Last week, SA returned to the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville (NSIC) for an operation. The Centre is a familiar place, having been SA’s home for 6 months during his rehab and since then, there have been many visits back. Some have included a stay, but most are just for the odd MOT. (Did you see how I helpfully put things into an automotive context there for you fellas to understand?)
Every visit stirs up memories. For me this starts en route driving on the familiar road from West Wycombe. For SA it’s wheeling under the big blue pyramid and then through the big doors at the front. They’ve had a refurb in reception so there’s virtually no more red velour and the plastic plants are hopefully in the dishwasher. But there’s still plenty that’s familiar since we’ve both killed enough hours in that place to know how many artist’s impressions of High Wycombe and surrounding area are achievable. And we know exactly where we’re going, which has got to be something of a rarity in a hospital that size.
The big, friendly, antiquated elevators are still (just) functioning, and despite having a firm conviction on pressing the button that this really is the last time anything is going to happen, the old girl faithfully responds to our request. While Big Bertha struggles to the first floor with the weight of both myself and SA, I notice that there are a few more air bubbles that have appeared in the lino flooring, some of the more established ones have got bigger and are crying out to be prodded experimentally with the tip of my shoe..
Emerging from the lift confirms that the same recipe for vegetable cup-a-soup was on the menu for breakfast. And will be for lunch. And dinner.
An increasingly glum SA reaches his berth met by familiar sights like the ‘cheery’ patterns on all of the bed curtains that depict scenes from the english countryside in watercolour. Apathy in a uniform half-heartedly moves a clump of dust bunnies around with an oversized broom.
But as you probably know by now, the mindset we both aspire to is to not dwell unnecessarily on the depressing stuff but to lean towards the memories that make us snigger. This is always a bit of an effort and this visit is no exception. Let’s face it there cant be much about returning to hospital for a hand operation that’s going to see you stuck in for 4 weeks that going to have you doing wheelie’s down the corridor. But I did have to remind SA that the last time he came for this operation, not only was it on his right hand – the business hand that he eats and beats his chest with, but that he began his stay equally, if not more bummed and he ended up meeting some pretty cool people and, against all odds, having some fun.
We go for a wander to see who’s still about and within a few minutes SA has become like a mobster returning to the clink for a small stretch. Every cleaner, assistant and nurse greets him like he’s the Don as he weaves his way through the corridors greeting his old network, fist bump after fist bump:
“What you in for this time, man?”
“I’ll come see ya later, blood”
With this notoriety of course also comes the recognition from the Screws that were immune to The Ginger Magic the first time round. Instead they greet this returning desperado with a steely nod of acknowledgement and an unsaid but understood “I’m watching you, Davis,” in their glare.
One fond memory is of SA and his new friend meeting a middle-aged German lady in Asda, across the road from the hospital. A female, in a wheelchair, near Stoke Mandeville hospital, buying gin in bulk – all these are factors that stimulate the curiosity of the bored pair and they strike up a conversation. They got themselves invited to a secret drinkie poos she was having on her ward that evening, to celebrate her last night. So SA and his mate enjoyed a forbidden, well lubed and fun evening of general flirting and mutual ego-boosting with a group of middle-aged women. Needless to say it ended with a lot of kissing.
SA can’t help it if he draws in the trouble-makers. After all, he’s been bottling up his charisma at home all this time . . . On his last stay, because his hand was healing after the operation, he couldn’t use a manual wheelchair and had to get around in a power chair. Allow him to rub shoulders with a few bored manual wheelchair users who don’t have a battery of their own at their fingertips and who knows what can happen.
We’re familiar with the formula (it works for Top Gear); get a few twats together with nothing better to do, give them some rudimentary engineering and horse power and the urge to experiment is hard to resist.
Asking SA to recall the details of the wheelchair conga, he isn’t entirely clear on who had the idea first. But it went along the lines of seeing what his little baby could do and how many wheelchairs (with passengers) his humble little chair could pull along the corridor. They managed a maximum of 8. And then they had to take a break because one fell out.
SA retrieves this particular memory with a smile and he relives watching 6 paraplegics trying to get one of their own back in his wheelchair, while he sits there laughing. (Having just had an operation he is no good whatsoever and let’s face it, he was probably the one with the idea in the first place).
The experiment continues outside in one of the car parks. Staff, patients and visitors come and go without comment other than one heckle from a friendly Physio going home for the evening – “you’re a bunch of nutters”.
Subsequently, there was an evening where some of them were to venture down the pub for some sort of celebration (yes, the same pub where SA pulled a whitey). Rather than all of them struggle with the kerbs and potholes in the dark, they had the ideal fast-track in SA with his power chair. They could take advantage of his battery and go in convoy, led and powered by him. There was no guarantee that the chair was powerful enough to negotiate the actual outdoors, or if indeed the battery had capacity to get them all there and back, but that’s what made it so much more perilous. That and the fact that SA wasn’t strictly allowed to take the wheelchair off the hospital grounds.
The 4 of them made it to the pub, and back. And they were locked out of the NSIC on their giggly return, it is not a hotel after all. But late arrivals are generally not frowned upon (depending largely on who’s on watch) because the spirit of the Centre is that they would much rather you being out playing silly buggers than stuck inside lonely and miserable noting the inconsistencies in the windmill patterns on the curtains.