THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

80   He applies for the job of porter and becomes an orderly

Was the uniform grey-blue, green-grey, or blue-green? Maybe it was grey-blue green. Or green-blue grey. Anyway, not a bad colour. Pushing an empty wheelchair the man walked through the main entrance ahead of Henry. In the foyer he parked the chair alongside several others and when he turned Henry asked him 'Are you a porter?' His blunt features were arranged economically, so it was dead easy to read them, like a road sign, plain and simple. No multiplicity of confusing subtleties and nuances. No fine print.

'I mean, you are a porter, aren't you?' 

'You looking for a porter?'

'Well, not really. I'm actually looking for a job as a porter.'

'A job?'

'Yes. I want to become a porter. You know, like what you do; that's what I want to do. A porter.'

'You must be befokt in your head. This is a kak job. Fuckall pay. Pushing sick old cunts up and down all day. Every day just pushing sick old cunts up, down, up, down. And dead old cunts.'

Everything about this man seemed consistently brutish: his expression, his tone of voice and choice of words, his gestures and his bearing. His base nature was exposed for all to see, unadorned by even the skimpiest vestige of refinement. Methinks, mused Henry, this fellow would make a very fine Caliban.

'I'm sure there must be more to it than that. But anyway could you tell me how I can apply for a job as a porter?'

'Huh.' And he folded his arms and looked out past Henry as if he had ceased to exist, as if he had never existed. Disappointed, Henry began to turn away. 'You got a smoke for me?'

Ah. He shook his head but found a twenty-cent piece and handed it over.

'F. You go up to F Floor.' He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of lifts and a stairwell. 'You not allowed to use the lift, hey? You go up to the F Floor and you speak to one of those fuckin' bitches. Jus' make sure you don't get Matron Sharp.'

'Matron Sharp?'

'Yah. No man, you get Matron Sharp, you fucked. That woman, she can see right through you, like you was glass. She can check right inside your heart, right into your fuckin' brain, my mate. You scheme you can chune that woman kak, jus a little bit of kak, and you're in jou moer. No man, jus don't get Matron Sharp.'

Matron Sharp was a small to medium sized woman in her late fifties. She looked very neat in her pale blue uniform, her figure was still trim, and her grey hair was cut short in the style of a pageboy. Petite. At some earlier stage she had probably been considered petite. Henry didn't take much notice of her facial characteristics once he had met her gaze. Her unshockable grey eyes were as independent and steady as twin gyroscopes, and he felt the urge to tilt his head back and expose his jugular to her. Maybe such a gesture of submission would elicit an atavistic response inhibiting her from tearing him to pieces with her mind and her tongue.

'So you want me to give you a job as a porter, do you?' Her voice was calm and level, modulated ever so close to flat and bored. The eyes, which for close on forty years had been examining human reactions to physical and mental stress, now dispassionately awaited his reply.

'Yes, Matron.' He must be careful what he said. 'I was hoping there would be an opening for me.' He needed to create the impression of dimwitted honesty. 'I was an assistant storeman at Simonstown Dockyard, but the work was too difficult for me.' He tried to look gormless by letting his mouth fall open. 'I never had any form… um … I never went to a proper school, but I can read and write and do some arithmetic.' What was that flicker of something? Surely not amusement. 'My arms and legs are strong and I've got no back trouble, so I'm sure I'd be good at lifting patients and pushing them in wheelchairs and on trolleys.' What else could he offer? "I'm also willing to learn how to shave the body hair of male patients prior to sur… before they have their operations.' Fuck, she might think he was a pervert. 'Only if it's required of me, of course. And I live in Woodstock, you know.' He imparted this last piece of information because he understood this menial post of hospital porter to be one of those situations in South Africa reserved for poor whites - a form of sheltered employment. 'But I am of sober habits and God-fearing. Very God-fearing.' Should he chance a biblical reference or two? What the hell. 'Yes, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. For even though the gate is strait and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it, happy is the man who fears the Lord and is only too willing to follow His orders.' Okay, don't overdo it, or she'll get suspicious. Had her expression hardened somewhat, become more stony? Maybe she thought this religious bullshit was insincere, which, of course, it was. 'I would like to do a job where I can help people, you know. When I was a little boy I wanted to be a doctor but I'm not clever enough for that.' Pathetic. And still no response. What did she expect from him? 'I don't have a criminal record or anything, Matron.' Not that it mattered. 'But I have had some troubles in my life.' Was she interested? Now he was really taking a chance. 'And as it says in the Good Book, 'When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.' Finally! A sign of exasperation?

