What I certainly was not expecting from my visit to the hospital was how oddly civilised the entire experience can be. On the morning after my operation the man in the bed next to me in the ground floor John Cheyne ward introduced himself as Austin. He and I became great friends, and I made a point of dropping in on him when we were eventually split up. I think we had been making too much of a raucous at night. He told me all about his life, and was keen to be sure that I would be getting better. Himself, Vinny, Paddy, John, Ed and myself made up the new flu refugee ward we were sent to in Victor Synge, and under the extraordinary circumstances we got to know one another quite well indeed. Poor Vinny was having his own private struggle and preferred to keep himself to himself, but each morning the rest of us pulled our tables together for our little breakfast briefing. The nurses were having theirs at the nurses’ station – why shouldn’t we have our own? This was the escape committee. We’d talk about everything – and everyone. The whole business of the shire was our business. It kept us busy, and in a ward staying occupied is nine-tenths of the battle.

Talking about business – general anaesthetic and doses of morphine put an end to business as far as your own business is concerned. I’m talking about constipation. I won’t go into too much detail on this one, save to say that nothing moved for three whole days. Stuff was getting in alright; mixed grill (a Dublin hospital special by all accounts) and as much porridge as you can eat, but nothing was getting out. Every morning the staff were giving me laxatives – enough, I was told, to down a horse. My complaint rose before heaven until the caterers suggested I try the prune juice. So I had the prune juice.

With the operation (also known as the ‘arse-ectomy’) out of the way, good company sorted, and the bowels up and in working order again life was sweet again, and the daily doses of wisdom, morphine and philosophy could continue. Other than the chronic boredom of having no visitors things were actually grand on the ward. If it weren’t for the pain and suffering St. James’s might even pass as an excellent little hostel. Perhaps the most expensive hostel in the country.

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