During my early childhood my father was occasionally burdened with caring for me solo (my mother probably had a pesky childbirth to endure, or a really long hair appointment) and he would take me on his ward rounds to see his inpatients. In the 80′s in that town most of the GPs looked after their patients whenever they went to hospital which meant getting there really early before work or late into the night after work had finished.
I remember the bright long corridors. The way the nurses shoes made a clacking noise on the lino. The ugly lino. The ugly carpet. And the smell. Antiseptic. Old people. What I know recognise as the faint odour of infection and colostomy bags. I remember I couldn’t see over the foot of the hospital beds so I couldn’t have been more than three or four. He would bring me around to the side of the bed, & introduce me to dying old ladies who looked like skeletons with crocheted blankets over their knees. They had bags hung up around them. Bags with urine hanging from their beds. There were brightly coloured boxes of wilting flowers on the bedside tables.
Then later there were mornings when my brothers and I would sit, in our tiny school uniforms, dried toothpaste still on our faces, on shiny patent leather chairs in the reception of various funeral homes and crematoriums while he filled in paperwork and certified bodies for cremation. Swinging our scuffed black shoes, kicking the chair legs. Vases of ugly white flowers. A shiny brown laminate reception desk. A book of coffin pictures. At some point we got old enough to be allowed to stay in the car outside.
Home visits were similar to the hospital rounds except the houses were usually dark & had their own smells. Dinner. Baking. Musty carpet smell. Dark orange carpet was really in. People had brown & green velvet curtains. They also had tubes up their noses, metal oxygen tanks and worried looking wives or husbands. We’d look at ceramic collectables in cabinets while he examined the patient. Sometimes they’d pull out a box of their grandchildren’s toys.
Later I had no reason to go to a hospital (or a funeral home) until we had to do our one hour a week clinical training in first year. I dreaded it. I hated the corridors. I disliked the uniforms. The skeletons with crocheted blankets. That smell. The ugly lino. It was a different hospital but it was just the same vintage. Everything was so old. I would get out of there as soon as possible. I decided would do my minimum hospital training and get the eff out of there. Become a GP and have a nice office without lino. I’d have potplants. Yeah, muthaf*cker.
But now…after this year…
Now its familiar. That smell. The tubes and bags. The hospital issue bedsheets. The ugly lino that cleans so easily. The consult rooms with ugly brown chipboard desks. I look at those desks and see my dad when he was roughly my age now, with his wire framed aviator style glasses and 80′s black doctors bag. We’d visit him in his rooms. He had a tall metal filing cabinet and next to it a desk. A desk just like that.