"The Bible also says 'The mouth of a fool poureth out foolishness.'"

'That's from Proverbs, isn't it?' The porter had been right - she had seen through him and he was fucked in his moer. Damn! 'There's truth in it, I suppose. Some of us can't help our foolishness. We're not all blessed with wisdom. And yet, as Ecclesiastes points out, although wisdom excelleth folly, and the wise man's eyes are in his head and the fool walketh in darkness, one event happeneth to them all. In short: How dieth the wise man? Answer: As the fool. All is vanity. Anyway.' And he fell silent, watching her, waiting for her to tell him to get out of her office. They regarded each other, she behind her desk, he standing before her. La femme regarde moi. Interesting woman, this. Must have been attractive when she was young. No rings on her fingers. Bound to be a story in her past explaining her dedication, accounting for the detachment in her eyes. Hey, was that surprise? A bit of colour in her cheeks. Good God, she's just realised I'm checking her out the way she's checking me out. Now I'm in for it.

'You're familiar with the term 'self-immolation'?' A trap. He couldn't lie to her. But how many hospital porters in the English-speaking world could reply in the affirmative? 'I know the meaning of it.' His voice was decidedly sulky. And why self-immolation? Shit, it wasn't possible. She had guessed his true intention in seeking such employment. A bloody mind-reader.

'Alright, you can start on Monday.' Again his mouth fell open, this time unintentionally. 'But not as a porter. You'd be of more use to me as an orderly. Do you know what an orderly does?'

'A white-clad goon who assists the nurses in the ward?'

'The orderly can be a most effective member of the nursing team. He walks in the shadow of the nurse, admittedly, but he is an integral part of the nursing process. A porter operates on the periphery, having only minimal contact with the patient and performing a very limited function. By contrast, the orderly is expected to form a relationship with the patient which is both caring and thoughtful. Through empathy he is able to put himself into the patient's psychological frame of reference and thereby understand and predict that person's feelings, thoughts and actions. Like a nurse, an orderly develops skills to alleviate suffering and cure ill-health. Or ensure a peaceful death. People have to be seen as biological, psychological and social beings. Therapeutic intervention has to be holistic, and take into account the biopsychosocial needs of a patient.' Biopsychosocial! Jesus, that's a mouthful. She certainly wasn't talking down to him. Getting a bit carried away.

'Yes, I see, Matron. But all that sounds rather theoretical. What would I actually have to do?'

'You'd be involved with all aspects of primary clinical nursing at a basic level, from admission to discharge. Or death.'

'Mm. Admission. That probably involves the filling in of forms. I must warn you that routine clerical duties don't agree with me. I tend to be overwhelmed by existentialist nausea just at the prospect of them. And between admission and discharge?'

'There's the care of clothes and possessions. Clothes are written up in the kit book, labelled, and stored in the kitroom. Valuables are written up and locked in the safe. Then there's clinical sheets.'

'Clinical sheets? That sounds like either clean linen or more paperwork.'

'The latter. You'd better get used to the idea of keeping records - it's absolutely vital. Those clipboards and folders at the foot of the bed contain a whole range of documents essential for the monitoring of a patient's condition. The bed letter, temperature and pulse chart, intake and output chart, blood pressure chart, treatment sheet - these are standard. There might also be a head injury and neurosurgical observation chart. Or a mass chart. There could be a diabetic chart and an injection chart. There might even be an anticoagulant chart. Or…'

'Yes, yes. The frenzied recording of data. The obsessive impulse to observe and quantify: The ritualistic compulsion to seize and define the fleeting moment by inscribing of descriptions. Yes, the mania is endemic to the human race.' Henry was panting and gulping as well as fluttering his eyelids and twitching his ears in response to the rising panic and accompanying nausea. 'But please move on from the filling in of clinical sheets.'

