Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: As sick as a small hospital
I was up in Beaumont Hospital a few days ago. I went in reasonably healthy and I came out with three types of flu and a dose of TB as well, I think. And pneumonia and one of those skin diseases that you'd normally see on a dead fish.
The wife says it's a cold but I could put my severed leg on the kitchen table and show her the stump, and she'd say it was only a scratch.
I hate hospitals. I say that because I've met people who actually love them. They love talking about them, complaining about them, loitering in them.
- I'll tell you one thing, the canteen in the Mater is way better than Beaumont.
I actually heard a chap saying that in the local a few nights ago. Not only that, I gave it a bit of thought and decided I agreed with him.
- He's right, I told Martin, beside me.
- No way is he, he said back, and we spent the next hour comparing hospital catering: square footage, décor, the quality of the coffee and the best-before dates on the Club Milks. So hospitals, or talking about them - it's infectious. Especially at this time of year.
I've been lucky. I was only ever in hospital once as a patient and I keep visits to a minimum. I have my secret "Ah, no" test. If I hear there's someone I know in hospital and I go, "Ah, no" to myself, I'll go in to see them. But I have to say it to myself, to feel it. Because I always say it out loud.
- Billy from up the road's in Beaumont, did you hear?
- Ah, no, I'll respond, when I'm actually thinking: "That's great, serves him right."
That might seem harsh but chances are you haven't encountered Billy, or this particular Billy. But we all know a Billy. He represents all that is dreadful about the average man and a spell in hospital, even a one-way ticket, always seems logical, or deserved. We don't say it out loud - or, not too often - but we lie in bed thinking it.
The first time I was in a hospital was when my brother split his head. The head was supposed to be mine, so I was fascinated and overjoyed as I watched the doctor - the first black man I'd ever seen - stitching away and telling my brother, the whinger, how brave he was. I knew the doctor was mending the damage but it looked like he was actually making it worse - and that seemed only right and proper. Because a shovel had split my brother's head and he'd been holding it over his head, getting ready to bring it down on mine, when the head of the shovel came away from the handle and landed on his head instead.
My father, the owner of the shovel, was standing behind me. His hand was on my shoulder - then it wasn't. I heard an almighty crash and I turned. My Da was on the floor; he'd fainted.
The memory stops there. I've no idea how we all got home. I could ask my brother but he always touches the back of his head whenever he sees me and there's a look on his face, as if, 50 years later, there's something he still has to do.
I went into the hospital feeling as fit as Marty Morrissey and I came out with the bird flu, sleeping sickness and malaria. I was in visiting Billy - the Billy.
It's my own fault.
I gave his wife a hand putting the black wheelie out when I was passing their house, on my way to the local.
- Poor Billy's up in Beaumont, Charlie, did you hear?
- Ah, no.
The weight of the bloody wheelie - I thought for a minute that Billy was in it.
- What's wrong with him? I asked.
- Ah, sure, she said. - His leg.
I knew all about Billy's leg. Everybody knew about Billy's leg. There's a Sky News helicopter permanently hovering over Billy's house, waiting for the latest on Billy's leg.
- He was asking for you, she said.
- Was he?
- He thinks you're the bee's knees, Charlie, she said.
- I might drop up to him, so.
- He'd love that, she said. - It would give him a great lift.
- Well, his leg obviously won't, I said, to myself.
But anyway, that's what dragged me up to Beaumont - my vanity.
There were about 10 hand dispensers between the entrance and Billy's ward and I used every one of them, dabbed the stuff behind my ears and all. But, still, when I walked into the room and I heard Billy's voice…
- Charlie Savage! It's Charlie Savage, lads! Come over here and have a look at this, Charlie!
Before I even saw the f***er and his poxy leg, I knew I was doomed.