The Drink     -     a short story by Robin Upton - January 2003

"I brought him some lovely flowers yesterday. Small yellow aconites." said Dorothy to the hospital receptionist as he looked up a Mr. Fisher on the computerised inpatient system. "I always think flowers are the best thing you can give someone in hospital" she continued, oblivious to the polite disinterest that the young receptionist had attempted to convey.

The machine in front of him beeped and the receptionist looked up and saw Dorothy's white face behind the computer screen. "Ah yes, Madam, he's in Ward 8A. Visiting hours are from 2 to 8."

Thanking the young man, Dorothy looked carefully at her watch and registered the time as a quarter past three before turning and walking on into the hospital lobby. An array of signs variously welcomed her, informed her of the visitors charter, the rules for visitors and then directed her. The signs lead her into the lift and out again, past porters and other visitors, across the brightly lit hall towards the Ward 8A reception area where a young nurse was tapping away at a keyboard behind a huge pile of ring binders and blue plastic folders. Seeing Dorothy out of the corner of her eye, the young nurse inquired of the purpose of the visit and directed her to the ward itself after locating the appropriate blue folder and logging and countersigning the transaction in it.

"How are the aconites, darling?" Dorothy asked her husband. "Yes, lovely dear" replied Ivor, as if in answer. "They haven't got trousers that fit me," he continued, snorting in well-honed exasperation, "These ones are too tight and give me a tummy ache."

Just then an expert breezed in, wearing a smart top, smart trousers with a smart but natural looking flower in her top pocket to express the feminine side to her personality that years of training courses had told her was an important asset to her professionalism. Glancing briefly at the computer printed notes on her blue plastic clipboard, she addressed him confidently by name, read some computer printouts at the foot of his bed and ticked some boxes on the sheet in front of her. "Oh dear," she concluded, turning her face for the first time up towards the sprawled figure in the bed in front of her, "your fluid intake isn't all it could be... it says here you've only been averaging 425ml daily for the last two days. I'll have to see what we can do about that." Apparently oblivious to a short but disapproving grunt from the patient, she scrawled some notes in a box on the form in front of her, turned on her heels and strode off as efficiently as she had come.

"Like playing cricket in a cupboard" mumbled Ivor when the expert was safely out of earshot, actually more grumpy that only his wife was listening than he was about any shortage of space. He fumbled ineffectually with the hydraulically adjustable patient's table until Dorothy came to his aid. A minute or so's of effort from her sufficed to move it out of the way although no amount of maneuvering was sufficient to move the visitor's chair any closer than the foot of the bed. "Stupid thing!" she uttered, exasperated. Her ambition frustrated, she braved the risk of cross-contamination and sat on her husband's bed in spite of the clear prohibition of the practice which was hung at the head of every bed in the hospital.

"Do you know, they've only got eight pee bottles in this hospital?" said Ivor in a tone that was both jokey and gruff, "Now they want me to drink loads. They haven't made the connection, you see." Dorothy's face assumed a sympathetic aspect, but she could make no answer before they were again interrupted.

"And how's our little man in the corner?" asked a staff nurse routinely, gently pushing in his direction the trolley of main courses and puddings, sandwiches and salads. Fresh food, freshly prepared and plastic wrapped, weighed, measured and nutritionally audited clanked towards Ivor as he wondered whether anyone had heard him about the bottles.
"No food for you, eh?" said the staff nurse after glancing at the notes at the end of Mr. Fisher's bed. "What do we want to drink? Tea is it, or coffee?"
"Haven't you got anything without caffeine?" grunted Ivor, "I don't want caffeine - it makes my legs go all twitchy".
"Well, I suppose we might find you some water..." said the nurse and trailed off in a hesitant fashion as if she was wondering whether in fact there was any drinkable water available for patients in the hospital.
Dorothy remarked to her husband "It says here you've got to drink 250 ml of fluids, every three hours," adding in slightly uncertain tones "They wouldn't have written that if it wasn't important, dear. It's to help you get better, you know."

"Well, I know, but if they gave me something sensible to drink, I wouldn't mind... it's just... oh I don't know..." he huffed, upset simultaneously about everything and about nothing. "It really is the limit." he exclaimed, as if to underline his frustration.

"Could you empty this for me?" he said, slowly passing Dorothy a bottle he had peed in the night before. "They won't give me another one so I said I'm going to empty it out of the window… if I can open it. It's frightfully hot in here."

Dorothy took it mechanically and then looked about her for instructions on what to do with it. She knew better than to ask her husband for guidance, so finding only graphs and sheets of computer-printed warnings, she got up to look for a sister. As she walked up the ward, she passed a neatly dressed, middle aged woman in a white uniform whose face beamed with a cheerful smile as she wheeled the tea trolley towards Ivor's bed.

"How are we today, Ivor?" asked the lady, whose face still bore an infectious smile that revealed how glad she was to have seen his wife. He gave her a not unfriendly frown of concentration while struggling to come up with a suitable riposte. Although he had exhausted his repertoire of one-liners days ago he still wanted to prove to Dawn that he could still surprise her.

"Death's door is it...?" she said, looking at him through slightly raised eyebrows whilst she prepared the tea. "Best get your money's worth then. Eight sugars as usual for you my love" and she pressed the sugar button twice before giving it a quick stir, removing the spoon and presenting it affectionately to him as if he were not in fact an invalid but a suitor.

"Oooooh, lovely, a nice cup of tea," said Ivor, in appreciation of the treat to come. "Do you know, that's just what I need?"