Ward Four South on a cool spring day. I’m sitting on a chair next to my mother’s bed. The doctor had called me a couple of hours earlier to tell me the surgery had been completed and all was looking fine. He sounded jovial, like someone who has just come into the clubhouse after eight rounds of golf.
There are tubes and clipboard charts and electronic bed elevation controls all over the bed and I’m afraid to come too near for fear of disconnecting something or tipping my mother onto the floor. I tell her not to talk, because she can’t. She ignores me. She talks. She is euphoric in that delirious post-operative way when the drugs are still working and before the pain hits.
The fourth admission had been successful. The planets had aligned, three months after the first attempt. When you finally get into the system, it works perfectly well. Meaning doctors, not necessarily hospitals in the wider sense. If you could have doctors without the bureaucracy: Médecins Sans Hôpitaux.
We sat and looked across the ward, where the view from the window is partially blocked by the northern wing. Beyond that, part of the roofline of University High School and the tops of some straggly old eucalypts shivering in the fresh afternoon breeze.
Next day she was not in the ward when I visited. I asked at the nurse station and the nurse pointed to the other end of the floor and I found her in a smaller, two-bed ward looking north over Parkville's Victorian slate rooftops towards peaceful, empty Royal Park. Less euphoric now. And sore. But eating. And desperate for a cup of tea. Tea: the wonder drug of my parent’s generation, and others. Strong and hot and sweet. They used to drink on hundred degree days. It cooled you down, they said.
She was tired. They had moved patients around after an altercation in the larger ward the previous night during which patients had been kept awake by disruption at one of the beds; someone’s quarrelling relatives. Why would you quarrel in a hospital at night? Drugs. I asked if they had had the quarrelers removed. A little law and order, perhaps? No, they had brought in a counselor. Imagine that. Late at night in a big-city hospital and they bring in someone to sit down and flap ineffectual hands and try and negotiate or arbitrate with drug addicts. What a job. What a world.
She went home after five days and much discussion between hospital factions. One faction, the throughput analysts, kept telling my mother she was to go home the second day after surgery; and the second faction, the doctor, kept overruling the first.
We are taking it in turns to tend her over the next few weeks. She may not lift anything heavier than a very small pot of water. Every time we visit she tries to leap up and put the kettle on. And then she remembers. We might have to tie her to her chair. For her own good. With the radio close by, so she can turn Radio National up loud.