There’s a cough.
A magazine rustles, followed by a sigh of impatience.
There is a faint smell of antiseptic.
I’ve never been scared of hospitals, just uncomfortable. The GPs, the drop-in, A&E, they’ve just never felt like places that belong to me… as if I’m there under false-pretences – an intruder, taking up time and space from those who had better reasons to be there. A fraud – I should go home, get some rest, sleep it off – most things go in time, right?... Right?
Then middle age hit – literally. In the two years since turning forty I moved from accompanying others to the waiting room, to them accompanying me: a foot infection, an eye infection, then, the pièce de résistance, type one diabetes. Gradually what was background has crept forward.
The posters, once visual static – bullet points of dos and don’ts, NHS logos, photos of reassurance and positive thinking, with phone numbers zig-zagging the space, are no longer safe spaces for the eye to linger. Now I find myself scanning for hidden meanings, cracks that they paper over, pathways that I can follow.
And so I tumble into a wonderland - where my certainty in how I am is questioned. A mirror world where I see myself distorted by the sight of others - people who come to know me as my body, my disease and my treatment. Slowly who I am is changed - measured in terms of strips used and units taken; in terms of the rise and fall of my blood sugar; in terms of the correlation between my application of medicine and self-discipline. Here the habits and tendencies that define me as an adult - as the person I thought I was, are part of the problem - and the solution. Personality is part of pathology, and key to finding the way through.
I take a breath. There is a different quality of time - an otherworldliness. Here the concerns are different: the ticking of the clock counting down the seconds, the opening and shutting of the door, the steps on the floor - all build their own rhythm, have their own logic. This is the world of the body, of the internal, of the mystery and science of health and disease - and at the same time the clamouring voices of those who don’t know what’s wrong, and what they did. As if the atmosphere can be touched, and chewed. There is a thickness that builds where the impulse to help, and the need to help others collides, it carries the aromas of fear, guilt, exhaustion and hope.
Increasingly I find myself belonging. Ironically, as time passes, and I take more and more control over monitoring and medicating my illness, and so have less and less need to go to the waiting room, I now feel justified in crossing the threshold, in entering these, oh so patient, spaces.
“Sunday at the Drop-in #1” colour pencils with digital augmentation.