Hospital discharge lounges are not the most cheerful of places, they are filled with people who would really rather be somewhere else. You can put up nice prints on the wall, scatter magazines on tables and be careful to bring cups of tea exactly as the person likes it, but several hours in a hospital discharge lounge is never going to be a day out. You are left waiting for medication, waiting for patient transport, waiting for life to resume normal service. For some that isn’t going to happen as not everyone who is discharged from hospital is well. The healthiest patients will probably leave hospital without ever seeing the inside of a discharge lounge, only the elderly, the vulnerable and the lonely tend to end up there. They have been patched up, made just well enough to cope outside a hospital ward for a while and now they are being sent away, wearing imaginary ruby slippers, on the grounds that there is no place like home.
Amy would have suited Ruby slippers, sparkling ones with kitten heels. She was in her mid seventies, perhaps older, tall and thin as a dry twig, with bulging varicose veins and mottled skin but that didn’t prevent the girlish elegance that she had graced in her youth from showing through. Her hair was pure white, nicely bobbed at chin height, and her eyes lit up her face, intense and sparkling. She wore only a thin girlish nightgown that suited her very well, lace edged with tiny flowers. She had tremendous interest in everything around her- especially the people. She had once been beautiful- she still was in a different way- and she had not lost the ease that beauty often brings with it. People noticed her.- they always had. Weakness and worry were a nuisance but people were also kind. A fall- so silly- had left her with an injured arm but the kind nurse kept coming to position it properly in the sling (each time she walked away Amy absent-mindedly took her arm straight out again and laid it carefully on her knee) or return her to her chair if she floated away to have a wander. Perhaps she was looking for the stages and catwalks that her beauty had led her onto in her youth. Not that she was confused. She had found her keys, told them that she wanted to try a night at home to see how she got on and they had given her the phone number of a care home who could fit her in if she found that she couldn’t cope. It would be all right. Things usually were. For now she had found someone to talk to.
“You see there is good in everything. If I hadn’t been in here I would never have met you.”
Amy’s new companion was older than her, ninety two in fact. His name was Joseph and he was a self proclaimed ladies man in the best sense. A gentleman. Short and stocky with a kind, thoughtful, intelligent face. A former translator who spoke six languages. He was one of the many Polish men who came over to Britain to play their part in world war two. He had met Winston Churchill, and the camp commandant of Auschwitz back then, and Margaret Thatcher later. He had liked Churchill very much because he made you feel like a king when he talked to you, and when he had time alone with the commandant and he was asked “what will you do to me” he gave the one answer that the commandant didn’t expect. “Nothing.” He had seen war and wanted no more of its brutality. He didn’t tell Amy any of this of course- gentlemen don’t talk about themselves that much- but we had met before during his weeks up on the ward. She liked him and turned herself towards him, making eye contact, content to be listened to. If only the years could have fallen away it might have been the beginning of a love story.
Amy finally left with a shy smile and a gentle wave. A thin, pale blue hospital bedspread was wrapped around her and flung over her shoulder where a cashmere shawl might once have been as she made her way out into a first blast of cool air. I watched her leave thinking quietly that people don’t really change, they just become more themselves.