“I ain’t ‘avin it”.
It’s like something straight out of a BBC drama. Script ideas briefly flitter through my head. Her words are slurred. She reeks of alcohol. It took 4 nurses to put her to bed and now she shouts that they let her wet herself.
An irate Nurse-in-charge taps a foot, hands placed firmly on her hips.
“I think it was the vodka that made you wet yourself” the nurse tells her. A crowd has gathered round. Nurses, care assistants, psychologists, case managers. I feign disinterest from the far side of our rehab bay. Seemingly engrossed in my colouring books, I don’t need to look up. I can hear (and smell) exactly what’s going on over at Super-Chav’s bed.
I call her Super-Chav, not to protect her identity or her dignity, but because she’s the type that’s likely to sue you for looking sideways at her, never mind writing about her. I sometimes chat a bit to her when she starts a conversation. I’d be afraid not to.
She’s crying now. Crying and lying in her own piss because she’s out of her mind on vodka and God knows what else. It’s the second time this week that she’s come in late – and drunk.
It’s not supposed to be that kind of rehab.
The first time was two days earlier when she’d left the window in our bay open and her rather unsavoury husband took her out drinking. Once she was safely ensconced back in her bed with the appropriate amount of head shaking and disapproving glances from the nurses, the lights went out and the ward went quiet. That is, until the old dear by the other side of the window let out a scream. The sensor lights had come on outside. Convinced she’d seen a burglar trying to get in the open window, she called for the nurses, who called for security, who found no burglar.
Of course they didn’t. But I’m sure that lurking somewhere in the shadows, Mr. Super-Chav was cursing the sensors and biding his time.
They weren’t strangers to the odd little cuddle behind the curtains. I often had to pop on my headphones and turn up my tunes to block out the uncomfortable sound effects. When they weren’t having a fumble in ‘private’, they were arguing in public – her hurling outrageous insults at him, him shrugging his shoulders and placating her in his native Polish. (In her defence, if I had a husband who was so frustratingly rubbish in a fight, I’d probably resort to some abuse-throwing too.)
Outside of visiting hours, though, our bay had the potential to be drama-free. She was a handful on her own, but add him into the mix and it was a total disaster. So, when he brought her back drunk the second time and I tried to fade into the bland ward background, I spied with the quiet excitement that such scandals encourage. Mr. Super-Chav was given his marching orders. He slunk out the door, backpack in hand. I could nearly smell the guilt seeping through the pores of his skin along with the vodka he’d been guzzling all day.
This is where our story starts.
‘No,’ the nurse in charge corrects hysterical Super-Chav with the sternness that only an angry woman from the West of Ireland can muster, ‘It’s me who’s not having it. Now if you’re going to come in here pissed, what kind of recovery are you going to make?’
Mumbled, incoherent responses come from the direction of the drunken mess.
‘If you carry on like this, you can forget about getting housing.’
The Super-Chavs had been living out of a tent for 8 months before her injury. Her 4 children are living with her mother and have no interest in visiting her.
I might have taken a moment to feel sorry for her if I wasn’t busy wishing someone had brought the Popcorn.
Eventually, the band disbanded. Furrowed brows and whispered discussions spilled into the corridors. Strong hands stayed behind to change and clean a now almost-comatose Super-Chav and in the anti-climax, I was torn between disapproval and anger. I leaned mostly towards anger. I thought of how lucky I was to have gotten a place here and of the others on the waiting list who desperately needed rehab. People who wouldn’t piss away the chance to walk again. People who were missing that opportunity because of bed-blockers like her.
The thing is, her husband’s eviction could well have been the making of her. Separated from him for a few days, she was chatty and smiling. She made an effort with her physiotherapy and her occupational therapy. She was nice to the nurses.
Even to The Bruiser.
Now here’s a woman who needs an introduction. I have an unfortunate feeling she’ll be a part of my journey in the coming months. I’m guessing you’ll meet her again. She’s a nurse on the ward who seems to be always assigned to our bay and she’s about as gentle as a punch in the Kidneys. And equally as pleasant.
In fact, I feel like she probably has punched me in the Kidneys at some point over the past week. Every other part of me has bled or burned or ached for days because of her.
The moment that gave The Bruiser her nickname was the one when she came into the ward, injections at the ready, like the sadist that she is. It was time to get our anti-blood-clot shot. I held up my bare upper arm in preparation. I’m gone far beyond noticing the ‘sharp scratch’ that NHS employees keep warning patients about. For some nurses, though, the location of your injection depends on their preference, rather than yours. So it was with this one. She was one of the ‘aim for the belly’ types. Apparently it’s harder to feel the pain through layers of fat. I try not to take that comment personally.
‘Do you mind needles?’ Super-Chav calls out to me as I watch the needle being prepped.
‘No,’ I tell her, playing the super-hero, ‘I’m so used to them now, I don’t even feel them.’
The nurse finds her spot close to a large bruise from an earlier injection she gave me. I’m sure that if I’d looked her in the eye at that moment, I would have seen the fires of hell burning in them.
She issues the warning.
Then she stabs.
‘Oh Dear God,’ I shout out. Or something slightly more colourful. I can feel my whole body clench. She actually seems pleased with herself. At the far side of the bay, the other women are giggling. It seems I’m the last to know. I shrink back in pain and embarrassment.
‘Can’t feel them?’ Super-Chav teases. It’s good-natured. The old dear who’s barely recovered from her burglar-spotting a few days earlier is chuckling. Super-Chav is next and discretion is not her strong point. She picks up a pen and pulls her trousers down under her belly to reveal a rainbow of bruises. Some big, some small. Some even have circles drawn around them and scrawls in ink beside them.
‘Come on then,’ She challenges, ‘Do your worst.’
I watch with fascination as she receives her shot, shouts words far more offensive than I would ever dare and then proceeds to draw a circle around the spot where the needle penetrated her skin. She scribbles the nurse’s name next to the mark and points out impressive purple and yellow marks that highlight the woman’s previous handiwork.
‘She’s a bruiser,’ Super-Chav announces.
And I find myself complicit in her little game. We’ve found common ground; a mutual dislike for The Bruiser.
Later that night, Super-Chav asks one of the Male nurses how many wives he has. I’d normally be offended on his behalf and rise up in indignation, but not in this case. In fact, I find it a little endearing. As it happens, he’s standing at the end of my bed, filling in some paperwork when she asks. Our eyes meet. I’m sure mine have popped open waiting for his reaction, but when I see him grinning, I know he’s taken it in the good humour it was intended. Turns out, she’s only asking because she’d like to know if he wants another.
I wonder if she’s really not that bad after all. I chastise myself. I’ve been far too judgemental. Maybe I should have tried to get to know her before I painted her with any particular brush.
Or maybe first impressions really should last.
It’s a few hours later when I’m woken by more drunken ramblings, shouting, abuse of nurses. And more piss.
Where did she even get the alcohol? Images of the open window and the exiled husband don’t stray far from my mind as the entire night is dominated by her shouting. To begin with, around midnight, it’s a slurred complaint about wetting herself. By 3am, she’s demanding a shower. I must have dozed off by 6am, when she lit up a cigarette in the ward. Not to worry, I was woken for breakfast at 6.30am anyway. She continued to shout and abuse and demand the attention of the entire nursing staff.
I decided that in this case, you absolutely can judge a book by it’s cover.
And I put my headphones back on.