As I write this, I’m sitting in the prep room of a hospital’s cardiac unit at an ungodly hour of the morning. I’m wearing one of those hospital gowns that tie on the back but do little to keep my pertinent parts fully under wraps. I need to go to the bathroom, but there are two other patients (both men) in here with me. If I am to prevent them from seeing my wobbly derriere as I head for the toilet, I will have to walk out of the room backwards.
I find it odd that man can transplant all sorts of organs from one body into another, create an artificial heart, and give an amputee a prosthetic arm that mimics the movements of a real limb exactly … but they can’t create a hospital gown that preserves the wearer’s dignity.
Fortunately for me, the other two patients are soon taken off to a procedure room, leaving me alone in the room with two nurses. It’s time for me to make my move.
When I return from the bathroom, the nurses have gone, making me wonder if there is an emergency in another part of the hospital.
As I sit there on my own, my nerves begin to get the better of me. The procedure I am about to undergo involves a doctor inserting three catheters into a vein in my groin and directing them upwards towards my heart. One of these catheters will then burn my heart with radio waves (think microwave oven). The resulting scar will hopefully prevent my heart from going into an abnormal rhythm – it can sometimes go off at more than 200 beats per minute.
I look at the clock on the wall. The procedure is due to begin in 20 minutes, but the nurses still haven’t returned. That’s when it occurs to me that there is only one logical explanation: Kim Jong-un, the megalomaniac in charge of North Korea, must have pressed that big red button and released an intercontinental ballistic missile that is heading my way. Everyone must know about it except me – all because my nervous bladder prevented me from hearing the announcement.
At least, I now have an excuse to put off a procedure that basically gives a doctor the power to zap my heart as if it were a TV dinner.
I stand up to go to the changing room, because even a nuclear explosion isn’t a good enough reason for anyone to appear in public with a half-exposed bottom.
But I’m foiled at the last minute. Just as I’m turning the door handle, the nurses return carrying a large beaker of coffee each.
Now, these are the same nurses who will soon be inserting a needle into the back of my hand – a long needle that needs a steady hand if it is to enter a vein at the first attempt. They obviously don’t know that too much caffeine can give them the jitters.
The older of the two nurses approaches me and tells me the other nurse is a trainee. She wants to know if I object to the younger woman inserting the IV catheter into the back of my hand.
Before I can even think about it, a voice that sounds a lot like my own is heard saying, “I don’t have a problem with that. We’ve all got to start on someone.”
At the same time, another voice is hissing in my ear, “Are you crazy? She’s a trainee! Even worse, she’s a trainee on caffeine. She’s probably been practising on nothing but oranges for a few hours. You will be the first living thing she’s worked on. She’ll damage all the veins in your hands, then she’ll be forced to try to find one in your arms, and then between your toes … You’ll end up looking like a human pincushion. It’s not too late to say no.”
But I’ve been brought up to be polite and not make a fuss in public. So, I keep quiet.
But that voice won’t keep quiet.
“So it’s not okay to hurt her feelings, but it’s okay for her to turn you into a walking lawn sprinkler?” it hisses. “Just tell her you’ve changed your mind. People do it all the time.”
But I don’t say anything, and before I know what’s happening the trainee is poking me for the second time. She’s breathing heavily.
But things are going to get a whole lot worse before the day is over.
To be continued next week.
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