October 03, 2022 11:41
Photo: Hospital Authority

My very kind and considerate cosmetic surgeon arranged, at very short notice, to excise some basal cell carcinoma from my face, for which purpose he booked an operating theatre at a private hospital in Hong Kong.

The procedure was to be performed under local anaesthetic, as indeed had been the process previously, though on those occasions it had been carried out at a different hospital.

In order to meet this hospital’s requirements for a PCR having been performed within 48 hours of the time of admission, I duly reported to reception at 9.30 am, though the procedure was scheduled to begin at 2.30.

The nice receptionist asked me what class of room I required? I explained that I did not need a room. Following past procedure, all I needed was a space to sit and wait until my surgeon arrived, after which I would change and enter the operating theatre.

“Oh no, you have to check into a room.” Was her response. I insisted that this was unnecessary, whereupon she summoned her supervisor.

This charming young lady outlined the hospital’s regulations. “You are an Outpatient, but we classify all Outpatients as In-patients and In-patients have to have a room.” After recovering from being momentarily bowled over by this artful logic, I pointed out that as this was not clinically necessary, it could only be to enable the hospital to make money.

She smiled.

I asked why I should be compelled to be complicit in the hospital charging my health insurance provider for a facility that could not be medically justified? The inevitable response was that this was the hospital’s procedure.

Oh procedure praecepta Domine, what perversions have been performed in thy name?

Appreciating that this ridiculous business was not the fault of the young lady, I told her that I would not resist further but would, with reluctance, accept a ‘standard’ room.

I was then shown to a two-man room in which my bed was adjacent to the window and my fellow inmate was curtained off inside a railed fabric room divider.

I asked for some water and a delightful young Nursing Assistant brought me one of those tiny paper cups that one is given in hospital with which to swallow medicine. This, she told me, was all that I was permitted to drink.

In vain, I explained that as I would only be given a local anaesthetic and my surgeon had told me I could eat a light meal and drink before the procedure, I was sure that I could have more water than this.

The poor young woman departed to take instructions from “the Nurse” and returned to inform me that “the Nurse’s” instructions were that I could have nothing but these few drops of water until 2.30.

My response was to the effect that if that was the Nurse’s instruction, his or her knowledge fell far below the standard of nursing that I was entitled to expect in a hospital of this one’s standing.

The young lady left the room and a few minutes later “the Nurse” himself came in, bearing a water jug and a glass and, talking to me as though I was a small child, spelled out slowly and precisely what I had already explained I was entitled to.

I now took stock of my room. The few square feet not occupied by the bed and a bedside locker were mostly taken up by a collection of large and bulky items of hospital equipment encased in plastic covers that blocked the lower half of the window, effectively shutting out the view and leaving a narrow space squeezed beside the bed in which to walk.

By now I was feeling the cold. Plainly, the hospital cared not a whit if the patient suffered from hypothermia.

Moving the stored hospital equipment to create a sufficient space for me to press my back against the window pane, I gained some warmth from the sun playing on the glass.

No chair was provided so, by this time feeling perfectly bloody-minded, I went on a foraging expedition and found one at a vacant desk which I brought back to the bed space.

By shifting some of the stored hospital equipment, I created just enough room to fit the chair in next to the window, where I then sat down to while away the five hours before surgery.

After about two hours, the Nurse came to tell me that I could now move to ‘your room’. Rather than embark on a lengthy and doubtless fruitless inquiry as to why I had to move but hopeful that my conditions would improve, I duly picked up my bag and followed him.

My room turned out to be another two-man room curtained off into two bed spaces. But this time the fellow occupant had the window, leaving me with the inner curtained cubicle, hence no access to daylight: but I was provided with a bedside chair.

As I began to make the mental adjustment to my new surroundings, my room-mate’s lunch was brought in.

The powerful aroma of the cooked food, trapped inside that airless space into which I had been inserted, was, to my discerning olfactory senses, overpoweringly unappetising.

It carried the worst recollection of school meals and shortly afterwards, the poor man’s digestive system must have rebelled because a long, loud fart broke the heavy hospital ambience.

By this time I had concluded that the entire system was conspiring against me and I removed myself with my book to stand in the corridor.

Leaving it to the very last minute, I changed into the hospital operating couture, apparel which must have been designed by the Stasi to deprive one of the last shred of human dignity.

Eventually I was wheeled into the theatre but by now I was anticipating the surgery with as much relish as Gary Cooper walked to meet his nemesis in ‘High Noon’

In the event, the surgeon was superb, the operating theatre staff brilliant and the procedure wholly and impressively professional.

The fact that I emerged looking like the spitting image of Charles Laughton in Quasimodo – minus the hunchback – was attributable to the extensive work that proved necessary in the course of the outstanding surgical skills which I was privileged to receive.

But as I waited an age for a taxi to drive me away from the hospital, it struck me that when Ned Kelly or Dick Turpin relieved you of your valuables, at least you knew that you were being robbed.

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