'Well, you must become familiar with the layout of the ward, of course. Two thirty-bed wards, male and female, each with its own sluice room and bathroom, are served by a duty room, a secretary's office, kitchen, linen room, equipment room, dressing rooms, surgical store and kit room. Then you must learn about beds. Beds and accessories. The standard hospital bed, the cot bed, the Alpha cardiac bed, several types of position bed, the Stryker bed with turning frame, the Lawson-Tait Pearson fracture bed and the Hemco intensive care bed. Different types of mattresses, wedges, supports and pillows. Once you've learnt to recognise a bed you'll be instructed in the important skills of bedmaking.'

'Oh yes? That's good, because I have only the most rudimentary knowledge in that field of expertise. Is there a lot to it?'

'More than you might think. For one thing, you need to know the difference between bedding, bedclothes and bed-linen. Bedding is the broader term, includes bed-linen and bedclothes, and consists of mattress, mattress cover, sheets, waterproof, drawsheet, disposable 'incontinent' sheet, flannelette underblanket, woollen blanket, cotton cellular blanket, counterpane, pillows, pillowcovers and pillowcases. First you learn to make the basic bed, everything correctly positioned and folded and with neat envelope corners as well, then the admission bed the operation bed, divided bed, fracture bed and tent bed with steel cradle, both open and closed, depending on need for ventilation.'

'Admission, care of clothes and valuables, those detestable clinical sheets, ward layout, beds, bedmaking. So far, nothing much to do with attending to a sick patient. I suppose you're getting to that?'

'I've just arrived. As part of bedmaking procedure you will be taught how to change the bottom sheet whilst a patient is still in the bed.'

'Gee, that'll be interesting. A special technique, is there? A knack, or trick? Like a magician whipping off the tablecloth from a set table without disturbing the crockery or cutlery.'

'Not quite. There are two methods: side to side, and top to bottom. It's straightforward, once you've been shown how, and no party tricks are involved at all. This leads on to the movement and positioning of a patient. And getting a patient out of bed and back to bed - something the orderly specialises in. As you might have suspected by now, there's a technique for everything and you will be expected to comply with standard methods which have been worked out over many years and have become accepted practice. You have to know how to lift the patient higher in bed and support him with pillows in Fowler's position, the commonest nursing position of all. Also to lie the patient down in a position which is not only comfortable but serves to promote drainage and breathing, facilitates treatment and prevents complications. For medical examination of the anus, vulva and perineum there are positions to be adopted and you will have to know them.'

'How many positions are there? And do they have numbers like those suggested for coitus?'

'They are not numbered. The main ones you will deal with are Fowler's and semi-Fowler's, as I have already mentioned, and straightforward positions like supine, semi-supine and prone, as well as the lateral recumbents, both left and right. Then there's genucubital and genupectoral, which are the knee-elbow and knee-chest positions respectively. The Trendelenburg position is supine and inclined at an angle so that the pelvis is higher than the head. The Sims position is lying on the side with the lower arm behind the back and the thighs flexed, the upper more than the lower. Finally, three's the Simon position. This is supine with hips elevated, thighs and legs flexed, and thighs widely separated. It's normally used to facilitate a vaginal examination, which shouldn't be of concern to you, but could be useful when shaving a male patient's genital area prior to surgery.'

'Mm, I see. I'll make a mental note of that. Thanks, Matron. So is that it, as far as beds, and moving and positioning a patient are concerned?'

'No, there's still pressure care; which is essential in the prevention and management of bedsores.'

'Bedsores being produced by pressure which inhibits healthy circulation?'

'Exactly. Localised tissue necrosis resulting from pressure ischaemia. Can vary from a small decubitus ulcer to a deep gangrenous lesion. Pressure sores tend to occur on areas covering superficial bones which are not well padded, namely the sacrum, shoulder blades, spine, hips, heels, ankles, toes and elbows. And the ears.'

