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An NHS Christmas
"Daniel Winterstein has talent... The strength of An NHS Christmas is its witty language and polemical vigour... Dustin Hutchinson did justice to a wonderful part as Jeffrey... a brave play" EdinburghGuide.com Full review>>
"Worth seeking out... Winterstein keeps the action flowing"
*** Edinburgh Evening News
Bedlam performance programme (600k)
Narrator: Alexander Roberts (a nice chap. laughs easily)
Patient: Jeffrey Witherby (elderly gentleman. basically friendly in a dry way, but is a little ridiculous, a touch pompous, has a dark cynical streak and never laughs)
Sweet Nurse: Margaret Riley
Sour Nurse: Dierdre O'Feeny
Drs (brisk, pre-occupied)
Coma Boy: } no personality or mannerisms to speak of
Dead Guy: John Chambers }
Bank Holiday Monday
The set should be quite stark, barren and generally depressing. 3 beds in a hospital ward:
(upstage) (right) |-| |-| |-| [desk] (left) |_| |_| |_| (audience) notes: stools between beds for Margaret to sit on space at front of stage for the non-ward cut scenesL-R: Coma Boy, dead guy/Narrator, Jeffrey TJ, desk with phone
A bottle of champagne stands on the floor by JEFF's bed. There is some empty space on the right of the stage
[clock forward: special effect to show time passing: dim lighting and the noise of a clock ticking]
CHRISTMAS EVE[blue flashing lights across the curtain, an ambulance siren dopplers & fades into voiceover]
ALEX: I'm one of those people who are never ill, and only ever see hospitals as a visitor. So it seemed particularly unfair - or perhaps only just - that it should be on christmas eve I was diagnosed as having meningitis and rushed into Charing Cross Hospital.
I suppose I was lucky. The symptoms are nausea, headache, aches, aversion to light, possibly a rash and death. Of these, death is the tell-tale symptom, the others being all too easy to mistake for a hangover. Fortunately my flatmate once studied medicine.
DIERDRE does paperwork whilst Chambers gasps his last breath unnoticed?
JEFF snores. DIERDRE enters from left, sticks a thermometer into ComaBoy, then another into the dead guy, shakes JEFF awake and gives him a thermometer.
DIERDRE: [to audience] Dierdre O'Feeny. This is my ward. Senior nurse on the 4th floor. Started as just a D grade nurse. I've been here 18 years. Worked my way up to E grade.
[She returns to ComaBoy and removes the thermometer, noting the temperature on his chart. She then proceeds to the dead guy and checks first his temperature and then his pulse and breathing]
DIERDRE: [snorts angrily] Margaret!
DIERDRE: We've got a dead one. Call Dr Klein and the morgue.
MARGARET: [looks at the dead guy sadly] Yes. [dials] Dr? This is ward 4 North, I'm afraid one of the patients has died. [hangs up]
[DR comes from left, picks up the dead patient's chart]
DR: [to audience: Dr Klein, houseman from UCL. The doctor was a good man. A little brisk, but that was understandable.] When did he die?
DIERDRE: Well, I found him like this a few minutes ago.
DR: So... time of death [looks at watch, makes note]... cause of death...
JEFFREY: [sleepily gesturing at DIERDRE] She killed him.
DR: Nonsense, nurses don't have the proper training
DIERDRE: Ignore him doctor he's a troublemaker.
DR: [scribbles away]... John Chambers... right, bag him and ship him - I'll get started on the paperwork.
[DIERDRE nods, DR exits left]
DIERDRE: I've had about enough of you.
[DIERDRE dials on phone, MARGARET is busy in the background.]
DIERDRE: DIERDRE O'Feeny. There's a bed free on ward 4 north. Patient died.
PHONE: Great! We're getting desperate down here. Got patients with drips just sitting round in chairs. We'll have to start stacking them if it gets any worse.
DIERDRE: Oh I know, it's terrible isn't it? I'm rushed off my feet here.
PHONE: I bet you won't find any of the trust managers in over the holiday.
DIERDRE: Oh, I know.
[lights down on 'the ward' (DIERDRE & MARGARET remove Dead Guy) DR & ALEX enter from right into spotlight]
DR: Christmas eve in A&E, no time to stop and talk. Meningitis - We'll need a sample of spinal fluid. Get me 10cc of chloramphenicol. Nurse, test for blood type. Where's an empty bed? 4 North. Right, let's get him into the lift. Come on Jane - let's not lose our christmas bonuses now.
