In Another League

I’m sitting in a narrow nook in the hospital library, all clandestine and covert. I come here far more often than I ought. Today I have this short, sighing reprieve, between teaching registrars in the morning and donning the top hat and whip to command the chaos of the circus until midnight smiles at me, telling me I can exhale and go home. So, like I frequently do, I have sidled into a mysterious corner among bookish shelves and musty journals and ghosts and flickering fluorescent lights. (I am not joking about the ghost. She will, however, have to be the subject of a latter post). Libraries are my oasis, my nirvana, my refuge, my asylum. They are the tents in my desert on a warm autumn evening with mint tea and breeze and the smell of cinnamon and honey.

I should, of course, be doing something sensible. I should be reading journal articles about ventriculo-peritoneal shunt complications, or doing my outstanding (and do please use this word in the pejorative, not the complimentary sense) online training modules, or reviewing some audit material or some-such. But, and this may surprise some of you, I am not.

My preference is to write a love letter. A missive of love, of admiration, of respect. I have just purchased, and am eating, chocolate (wholesome individual that I am) (and it’s the cheap purpley kind, too), which I have purchased from one of the seven wonders of the world (well, my list of them anyway). The volunteer ladies at the lolly shop.

Now I work in a place that’s full of good people. Very good people. Doctors and nurses and physios and orderlies and social workers, all doing the right thing, caring for humanity and all its faces, giving of themselves, supporting others, and, once in the bluest of blue moons, saving a life. But all of us have nothing on the volunteers.

These ladies, for they are all ladies, turn up every, single day. They are never paid. Their roles are legion. They meet and greet (they’ve managed to win the war against the machines installed to give directions at the swipe of a finger, for those who’ve been following this saga. Take that, Singularity), they trundle through the wards with a trolley full of Dan Brown novels and magazines about crocheting and celebrity scandals, they answer any questions from the lost and weary and damned that limp though the corridors, and best of all, they man the lolly shop. They are the most generous, Marcel-waved, wrinkly, powder-dusted, starchy pinafored, pieces of magnificence I’ve ever come across. Full of smiles and chatter and ¬†happiness whilst holding an abacus full of wizardly difficult addition in their heads. It is a beauty beyond compare. It is benevolence in human form, altruism covered in skin. Goodness and munificence and bounty. The rest of us are phoning up HR if our pay is 2 hours under and moaning about, well, pretty much everything, and these gorgeous elderly bunnies are helping the swearing homeless man who smells of last week’s urine choose his cadbury bar.

I am buoyed every time I interact with these marvels. There is one who holds a special place in my heart. She stops me each time we cross paths. She wants my help so that she can donate a kidney. She’s been rejected already, and thinks I, in my exalted position, might be able to help her sway the authorities (as though an impassioned speech might persuade those making such decisions that her presumably ailing nephrons promise to behave if she were chosen from the crowd, like a Tribute). I make half-hearted attempts to explain the difficulties, but then usually slope off, making promises I can’t keep. I love her. I truly do. She has told me there’s not much left in her life, and her god wants her to do this one last thing, to help someone else. It is my destiny, she says.

So many others have rich, worthy stories teeming under their creases and crinkles. And they have lives and families, overdue naps, movies to be seen, days left that may be so few they have numbers assigned to them, yet here they are, selling me snacks and sharing their light with this small world.

And, with this post, my time is up. My break is done, and my loins must be frantically girded, as I must brave the floor. I’ve done no work here, but I’ve given my words back to the ladies who’ve given so much to me. Thank you LOLs.

(PS the image is my view right now. OK, a bit of a stretch to the lyrical flapping tent in the cool desert wind, but still.)

About the author

Dr Michelle Johnston is a consultant Emergency Physician who works at an inner city hospital. Mostly her days consist of trauma and mess. Also, she writes.

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