I'm (pleasantly) surprised that you all would find my misadventures as a patient entertaining. To continue, the sutures were barely a day out from my head's unfortunate encounter with our bedroom door when fate decided to zone in on my right index finger.
It was New Year's Eve and I was the lucky sod on call for a certain hospital that I can't name, suffice it to say that it's neither a private nor civilian institution. Ahem. I had always suspected that those working in the interests of national security are of a different breed... this was to prove an underestimation when I met my arch-nemesis.
It was hate at first sight. Sister X loathed me from the tip of her faux Crocs to the top of her badly-crocheted theatre cap. Her pasty complexion flushed peuce and her tiny dormouse eyes switched their built-in passive aggression beams to "kill" every time I entered her gaze, contorting her doughy face into expression that I like to call "The Blancmange With Teeth".
I could never do anything right. Whether I'd forgotten to put on my mask (contrary to popular belief, several studies have shown that only personnel directly over a surgical site have to don a mask) or a shoelace was a tenth of a millimeter too long or I'd forgotten to initial some copy of a copy of a form in triplicate, this Nurse Ratched on steroids would notice it and bark her disapproval. Did she have a vendetta against all doctors, or did the Spider-Man stickers on my textbook recall some traumatic memory? I'll never know.
While I resolved to make peace with her enmity, I was left speechless by her vitriol when I was on call on New Year's Eve... barely a week after my fateful encounter with the bedroom door that I rattled on about in my previous post. I arrived in the early evening for a minor surgical case and chose to ignore Sr X (who always seemed to be on duty with me) while I saw the patient and prepared theatre for the case. Soon the patient was on the table, monitors attached and ready for me to send him off to oblivion when I remembered one drug still had to be drawn up, so I reached for the ampoule and snapped it open... why I did it with bare fingers, and not in the usual safe way by covering the glass top with the edge of my shirt as I usually do, I don't know.
I can still see it happening in slow motion in CinemaScope, but minus the cheesy Vangelis soundtrack from Chariots of Fire: the ampoule shattering into a kaleidoscope of shards like the planet Krypton finally yielding to the wrath of Zod; the largest shard slicing through my finger and the blood cascading forth in a small crimson fountain. Ok, not really a fountain but I'd sliced the tip of my index finger to the phalanx and I was soon looking like an extra from the prom scene in Carrie.
The poor patient nearly got up to help me. "Are you ok doc?" he asked - bearing in mind the poor man was in significant pain of his own. Sr X, already scrubbed for the case, stood silent, glaring, aiming her alcohol swabs at me as if they were flamethrowers. Several other nursing staff scattered around helpfully fetching bandages and making sympathetic noises. But first I had to get the bugger of a shard out.
The air-conditioning warbled slightly: Sr X spoke.
"Is this going to be long, doctor?" she said icily.
I was flabbergasted. What would get a sympathetic word out this dragon? A dagger through my eye or a telephone pole in my aorta? I shrugged, disengaged from my instincts to utter a stream of profanities and instead gave my own death glare back (usually reserved for projectionists who get the focus wrong during a movie) and excused myself from the theatre, leaving a trail of blood behind me like a scene from a bad detective thriller. In the scrub room I yelped as I got the shard out under running water. It would need sutures. But the case had to be done now. Fortunately the posse of nurses - evidently insurgents disobeying Sr X's totalitarian rule of the theatre complex - arrived with an armamentarium of bandages, gauze, swabs and crepe. Five minutes later a pressure bandage had been assembled around my poor finger and I walked triumphantly back into theatre.
The case proceeded uneventfully, with the patient - bless him - asking me on awakening if my finger was ok, never mind his own condition!
But the hospital had no idea to help a civilian injured on duty. There were too many forms to complete and they'd need authorisation from A who'd have to have it ratified by B who needed to countersign C and fax it to D who was in Pretoria and on leave. Enough was enough and I informed my consultant that due to a horrible ampoule accident he'd have to cover the call for two hours while I got myself sutured ... at the same hospital I had my head seen to on Boxing Day!
I was hoping the pressure bandage would be enough, but the SCW (Sexy Clever Wife) took one look at the wound and shook her head. So off it was for another bout of suturing. I wondered what accident I'd be having next.
An ancient but affable physician sutured me. It appeared to me that he'd last put in sutures during the sixties. It took a while, and the lignocaine hurt like ten circles of hell going nuclear simultaneously, but I didn't care as the SCW dosed me up on a cocktail of tramadol, paracetamol and diclofenac (Power-Myprodol, we like to call it) reserved for really really bad pain days like the migraines that strike me four or so times a year or when Chiv's back decides to flare up like a row of cheerleaders with gaudy pom-poms,
Both the trip for the head and then the finger surgery set me back a cool R2 000. And of course, like most medical aids, they don't cover casaulty cases except if you have savings. Grrrrr.
But I would have the last laugh on Sr X.
The next day my war wound practically became a purple heart. Is it something about men in uniform who are injured that makes women all broody and caring? I practically had my own harem for the day, running errands for me, enquiring whether I lost a lot of blood or whether the sutures were painful, supplying me with care packages of coffee and rusks. It was awkward at first but quite pleasant for my ego. From her Dark Cave of Evil - sorry I mean office - Sr X watched with displeasure etched on her face.
Relaying this, I had to restrain the SCW from driving in from work and giving Sr X a snotklap. After all, in a few weeks I would leave this Gormenghast fiefdom and be back at the great, lumbering, happy, amazingly efficient chaos of my home teaching hospital - where doctors and sisters have minor hissy fits over silly things but share big hugs and rude jokes, and music plays in theatres and no-one thinks twice about a graphic novel or Sudoku compendium or the Confessions of St Augustine being on the anaesthetic machine next to the BJA and other august journals, provided the job gets done.
We are so shaped by the people we work with. I wonder what Sr X is doing now? Perhaps she has a secret lair next to the oxygen supply bank deep in the bowels of the hospital where she hacks into governmental agencies and feeds WikiLeaks their prime fare. Or is she training an army of nurse fembots who will go online during the next solar flare and eliminate all men? Or crocheting a blanket made of cyanide-laced spider silk and wool from her late Alsatian called Beelzebub? One will never know... but I'll be there, like Chloe in the Watchtower in Smallville, keeping an eye so that the streets of Cape Town will never be brought to its knees by the terrible wrath of her Total Passive Aggression! [cape flaring, standing on top of the Cape Sun building with badly scrawled "S" on T-shirt, peering queasily down the edge and wishing he had a double whisky before he attempted this stunt]
...fade out to the titles and rousing John Williams soundtrack...