ALEX: What's happenning?
DR: Nurse - give him 20cc of propothal to knock him out. Don't worry.
ALEX: Why not? [unconcscious]
DR: How long till our shift ends?...
You want to grab a drink in, say, three hours and 15 seconds?...
Yeah, now would be nice.
CHRISTMAS DAY[lights up on the ward with ALEX in bed. An IV drip stands by his bed feeding into his arm, and another thicker tube comes out of his side]
[DIERDRE enters & takes temperatures]
DIERDRE: [to ALEX] Wake up, open your mouth. [ALEX wakes up, sees drip, is shocked]
DIERDRE: Open your mouth.
DIERDRE: [curtly] Open your mouth. So I can take your temperature. Thank you. Roberts huh. [moves on to JEFF]
JEFFREY: Morning my sweet little rattlesnake. Mon petit serpent a sonnettes.
DIERDRE: Don't talk foreign to me. What was that you said?
DIERDRE: You've wet the bed.
JEFFREY: I prefer to think of it as marking my territory.
[ALEX laughs; DIERDRE doesn't]
DIERDRE: Well, you'll have to stay there. I haven't got the time to change your sheets now. [moves to the desk, starts on some paperwork]
ALEX: Charming woman. Are they always that friendly?
JEFFREY: DIERDRE is. If memory serves, I threw up the first time I met her. You could say it was a gut reaction. Don't worry though, sister Margaret will be on soon. Are you single?
ALEX: Yes, why?
JEFFREY: Because that means you'll like her. she's lovely: young (30s that is), caring, pretty. Quite a beauty. A `babe' I believe you young people say. She's been playing hard to get recently, but... By the way, I'm Jeffrey, Jeffrey Witherby. [to audience: An elderly gent]
JEFFREY: Pardon me for not offering my hand. We'll have to shake later.
ALEX: It's a date.
JEFFREY: And what brings you here Alexander?
ALEX: Meningitis. Yourself?
JEFFREY: This and that. I came in with dodgy digestion, but then they say I have something wrong with my heart.
DR: Mr Roberts. How are you feeling?
ALEX: Fine thanks, and you?
DR: A little tired, but otherwise not bad, thank you. You came in with streptoccocal meningitis. It can be very dangerous, but fortunately, you came in quickly. We were able to treat it, and there's no permanent damage. It can be contagious, but only through close contact: kissing or coughing normally. Is there anyone you've had such contact with recently?
DR: [with approval] Good. Now, we've got you on an antibiotic drip. That second drip's a nutrient feed, and there's another one for draining - they should come off tomorrow.
ALEX: How long will I be here?
DR: You'll be discharged in 3 days when I come back. [smiles and moves on to JEFF]
ALEX: [quietly] bollocks.
DR: Mr Witherby, how are you feeling?
JEFFREY: Old and weak.
DR: Your chart looks fine.
JEFFREY: So I can go then?
DR: Well, maybe not that fine, just yet. And I can't help noticing that bottle by your bed. You know you can't drink alcohol anymore.
JEFFREY: Champagne for New Year's Eve. You can't deny me that.
DR: Well, I guess it won't kill you. As a one off, that is.
JEFFREY: I know: no drink, no tobacco, no coffee.
DR: Have a good christmas. [exits]
JEFFREY: Wonder what I'm living for sometimes. [but he smiles, and looks over at the bottle on the floor by his bed]
[MARGARET enters. pause. music swells]
ALEX: [voiceover] O she doth teach the torches to burn brightly! Santa Claus loves me after all. [sighs sleazily]
MARGARET: [to audience] Margaret Riley. Never seems to have problems with the male patients.
MARGARET: And how are we today Jeffrey?
JEFFREY: Oh, much better for hearing your voice. Whisper sweet nothings in my ear dearest Margaret.
MARGARET: Stick your arm out; I need to take your temperature and some blood. And what about your catheter?
JEFFREY: You say the most romantic things.
MARGARET: You've overflowed.
JEFFREY: My cup runneth over.
MARGARET: Guess I best get you some fresh sheets then.
