I woke up in the wake-up room (salle de réveil). The clock on the wall said half past ten. I’d been out for a couple of hours. What lifted me to the surface was the sound of the wake-up team persuading someone to wake up who was absolutely refusing to do so. The entreaties increased in volume and urgency. Then I heard a male voice say, in English: “Wake up please, Mr. Clarke.” I nodded my sleepy head to show him that I was already there. The voice then asked me in French whether I was in pain and I answered in French that I was not. After that I listened with interest to the tug of war between the wake-up team advocating wakefulness and the patient refusing it.
The anesthetist, I noticed, had added a delightful sedative to her narcotic mix, perhaps as a friendly treat. I once had radioactive needles inserted into my prostate gland while I was awake, but sedated by, among other things, I think, the date-rape drug Rohypnol. That particular day there were two of us in for the same treatment. The other patient was an elderly south Devon farmer. Asked afterwards by the oncologist how it had gone, the farmer had replied: “My dear, it was the most wonderful experience of my life.” I felt something like that now. For the first time since the last time I had a general anesthetic — six months ago — I felt entirely at peace with myself and with the world. All was well and all would be well. Aren’t drugs wonderful?
I hoped that the same highly sexed hospital porter as took me down to the surgical unit would be called to push me back up to my comfortable room on the sixth floor. But he was probably copulating in a cupboard somewhere and couldn’t be raised on his radio phone, and another, much older man came, whose libido was a typhoon that had largely blown itself out. This chap said nothing and there was no style or panache or even forward thinking to his bed trolley pushing technique. When we reached the room, he and a nurse acting in concert rolled me off the trolley and on to the bed.
The room was pleasantly warm and I lay in a lozenge of sunshine. All I had to do now was pee in the en-suite lavatory and rest until handed my discharge papers. “Pee-pee?” enquired the nurse. “Not yet,” I said. She pointed to the toilet and suggested that now was as good a time as any for a first c’est la vie. She watched my back as I produced a viscous mixture of urine, blood and razor blades. Glancing into the bowl before lifting the flush button, she clasped her hands to her heart and pronounced the result “Beautiful!” “Drink plenty, Mr. Clarke. I’ll be back,” she added.
I was starting to think about lunch when right on cue a dinner lady darted in and out, leaving a tray on the bed table and her “Bon appetit!” hanging in the air. Had this beloved woman cartwheeled in and back flipped out? That was certainly the impression. A star striker celebrating another magnificent solo effort. The main course was six chicken goujons on a bed of tabouli. Myam myam! There was a warm crusty bread roll, a packet of comté cheese, some crackers and a tub of plain yoghurt. Steel silverware, luxurious paper napkin. The dessert satsuma was the fizziest I’ve ever eaten.
After lunch an unbuttoned junior doctor entered. Happy to speak in English, he said the stent change procedure had gone to plan and that I could leave the hospital after three hours’ rest, during which time I should drink plenty. Then he craned his neck to read the title of the book lying on the bed. It was Rudyard Kipling’s The Irish Guards in the Great War, an expiatory four-year toil that some say is his best book. The loss of his half-blind son John at the Battle of Loos isn’t mentioned. The grief-shattered man refused to “heap words on the doom,” as he put it. “Rudyard Kipling!” observed the doctor in a jocular or ironic spirit — or so I imagined. Far too happy and beatifically sedated to bandy opinions with a French junior doctor about as complicated a writer as Rudyard Kipling, I bulged my eyeballs at him and said nothing.
Then — bliss — two hours in a comfy chair pulled up to the window reading Kipling. Not his best book by any stretch of the imagination. Not even the best Great War regimental history. Too few belly laughs for a start. But goodness I felt grand! Sunlit mountains! Colonel Morris commanding the rearguard at Villers-Cottérêts! What a nutter! I felt exactly like I was on holiday. And I was sorry when I was handed my discharge papers and told I could go.