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Nurse Bel and the Magic of Christmas

December 23, 2013

Stacie is nearly in tears. “It’s not funny Bel” she says. “I don’t know why you let that doctor decorate the Day Room. Have you seen what he’s done to it? I’d got all the tinsel ready, and the tree, and the fairy lights and the fake snow and everything, and I was going to make it really pretty…And then he’s gone in there and just covered the walls with x-rays! It’s got nothing to do with Christmas!”

Bel bites her lip to stop herself laughing, but knows her shaking shoulders are giving her away. “Course it has” she says helplessly. “’Twelve diagnostic test results that look like Santa Claus’. What’s not to like? It’s what the internet’s for, I thought.”

Stacie bends over the drugs trolley. “Don’t look anything like Santa Claus” she mutters “and you know it.”

Bel conciliates. “All right” she says “I admit you’ve got to use your imagination a bit, but what’s wrong with that? It’s all part of the Magic of Christmas isn’t it?”

“Yeah?” counters Stacie. “And what about the rest of them? All those ones on the other wall? Don’t tell me they’re supposed to be reindeer.”

“Funnily enough….” says Bel.

“Bel…” warns Stacie.

“No, they are. Really. Staghorn calculi. It’s…um…representational art…quite trendy actually.”

Stacie slams shut the the lid of the drugs trolley and storms off towards the Clinical Room. Liz, sitting at the Station, placidly dips her hand into a bag of crisps. “What time d’you think people will start bringing food in?” she asks.

Bel sighs. “How on Earth” she thinks “did someone like me end up working on the only ward in the whole hospital that still has a patients’ Christmas party?” She runs through the to-do list in her head: screen off part of the big bathroom to create Dr Rajah’s annual Santa’s Grotto; put out tables for food supplied by staff and relatives; make sure there’s a corner for DJ Cyrille from Hospital Radio to set up his sound system – and let Stacie re-decorate, she supposes. Even though in Bel’s opinion, things would be better left as they are.

Three hours later, and the the atmosphere in the Day Room is a happy fug. Middle-aged children, standing around, sociably slag off the NHS. Excited great-grandchildren, dodging the grown ups’ legs, pull crackers and dance to the music. The patients themselves play pass-the-parcel.

“What’s the prize?” asks Stacie.

“A year’s subscription to  BUPA” says Bel.

“What, seriously?”

“Don’t be daft. It’s a bottle of shower gel. I’ve asked Cyrille to fix it so Eric wins, if you must know. He could do with cheering up. Plus, I’m sick of spending every morning hunting round for toiletries for him because his family can’t be arsed to bring any in. He’s such a nice old boy as well…it doesn’t seem fair somehow.”

On Bel’s other side, Liz has just polished off a piece of cake. She presses her finger to the plate to pick up the crumbs. “What recipe did Peggy’s daughter say that was?” asks Bel.

“Honey cake” says Liz, between sucking noises. “Unusual taste. Reminds me of something, I dunno what. Nice though. Gonna get another bit in a minute….D’you want some?”

“Nah” says Bel “you’re all right”. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices that sitting a little apart from the festivities, one of the more able-bodied patients is deep in conversation with his wife. He looks decidedly grumpy.

“Liz…” says Bel.

En route to the party spread, Liz reluctantly turns round.“Yeah?”

“What’s the matter with Jack?”

“Oh” says Liz “he’s just miffed because he paid  50p to see Father Christmas, and it wasn’t him.”

“Sorry?” says Bel. “What do you mean, it wasn’t him? Course it wasn’t him! It’s Dr Rajah! Isn’t Jack a bit old to still believe in Santa Claus?”

“Oh, Jack knew it was Dr Rajah” says Liz. “That’s the whole reason he went in there in the first place.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Well, you know Jack’s always complaining about how he never gets to see his consultant?”

“Yeah…?”

“So he said it was worth paying 50p to go in Santa’s Grotto so he could talk to him for once about his treatment and what’s happening next and that. Only he said it’s not Dr Rajah.”

“Liz, how can it not be Dr Rajah? He was here! He got dressed up in the Santa suit! Said we’ll have to get him a bigger one for next year! He’d have told us if he’d been called away.”

Liz shrugs. “Jack said it’s not him. Said whoever’s in there isn’t even Indian. Some white bloke, he said. Tall. Thin-ish.”

Sudden fear grips Bel. Heart pounding, she leaves the Day Room and starts running towards the bathroom grotto. “If it’s not Dr Rajah” she shouts back to Liz and Stacie “then who the hell is it? Please don’t tell me kids have been in there without their parents.”

Bel feels the handle of the bathroom door slipping in her sweaty grasp. She takes a deep breath and wrenches it open. Inside, out of earshot of DJ Cyrille and his sound system, all is quiet. At the end of an ‘ice-tunnel’ made by sheets to hide the bath and toilet sits not the jovial and rotund Dr Rajah, but a white man – tall, thin-ish – in an over-sized Santa suit.

Bel approaches. Despite the disguise, there’s something oddly familiar about him. Is it the boyish features? The dark hair just visible inside the hood? The mildly surprised expression and the backward-leaning posture, as if he fears someone’s about to give him a slap? Or is it the inept way he fumbles with his sack of presents? He smiles.

“Hello” he says. “And what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?” Suddenly, Bel knows exactly who it is.

A hundred thoughts swarm through her brain. She desperately tries to calm herself and impose some order. Which of her many  ideas, she asks herself, should be top of the list? National minimum staffing levels of one nurse to four patients? A ten per cent pay rise for all nurses. starting today? Scrap the ludicrous ‘year as a HCA before you can start your training’ initiative? Loads and loads more funding for the community? She makes her decision, her words are ready. She opens her mouth.

With a crash, the bathroom door bursts open. The unmistakeable figure of Liz is outlined against the light. “I’m sorry Bel” she says “you’ll have to get out of here. I need the toilet…like…urgent, and all the others are in use.”

Bel turns round and angrily squares up to her. “What?” she says. “What’s happened? Why are all the toilets in use? Don’t tell me we’ve got food poisoning now on top of everything else!”

“Noooo” groans Liz. “it’s that cake. I knew there was something funny about it. It turns out…the recipe’s for honey cake, but Peggy’s daughter uses lactulose instead. A whole bottle. Said it helps with her mum’s constipation, and some of the other patients said could they try it as well…only I had two slices and now…”

“Oh for God’s sake Liz” says Bel. “Why do you always have to be so greedy?” The only answer Liz can give is more moaning and clutching her tummy.

“OK, OK…too much information” says Bel, making to leave. “Come on Jeremy, we’ll continue our conversation in the office.”

“Jeremy?” says Liz recovering slightly and glancing round. “Who’s Jeremy when he’s at home?”

“He’s…he was just here” stammers Bel as she looks back to make sure that Father Christmas is following her – but the room is empty. Only a discarded Santa suit lies crumpled on the floor. The Magic of Christmas is over, until another year. ********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Season’s greetings to all my readers and contributors. Thanks to all of you for helping make Grumbling Appendix such a success in 2013. I will be back on January 7th, but in the meantime, if the Magic of Christmas starts to pall, here’s a little bit of sunshine to cheer you up. From DJ Cyrille’s ‘medically-orientated reggae’ playlist – how can anyone not love this? Have a good one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rb13ksYO0s

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From → Nurse Bel

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