'I wouldn't have imagined the ears were at risk, but I'll take your word for it. And it's the orderly's duty to try and prevent this from happening?'

'By changing the patient's position regularly, by massaging the pressure points, by keeping the skin as clean and dry as possible, and by hardening the skin through the application of spitis.'

'I'm finding this all most interesting, Matron. But how much more is there to sketch for me to gain an overall picture of the job? Just roughly.'

'We're more than halfway. There's still toilet of the skin, mouth and hair; feeding; elimination and specimens; and thanatology.'

'Thanatology? Oh yes. Death. Greek, I believe. Thanatos: the death wish. Most interesting. I'm looking forward to that. But I'm jumping the gun. Please proceed with the toilet of the skin, mouth and hair.'

'Much of your work will be focused on maintaining the hygiene of your patients. You will learn how to complete a full bed bath, cleansing the patient from head to toe and changing the soiled bed-linen. And at least twice a day a 'beds and backs' round is made by a team of nurses to carry out routine tasks, the chief of which is pressure care. Immobilised patients are moved and given leg and chest exercises, observations are made, the beds tidied, soiled linen changed, the patient made comfortable and intravenous therapy checked. And tops of lockers are wiped clean and water supplies replenished. If necessary eliminatory needs may also be attended to.'

'Bedpans and bottles?'

'Yes. Then you will be warned about the complications of a dirty mouth and alerted to such conditions as periodontal disease, dental caries, spread of infection to the parotid glands, tonsils, lungs, stomach and blood stream, offensive taste, halitosis, furring of the tongue, purulent discharge, dry lips, fever blisters, sordes and food debris between the teeth, sensitive or bleeding oral mucous membrane, gingivitis, oral thrush, inflammation of the tongue, and recurrent oral ulcers. You will be required to clean a patient's teeth with toothbrush and paste, or to clean dentures under running water. The procedure for specialised cleaning of the mouth will be taught you and you will become adept with forceps, swabs, mouth gag, tongue depressor and wooden wedge.'

'Jesus, they sound like instruments of torture!'

'Care of the hair is also important, not only for hygienic purposes but for the morale as well. First you will learn about lice. There are three varieties of lice parasitizing the human host, namely the head, body and pubic louse.'

'I understand its only the body louse which spreads typhus fever. Am I correct, Matron?'

'Perfectly correct. In time you will recognize the three types and their nits and learn how to delouse a patient by applying pyrethram mixtures and insecticidal powders, washing with gamma benzene hexachloride shampoos and spraying with Para.'

'Para?'

'Yes. Para spray with malathion. And you must know what to do with verminous clothing too. But, to get back to hair, infested or not, you'll be expected to wash, rinse and dry a patient's hair according to standard procedure. And, for an orderly, an important task is to keep patients clean shaven, either with an electric razor or safety razor.'

'As long as its not with a cut-throat razor. That requires real expertise. I once tried it, before I had dispensed with the vanity and futility of shaving, and I nearly severed my carotid artery. I lost so much blood the experience left me feeling anaemic for several days thereafter. But I'm interrupting you. Please go on. Its feeding next, isn't it? Funny, the word has farmyard connotations for me.'

'Does it? For some people it brings to mind a picture of feeding-time at the zoo. I see you find it amusing. However, let this serve as a warning to you. In order to cope with the emotionally and psychologically distressing aspects of caring for the sick a certain degree of objectivity and detachment must be maintained. This is natural and healthy. But there is the danger of losing empathy for the patient and falling into the trap of regarding the sick person as an object and not a real person. Once this happens it is easy to see the patient's behaviour as irritating, or disgusting, or pathetic, and deserving of contempt and ridicule. Should you reach this state of callous lack of compassion your own humanity will be in serious jeopardy.'

'Thank you for the warning. I'll be on my guard, especially when assisting a patient with his meal.'