ALEX: [voiceover] No man, no matter how smitten, wants to watch such a thing. I lay back and imagined my spirit drifting down neon-lit corridors and through wards. My daydreams revealed the countless squalid images of a hospital going about it's business.
CLERK: On the 3rd floor, a hungover temp misfiles medical records.
PATIENT: On the 7th floor, a patient drops to the ground. He is dead by the time the nurse reach him.
MANAGER: On the 8th floor, a board meeting is in progress. The budget doesn't look good. With all the will in the world, we have to be realistic. Some services will need to be... restructured.
DR: And on the 9th floor. [into phone] Right, I see. Meredith Bakers, 90 years old, fractured arm. Can you tell me her history?...
Yes, of course you would need to send her file, what I want to know is if there's anything else wrong with her...
Cancer; a carcinoid tumour in the small intestine. Well I'm afraid we can't take her...
There's no point in us treating her arm when she has cancer...
Don't tell me how to do my job. It's fine for you GPs, you can afford to be idealists. She's 90 years old and has cancer...
I suggest you send her to a hospice...
Yes, I know a carcinoid tumour is a slow cancer, but we don't have space for patients like that.
JEFFREY: Thank you. Allow me to introduce my colleague here, Andrew - I'm sorry your last name's completely slipped my mind.
MARGARET: Alexander Roberts, brought in yesterday with meningitis.
ALEX: [voiceover] O speak again bright angel!
ALEX: Alex. Please. And pleased to meet you.
MARGARET: Margaret Riley
ALEX: [voiceover] Oh my Love is like a red, red rose / That's newly sprung in June;
O my Love is like the melody / That's softly played in tune
ALEX: Is it hot in here or is it just you?
ALEX: [voiceover] Doh!
MARGARET: Is that the best you can do?
ALEX: A reflex mistake. I'm sorry.
ALEX: [voiceover] I wonder what kind of underwear she wears; something sexy I'm sure.
JEFFREY: A rival! I challenge you to a duel.
JEFFREY: of wits.
DIERDRE: [overhearing from the desk] Ha! Unarmed combat.
MARGARET: [to JEFFREY] Would I cheat on you?
JEFFREY: But he's half my age. He still has his own teeth.
ALEX: What age are you Jeffrey?
DIERDRE: Huh. Numbers don't go that high.
JEFFREY: 67 and 3/4. Though I look younger than a lot of 65 year olds. Especially the dead ones.
MARGARET: Now, how are you feeling Mr Roberts?
ALEX: I'm fine.
MARGARET: If anything's wrong, or you want a drink, call for me or DIERDRE. [smiles and begins to turn as if to move on]
ALEX: You're American?
MARGARET: [sarcastic but friendly] Yes, how can you tell?
ALEX: You have a very American kind of beauty. How did you end up in England?
MARGARET: England just kind of happened. New Swansea, that's my home town in Montana, was just too small. I wanted to travel, came to London for a year and never left.
ALEX: And how did you choose nursing?
MARGARET: Well, I love - working with people. People are fascinating, always different.
JEFFREY: I'm different. He's the same.
MARGARET: I'm sorry if that sounds corny. I -
ALEX: It doesn't sound corny to me.
MARGARET: Thank you. What is it you do Mr Roberts?
ALEX: Please, call me Alex. I'm working as a runner for a studio up in Soho, but that's just short term.
MARGARET: And long term?
ALEX: I don't know. As my father didn't know before me.
MARGARET: And his before him.
ALEX: Aih lass, We've been clueless in my family for generations. I guess what I want to do... is - something creative I guess. I did foundation in photography, and perhaps getting into that professionally would be good. It's not easy, picking one job and saying 'right, that's, me.
MARGARET: Yes, so far it hasn't been easy. Excuse me, I must go see the other patients.
MARGARET: You'll see me later.
[MARGARET leaves. JEFFREY rolls over and looks at ALEX]
ALEX: No, that's why I'm in hospital.
JEFFREY: Well, what do you think of Margaret?
ALEX: What do I think of her? She's gorgeous. You were right - such a girl - and in here. Classy too.
JEFFREY: Refined sugar is the worst for you. Yes, and you realise that under those clothes, she's completely naked. Anyway, she's too hung up on me to notice you. Terrible - the lust in her eyes.
