I wasn’t supposed to be a patient. I really, really wasn’t.
It was supposed to be a regular in-and-out job. You know, go home to visit the fam, up the snark ante in the Lombe household, crack several greatly timed, mildly inappropriate jokes no one ever seems to fully appreciate, then head back to my fast-paced, over-crowded, highly polluted, over-priced, regularly unhealthy and occasionally mentally destabilising yet ultimately fulfilling city life with enough Tupperware filled with mum’s cooking to last me until the next in-and-out job. (And rice. All the rice).
So, there I was. Knee-deep in Operation In-and-Out, snark pouring out of my ears, when all of a sudden… Hello, Plot Twist! You sneaky, artful hussy. Before I could even blink an eye (or repeat the glorious phrase “artful hussy”), I’m doubled over in a hospital bed, sharp, searing spasms of pain wreaking havoc on my insides and a highly skilled surgeon with an uncanny resemblance to Andrea Leadsom is about to cut me open. Because, you know. Life.
So, what else to do in a situation like this but distract myself from the worst pain I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing by focussing on the ways I could impart all the knowledge I was gaining about this alien, anti-sceptic wonderland I suddenly found myself in? (Disclaimer: whether this knowledge is remotely useful was never the point).
And thus, young Padawan, I now share these tips with you:
1. Sure, when you’re just out of surgery and have nothing but unrelenting pain to occupy your thoughts, the last thing you’re worried about is the way you look. But if you think you’ve got that no-make-up-natural-glow thing going on, you will catch sight of yourself in a mirror at some point. And you’ll crash back into reality so hard, it’ll give that intensely graphic opening scene in The Aviator a run for its money. Because the reality of the look you’re rocking will be a little more akin to that of the misguided fool who just went six rounds in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson (or Anthony Joshua. Pick an era).
2. Following this moment of realisation, a random, ridiculously attractive member of the opposite sex will materialise, for no other reason than because life, much like Tyson or Joshua (seriously, pick an era, pal) is just unrelenting with those perfectly placed punches to your abdominal region.
3. People will swim across oceans, travel through deserts and slay dragons to come and see you, and you may feel like the star of a show. But your ability to converse will be nonexistent, morphine will be the only companion you seek, and not a single snark-tinged comment will leave your lips. So, yes, you will be the star; the main act in a circus show without tricks. Queue the booing crowd with their perfectly ripened tomatoes. (How does this concept work, anyway? Would the crowd go to the vegetable market as a collective? Each take their pick of the juiciest tomatoes on the day? Or did everyone just carry out-of-date veg in their bags any time they left their homes – forever ready to strike whenever something sub-par happened? No one in history has really gone into the logistics of tomato-throwing, and these are the questions that keep me up at night).
4. I hereby declare the single piece of toast myth to be real! It’s real, I tell you! Seen with my very own eyes. This offensive act whereby one is offered only a single piece of toast occurs in dark corners of the world, like joyless homes. And hospital wards.
5. The topic of the soup of the day will be debated with a ferocity only comparable to the likes of early season one Paris Geller (Yes, I’ve been rewatching Gilmore Girls. Thank you, Netflix).
6. One day – I’m not sure when, I’m not sure how, and I’m certainly not sure why, but one day – someone will come along and put too much milk in your cereal. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
7. Hospital wards don’t mess around when it comes to the ill and disabled and their right to copious amounts of caffeine. Their tea and coffee game is on point. This will be the single greatest gift from the heavens.
8. You may have to relearn how to walk. It will suck. (We’re talking Lorelai marrying Christopher because the writers clearly lost their damn minds – that level of suck). Whilst your legs are still out of action, there will be a guy assigned to wheel you around the grounds. You will soon notice that this guy who wheels you around will be so unnaturally chipper – seemingly about everything – that it will throw you into one of the most heated internal dialogues you’ve ever had with yourself. The topic up for debate – Is He Man or Cartoon? (As I write this, results still inconclusive).
9. There will be a Resident Crazy Old Lady in your ward. Watch her. She will provide some of the best hours of entertainment you could ever hope to experience.
10. If you feel like getting lost in an easy, fun, uplifting film one night, for the love of God, don’t choose Me Before You. You will find almost everything about it impossibly problematic.
11. Other patients might mistake your mum for an on-call nurse and think you’re receiving preferential treatment. They will all hate you and likely dedicate their time to sticking needles into handknitted voodoo dolls of you. (Sure, Barbara, you might be pushing 85, but hey, come at me, bro).
12. Never will there ever be as epic a battle seen than that between you and the stairs; forever known as “The Great Climb”. Songs will be written about it. Public holidays will be named after it. Monuments will be built as a result of it. This will be the single greatest challenge of your life. Only once you’ve conquered this – and only then – can you finally become a Jedi.
13. The last tip comes in retrospect. When the jokes are done, and the armour comes off, and the sun sets to signal the end of yet another day, you’ll know one thing with a resounding certainty – you’re alive. Despite the bad films, and the voodoo dolls and the metaphorical Mike Tysons, you’re still around. Because you’re surrounded by an incredible support system of people ready to move mountains for you. Because you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where you can walk into a place with broken parts and safely get put back together. (Like Kwikfit, with no added costs).
I guess, from time to time, we get reminders of our own mortality. These might come in the form of plot twists. Maybe that’s all they really are. Reminders that we’re not invincible.
Reminders that, even so, we’ll keep taking those punches.
Reminders that, each time, we’ll rise back up.