'There are several types of diet available to a hospitalized patient according to his medical condition. There is the full diet, which is any kind of food prepared in any kind of way, as well as the light diet, the soft diet, and the liquid diet. Then there are the special diets: diabetic, high joule and low joule, reducing, high protein and low protein, gluten-free, low-purine, high and low carbohydrate, lactose-free, high and low fat, low calcium and calcium-rich, salt modified and vitamin modified diets. And a stimulant-free diet, and high and low fibre diets. Oh yes, there's also the Meulengracht diet for those with peptic ulcers.'

'What about duodenal ulcers?'

'No. With the use of modern antacids diet no longer plays a major role in the treatment of duodenal ulceration. But whatever the diet, special or not, there are some general rules for the serving of food in an appetizing manner. For a start, the ward should be well ventilated, urinals and bedpans should be cleared out, sputum mugs covered and vomiting bowls emptied.'

'Mm. A foul smell is enough to put most people off their grub.'

'Patients should be placed in comfortable positions, cutlery and crockery should be scrupulously clean, shining and tastefully arranged on a clean tray cloth on a meal tray or overbed table, and the salt cellar and pepper pot should be filled and should shake freely.'

'That's a good point, that. Nothing more infuriating than trying to shake damp salt out of a clogged cellar. It could enrage an already irritable patient to the point where he becomes a danger to himself. I once banged a glass salt cellar so hard on the table it smashed into a thousand pieces and sent shards flying in all directions. And I was in perfect health at the time.'

'It's hardly necessary, I hope, to state that nursing staff should wash their hands before serving food. And something else that should be obvious is that warm food is served on warm plates, and cold food on cold plates.'

'One would have to be a moron to serve jelly or ice cream on a hot plate. But I suppose you mention it because, as I have been led to believe, most orderlies are not generously endowed with grey matter.'

'No, they're not. I'm hoping you are an exception, but I can't be sure. Now, if a patient can help himself he should be encouraged to do so, though he might need assistance with the cutting of meat. But in some case it is necessary to hand feed. These would include patients who are gravely ill, those whose mental condition precludes satisfactory self-feeding, patients who are forced to lie in the recumbent position, those whose eyes are closed, and those patients who are unable to use their hands or arms. When feeding these patients you stand, or sit on a chair at the bedside and on no account whatsoever are you to sit on the bed itself.'

'I understand, Matron.'

'The patient should not get the impression that the nurse is in a hurry. On the other hand neither should you dawdle or waste time. If a patient is unable to see, each mouthful should be described and he should be warned of its approach. And he should be given a chance to chew and swallow.'

'And now we move on to elimination, do we? The next logical step.'

'Not quite yet. There's still artificial feeding by means of gastric intubation, usually via the nose. You will learn how to prepare and administer the feed using a syringe or a funnel. An orderly is not required to perform the intubation procedure itself.'

'That's a relief. I suppose there's always a danger of the tube going down the wrong way. Could end up giving a patient a lungful of soup.'

'The elimination of faeces and urine in the hospital situation can often prove difficult and embarrassing. For a patient at strict bedrest the use of the bedpan and the urinal becomes an unavoidable necessity. An orderly spends much time fetching and carrying these receptacles, emptying and cleaning them, assisting the patient in the use of them, and ensuring that the patient is always left in a hygienic condition after the use of them. There are different positions for using the pan: flat on the back, sitting up propped with pillows, or leaning forward with the feet resting on a chair at the side of the bed. Remember that the bed should always be screened and the bedpan warmed before use. And of course it should be covered with a paper bedpan cover while being carried through the ward. A bell and toilet paper must be left within the patient's reach, if he can help himself. But a very ill patient must not be left unattended on a bedpan. In the sluice room the bedpan is emptied, sluiced and cleaned with a mop, paying special attention to the area under the brim. Then it is rinsed and left to drain on a rack. Urinals are cleaned in a similar manner except they do not require sluicing.'

"It can't be easy having a good bowel movement on a bedpan.'

'Of course it isn't. That's why it's always preferable to get a patient onto the commode, if at all possible. Different models are available.'

'Like motor cars? Four cylinders and V-6's, automatic gearbox, disc brakes up front. Sorry, Matron.'

