I couldn’t tell you how many days I’ve spent in hospital over the past decade and a half. It certainly adds up to a year or more.
But it seems to me that every time I go to James’ Hospital, I see something different.
Mainly, I look and see people a lot more sick than I am.
It serves to put manners on me and, briefly at least, halt the whingeing.
I see people clearly with not long left. Young people missing limbs. Addicts for whom life doesn’t seem to hold much hope. Prisoners chained to officers as they arrive for treatment. People so overweight that breathing must be a difficulty, let alone dressing or performing normal bodily functions. Some days, I see people hugging each other and crying, clearly having lost a loved one. Once or twice, a bed with the covers pulled tightly over what is clearly a body. I asked an attendant about that one time. He replied: “We don’t have secret passageways for moving the dead.”
It all calls to mind an occasion in Musgrave Park hospital in Belfast.
I had to attend the hospital every two weeks or so for a course of full body electron beam treatment.
To begin with, it was fine. Then it got sore, like sunburn on sunburn.
On the way in for the second last treatment, I whinged to the really nice guy who was doing the treatment on me.
And he looked me straight in the face.
“Did you see the young girl waiting in reception?” he asked.
I told him I did asking if it was the dark haired girl sitting on her own.
He said it was.
And then he said: “She’s 14 years old. She’s had a double mastectomy.”
He said no more.
He didn’t have to.
He had shamed me.
I had nothing to whinge about. He didn’t say it. He didn’t have to.
I was utterly ashamed and heartbroken for the young girl.
I still feel that shame.