ALEX: You dirty old bugger. There's not a Mrs Witherby then?
JEFFREY: No. She died ten years ago.
ALEX: I'm sorry.
JEFFREY: Hm. We were teachers at the same school. Married at 25. It seems like another life now. She was such a sweet lovely woman, my Eleanor. The ever present, never pleasant past. Strange how in memories, sensation is reversed.
ALEX: What do you mean?
JEFFREY: Remembered pain is not itself painful. Suffering becomes amusing. And memories of happiness - of good times, laughter, and especially of love - these can be unbearably painful.
ALEX: Do you have children?
JEFFREY: No. We tried, but...
ALEX: I'm sorry.
ALEX: Pickled porcupine penises?
JEFFREY: Hmmm no.
ALEX: erm... Paperwork?
JEFFREY: No. Although god knows there's enough of it around. I sometimes think that the paperwork is the hospital's real purpose and the doctors, nurses and ourselves are just here to give it some context. Keep guessing.
DIERDRE: Keep the noise down!
JEFFREY: It's coma boy here. I tell him to shut up, but he just ignores me.
ALEX: I give up anyway.
JEFFREY: Pain. I've got a better game. It's called `I Don't Spy'. You pick something that ought to be here but isn't, like doctors.
ALEX: Ah, christmas dinner, coming up.
[DIERDRE brings round christmas lunch, which turns out to be less than impressive]
DIERDRE: Not for you, you're still on the drip.
JEFFREY: What is this? The ghost of christmas dinner?
ALEX: Cup-a-soup! Fu... ell [starts to swear but swallows it]
DIERDRE: Well, the cooking staff are all off on holiday. What do you want us to do? Cook for you as well? [puts JEFFREY's tray down roughly]
JEFFREY: Well merry bloody christmas to you too.
DIERDRE: Look, I didn't want to spend my christmas here. I'm working myself to death for this ward. God! What more do you want?
JEFFREY: Compassion? You know, I have enough to be depressed about without this. We're patients - people at their lowest point. Except, sorry, we're not patients anymore, are we? We're customers.
DIERDRE: Units is the term they use.
MARGARET: I can't do that! I'm only a B grade nurse.
DIERDRE: Consider this a field promotion. You know how to do it, right?
MARGARET: Yes, but
[MARGARET moves to ALEX's bedside]
ALEX: Now wait a second, isn't there someone you can call?
JEFFREY: They're fast learners. She may be ignorant now, but by the end of the day, she'll be fully incompetent.
ALEX: There must be a doctor you can call
ALEX: Are there no doctors around?
MARGARET: Oh yes, of course - there are doctors on call, in A&E and intensive care.
ALEX: Well call one then!
MARGARET: Christmas day - they'll be even busier than us. Holidays are the worst times for A&E. I can do this. Don't worry. I know what I'm doing. Now you might feel a little sore. [yanks tube from ALEX's side, applies a bandage and ministers to the wound]
ALEX: [voice-over] By 'sore' she meant, of course, 'excruciating agony'. Pain like I'd never felt before coursed through my body.
MARGARET: Are you OK?
ALEX: [gasps & gestures] No, I'm fine, It's OK. If I could just have a glass of morphine...
ALEX: [voiceover] Pain and more pain. You know what it's like; you've been sick too. It's not unique, happens to everyone, but whilst it's your turn, the pain becomes your world. All your hopes and desires, all your opinions and thoughts are stripped away. The pain pares you down to nothing but raw nerve endings. Pares you down until you are left little better than an animal cowering naked before your pain. And then just when you think you can't take it anymore, it just goes on.
MARGARET: Any better?
ALEX: Yes, thanks. [voiceover] and then it fades leaving you as before; no better, no deeper.
MARGARET: I saved you some dinner if you want.
ALEX: Oh, thank you. I'm ravenous.
MARGARET: You haven't tasted it yet.
ALEX: [MARGARET hands him a tray] Thanks. [MARGARET smiles, ALEX eats] How's your day been?
MARGARET: Oh...[various expressions of fatigue cross her face] OK.
ALEX: I don't believe you. Honestly?
MARGARET: Fine; a little busy.
ALEX: You look terrible.
MARGARET: Gee thanks.
ALEX: I mean in a gorgeous, stunning way.
MARGARET: Well I do feel terrible. [with a wry smile]
ALEX: What's wrong?