'The choice is limited to with or without wheels, a chamber, a backrest or armrests. The types on wheels and fitted with a chamber can be pushed from bed to bed, while the type with an open seat, the lavabout, is used to take the patient to the toilet.'

'Can't say I'm looking forward to this part of the job. Immersing myself in human waste products could be taking the notion of self-immolation beyond what I originally had in mind. But I suppose this is just one of the realities to be faced when nursing the sick. And it might help to distract me from the excessive self-absorption which usually dominates my mental condition. By submitting to the offensiveness of odours, textures and spectacles I could possibly find liberation. I might even be led to surrender my selfhood and all my stupid cravings, and thereby attain a pure spiritual state free from suffering, delusion and all attachments!'

'You might indeed. And whilst we're on this subject there's also urinalysis and the analysis of stools. You will be shown how to do stip tests on urine specimens for pus, blood, glucose, pH, protein, ketones, bilirubim, albumin, urobilinogen, nitrite and leucocytes. Urinalysis is an important tool in the investigation and diagnosis of diseases. To a lesser extent the examination of faeces can also yield valuable clues and indications. For the presence of occult blood the Hematest effervescent reagent tabled is used. Valuable information can also be gleaned from studying the colour, odour, consistency, quantity, shape and abnormal constituents of a freshly passed stool.'

'Madame Sosastris, the famous clairvoyant, was able to tell a lot from gazing into teacups.'

'The analogy is a feeble one. The similarity between tealeaves in a teacup, and faeces in a bedpan is too tenuous for it to be an effective rhetorical device.'

'Ah, but I think you could be missing my intention. I am juxtaposing two methods of foretelling the future. In both cases a person's fate is being predicted by means of analysis. The one method is scientific, the other supernatural.'

'I see. And both could be warning of death. Hmm. That leads us neatly into the last aspect of the general nursing process which I am outlining in broad detail. Thanatology. This focuses on care-giving to the terminally ill as well as concern for the dying patient's family members. You will need to know something about passive voluntary euthanasia as well as the five stages of dying as proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. It goes without saying that the fifth stage precedes death, and the clinical criteria for the diagnosis of death are fixed, large pupils which do not react to light, absent corneal reflexes, cessation of breathing, and absence of heartbeat and pulse. Once death has been certified by a doctor or registered nurse the body may be laid out in accordance with standard practice. In a busy medical ward this becomes a routine task commencing with the removal of blankets, pillows, bed accessories and night attire. The body is straightened with the arms at the sides, heels together, and the feet supported at right angles by a pillow against the soles. Clean dentures are placed in the mouth and the jaw supported by a pillow under the chin or by application of a jaw bondage. The eyes are kept closed with pledgets of wet cotton wool on the lids. If necessary the corpse is given a shave, and the bladder is emptied by supra-pubic pressure into a receiver. The body is then washed and dried and the nails cut and cleaned. The knees and ankles are bandaged together and the hair is combed. One luggage label with relevant details is tied to the left ankle, and one to the right wrist.'

'Now that really is confirmation of death. You would only attach luggage labels to an inanimate object.'

'You can't ask a corpse who he is, so it's most important to be able to confirm identity by referring to a label. Now if the arms are not placed at the sides the wrists can be bandaged together on the chest. But the fingers must on no account be allowed to intertwine.'

'I suppose that would make the undertaker's work damnably difficult when it comes to preparing the cadaver for the coffin.'

'The shroud is then put on, folded at the back and secured with packaging tape. Then the body is wrapped in the sheet and left alone for at least half an hour before being loaded onto a coffin trolley and wheeled to the mortuary. Whilst the body is being removed from the ward all beds must be screened to protect the feelings of patients who might have a morbid fear of death. And there we have it. Such is the work done by a hospital orderly caring for the sick from admission to death.'

