You’re the last into the bedspace, trailing the consultant, the middle grade and the ward sister. You’re last in line to find your standing room within the curtain rail’s footprint. Take note of the obstacles. A bedside table placed at an awkward angle: three cups of water filled to the very brim, a broken wheel, and a wheeled leg is jammed neatly behind parts unseen of the bed. Two sports bags, one atop the other, sit at the opposite side, the contents melt down the side, chocolate lava, a precarious jenga of the patient’s personal effects. Around this snakes a length of oxygen tubing, indeterminable length and origin, intertwined with other long thin tubes of different colours: green, yellowish, clear. Which is connected to your patient, and which winds off out of sight? Who can say? They wend along the wall behind the locked cabinet in which patients’ belongings are kept from them. You pause to make an attempt at identifying which tube does what. You cannot.
Behind this iatrogenic medusa, a cabinet, atop which sits the desk fan held together by duct tape, and the patient’s iphone balanced exactly in its pink rhinestone case, two thirds protruding over the edge so that the camera stares down at the ground, Daring gravity to bring it’s untimely demise. Behind this chaos so perfect proof of intelligent design, heaven and hell... behind all this lies your target.
A blue fabric curtain. Fabric? Paper? Somewhere in-between? Certainly disposable. “Last changed 11/12/2019,” it’s badge proudly reads.
The consultation begins. The nurse looks towards the curtain, a look of irritation? Best hurry. The consultant begins talking, either blissfully unaware or without a care that the thin blue line protecting this patient’s dignity from the other patients sat feet away has not yet been drawn.
So begins your ballet. Glide past the rest of the team, pirouette over this and that, your body is water, it moulds to the shape of the gaps in this obstacle course. Your attention split equally between everything not crashing to the ground, and listening to the consultants words, words which you must commit to the medical record in the folder under your arm once your first task is complete.
Your goal lies ahead. You reach. REACH around and over and through. Lift the curtain into the air and untangle all that lies before you. You see others in the bay for a split second as the curtain reaches head height, and then, clear of the barriers which stand in its way, drops to the ground.
And you pull. Scraping noises, great friction, this thing designed for this one task works its hardest to stop you completing it.
And you pull. Too hard and you tear the flimsy Lowest Viable Bid curtain, too soft and the cheap bearings on the ancient railings jam in their tracks. You pirouette. And you slide. And you are water, but reversed.
The curtain is closed. You are triumphant. You open your folder. Pen in hand.
“Thank you for your time doctor.” The consultation is already over. The medical care has been delivered. Quickly, try to write down what happened. The team are leaving now.
As you scribble furiously, the middle grade takes your carefully drawn curtain and moves to opens it again. He is not water. He is not graceful. He trips on something unseen…
A battered yellow wet floor sign, its view obscured by your good work. Nobody remembered seeing it on the way in. Nobody saw it being placed. All they heard was the shout, the click of curtain fastners' farewell to their railing, and the thud of middle grade skull on linoleum floor.
As the emergency bell rings, you think to yourself: "Thank god, the patient’s dignity was preserved."