Tomorrow I am going into hospital to have my stents removed so it seems an appropriate time to recall my first ever hospital stay. I was about 7 – it was 1970 anyway – and I’d been ill with a stomach ache for several days. Eventually it was so bad that mum called the doctor and he came out quickly. They did in those days! After prodding me about a bit he declared I had appendicitis and called an ambulance. Apparently he should have diagnosed it several days earlier when it was still grumbling but had missed it and it was now acute.
So twenty minutes later I’m in the back of an ambulance for the first time ever being blue-lighted to the hospital. Well, I like to think I was blue-lighted and hopefully some two-tones too but I really don’t remember. The ambulance men (Paramedics were probably just army doctors of the Parachute Regiment at that time) took me to Hertford Hospital. I’m not sure why I didn’t go to Chase Farm, probably Norovirus (or more likely Black Death back then). Ditto the QEII which I thought might not have been open but on checking find it opened in 1963.
Anyway, Hertford it was, and just in time. They certainly took me straight into theatre and – if my sister is to be believed – got it out just in time. In fact, she enjoyed telling me, it burst as they were removing it! I would insert one of those pensive little “Hmmm” emoticon here if I knew how.
And so I was saved and bundled off to the Children’s Ward. A good old fashioned ward with a dozen beds stretched out along both walls. Mixed sex, indeed my new best friend would be Maria, who was in with two broken legs after seeing if she could jump out of an upstairs window at the farm where she lived. Apparently jumping is easy, it’s the landing that fucks you up!
One other abiding memory is that in the cupboard stuffed with books and games was a copy of the Dalek Annual for 1964. Oh, I was torn. I so coveted that annual. You see we were allowed one annual each at Christmas. My sister opted for Blue Peter whilst I went for Dr Who. If we got extras it would be something our aunts and uncles decided to get us, not one of our choosing. So every year I got the Dr Who annual but the Dalek Annual remained a picture in my mum’s catalogues. Now, all I need to do was slip this book in the bag with my dirty pyjamas and get mum to smuggle it home for me. I resisted. I’m proud of myself. In fact I might look on eBay and treat myself to a copy. £30-80 blimey, I wish it stuffed it in with me stripeys anyway!
I was expected to stay in hospital for a week. I know; if you have your appendix out now they are helping you into your coat as you leave the theatre but it was different then. Anyway, on day six it was kick-about time in the Children’s Ward. We, (and I have no recollection of anyone in the ward except Marie and I don’t think she was up for football with two broken legs), had found and inflated a large beach ball and were pretending to be George Best or Dennis Law (Everyone supported Man Utd in those days). We had a great game but the score is lost in the mists of time.
A little later I was in the loo and I untucked my vest from pants only to find it soaked in claret. I recall being quite calm and took myself off to see a nurse. To her credit she was pretty calm too and informed me that I had managed to burst my stitches. Ah yes, that was why they kept you in in those days, the thread was shit!
So my week long stay turned into a fortnight as they watched my new stitches heal. I missed my dog so Honey was duly brought over and they stood on the hospital forecourt where I could see her from the window. I don’t think she saw me so she must have wondered what the hell was going on. And finally, I went home.
And that was the last time I spent a night in hospital until my pancreatitis attack 18 months ago. There were a couple of day surgeries including a frenuloplasty (Look it up if you care) but I managed to avoid anything serious as a patient. Oh so many occasions as a visitor though. Mostly for ailments of the elderly but also a stabbing, a handful of ectomies, a transplant, and a replacement or three. The parking fees I must have paid!