Sunday, 2 May 2010


There is a street - I see a street - a long street; lined with sick beds. People visit, murmuring good wishes, delivering flowers and fruit. But the patients are swapped around during the night, every night. The friends and relatives deliver their food and solicitude to a different person each day. No one seems to mind, or notice.

Uniformed nurses parade along the street several times a day, dispensing drugs and taking temperatures in no particular order.

Patient's notes are clipped to the end of each bed; but, of course, the notes do not often correspond to the occupant. Details of each condition, medication and treatment are considered interchangeable. The patients do not mind this- winks of complicity are frequently exchanged between adjacent beds - because they all consider themselves incurable; therefore, they are. It makes logical sense that the treatment for another's malady has as much chance of success as their own. Their nightly shuffling from bed to bed, executed by silent, masked orderlies facilitates this process.

The doctors make their rounds weekly. They look at the patients' notes and ask a few questions. To the question "And how are you feeling now?" the patients invariably reply "Quite poorly, today." The doctors ask "- and your symptoms?" To which the only reply is a shrug; neither party knows what these symptoms are, the occupant of the bed because the notes clipped thereon are not theirs, and the doctors because they have only given the notes a cursory glance.

It is not unknown for a nurse or an orderly to find themselves occupying a bed as a patient. This might happen to the doctors, too, but they are taken elsewhere; perhaps to a special street reserved just for them. In the case of nurses and orderlies, a particular protocol is observed. Both parties - new patient and their ex-colleagues - will pretend that they never knew each other. In response to the mechanical questions, they will reply "quite poorly, today". After being swapped from bed to bed a few times as is customary, patient and staff have forgotten that they ever knew each other.