MARGARET: Just a headache, and tired. You know that tiredness where it feels like you're walking through treacle?
ALEX: Yeah. Look, why don't you catch some sleep?
MARGARET: [disbelieving tone - what is this idiot on about?] How?
ALEX: Bring me a chair, and I'll let you have this bed. No-one would know.
MARGARET: Thanks, but it really wouldn't do for the duty nurse to fall asleep. Suppose something happenned.
ALEX: I'd wake you up.
MARGARET: No - Can't sleep anyway; I'm out of practice. [smiles wearily] Ah [looks at her beeper] Excuse me. [exits]
JEFFREY: In romance - as in so much of life - timing is crucial. Getting her into bed doesn't count if you're not in it at the time.
ALEX: You have to start somewhere. And anyway, my normal seduction techniques kind of depend on being able bodied and having some privacy.
JEFFREY: Excuses, excuses, my boy. I don't give you more than 10 to 3.
JEFFREY: Odds boy odds. I'm a betting man and if you care to bet then the odds are 10 to 3. You don't reckon you can do it?
ALEX: Ok. I'm game.
JEFFREY: Shall I put you down for a fiver?
ALEX: Money in the bank.
MARGARET: [enters] What?
JEFFREY: Alex here has just made a bet he can seduce you.
JEFFREY: I gave him odds of 10 to 3.
MARGARET: 10 to 3 huh? Put me down for a tenner. [exits. ALEX laughs.]
JEFFREY: What time is it?
ALEX: [smug] 7:20
JEFFREY: Huh. 2 hours still till lights out. It's christmas for god's sake I'm going to celebrate. I'm going to use a toilet [gets up precariously, falls on champagne bottle] Aah!
[MARGARET comes running]
ALEX: Are you alright?
MARGARET: What happenned?
JEFFREY: My champagne. My new year's champagne bottle.
[lights up. patients lie there looking bored]
ALEX: [voiceover] boxing day
[pause. JEFF farts. pause.]
BANK HOLIDAY MONDAYALEX: [voiceover] Bank Holiday Monday
DIERDRE: Open your mouth.
ALEX: Wha - [DIERDRE inserts thermometer, removes it & moves on]
ALEX: When does Margaret get on?
JEFFREY: Whenever she finishes feeding 4 South.
ALEX: [chuckles] You make it sound like feeding the animals at the zoo.
JEFFREY: People visit zoos. 4th floor is geriatrics - you're only here because the others are full. On the 4th floor they don't walk, hardly talk and never smile. Are they really human?
DIERDRE: That's a terrible thing to say. [crosses herself]
JEFFREY: Is it? You wouldn't make a cup of tea for a dieing man DIERDRE O'Feeny.
DIERDRE: How dare you! You -
JEFFREY: Because it's true. Chambers asked for a cup of tea the day before he died.
DIERDRE: Thats -
JEFFREY: He did! And you said you were too busy and it wasn't your job.
DIERDRE: I'm not staying to listen to this! [and she doesn't].
JEFFREY: A cup of tea. Not that we knew he was dieing, or that it would have made any difference, but... People are cruel, Alexander. Myself included. People are cruel and selfish, but who else is there?
[phone rings. DIERDRE enters]
DIERDRE: Margaret! Where the hell were you?
MARGARET: [enters] Answering a call of a different nature. [picks up phone]
MARGARET: the toilet [to phone] Good morning, 4 North, Margaret Riley speaking.
DIERDRE: Don't you get smart with me.
MARGARET: I'm sorry [to phone] Mrs Johnson...
Sorry there's no-one here by that name...
I'll put you back to the front desk...
Yes, I understand they said so, but she was never in this ward...
There's really nothing else I can do...
I understand, but shouting at me won't help...
No she's not here...
Well, I'm not sure that's biologically possible and I have no intention of trying. [hangs up]
[MARGARET composes herself, brings round breakfast]
MARGARET: [light & good humoured] Breakfast in bed anyone?
JEFFREY: [light & good humoured] Do I have a choice?
MARGARET: But of course, Monsieur may dine as he pleases.
ALEX: Thank you. [sexily] Muesli.
JEFFREY: Muesli again.
MARGARET: Go on, it's good for you.
