My grandfather went into hospital sometime before Christmas in 1999 as the result of cardiovascular issues. My son was eight months old at the time, and I did not dare take him with me. The surgery wards were – and remain – rife with a virus, MRSA, which establishes itself in open wounds and minor abrasions. The young and old are the most vulnerable. Poor hygiene on the part of nursing staff and visitors is the primary cause of introduction.
My grandfather did not make it back out. He was eighty years old, but looked fifty to sixty in a flattering light.
What initially should have been a routine recuperation was complicated when he contracted this virus. The surgeons began snipping at his feet, and soon a major amputation was the only prognosis.
On one occasion I visited him after first attending the Accident and Emergency unit as the result of a stabbing. My own wound was not serious, and I didn\’t mention it, but as I sat on the vinyl chair beside his bed I was unable to concentrate on small talk for worry that this insidious and invisible virus was at work under the dressing.
Later on, he was moved to another ward – elevator going down – and when I arrived as per the visiting schedule, a seventy year old patient was attempting to sit up in one of the beds in the row opposite. Late afternoon sunshine not so much poured but trickled through the high Victorian windows. The man was still groggy from the anaesthesia and a nurse hurried to find him his spectacles.
\”Mum ?\” he said. \”Mum?\”
He looked down at his missing leg and started to cry.
\”Oh, no… Oh, no! \”
My grandfather stared at him with seemingly dead eyes. There was compassion there, but you needed to know where to look for it.
\”Oh, yes,\” he said. His jaw set and rigid. His own father was from the Ukraine, and he served as a Polish paratrooper in Arnhem. He had seen this type of thing before.
He turned to me and asked how I was doing. Several other patients rolled on past in wheelchairs on their way to a small zone set aside for inveterate smokers. Not so long ago, but you could still light up a cigarette if you were stubborn enough.
I sometimes feel his ghost close by my elbow when I smoke a cigarette and look out the window at people caught in traffic twenty-two floors below. Bent over and traumatized in the rain and insipid cold. Trailing shopping carts and taking their chances on the street.
I am not especially brave, but I keep on. All around this tiny globe there are people doing the same.