Highly Recommended and published in anthology by Stringybark Stories, Australia
No-one ever accused Harry of not having a good sense of humour.
When his first wife left him for a woman, he joked about it publicly. When the Global Financial Crisis swallowed half his savings he hauled himself out of retirement and got a job. When he fell off his roof while clearing gutters, he cracked as many jokes as he did ribs.
He could always see the funny side of things, with family and friends loving him for it, especially his colleagues in the Samuel Beckett Nursing Home at Kelvedon Hatch.
For Harry Hartfield and his nine broken bones, this was day three in Ward Four at Doddinghurst General Hospital.
It was also his 89th birthday, but there’d be no cake, balloons or wine; just biscuits, a bed bath and a saline drip.
Dawn and Harry’s bladder were bursting. He’d pressed the buzzer several times and could hear the usual morning flurry of activity at the nurses station in the corridor, but no-one answered his call.
His watery, pale blue eyes peered out to confirm his three room mates had survived the night.
By the window, a wild-looking tattooed ‘bikie’ by the name of ‘Flaps’ finally stopped snoring and clutched at his stitches. He’d been in for two days after being scraped off the bitumen and having surgery to remove pieces of Harley Davidson.
Opposite was Narelle, a gentle, spindly, geriatric farming lady. She’d been recovering from a heart attack when, in ‘High Dependency’, she’d depended too much on her nurse who watched her tumble and break a leg. Now she was awaiting a full set of scans.
That left old Archie who was knocking on the door of ninety and, he hoped, of heaven. By night he groaned and squealed in pain from his bowels. By day he whinged and whined about the whole world - and not without reason.
Standing teasingly on Archie’s bedside table was an empty urine bottle, very much resembling a wine carafe. It was driving Harry mad. One more go on the buzzer and that would be it. He’d simply have to wet himself.
“Yes Mr Hartfield. We’re very busy,” snapped the amazingly obese nurse who’s silver watch was pinned on the wrong way. “What do you want?”
“A bottle please…. urgently.”
“Just hang on,” said the nurse, racing out of the ward.
“Anyone for a paper or a book?” called the stooping hospital volunteer, relying on her trolley to keep standing.
“No. I need a bloody bottle,” bellowed Harry, instantly peeing the bed and thanking God he hadn’t required a pan.
“Nurse….nurse, where are you?” croaked Archie from beneath his blankets. “I need me pain killers.”
Harry pushed himself up in his bed and stared across the room. There, beneath and beside Archie’s bed, was a huge pool of water.
Poor bugger must have wet himself too, thought Harry. Christ, what have you got to do around here to get a nurse?
Across his line of vision, Narelle’s skeletal arms struggled to wheel herself towards the bathroom.
“They said they’d operate yesterday…. but they never came for me. I’m so hungry.”
“They never bleeding come for anyone,” came the gravelly voice of ‘Flaps’. “This is a do-it-yer-bloody-self hospital, ain’t it luv.”
“Nurse… nurse….I’m in terrible pain,” shouted the doubled-up Archie.
“No bleeding wonder,” said Flaps. “That’s your morphine drip all over the floor. Yer tube’s fallen out of yer frigging arm mate. Stay there. I’ll go and search for someone.”
Flaps left and steered his pretend motorbike around the half dozen occupied beds that lined one wall of the corridor.
A drugged man had been parked with his head just six inches beneath the bottom of a fire extinguisher, while a nervous wide-awake woman stared helplessly at a dislodged ceiling panel, hanging dangerously above her face.
“Is there a bloody nurse anywhere around here?” shouted Flaps. “Archie’s in trouble.”
“Ok ok. I’m coming,” said the fat nurse, wobbling her way into the Ward where Harry let her have it.
“Look at the floor. He’s had no morphine for hours. It’s sheer bloody incompetence.”
“It’s not our fault,” she protested, plugging the squirming Archie into a new drip. “It’s a public holiday and we’ve only got skeleton staff.”
