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,
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
She measures my temperature, blood
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
from bandages and tape. It’ll help
before the op, keeps my arm up. The
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
needs tightening, so he does it.
5am, another shift change, and some
of morning routine is kicking in,
on all the units
of the ward. Another check, another
I forget when the woman stopped
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
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
I react badly to a pain-killer, BP
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
a nurse ties the tapes ‘to give me
but that’s not what I need most.
I want to go home, and the next day,
after a ward round that doesn’t
and a couple of phone calls
to get round Irregularity of
If you have any comments on this
poem, Colin Will would be
(And you might care to look at www.colinwill.co.uk.)