Matron Sharp leaned forward and rested her arms on the desk blotter before her. She seemed to be examining the neatly manicured fingernails of her right hand. Henry was looking past her at the office wall, but his eyes were focussed on a point some way beyond it. They were both thinking about human suffering; its inevitability and the means used to manage and cope with it. She had devoted her life to the management of suffering. That was her way of coping. And yet, after all those years, the sad perplexity she had felt as a girl growing into a woman was still with her. How strange, it might even have become more acute. And she knew that this odd, scruffy young man carried with him the same quiet sorrow that she felt. She had sensed it lurking behind the initial tomfoolery and then the ironical badinage. How would he react to the unrelenting wretchedness which permeated the wards? Would sad perplexity turn to angry bewilderment and then eventually to bitterness and a vicious resentment? Or would humour come to his aid and persuade him to laugh at suffering, the way he surely laughed at such clichés as 'the tragedy of human aspiration', and 'the tyranny of time'? It was plain to see he had no ambition and regarded both aspiration and time as a joke. So once he became acquainted with suffering the likelihood was that it too would be incorporated into the plot of an ongoing black comedy. Just so long as the patients didn't become the butt of the joke. The malice in his laughter must be for himself and the gods. That way the patients would be safe.

The enormity of what lay ahead was beginning to dawn on him. She had deliberately gone into detail in order to warn him. It would not be easy. Hell, no. Especially for him, with his unruly temperament and aversion to routine. But there was no choice. The door hadn't closed in his face and, on the contrary, now stood wide open waiting for him to step through. Wasn't that the obligation incumbent upon a dilettante, a dabbler in what life had to offer? This life had led him through some open gates and he had murdered an old man. He was required to atone for that crime, that culmination of a useless, wasted existence, and here was his chance, his means of redemption. Of course it wouldn't be easy. What good would it be if it was easy? As that fucking little freak from the Department of Labour had so magnanimously pointed out, No pain, no gain. Not that he believed in redemption. But he had to go through the motions.

'So you say I can start on Monday, Matron?'

'Monday. Seven o'clock. But with one proviso.'

'Yes?'

'You must give me your word you will stay for at least two years. Less than two years would be…' What did it matter to her if he failed to acquaint himself properly and didn't allow himself enough time to be tested? 'We don't want to waste our time training you and then get no useful service in return.'

'No problem. It's a three year sentence.'

 

Two years later he was still there. One morning, six weeks before the end of the third year, he awoke convinced that Harry Bergson was ready for him. He had dreamt so vividly and in such detail that there was no doubt in his mind.

When he handed in his notice, the briefest of missives which started with the words 'I hereby', he had the distinct impression she had been expecting it. Her face betrayed no surprise, or any other emotion. But she took too long to read it.

'I would like to thank you…' He really shouldn't talk shit to this woman. This was a good woman. 'My three years is nearly up and I must move on. The long and winding road, you know.' This was new. He had never seen hurt in her eyes before. Damn it. 'I've been keeping a record of my impressions, you know.' From his breast pocket he produced a piece of foolscap folded in half and half again, and waved it in front of her. 'This is my eight-page notebook. I've filled a few of these; quite a few.' He returned it to his pocket. 'I write them up neatly in an exercise book, something like keeping a diary. I wondered if you'd care to look at it - some of it's quite amusing. You could browse through it, look for bits that appeal to you. You might find it interesting, see the hospital through the eyes of an orderly. Of course, I'm no Samuel Pepys or James Boswell. Just bits and pieces I've jotted down during quiet moments in the ward. Thirty escritoires to choose from. I've conducted many an interview from the overbed table parked at the foot of the bed. Did you know Hemingway preferred to write standing up? I suppose it could be considered a trifle unethical; a violation of privacy, trust; contravening the Florence Nightingale Pledge, especially the bit about holding in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping. A bit rough, too. You might find some of the details just too explicit, the verbatim reportage embarrassingly exact. Just turn the pages, skim through it and pick out anything that catches your interest. You might find it tiresome, pointless, depressing. Like reading a Samuel Beckett novel, drivelling on about nothing in particular except that it's all rather desperately funny and wrist-slittingly nihilistic. Feel free to slam it shut and push it aside with a grimace of disgust. I'll fully understand if…'

'Mr Fuckit. I would like to read it. Thank you.'

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