Tuesday 18 December 2007

200 Watts of healing radiance...

Amelie has been unwell: she spent a few days in hospital last week with a viral induced asthma episode - but all is now well and she is back to her old self. Well, I say that, but in fact she is not quite back to normal: after 48 hours on the children's ward, where she had her own bedside TV, got to choose the meals she'd like for dinner, and (most importantly) had continual one-on-one parental attention (Nini slept alongside her on the the ward, on a camp bed apparently designed by the Spanish Inquisition, while I sat with her on the day shift) she appears to have turned into a two-foot-high megalomaniac with a serious 'I am the Princess' issue.
The first 24 hours were truly miserable for everyone in the family, and I won't dwell on them, but you could tell Amelie was feeling better by the morning of the second day, when she:
a) Refused to eat her NHS-approved potato croquettes, not because she was feeling weak, or had stomach problems, but on the grounds that "It doesn't taste like proper food".
b) Noticed the other children around her: "If that little girl leaves her pink Teddy behind when she goes, can I have it?"
c) Started acting up: most notably by demanding she be taken to the toilet, and then once in the bathroom and stripped naked so I could change her into clean clothes, deciding to make a break for the door in an attempt to cheer up the other children with some impromptu streaking. She had actually gotten the door open and was preparing for 'the dash of glory' in front of the nurses station before I got an arm round her waist and yanked her back inside.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "Do you want everyone to see your bottom?"
"Yes, it's funny..." she replied, which is probably a worrying sign for the future.
She was obviously getting very tired of forced bedrest, so in the early evening I took her to the ward playroom. This was bright colourful room full of toys and games, with tables for colouring-in and a Playstation set up in the corner. The room was manned by a pair of middle-aged lady volunteers, who were gathered at one window and peering out into the gloomy courtyard beyond. Something was clearly bothering them:
"I don't like it."
"No. Me neither. It looks...unearthly."
"He should shine brighter than the others, though, shouldn't he?"
"He should radiate light, yes. Not shine like a torch. It looks unnatural."
I wondered what on earth was causing the fuss, and lifted Ami up onto the counter so we could both look out of the other window. The courtyard was filled with Christmas decorations, and someone had really gone to town here: beneath training festoons of fairy lights sat a nine-foot high inflatable snowglobe containing Santa, a twelve-foot high inflatable Polar bear with its baby (each wearing a festive red waistcoat, just like they do in the wild during the festive season), a huge plastic snowman, and (on a much less impressive scale) the cause of the concern - a simple Nativity scene, with waist-high plastic figurines of Mary and Joseph and a crib with a plastic baby Jesus. Both Mary and Joseph were gently lit from within so that they shone in the dark, but the baby Jesus...well, he was in a whole other league of illumination. Like his parents, the baby also contained a light bulb, but because his body was swaddled in real cloth that blocked the light, his bulb had been situated in his head, directly beneath his face - and it was much, much too bright. Rather than provide the desired appearance of 'Holy radiance', it looked more like a runway light suitable for the landing of commercial aircraft.
The problem was immediately apparent, even to a 3-year old: "Look Daddy," said Amelie, pointing excitedly, "it looks like the baby Jesus's head is on fire!"
The volunteers looked at us unhappily. They were obviously furious with this state of affairs, and continued muttering to one another:
"I told Ted. I said, 'Not 200 Watts, Ted, it's too much'."
"It's much too much."
"His face will melt. That's not going to look good for the children, is it? If Jesus' head melts? That's not the right message to send at Christmas."
"It's a fire hazard. And this is a hospital."
"We'll have to get Ted on the phone again" (Something in the tone of this last remark suggested to me that Ted probably often got calls of this nature, and a wave of sympathy for the man washed over me - though it did also cross my mind that the tiny radioactive plastic Saviour he had created might be starving the power from, say, a kidney dialysis machine somewhere else in the hospital...)
"He won't still be here, it's tea time..We'll have to do something with it ourselves."
"What can we do?"
"We'll move the bulb. Further down."
"We'll cut a whole in his back, and move it...."
"You can't do that! You can't go around cutting holes in the baby Jesus!"
"Don't be daft! It's not the real Jesus..."
"It will upset the children..."
Both of them looked at the only child in attendance: mine, who had long since lost interest and was now rifling through the jigsaws looking for puzzles featuring Disney Princesses. I got the distinct feeling that the only thing saving plastic Jesus from on-the-spot evisceration was the presence of my would-be-nudist daughter...
In the end, they settled for a better short term solution: they switched him off for the night, to wait for Teds' return in the morning with a different bulb. I like to imagine that Ted is colorblind, and unwittingly fitted a green bulb, so that when darkness fell the next day and the lights were switched back on, the courtyard was adorned with a heartwarming Christmas scene of Mary, Joseph and the baby Hulk...

Amelie was discharged a few hours after our playroom visit, and went home with a huge bag of medicine for her convalescence, while I went home with a new respect for the NHS: the care and attention she received throughout her stay from all the staff and volunteers (including the amusing ladies in the playroom) was excellent. In fact, all Amelie can clearly remember of her visit was that she watched far more TV than she is normally allowed, and was given a free Teddy bear, so she has actually asked twice now if she can go back...

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