JEFFREY: What's the point? The doctors would never believe me. Now bacon and eggs - that's a real breakfast. [tucking in with every sign of enjoyment] Sausages and fried mushrooms are good, but not absolutely essential.
[DIERDRE approaches JEFF's bed]
JEFFREY: Please. This is a very emotional time for me: breakfast. The beginning of a new day; breaking bread, the first meal. It's a time of potential and hope, even in this place. So if you don't mind, � an hour?
DIERDRE: No, we can't run this ward just to suit you. It's injection time.
[DIERDRE takes JEFFREY's breakfast and puts it down on coma boy. JEFFREY extends an arm]
DIERDRE: No, not there. [J rolls over, DIERDRE bends over him, straightens up & moves on]
JEFFREY: Nothing ruins a feeling of potential and hope like a rectal injection.
ALEX: You can't mean that!
MARGARET: I never thought I'd say it, but... I still love the job. But it wears you down.
MARGARET: I used to wake up and actually want to come in. But the pressure, the paperwork, the low pay - you get to thinking "I've served my time. I don't need this anymore."
ALEX: You'd leave Jeffrey alone with DIERDRE?
MARGARET: DIERDRE will stay forever
JEFFREY: That old curmudgeon. I can't like her even though she doesn't want me too.
ALEX: What is someone like that doing here?
JEFFREY: Well she cares deeply. About the ward. Has deep proprietorial feelings, and it causes her constant pain that they allow patients into it.
MARGARET: I hope that doesn't happen to me.
ALEX: Never - you're too sensitive a person.
JEFFREY: Ah, but DIERDRE has been a nurse far longer than you. [to ALEX] She still uses leeches you know - rank nepotism if you ask me.
JEFFREY: What I was going to say was that she's been a nurse longer, and perhaps she's right, and we are worthless?
MARGARET: Worthless Jeffrey? [laughs sweetly] Your my sweetheart; what would I do without you?
JEFFREY: Oh I know, I'm the life and soul of the critical list.
MARGARET: Fucking hell. My beeper. Excuse me. I bet it's that bloody greek throwing up again. [exits]
JEFFREY: Perhaps once DIERDRE cared too.
ALEX: What? Margaret's just a little overworked.
JEFFREY: Yes, but she'll always be overworked in this system. System's change people; if I've learnt one thing from life, it's that. You overwork the hospital staff and of course they stop caring. Mother Theresa never had to deal with the paperwork. Princess Diana never had such long night shifts. You turn the GPs into accountants and naturally they think of their own profits. System's change people, and rarely for the better. It's fortunate the NHS attracts the caring, or it would've already collapsed.
ALEX: Curb it with the blind optimism.
JEFFREY: Sorry. Margaret is lovely, and maybe she's the one in a hundred - I would take the risk - as would you, I know.
RADIO-POLITICIAN: The Prime Minister will soon be announcing our framework charter for standards setting out our blueprint for a new NHS. And make no mistake about it, these are developments the pioneers of our party would have been proud of. Those pioneers founded the Labour Party because they wanted everybody to have a decent standard of living, a decent job, a decent home. A living wage. Clean air to breathe. Every child to have a good start in life, every mother to have safe childbirth, everybody to be cared for in old age or if they fell ill or had an accident. Their vision is our vision and we are delivering on it. Already we are seeing a decrease in the rate of increase of waiting lists in key target areas. The resources announced in the Budget mean real terms growth of 6.1% for the four years to 2003-2004, much more than the average net growth rate under the last Government. Sick people in Britain have never had it so good.
[ALEX gets up, switches radio, picks up a christmas carol]
RADIO: Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tralalalala lala la la, Tis the season to be jolly, tralalalala lala la la, etc.
JEFFREY: Turn the damn thing back off.
[ALEX switches radio off. clock forward]
MARGARET: [passing through] They're out of flu vaccines and a nurse short in out patients. [goes to the desk]
ALEX: Out of flu vaccines? Wintertime and the hospital doesn't have flu vaccines?
JEFFREY: Hah! You should have been here the time they renovated orthopaedics. That was like something from Catch 22.
JEFFREY: Orthopaedics - broken bones. Anyway, must have been a couple of months ago, they need to do some building work on the clinic - structural repairs and so on - so they shift it to the 2nd floor of the Nightingale Research Centre where there's some space free. Except the Nightingale building doesn't have any lifts. So they've got a clinic for people with broken legs that you can only get to by climbing up the stairs.
