Have you ever seen the film The National Health Or Nurse Norton's Affair? It is based on Peter Nichols' ripsnorter of a play and stars a host of great British actors such as Donald Sinden, Jim Dale, Colin Blakely, Lynn Redgrave, Eleanor Bron and Bob Hoskins. The posters which were pasted on the walls of cinemas and on bus shelters in 1973 carried the critics comments - "Be warned .... you may die laughing" - Daily Mirror and "I nearly died laughing" - Daily Express.
It was a black comedy, derived from Nichol's experiences when he was in hospital for a collapsed lung, being cruelly funny about conditions on the ward. At the same time a Holby City/The Royal soap opera is running on the television screen there.
I experienced something like this yesterday.
It was an unearthly adventure to be stuck on an operating table with wires and balloons carrying tiny tubes made out of metal mesh. The surgeon occasionally discussed what was going on with his registrar. A nurse would scuttle past sometimes and a list of instructions would reverberate around the room as they were repeated in a fashion similar to the interraction between a commander of a nuclear submarine and his ratings in a Hollywood movie as they were about to launch a nuclear missile.
'Metal piece 451682378/A please.'
'Did you say 378?'
But the thing which helped my sanity throughout this none too pleasant time, was the radio which was on in the background. How ironic I thought, listening to Victoria Pendleton talk to Chris Evans about what she had gone through at the Olympics, her health, her mental state and outpouring of emotion kept me going. It was sandwiched between the deliberately corny choice of music, and following The Kinks version of Victoria, it was a dead cert that Bicycle Race by Queen would be following.
But it was back on the ward where the banter and cameraderie of the patients was straight out of a Peter Nichols' play.
'He's got that grey look,' I heard one of them say to the nurse. I wasn't sure if he was referring to me or not. 'Bet you've seen that a few times in here.'
'Aye, you only die, once,' said another.
'But look at it this way,' said a third. 'You dinna wanna die healthy.'
'I'm worried about me pigeons, while I'm in here. Someone might nick them.'
'Dinna worry aboot things, man. It'll all be alreeeet.'
'I like coming into this hospital. I enjoy the rest.'
The chatter was briefly arrested by the arrival of the man with the dinner trolley.
'What would you like? There's sausages in onion gravy, vegetable pasta bake or roast pork salad. Or would you like a sandwich and a nice cup of tea or coffee to get you started?
'Sounds like good English food.'
'No not good English food,' replied the dinner man. 'Good Northern English food.'
'What about you, sir?' He stopped when he noticed that the patient had not yet had his operation yet. 'Oh. Only sandwiches for you and only after 4 o'clock.'
'What kind have you got?'
'Not many, sir. The variety usually diminishes by then.'
'Yeah, only cardboard sandwiches by then,' said another patient unhelpfully.
They returned to talking about medical matters. Mainly heart matters. Mainly their own. The ward seemed to cover every kind of procedure which could possibly be done to a heart. Stents, pacemakers, angiograms even as far as a full transplant.
'Go and talk to him,' one said to another, pointing to a third. 'He's had three angiograms. Even the doctors go to him for advice.'
'Aye, you see, it's like this. The muscle in my heart is knackered. The muscle in your heart is knackered. Mine's knackered on the apex. Yours on the top.'
'Did you see that big man who came in recently with his pacemaker? He'd had it 12 years. Pacemaker was fine but the wire had snapped.
'Aye pacemakers are funny things. I hear you canna do any welding when there fitted.'
'Aye, that's reet. Talking about welding my mate was a shipbuilder and they had a terrible time with asbestos. My mate was a barber and he used to see the asbestos dust in their hair'
'It was the women married to shipbuilders who suffered too. They died as a result of the dust they breathed while they washed their clothes.'
The dinner trolley returned laden with items.
'Sorry lads, I'm confused,' said the dinner man. 'They've moved dinner up to lunch and lunch down to dinner. So those of you who ordered sausages in onion gravy are getting mince and dumplings instead. Alright?'
'Better than my salmon fishcake yesterday,' said one. 'There was no salmon in it. Just mashed potato in breadcrumbs as far as I could see,' said the other.
'Aye, my soup's lovely,' said the third. 'It's got real taste. Taste with bite to it. They must have put two packets in it instead of one.'
When each patient was discharged, they went to each bed and shook hands with everybody, including the doctors, nurses and anyone who was in their path.
Danny Boyle was right to trumpet the NHS in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. It is a unique institution. So are the heart patients.