The Western


The Western Infirmary.  The name evokes images of cowboys, drunkenness and violence.  And here, you can get the last two, at least on a Friday or Saturday night.  Luckily enough I was there on a Wednesday, getting an impression of how the place is at the weekend.

Three times I’ve been in the A&E department now.  It’s mostly the same type of people you see: overweight women in their forties or fifties, the occasional young chap with an injury from football, a surprising and inexplicable amount of Asians.

A woman walks in.  She seems a bit too casual to be an in-patient, but she definitely doesn’t work here.  She asks the man at reception if he had phoned her parents.  That could be a sensible question.  Then she walks away without an answer and sits down, which hints at her being a bit mental.  She sits and watches the TV.  I watch her.  I don’t know what the show is, but when a man in it starts shaving his head, face, and eyebrows, she bolts up out of the seat.

“That’s what he meant!”.  I wonder whether she’s really into the show, has just figured out some other mystery, or is just bonkers.  She rabbits on, wearing her madness on her sleeve.  She looms over the reception desk, talking to patients, staff, herself, and people who no one else can see.

A quartet of neds wander in and the place gets tense.  A pair have fallen out.  She had stormed off, and for some reason had come to A&E.  He and his pals followed.  He decides to stare at her and talk like he wishes to maim her.  We, of course, do the decent thing, and act like we can’t see them.  A trapped audience, all trying to ignore the show.  The phrase “We’ve all stabbed somebody” is used, by one of the girls no less.  Classy.  They leave, we heave a collective sigh.  They return, we un-sigh.

The couple briefly make up.  Then they argue again, this time over who took the most of some particular drug.  Each wants to be known as the one who took the most.  Even to junkies, rep is important.  She storms off and the boyfriend follows.  The Bam Number is now two.

The remaining duo are mostly bearable.  Then the crazy lady kicks off again, gibbering away.  This gets the neds’ attention.  Uh oh.  I’ve learned over the years that neds are narcissistic.  A crazy person could be babbling away to a shoe, but a ned thinks the conversation is about them.  So when they hear the rantings, the presume they are the topic.  “Who ye talking tae?” bounces across the room a few times, luckily not invoking much response.

Ten minutes later, the mad woman spontaneously takes an interest in the neds.  She stares at them constantly, possibly without blinking.  Now it’s “Whit ye looking at?”. The he-ned threatens to “snap her nose”, a phrase so stupid-sounding I have to stifle laughter.  It gets more and more tense.  Then an angel appears and ushers me down a corridor.

I haven’t just met an angel, she’s found me my own personal heaven.  I have my own waiting room, a respite from the nonsense happening back there on Earth.  There are 40-odd seats here, and there is only one me.  I stretch out, relax, and start to read my book.  Peace, quiet, bliss.  Then an old fella comes in and ruins it.

He’s not a bad old chap, he just doesn’t recognise the tired, half-closed eyes, the stony expression and the open book as signs of someone who doesn’t want to be bothered.  He gibbers away, asking me only one question the entire time.  I am a sounding board.  I accept my fate and close my book.

He was a mechanic.  And a driver, and a painter.  Well, he nearly took a job as a painter, but decided it wasn’t for him.  These are the kinds of stories I’m already getting after, only ten minutes, tales of jobs that could’ve been.  Digging canals and replacing engine parts.  I’ve got a source for better stories than this.  You know where, old man?  In this book you’re not letting me read.  At some point I get a sentence in, but l just utter empty replies to fill spaces between tales, “Aye…really…right”.

The only interesting moment comes when he mis-speaks at a wonderfully opportune time.  Being the chatty sort, he sees no problem with telling me why he’s at the hospital.  “I’ve no been able to shit for three weeks”.  I’m not too mature to find this funny.  Then, while explaining, he makes the slip up that I love “I’ve no been able to shit ever since I shat on a bench”.  My eyes widen.  Is this old guy telling me he took a dump on a bench?  And he’s been constipated ever since?  Did he get piles, a massive ass-skelf, what?  I can’t bring myself to ask, and he’s away off down another trail of conversation anyway.

Sadly, thinking back on it, I realise that he probably meant to say “since I sat on a bench”.  I am disappoint.  Life just isn’t that fun.




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