ALEX: Is that true?
JEFFREY: Could I make that up? My boy, it's too stupid to be anything but the truth.
MARGARET: Was that the orthopaedics clinic story? He's exaggerating Alex. It was just an admin error, they moved it back to the main building the next day.
ALEX: How many times has he told that story then?
JEFFREY: Admin error? Let me tell you another story. About my wife. [MARGARET quietly joins them] She had heart disease. They told her she needed an operation, otherwise she had 6 months left to live. She needed an operation; bypass surgery. But the waiting list was 2 years.
JEFFREY: 6 months and the waiting list was 2 years.
MARGARET: Oh Jeffrey, I'm so sorry.
JEFFREY: Of course, if I'd had the money, the same surgeon would have done it privately the next week. That wasn't an administrative error. That was an administrative decision. Or a political one. £100,000 they said, where was I going to find that kind of money?
ALEX: What happenned?
JEFFREY: She died. What in christ's name do you think happenned? She died. She died in this very hospital. [breaks down & starts to cry] I'm sorry. Whenever I think of it, the enormity hits me. My Eleanor could still be with me but for... How could they put her on a two year waiting list? Can you explain that to me?
ALEX: Look, I'm sorry about your wife. That's a terrible thing to happen.
JEFFREY: What kind of bloody system is it that lets that happen?
MARGARET: It's a good system, mostly. We do good work.
JEFFREY: Not for my wife you didn't. And it's not just my wife either. How many other people have died unnecessarily? Look at it! This crumbling hospital, the pathetic pay Margaret here lives on, the health lack-of-service we have in this country.
MARGARET: The NHS is still a good system.
JEFFREY: Oh yes, we still cling to that belief for dear life, don't we? You know what I saw in the paper the other day? Proportionally, we spend less than anyone else in Europe!
MARGARET: They promse money every budget. They just announced new cash.
JEFFREY: Yes but it's mostly the cash they'd already promised. It's a magician's trick. No; a money-go-round - like a merry-go-round - they spend the same millions each time.
MARGARET: We're far better than America.
JEFFREY: Well woopee. I mean that's hardly impressive. Can't you see? It's falling down. And once it's gone, do you think they'll rebuild it?
MARGARET: Modern medicine is very expensive you know. It's just not realistic to expect taxes to keep paying and paying - there'd be no limit. They already spend millions more each year. This hospital alone costs - well, millions to keep open.
JEFFREY: Oh I realise that. It's my own fault for frittering my life away as a teacher. I should have been a banker - then I'd have had the money myself. She worked all her life - we both did - hadn't she earned the operation? Was her heart not worth as much as a banker's heart?
ALEX: It's not that simple...
JEFFREY: If I'd had a better paying job - well then I could have paid myself, could have afforded a few little luxuries like a living wife, wouldn't have needed society to pay - because after all there's no such thing as society these days. I wouldn't have to be here now either in this crummy depressing ward spending christmas with people who also don't want to be here.
No, it's not realistic to find the money, I know that. I had to live with rationing you know - 4 eggs a week, coupon books for meat and still we had the money for the NHS. Now the politicians just care about spinning the right image, and the rest of you let them get away with it. We can't bear to see suffering. Suffering itself, we don't care about, as long as we don't see it. Or we care, but only for 5 minutes.
ALEX: Well what do you suggest then?
JEFFREY: [defeated] Morphine.
DIERDRE: Don't you put me on hold! [pause, B fumes] Well?
PHONE: Yes, we have someone. Joan Bakers, she'd a D grade nurse with 3 years experience.
DIERDRE: I hope she's good.
PHONE: All our staff are fully trained.
DIERDRE: That last girl you sent us was useless. Hardly knew how to tie her own shoelaces let alone administer a decubitas ulcer re-bandaging. - and so rude.
PHONE: Our nurses are completely qualified.
DIERDRE: So you say.
PHONE: I assure you they are, we are a professional agency. If you have any complaints, you should make them through the proper channels.
DIERDRE: Just tell me when she'll be here.
PHONE: 3 o'clock
DIERDRE: 3 o'clock!?
PHONE: She says she can't get away any earlier, and I'm afraid we don't have anyone else. We're very busy this time of year.
