Christmas at the Gloucester Royal

At the start of shift 3 she hands me a tea,

Just half a sugar. Like I like it now.

In the day room. Like a regular.

A too-familiar welcome for a place

We want to leave. While somewhere in the quiet,

Subterranean darkness, a registrar

Half my age, is cutting up my perfectly-shaped boy.

As I wait for the theatre curtain to fall, 

Electric-yellow Nora Virus signs

Blare at me: hands off. Place of life and death. 

Earlier, he, stockinged feet dangling,

Was held down with guy ropes; 

Intravenous drips, translucent tubes, 

The perfect paraphernalia of pain relief. 

Inert and pinned, like Gulliver on the rocks. 

The perfect Lilliputian saline solution. 

No scheduled ops on Christmas Eve. Time yawns

In the stifled room, reaching across

Empty steel-white beds.

Sounds of shuffling frames and sandled feet,

Porters chat and cackle,

Christmas radio wafts half-hearted jollity.

Unreal. In this real world of pain. Where,

Two nurses sit with a grizzled, pyjama-ed, vacant soul

Unstitch his attachments and hold his hand. 

Look into his eyes, draw him from bed to chair 

The first step of a long chain home 

Into sheltered housing. He refuses. 

Two green uniforms stand tall, oversee, frown, 

He opens his eyes, moans, then roars, 

Finally subdues into sobs. They stretcher him

Away as he flays, as his bagged ID and papers

Slip to the floor. 

And all the while the nurses’ touch,

Graceful, instinctive; eyes, hands, names. 

I marvel at its gentle steely resolve. 

This will happen. But we will match it with love.

Hard to watch such quiet dignity, it quite unmans me 

And I look away. Squirm and squeak 

In the shiny green visitors’ chair. 

Last nght, the Registrar sat on my boy’s bed.

First names. Like family.

She summoned an air

Of precision. Definition.

We’d needed for hours. Within minutes

She is the one I want to open him up.

But it’s a tricky diagnosis and even she

Can’t be certain. She retreated

To her flickering screen; ever the scientist,

Sifting and scanning the data,

Assessing the damage:

Pulse rate, Diastolic pressure, temperature,

Bloods, cannula, abdominal pain.

Weighing them

In her small and pinkly-washed hands.

Despite my rocky steady confidence in her

It is the post-op sight of my little boy

In an oxygen mask at midnight

Which unmasks me. The anaesthetist 

Touches my arm to reassure. 

The spaceship bleep and hum

Only sound in the cavernous, cathedral-dark.

It’s quiet and prayerful down here,

His tiny damp puffs of breath 

Like a consecrated mist.

Blessed incense. 

Christmas Day clicks round. I stay for just a little longer

Because I need to rest my eyes on his face.

Marvel at this Christmas miracle.

I want to throw the window up

And lean bodily forward screaming to the world.

Call for a Christmas goose,

He is alive! It’s Christmas Day!

But I’m English. 

And instead I drive home steadily. 

Eyeing the dark road for surprised deer and sudden fox.

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