Southerly by David Haywood

Life Inside

Jennifer has been in hospital for a week now, and we are both gradually becoming institutionalized. Our daily highlights include: Jennifer's breakfast at 8 am; Jennifer's lunch at 12.30 pm; and Jennifer's dinner at 5.30 pm.

Each day the doctors explain that the baby may have to be induced prematurely. Each day the doctors decide that they can hang on for one more day. Which suits us fine -- the longer the baby can stay growing inside the better.

Twice daily, Jennifer is hooked up to the cardiotocography (CTG) machine. This has made me fully understand the derivation of the word 'alarm' in the context of "an electronic device which produces a noise in order to attract attention". The alarm on the CTG machine's has two possible meanings:

  1. your baby is dead; or
  2. your baby is perfectly healthy (but it has moved by a few nanometres so that the machine is no longer able to pick up its heartbeat).

As you can imagine, it's quite the cliff-hanger while the mid-wife ascertains which of A or B has actually occurred.

Hospital, like war, can best be described as long periods of boredom -- interrupted by short periods when you realize that boredom wasn't such a bad thing. The dull patches are beginning to annoy Jennifer, who is especially frustrated that she can't find a wireless network in the vicinity of the hospital.

"No wireless," she announces when I arrive in the morning. "Still no wireless," she says mournfully, as I prepare to make my departure at night. Yesterday there was a brief moment of hope when her laptop suddenly found a connection. But, alas, it had only discovered the wireless card in my laptop.

On the bright side, however, Jennifer's new room-mate (or "cell-mate" as Jennifer prefers to call her) has provided us with endless hours of diversion. Saly [sic] (pronounced "Sally") doesn't believe in vegetables, preferring to provide for her unborn child's nutritional needs with a diet that consists solely of meat and cigarettes. Her reaction to hospital food is quite gratifying:

Saly: Oh my God! Oh my God! I've never seen anything so disgusting in my life! What on earth is it?

Nurse-Aide: It's broccoli.

Saly: I've never even heard of that!

Saly's oft-stated opinions about health are a triumph of anecdote over medical statistics. My favourite Saly quote so far: "Well, my granddad didn't eat vegetables either, and he smoked all his life as well, and he lived to be 73 -- so vegetables and not-smoking can't be all that healthy for you." She's a veritable Deborah Coddington of nutritional science.

Her partner is clearly of the opinion that Saly's hospitalization is due to laziness more than any other factor. This leads to long and heated arguments about his lack of sympathy. Jennifer and I cower on our side of the room, while Saly and her partner hurl insults at one another:

Him: You're stupid!

Saly: [with devastating logic] Well, you're going to marry me. So you're marrying a stupid person. So that makes you stupid too!

One-nil to her, in my opinion. And then, of course, there are three or four telephone 're-plays' of each argument to Saly's friends and family.

Saly: [on the phone to a friend or relative] So I told Gary, I told him right out: "Well, you're going to marry me... so that makes you stupid too!" And he couldn't say much to that, could he?

But happily, like squalls at sea, Saly's disputes are quickly over. Gary arrived with a peace-offering the next morning. "I've brought you a decent breakfast," he announced cheerily.

Saly was all smiles. "Ooh," she said, opening the paper bag. "I love Burger King."

Perhaps Saly's only flaw is a propensity to spurn her headphones, and watch television at full volume. And then to leave it blaring away while she pops outside for a ciggie. We're both too privacy-conscious to mess with her TV remote, so we often end up hearing Days of Our Lives at maximum loudness. And, frankly, we don't need Days of Our Lives when we've got Saly.

A slight (but lingering) sense of journalistic ethics prevents me from giving a detailed description of this morning's dramatic events -- but here is a hypothetical scenario that you may wish to contemplate. Imagine being in hospital, and having two of your fiancé's ex-girlfriends turn up to visit you at the same time. What question would you consider suitable for an impromptu debate? (Hint: which of the two ex-girlfriends gave your fiancé genital warts?)

Saly is likeable, perplexing, brave, kind-hearted, and slightly outrageous. It's sometimes hard to remember that she's not in hospital to provide us with light entertainment; but, rather, because she's dangerously ill. And that she, like everyone else in here, is homesick, lonely, frightened, and just wants to leave as soon as possible -- with a healthy baby.

NOTE: Some names have been changed in this account, and certain events have been slightly altered in order to conceal the identity of the individuals involved.