Silent killers


The family room is not really for families at all. Eight high backed vinyl chairs accommodate patients who are waiting to be taken up to a ward and space is at a premium. People complain about being kept waiting on a trolley, but these vinyl chairs are worse. They make you sweat.


Patients shuffle about in an attempt to get comfortable. Women release underwear from clammy buttocks by pretending to straighten out creases in a skirt or by stretching lycra down their hips. Most men discretely fumble in trouser pockets but the man opposite stands up and inserts a whole arm down the waistband of soft joggers decorated by ‘go fast ‘stripes. He adjusts his groin with little sense of modesty and pulls the fabric tight around his manhood. Lifting his leg slightly, he snorts as a rancid vapour fills the air. “Watch out everyone,” he sniggers, “this one’s a real silent killer.”


An elderly woman squirms in the neighbouring chair. She puts her whole head underneath a white blanket issued for warming knees. Others clamp a hand infront of their face and hold their breath until the air clears. “You dirty, dirty thing,” proclaims a shaky voice from beneath the blanket. The man stares across to the pantomime ghost and declares that it creases him over when trying to hold it in and just what is her problem anyway?


The silent killer reaches for his phone. It alerts him to a waiting message but the mobile slips from his hand and clatters to the floor. He closes his eyes and ignores it, dozing, leaving its insistent beeps to irritate everyone else, along with his chest that rasps, whistles and wheezes for the next hour. But on waking, he seems to struggle for air. Colour drains from his face and he slumps forward. I push the emergency bell to alert staff. A nurse rushes in and props him back up in the chair. She tries to make him breath in rhythm to instruction. “In through the nose and out through the mouth.” It does not last for long. He is soon lifted onto a trolley and taken away; the alarm bell left ringing.


The woman beside me eventually removes the blanket from her head and rolls her eyes. “Heart attack,” she whispers in my ear, “a real silent killer,” and I can see her smiling. Another patient is soon wheeled into the family room and manoeuvred into the vacant chair. Head in his hands he is quietly sobbing. “Why the tears?” asks a nurse with a tattoo on his neck, “a big man like you crying. You’ll upset the ladies. And we don’t want that now do we. This is a quiet room.”



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