Rhythm and blues plays from the portable CD player. At times those pleasant, well known tunes are distorted from noises beyond my domain; incessant rattling at the front door or an anguished wail from the man Welshman.
I ignore them as best as I can.
I suppose I could stay home and be a housewife; going out to buy the toilet rolls and cooking the meat and vegetables. But that isn’t what I want from life. I would rather be earning money and for me it is accomplished by spending about ten hours a day in the Linen Room.
Originally it was a four bed bay in this hospital for psychiatric care. But it has since been converted to a room that houses the entire clothing stock of the ward I work on. And when you think that there are usually twenty four patients who require at least two changes of clothing a day that amounts to a bloody lot of underpants!
I have a small chair and desk – remnants from the Day Room where the patients spend most of their day. Upon the latter sits a green plastic basket containing incontinence pads. A pile of white towelling feeders sits next to it and “Sock Mountain” next to that.
The latter is really another plastic basket (brown this time) full of paired socks. I have no idea who pairs them but I’m convinced they suffer from colour blindness.
There are blues with browns, blacks with greys and even the occasional red with greens. “Sock Mountain” has an altitude of one hundred and thirty centimetres (four and a half feet.)
My first job of the day is to wheel a whole lot of stuff into the Change Room. This is located over the other side of the ward. There must be an empty basket for collecting the dirty socks and incontinence pad straps. There must also be a water trolley (preferably full of warm water) with towels, rubber gloves and creams for washing dirty bums, widdlers and other bits of dangling genitalia. A clothes trolley and a dirty linen trolley complete the set up. Further over, discreetly placed in the far corner is a Waste bag. Into this go those sopping and soiled incontinence pads.
Next I pile up the night trolley. This is for when the night staff do their rounds. They need a great deal of linen; white cotton blankets, sheets with their yellow Sunshine Linen Service stripes down the middle, incontinence sheets – thick blue or yellow fluffy squares with cotton sides that tuck under the mattresses and absorb the body’s wastes like huge dirty sponges. The night trolley has two piles of these and only one of everything else. I also place a few towels, pyjamas, pillow cases and white gowns on the bottom shelf.
A smaller trolley is set aside for patients’ pyjamas. This is for the daily change round after tea. It could also be referred to as the front line battle ground! There is a good assortment of colours and patterns but rarely a matching pair of tops and bottoms. And rarely a top that has all four buttons sewn on it. Some of the bottoms have no elastic left, cords that have been pulled out or gaping holes adjoining gaping flies.
Grey metal cubby holes each with a labelled name on its shelf contains the patients’ own clothes. For some, these are their sole possessions. Others may have false teeth or various sets of other spare body parts like hearing aids, glasses and even one false eye. A few have gold watches but these are kept in the ward safe. Everything here is prone to walking – except the patients when they are required to.
Each cubby hole has a set of green wooden tags with the patient’s name on it. I select a pair of track suit pants, shirt or tee shirt and a windcheater if the weather dictates. From the Ward Stock cubby holes I grab Anybody’s singlet and Anybody’s underpants, (we’re into sharing here) a pair of the odd socks and a Trusty pad (the brand name of our incontinence pad suppliers.) The whole lot is rolled up into a “bundle” with the tag sticking out and placed on yet another trolley.
Writing this, it has just occurred to me how many trolleys we have in this ward!
I repeat the above procedure twenty four times.
In between I break for morning tea. The CD player goes off and I scurry away to have a cuppa. With me is my clip folder and writing pad. It is my constant companion while I’m at work. For it is here that I draw on my inspiration.
My co-workers are all unique in character. Every one is different and colourful in their own way. This particular profession appears to attract them for some reason. Sometimes I draw on these eccentricities, these personality traits and they become the basis to my characters in my stories.
One day, when we as a nursing team are no longer together I will sit down and write about us all. I will talk about the mad antics, the nonchalant attitudes to things like violence, defecation and death and the ways we all have of coping with spending twelve hours in a Loony Bin.
And then I will write about the patients.
They too are full of character. They too are unique within their mostly happy madness.
After morning tea I finish off the bundles and put them into the wardrobes next to their beds. On the way I stop to answer the telephone. There are five more nurses around somewhere, six counting the Clinical Nursing Consultant but he is lost inside his computer, or fixing somebody else’s. The others are probably basking in the sunshine in the courtyard or playing with the pills in the surgery.
Back in the linen room I change from rhythm and blues to classical. The Nutcracker Suite floats across to the holey underwear, ricochets over to the cupboard decorated in staff notices and out to where the patients are busy exploring the corridors.
Sometimes they call out or wave to me; smiling like I’m a long lost friend or family member. Perhaps that is how some of them view us? Their cousin third time removed. The one they can never quite remember the name of.
I wave and smile back at them, occasionally blowing kisses to my favourites. Even less occasionally I stick my fingers up at the rotten sod that had the cheek to kick or punch me when helping him out of bed earlier on.
Between threading straps into the Trusty pads I glance over at the notices on the cupboard to see if there are any new additions. Over the months, various linen room nurses have added their own personal touches. There is everything from good hair tips to poetry and cartoon captions. There is also a growing list of linen room improvement ideas ranging from a comfortable arm chair and bar fridge to a Tardis like Doctor Who’s and a money duplicating machine.
It is almost lunch time. The CD goes off again; I fling the Trusty pads down and make for the staff room.
Lunch breaks consist mainly of the Midday Show on the television, metallic tasting cups of tea and the hopeful appearance of ‘goodies’ from Fort Knox.
This is the hospital’s nick-name for the store room in each ward where such delights as potato chips, chocolate biscuits and Liquorice All Sorts are kept.
My day’s work is nearly complete which means I can take it easy during the afternoon.
I wander into the courtyard for a cigarette and am immediately swamped by mad old men in need of the same. From the look of their windcheaters it is quite evident that green jelly and ice-cream was on the menu for lunch.
They smile and beg, moving closer and closer to me and my cigarette until I am forced to tell them to go away. Those with short term memory loss return five minutes later. The others hover in the background – just in case I change my mind. But I know they’ve had one already so they are wasting both their time and energy.
The afternoon drags. Tiredness is setting in despite an early night the night before. I gaze out at the trees swaying in the breeze and my mind drifts off into my garden…
Loud footsteps bring me back. A nurse whistles his way into the staff loo and a patient wearing slippers several sizes too big for him clomps by.
There are some clothes arriving in large metal trolleys. More trolleys! The ever effervescent Reg greets me as he wheels them in. Only one and it’s only half full.
They are supposed to be sorted thoroughly. Each item of apparel placed in their right cubby hole. Instead I do it the lazy way, bunging piles of each item onto the Ward Stock shelves. As the Nutcracker Suite reaches the end of its grand finale I fling a stray pair of laddered underpants into the air and wander off to tea.
By this time of the day I feel too lethargic to write. The television’s full of kids’ stuff and the ‘goodies’ from Fort Knox have all but diminished. Screwed up chip bags, empty biscuit wrappings and a few measly bits of liquorice are all that remain.
The day is almost over. I put my feet up and settle into a paperback.
Tomorrow is my day off.
The Linen Room will be somebody else’s domain.
How will they choose to pass the time, I wonder?