Tuesday, 23 August 2011

How do you like your toast in the morning?

There’s a lot not to like about being in hospital. I can state this as an unequivocal fact as I recently had the pleasure of three long weeks held hostage in one. There isn’t enough time left between now and the eventual end of the world to detail each and every thing that annoyed me, every comment that irked and every slight to common sense and good manners I underwent. They were simply too numerous and too pestilent. Before long I accepted that if I was going to make it out alive I’d just have to shut down the grumpy part of my brain and accept it all or else I was in danger of having an aneurysm or, worse still, being more closely “monitored” than I already was.

So as I endured all the horrors of the ward I tried to remain upbeat about the fact that most people were under the delusion that in a hospital fabric has the same properties as brick and therefore pulling a curtain means that your conversation cannot be heard by those six feet from your bed. There are now people who I could convincingly impersonate based on the amount and depth of detailed, personal information I now know about them.

After being kept awake late into the night by the phone calls of others (behind their solid concrete, soundproof curtains), I could look forward to being woken throughout the night by someone shaking my exhausted, sleep-deprived body awake all under the guise of taking my blood pressure. Needless to say, many of those readings suggested a stroke was imminent.

However, I’d finally make it through the night and as I attempted to doze for a little bit longer into the morning, a member of the catering (I use that word in its loosest possible sense) staff would march in and bark ‘BREAKFAST’ at me. My spirit broken, I’d meekly comply, heaving my weary body out of bed and shuffling down the corridor to stand in a queue of other bleary-eyed patients. I felt like roadkill, but at least I’d get a cup of tea and a bit of toast. Surely that was something to take the edge off it all.

Sadly even such simple pleasures had been institutionalised. From what I can tell, hospitals have been mercilessly attacked by the health and safety police. Because Joe Public is so moronic he cannot help but continually hurt himself, someone has gone around the nation’s medical institutions trying to metamorphose large, solid buildings into one giant padded cell.

It manifests itself in several ways, the most maddening of which being that hot water is banned. Want a bath? Well, you can have a lukewarm one. Want a cup of tea? Well, you guessed, that’s lukewarm too. The regulation hot water urn has been set to the temperature of a normal cup of tea roughly 20 minutes after being made. Once armed with a cup of extremely tepid tea, then the unsuspecting patient is shuffled onto the toast section of the breakfast-from-hell experience.

Of course it goes without saying that we are not permitted to touch the toaster itself. We have not completed the training, the risk assessment or signed a disclaimer. So instead it’s done for you as you stand and wait, tepid tea getting colder by the second. As soon as it’s ready, and irrespective of whether there is someone waiting behind you or not, the steaming bits of bread are plonked straight onto your plate flat, meaning that by the time you have collected your pre-measured serving 80ml of orange juice in a pre-sealed plastic container and accompanying sterile straw and then got to the butter, jam and marmite stand (where you collect your plastic one use knife) your toast is stone cold and completely soggy.

During my stay I tried a variety of different tactics ranging from balancing said toast in a wigwam shape on my plate to pleading with the toaster wardens to just, for the love of humanity, let it stand for a few seconds. All my efforts were in vain. Some mornings I relished the challenge; I let myself believe that today, maybe, just maybe, I’d do it. I’d actually get crisp, crunchy toast. Other days, my failure first thing came to represent how bad the whole day was going to be.

But I suppose that’s the thing about being in hospital. You’re there because you’ve got something wrong with you. Life has already taken a definite turn for the worse and there’s this uncomfortable sense of losing control over your life, your body and also your breakfast. And while I accept that during a period of NHS cuts it probably is not economically efficient to buy tens of thousands of toast racks so that each and every person can have a more satisfactory breakfast experience, it’d be nice for there to be a small touch somewhere or other to make the whole ordeal a bit more bearable. Read more by Rosie.