talking to your consultant, you had an epileptic fit.”
Values said, “No I didn’t. I don’t know why he told you that. I haven’t had a fit in months. I just turned up for my usual appointment, and he suddenly said that he wanted me to stay in overnight.”
The doctor said, “You had a fit in your clinic, and you had one on the ward last night. Both times you were unconscious for upwards of ten minutes.”
Values said, “No, no. That’s not what happens to me when I take a fit. I just get a funny taste in my mouth and it goes away after a while.”
“I understand you drove here yesterday, Mr. Values,” the doctor said. “Don’t you know that you shouldn’t be driving with your condition?”
“No, nobody’s ever told me that.”
“Well, you need to give up the driving. You need to get someone to come here and pick you up. Can you manage that?”
“Aye, aye sure I can manage that.”
“Okay. Now I’ve brought you a course of some new medication and I’ve made you a follow-up appointment at the clinic for next week. You can go home now.”
Traditional Values packed his things together in about five minutes, muttering to himself about how stupid doctors are. I’m sure he took the lift down to the ground floor, muttering all the time, and got in his car and drove home.