“Well you certainly ain’t one of them are yer?” smirked Flaps, crawling in agony back into bed.
“Is it possible to get some breakfast?” pleaded Narelle.
“I need clean sheets,” said Harry.
“At last… the pain is easing,” sighed Archie.
As the nurse swayed her way out, Harry heard her mumbling, “Useless old sods. They’re use-by dates have long expired.”
Harry had seen and heard enough. He wasn’t going to take this lying down.
“Someone should report everything to the authorities,” said Flaps. “I don’t reckon they give a damn about you old folk. They think cos yer wrinkled and crumbly that it don’t matter and yer ain’t gunna complain.”
“I agree,” said Harry. “They believe we’re stupid and won’t say a word.”
“Yes dears. The hospital system seems, well, extremely unhealthy,” said Narelle. “But it’s true you know. If you complain when you’re old they can make life very difficult.”
“Like… not feed yer?” said Flaps.
Seconds later, a horribly anorexic yet strangely pretty young girl hobbled in. She was all skin and bone and no more than twenty.
“I’m from Ward Two and I’m trying to let everyone know there are eleven cases of Golden Staph in this hospital. It’s really worrying me.”
“Me too young lady. Where the hell did your hear that?” asked Harry.
“I was chatting with one of them in the Patient’s Lounge. She’s had a serious op to remove her ovaries and bits of stomach and she has to carry around some of her intestines... outside of her body.”
“That’s horrid. What does she carry them in?” asked Narelle.
“A special plastic container she takes everywhere. She hides it in a Sainsbury’s bag.”
“My God. I’ll never buy sausages there again.”
“If you’ve been with someone who’s got Golden Staph… then you could have it too,” snapped Archie. “You could be giving it to all of us.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. I’ve only got one more ward to tell.”
“We’d prefer it if you left,“ said Harry. “Thanks, but please don’t come back.”
By lunchtime, Narelle finally got to eat. Unfortunately it was the meal ordered the day before by the patient who’d passed away in the bed she now occupied. Even more unfortunately, it was sausages, possibly from Sainsbury's.
Adding salt to the wound, a squad of medical men then marched to her bedside, neglected to draw the curtains and hovered like vultures.
“What’s the matter?” she asked softly.
“We’ve found a polyp in your lower bowel,” came the brutal announcement for all the ward to hear.
“What does that mean?” asked Narelle.
“It means you’ve got bowel cancer.”
“Oh my God….. will I be… alright?”
“I’m afraid not Mrs Flanagan. It’s inoperable.”
Narelle was stunned. She just sat there in shock as the doctors marched out and Harry, Flaps and Archie tried to console her.
The wily old journalist in Harry Hartfield rushed back with a vengeance. Under cover of his bedspread, the old codger celebrated his birthday tapping notes into his blackberry and filing his story by email to the Editor of The Mirror, where’d he’d worked for more than forty years.
He also sent a copy to his best Nursing Home mate, 91-year-old Fred.
The night was long with few surprises. Buzzers went unanswered; colostomy bags over-flowed; dressings remained unchanged; tablets were mixed up and drips refilled far too late.
Wonder what the Staph count will be tomorrow? pondered Harry.
Daylight broke with the dramatic headline ‘Hell in our Hospitals’, and sub-headed ‘Health Service in Crisis’, by Harry Hartfield.
Within minutes of the news breaking, the media was all over it like a rash. It poured into all wards from every tv and radio channel. Reporters scrambled while health officials panicked and applied band-aid measures.
“If there’s anything we can get you sir, just call,” said the fat nurse, with two thinner nurses obscured behind her.
From the discomfort of his yet again soggy bed, Harry looked smugly over his glasses and sniggered. As always, he saw the funny side.
“Thank you nurse, but this useless sod’s got everything he wanted.”
Copyright Spencer Ratcliff 2011