There he is again, perched on the window ledge with his beak poked into the yogurt cup. He pulls it out, yogurt-lipsticked white in complete contrast to the rest of his blackness. Eyeing me sideways, oblivious of his comical appearance. Clever guy, undoubtedly. He not only figured out my window ledge refrigeration system, but also worked out how to get to the contents of a foil-sealed cup. I feed him as a reward, still he can't be too sure of me - instincts. It was November, the leaves and temperature were falling. He won't be migrating any place warmer, Raven's never do. Enough of yogurt cups set out on hospital room windows to keep them going. His buddies in the chestnut tree across must have a good laugh at his new Black&White look. He found food though, so he's having the last laugh.
The kindly young intern took her time with the initial check-up, was comforting and confident. We were gently warned that surgery maybe unavoidable. Quite the reception to hope for at a hospital actually. We were in good hands. Until, that is, the gel slicked goldilocks resident Doc sailed in to veto her diagnosis. In his presence, our nice Intern morphed into a pat seeking eager puppy dog. Goldilocks had all of 30 seconds to spare for the check-up, looked right through us anxious parents, and left with the same haughty air that he sailed in with. The pecking order, at first, seems no different here than in any other medical food chain, with the nurses at the bottom, then come the interns, followed by residents, attending docs and the heads of departments. The hierarchy is set cuttingly deep though. A few days in hospital and I was almost curtsying before his Highness, Mr. Head of Department myself! The differentiating factor to note here though, in no uncertain terms was, that patient is down, down, down, right at the very bottom of the pecking order. Wonder what my yogurt eating winged friend would think of that! He IS having the last laugh!
We are in the medical factory, body-fixes get churned out here. Here you are a number amongst many. If you're not the last number, you're lucky. Plato said the physician should never separate the soul from the body in treatment. The nurse came by to check vitals and hook up the drip. My daughters catheter squirted out blood on the sheets in the process. 'Oops, the sheets will be changed' she said, into the little one's big worried eyes. So the leaky vein got plugged, sheets would get changed, hence terrified child should be fine as well. Plato, tell them something! Inevitably one starts to rankle at the cold, indifferent, inconsideration. A question, any question, was one too much and prompted an irate bark.
'...umm, those fresh sheets you spoke about?'
When is the Doctor expected?'
'Could we have some more hot water for tea?'
'Will she have surgery today, she's been on an empty stomach for 5 hours?'
'It's past 12 in the night, could you pipe it down in the nurse's room please?'
I am not the gracious kind. Sonner than I should have, I was roped into becoming bellicose rather than diplomatic. We were systematically winding each other up and I was developing quite a reputation for it, I could tell by the even further deteriorating treatment. In turn, I was walking around like a ticking time bomb, reaching the end of my tether myself. I had ample time to tick too, my child was asleep, at 7:30 in the evening which left me staring at the ceiling in a dark room, stroking her and ticking away. I must state at this point, my daughter thankfully wasn't suffering from any grave illness. She had an abscess in her tonsils, which although terribly painful, is relatively minor. Nevertheless, almost one week later with absolutely no change in her condition and the pain unabatedly forging on despite a cocktail of meds, the anxiety builds. At one of those rare Doctor's appearances I said 'She says she tastes blood in her throat'. He goes 'Yes, So?' Did he just say YES, SO?????.....tick tick tick! Me, 'and by that you mean....?' I have had more meaningful conversations with Siri on my iPhone.
The next morning I forced on renewed optimism, something's gotta give here. There is a scratchy landing sound of his claws at the window, would he appreciate a change in flavour maybe? Although he's some company, he's not a big listener. For that I'm very glad for my trusted human visitors who faithfully come by drop off food, hugs, and hold my hand while I freely throw up all my frustrations and exasperations. These friends, they willingly do this to themselves. Gracious people - unlike me. Half way into the story of the midnight Nurses' party in the ward, we hear a loud clanging, clunking sound, steady and slow. Approaching louder now, and louder. We look at each other quizzically and turn to the direction of the sound. The source is right beside us and going right past us, a bunch of prison officers escorting a man chained at the feet and arms turn into the room right beside us! A prisoner patient, right out of the jailhouse to be my neighbour! This isn't exactly 'something giving'!! 'Just what we need', we both chorused! The last time I heard of a convict in hospital it was a murderer, involved in 4 killings. I don't even want to know what this one is being held for. The armed officers will be posted inside and out of his room at all times, we were assured. Well then, we're good. Sleep tight.
