In a Word ... Hospital

I worked at a hospital one Christmas. One of our jobs was to take bodies to the mortuary

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

I worked over Christmas in a hospital once. The Taoiseach should be pleased. Maybe not.

I was a porter at the Middlesex Hospital in central London, one of 12 ruled by cockney Al who presided like a lion king, barking orders between naps.

One of our jobs was to take bodies from Casualty and wards to the mortuary. I did not like it, Dr Fell. Particularly the warm feeling of a fresh corpse as it was transferred to the mortuary trolley.

That Christmas Day we did our happy duty delivering turkey dinners to the patients before gathering in our basement lair to gorge and drink. A little.

It was oh so quiet.

Coming to the end of our shift there was just Bobby, a Scot, and me left. He was absorbed in the musical Showboat on TV when a call came for us to take a body from Casualty to the mortuary.

The tranquil air went suddenly blue as we cursed our luck. It meant another hour, and we were tipsy. In Casualty we were confronted by an enormous old man who had died of a heart attack as he was brought in by ambulance.

The circumference of his belly meant we could not get the trolley lid to close over him, as you do when taking bodies along hospital corridors.

Bobby got giddy.

As we wheeled the trolley, lid bouncing and him leading at the front, Bobby started to dance and sing It’s Only Make Believe from Showboat. I attempted to keep the show on the road, as trolley and corpse swayed dangerously.

We got to the lift and by the time we were at the mortuary, where we had to transfer the corpse to another trolley, Bobby was Caruso. I pleaded with him to settle down because I knew what was going to happen.

It did. We let the body fall.

“Keep his face covered,” I roared, as we wrestled the mass of human flesh up and on to the second trolley. Wheeling it inside, Bobby then saw the remains of a four-year-old child who had died during an operation a few days before, upsetting the entire hospital.

And he, who was singing and dancing and laughing, suddenly began to cry.

Who could forget such a Christmas!

Hospital, from Latin hospitale, for guest-house or inn.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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