DIERDRE: 3 o'clock's no good - I need someone now.
PHONE: I'm sorry, there's really nothing I can do.
DIERDRE: You can give me her number, I'll have a talk to her.
PHONE: 7996 4533
DIERDRE: [writes down the number]
DIERDRE: Good bye. [dials] Hello, is that Joan Bakers?
NURSE: Yes, speaking.
DIERDRE: My name is Dierdre O'Feeny from Charing Cross Hospital. I'm the senior nurse on ward 4 north.
NURSE: Oh yes, I'm coming in later today.
DIERDRE: That's why I'm phoning. You see, we need you here now.
NURSE: I'm afraid I'm busy. I wanted to take today off entirely.
DIERDRE: Well, it's your business, but this is important.
NURSE: It's my son's birthday.
DIERDRE: I can understand that, I'm an aunt myself. But the ward's understaffed, and I wouldn't want to be responsible if anything happenned to one of the patients.
NURSE: I can't miss his birthday completely. It's bad enough having to do one shift.
DIERDRE: Is he having a party?
NURSE: Yes, he's five.
DIERDRE: Then there'll be other adults there who can look after him?
NURSE: Well yes, but...
DIERDRE: Mrs Bakers, we have some very sick people here. More than I can look after by myself.
DIERDRE: It won't be my fault if they don't get proper care.
NURSE: OK, I'll come in. I'll be there at 12. I hope you don't need me to administer a decubitas ulcer re-bandaging. I'm not very good at that.
DIERDRE: [puts phones down] Uh, really - you can't even get an agency nurse these days.
[DIERDRE enters with the breakfast trays, hands one to ALEX]
ALEX: Where's Margaret? Doesn't she normally bring the meals?
DIERDRE: Margaret! She phoned in sick.
ALEX: Is she alright?
DIERDRE: She's fine - it's me that's suffering. She could have phoned last night, but no. And now the replacement nurse won't be here until midday, so I get her work on top of my own.
JEFFREY: My piles bleed for you.
DIERDRE: [looks at him furiously]
JEFFREY: But you do it with such good grace. And so efficiently - breakfast served by 11:30.
DIERDRE: Shut it. Today is bad enough without you starting.
JEFFREY: Sorry. Remember, my dear, I am an in-patient.
DIERDRE: [puts J's tray down roughly]
JEFFREY: What no reply?
DIERDRE: How could I possibly compete with your wit?
JEFFREY: Well that's what I presumed.
DIERDRE: You! [searches for a non-swearword] You only think of yourself. All the time, the only person you care about is you and how you're feeling. Well I guess that's because there is no-one else to care about you. No visitors, no friends. I'm probably about the only person who even remembers you exist.
[JEFFREY is silent]
DIERDRE: What no witty reply? [pause] Nothing but an old pest. An incontinent old pest who shits in his bed which I have to clean.[exits]
JEFFREY: She got me Andrew. Holed below the waterline.
DR: [enters] How are you feeling?
ALEX: Fine. Healthy.
DR: OK, you're discharged. Get the nurse to bring your clothes and you can go home. We hope you have enjoyed your stay here and look forward to seeing you again. [smiles & exits]
[clock forward. ALEX takes off hospital robe.]
[play slowly and awkwardly]
ALEX: Right. Take care. Hope you get better soon.
JEFFREY: Thank you. Give my love to the world.
JEFFREY: No you won't. But thank you for the intention. Although I prefer chocolates to intentions, if only for the taste. But don't worry about me.
ALEX: Well now I'll have to visit, to prove you wrong.
JEFFREY: Good bye.
ALEX: Au revoir.
[lights up. JEFF (looking bored) & ComaBoy are in bed]
DIERDRE: [enters left] Lights out in 1 minute [exits left]
[pause. ward lights are switched off (ie. lights dim)]
JEFFREY: [hums/der-ders The Last Post]
[lights down. projection, TV style, one line at a time]
since this was writtecn:
Alex and Margaret have started dating.
Margaret has quit nursing and now works as a bailiff.
Dierdre is still at Charing Cross Hospital.
Jeffrey died 5 months later.
He was conscious the whole time.
[play The Last Post, curtain down]
© Daniel Winterstein 1998-2008
This is a personal