There’s something strangely reassuring that while my mum is holed up in Critical Care following a seven-hour operation, my father remains insistent on avoiding hospital parking fees by parking on a remote residential street at least half a mile away – simply because it is free.
My father never believes in paying for parking anywhere: a habit so firmly entrenched that even though my mother is lost somewhere in the cavernous corridors of Preston Royal Infirmary, he refuses to part with a few pounds for the convenience of the car park.
Lost in the hospital might sound a little dramatic but after an anxious wait all day, I phoned to see whether my mum had come out of theatre. There was a long pause and a bit of tapping on a keyboard. It seemed that she had left the admissions ward at 7am that morning but had yet to arrive in Critical Care, according to the computer. She was currently unaccounted for.
An hour later, I phoned back only to be told that the computer still said ‘no’.
At 7pm, with my father pacing around the lounge and fielding calls from feeble Great Uncle Keith, I phoned again and she was STILL lost in hospital No Man’s Land.
‘We don’t even need to come and see her,’ I told the nurse a little desperately. ‘I just want to know if she’s had the operation and if she’s STILL ALIVE.’
At 8pm, my father and I decided to go down in person. After parking in father’s aforementioned free parking spot, we set off on foot to the Critical Care visitor waiting room, swiftly renamed The Waiting Room of Doom. It was packed to the gills with desperate relatives but not a single member of staff in sight.
I had begun to imagine my mother languishing on a bed in a corridor somewhere, or stuffed in a store cupboard having to drink water from a vase. I was already penning my letter to the Daily Mail.
After what seemed like hours, someone eventually arrived and confirmed that my mum had finally arrived at the Critical Care ward, following a bed shortage. Relieved, we followed the nurse down the corridor.
We had been told that she might look terrible and would be covered in tubes. But as we rounded the corner, she was propped up in bed and looked remarkably well, all considering.
‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a double-decker bus,’ she croaked.
‘Everyone keeps telling my how well I look but I feel terrible. The nurses said I look like I’ve just stepped out of a hair salon!’
‘I have to laugh otherwise I’d cry.’
I took a closer look at her hair. It did – incredibly – look like she had just stepped out of a hair salon.
A doctor came over, ‘What is your date of birth and full address?’ he asked.
‘Ah,’ said my mother. ‘You’re doing this to check whether I’m compos mentis.’
She rattled off her particulars and for added effect said, ‘The current Prime Minister is David Cameron.’
‘What are your dislikes?’ said the doctor.
There was a long pause while both my parents pondered this.
‘She doesn’t like tinned tomatoes,’ said my father eventually. ‘And she doesn’t like going out to sea in the boat.’
My mother nodded in agreement.
Inevitably, now that my mum has been moved onto a ward, she has been put next to the most delirious woman in the whole hospital.
Mad Margaret doesn’t actually believe she is a patient; she thinks she’s a visitor. This means that she refuses to stay in her bed but wanders round ‘visiting’ other patients, including my poor mother. At one point she tried to climb on top of her. She is also perpetually preoccupied by when everyone’s birthday is.
‘She’s completely doolally,’ whispered my mother. ‘The best thing to do is keep smiling and be firm with her.’
Another patient – across from my mother – had a terrible experience in the shower this morning. Apparently, she was helped to the shower by a nurse who plonked her on the shower seat and then abandoned her.
Despite her cries for help and pulling the emergency cord, she was stuck in the shower for up to an hour! She’s still in a state of shock.
‘I’m just going to have a shower when I get home,’ whispered my mother, who is currently too poorly to move from her bed. ‘It’s just not worth the risk; I might never make it out.’
‘I couldn’t make it even to the door,’ she went on. ‘Just getting into the chair feels like I’ve climbed Mount Everest and run a marathon.’
So far, my mother’s visitors have been restricted to immediate family but now that Uncle Stephen is back from Benidorm, he’s planning a visit on Monday. Uncle Stephen, I’m reliably informed, absolutely loves hospital visiting.
My mum’s friend Valerie might also come but she can only turn left in her car so she would have to map out an anti-clockwise route if she were ever to make it.
In the meantime, I’ve been staying with my father which has been an enlightening experience in itself. In the garage, I found literally hundreds of cooking apples, which my father is insistent he is planning on eating, despite my incredulity.
There’s also several boxes of onions from Uncle Stephen, who has taken to growing them again, now that his pyromaniac neighbour has finally been wheeled off by the men in white coats and can no longer set fire to his vegetables.
As a treat, the husband and I took my Dad to Nando’s which he rather liked although he insists on mistakenly calling it Nachos. We also had a coffee in Starbucks.
When we got to the hospital, my mother said: ‘How was Stardrops and Nachos?’
My father was about to answer, when his mobile rang shrilly. A look of horror crossed both my parents’ faces.
‘You can’t bring mobiles in here,’ cried my mother. ‘They’ll interfere with the machinery!’
My mother went on to say that the doctor had been round that morning and asked if she wanted any morphine.
‘Morphine?!” said my mother, horrified. ‘No thank you. That’s what drug addicts have!’
‘I definitely don’t want morphine,’ she recounted to us after. ‘I might get hooked on it.’
‘I don’t think you can get addicted,’ said my father, in all seriousness. ‘You haven’t got a dealer.’