The nurses' midnight parties came to an end. I got over my initial paranoia and gave him a name - Mr. Con. It is an unsettling feeling walking past fully armed men through the day. The door to Mr. Con's room was always wide open. I could see his chained feet every time I passed by. I never did get a look at his face. My daughter's condition remained unchanged in the meantime and I went back to the business of worrying and hurting over her. Finally, more than a week later the initial diagnoses made by the Intern was pulled out and dusted again. She was going to have surgery, she was well practised at the empty stomach routine by now. It was a relief of sorts. Relief at the conception of an action plan, as opposed to wait and watch. We've got to go through all of it, to get to the end of it.
Restless and sleepless, 2 nights before the surgery I managed to slink past my sleeping angel to pace the length of the corridor - up and down and up and down. I could tell I was driving the cops mad. Generally disgruntled by the nature of their job, they sat parked in front of my neighbours room in apparent discontentment. Now there was me the psycho pacer too. The nurses were huddled at the other end talking in hushed voices. I overheard the bit about the TV. The system in most hospitals here, is to pre-pay for the use of TV and telephones in a hospital room. We don't own a TV at home, so we didn't miss one here either. I never bothered activating either gadget in our hospital room. Mr. Con apparently would have liked to watch TV. Given that money is a requirement for that process, for him it was an impossibility. He wasn't allowed any visitors and I know for a fact no one spoke to him - least of all his grumpy watch dogs. I'm pretty sure not even Raven visits him. Was he a murderer too like the other hospitalised con I had heard of? Maybe he's a drug peddler or a bank robber. Or maybe a rapist? A child molester? Perhaps...'just' a tax evader? I had tired myself out enough to crash. But I didn't quite get it out of my mind. I have winged friends and two legged friends and all sorts of Gadget-y entertainment, still hospitals suck and everything about it sucks and I'm not even sick. Why shouldn't Mr. Con have some entertainment? The nurse was a little perplexed at first when I asked her to activate Mr. Con's telephone and TV and charge the costs to my room. She, unlike the Raven who only ever looks at me sideways, give a long hard stare. Then she agreed and explained to me that it's actually against policy so she'd have to lie about the room occupancy. Since it was just the central telephone board, they shouldn't care much, she shrugged. I could hear her in Mr. Con's room, awkwardly executing the crooked billing scheme....and then spelling out my full name and room number loud and clear so that the telephone central and Mr. Con could make a careful note of it! AAAAAARRRRRRGH! What was she thinking??!! I'm already imagining myself and my daughter being held hostage at gun-point - paranoia back in full relapse!
Mr. Con got his TV. Now every time I passed his room I could see his toes, chains and the flickering colours of the TV tube fill the room. He watched a LOT of TV. Sometimes a confused sour-faced police guard came by my room at shift change wagging the TV bill, asking why my name and Mr. Con's room number were on it. Each time I tried feebly to explain, not really wanting them to understand. I often succeeded in sending them back more confused. My daughter was getting prepped for surgery and I was only partially taking in the repeated requests Mr. Con was passing through the nurses to meet and thank me. I was, however, very much taking in the total change in the nurses behaviour towards me and my daughter. Their smiles, and touch, how they spoke to us, how they looked at us. They had gained nothing by an entertained Mr. Con. But they were unmistakably transformed because of it. I never had to change the sheets again! We all seemed, relieved and happily surprised to have discovered human sides in each other.
The surgery went off well, she was finally rid of the damn thing. I haven't ever seen anything like it, a drugged out, ecstatic, post op 7 year old. What a difference also, to experience medical care in the hospital factory. Gentle, tender, care for the sick. The requests kept coming from Mr. Con, he wanted so badly to thank me. Part of me was embarrassed at the fuss being made about a small gesture, part of me didn't want to insult him by refusing the meeting, part of me was just plain uneasy at the whole prospect of being introduced, exposed. I was at sixes and sevens about going over. I wanted to be able to see him as a person, meet him without knowing what he did or why he's in chains. I wanted to be able to look beyond the shackles. It took me a while to get my head around it, to ease my mind of some of it's prejudices. Judgement had already been passed, he is already being punished. I don't need to run my own little trial. I awoke the next morning resolved to go over. His room door was closed. I knew then that he was gone. I'd like to believe that I was too preoccupied with my daughter to go over and meet Mr. Con. I'd like to believe it, although it's not true. He had been discharged and was back in the Jug. I tried to drop him a postcard, to tell him he was welcome, that it was nothing. But they had no trace of him. He only existed as a convict from the city jailhouse. A number.