Silent Night Holy Night
'Silent night, holy night, all is calm....' Yeah right. Tell that to a nurse on night shift. When my six year old daughter Sapphire spent three days in hospital recently, she was in a ward that accommodated three other children. At night, the population of the ward doubled as four concerned parents nervously unfolded flip-out single beds from the sofas beside their child's bed.
We two were in the corner nearest to the entry doors and the nurses' station. Each night the lights were turned off at 8:30pm sharp, so after cuddling Sapphire until she fell asleep I'd surreptitiously fish out my novel and squint in the twilight trying to read. By 10:30 it was time to give up and allow my hot, overworked eyeballs a chance to recover. Each bed had the mandatory white curtain pulled around it for some semblance of privacy. They reminded me of the curtains of changing rooms in jeans shops that don't quite meet at either end so that you're still flashing your bras and poking out your bum and wobbly bits to any other person walking past your cubicle. The white curtains finished one metre off the ground, so that whilst the sleeping children did not have shafts of light piercing their eyes because their beds were high up, us parents did. We could practically sleep underneath our kids' beds so it felt like we may as well have been in the hall under the fluoro tubes for all the 'protection' the curtains gave us.
At 2 hours past midnight I could feel my already-sore eyes start to throb as though they'd been rolled in gravel and kicked about like soccer balls. Why did the nurses need Stalag 17 fluoro lighting in the middle of the night? Why can't the hospital have curtains that go down to the floor and, most importantly, why do the night shift nurses think these &^%$ing thin strips of cotton are magically soundproof?
Yes, yes I know it's their workplace and I soon discovered that they tended to do a late-then-early which would have skewed their concept of time for normal people and they don't get paid enough for what they do and of course my respect and admiration for their skill and stamina knows no bounds. Yeah yeah, Nurses are the Lifeblood of hospitals, blah, blah, blah.
But how come these same people can be magnificently considerate human beings when they quietly, deftly and efficiently administer the hourly Ventolin to each asthma-suffering child in the room and then believe that they had the right to cough, bellow and cackle like a herd of hyenas only 2 metres away?
These wicked witches would congregate around the main desk for a cuppa and a chat for what seemed like an hour every half an hour (and I'm not exaggerating). Sapphire's and my luck in being two metres away enabled me to hear, in loud and lingering detail, about Kate's February trip to the UK; how absolutely hung over Meg was feeling and just why Sherie thought that her student nurse was such crap. When someone made the coffees there would then be a long, torturous process of jangling teaspoons in ceramic mugs that put images of Quasimodo head butting the bells of Notre Dame in their created-noise-to-quietness-of-surroundings scenario.
Naturally this midnight morning tea break would be peppered with guttural bursts of laughter that would shake me awake every four minutes or so. They might as well have taken turns to stand at the end of my rickety little foldaway bed and clang two bedpans together whilst simultaneously blowing an umpire's whistle. It was then that my image of these virtuous night-time nurse life-savers took a savage beating. No ventolin was going to save it - they were selfish, loud, evil, repulsive hags who gained perverse pleasure in ensuring that worried parents were denied their need for uninterrupted, restful sleep. Indeed I became convinced that at least a semester of their nursing degrees was entitled "If you have to work late, then make others stay up late too."
Did I dare get up and ask politely ask them to be quiet? Give them twenty bucks each to have their tea break at the other end of the floor where those pesky cancer kids were sleeping? Or crash-tackle the chubby one to the ground and whilst pounding the back of her head against the lino, snarl, "Just GO to the bloody UK now, you fat fool and STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!"
None of the above scenarios were acted upon but they made me smile for a moment or two. However my bed didn't help improve matters any. We've all spent a horrible night on a mate's sofa bed and found ourselves rolling in the middle, haven't we? This is quite OK if you're on your own, but not if you're sharing - after all, who wants to be face-to-face with someone else's dragon breath all night and then have no way of getting any arm or leg space unless you hang on like grim death to the side of the bed? I faced a slightly different complaint. My little sofa bed was saggy in the middle (as per the contractual requirements for all sofa beds), but it was raised at the head end (fine, I could handle that), but also at the feet end. After about ten minutes I realised that it was impossible to sleep on my side or I'd risk some chiropractic problems that they like to photograph and publish in their medical journals. This left sleeping on my back, a position I've never really liked due to having a sway back and a big arse that's almost like a shelf for short people. Add the complexities of a raised top and bottom and I resembled a rather grumpy letter V. Lying on my stomach would only have been possible if I'd stuck at those yoga classes for a year or two more.
Despite my discomforts and niggles, Sapphire slept. The other kids slept. All night through. Not one of them even woke up when the nurses came to give them ten puffs of Ventolin every hour. How on earth do they do it? At what stage in our lives do we run out of that mysterious quality or skill that kids have; that amazing ability to sleep through an earthquake?
I’ve seen babies fast asleep at outdoor concerts that have left me with a brewing migraine and every bass-thump reverberating in my chest. Toddlers at the Wiggles concerts, screaming out every lyric as they struggled to be heard over the amplified music. My own child, sleeping through the enormous clap of thunder that shook Love Chunks and I out of bed at 5am and was all over the news the following day.
Does this special gift disappear when you become a parent? Love Chunks only has to scratch his leg in bed and I jolt upright, crazily yelling, “Where’s the fire? Where’s Sapphire? What’s wrong?” The dog sleeps at the other end of the house yet I can hear when she yawns and dash out, asking, "Do you need to go outside? Do you? Huh? Don't you remember how cross Daddy was when he found your nuggets in the dining room?"
Maybe that's what we have wine for.