by Arthur Mackeown
“We’re going to admit you, Mr. MacDonald,” said the doctor. She beamed at me as if she’d just told me I’d won the pools.
“Indeed, Mr. MacDonald. For the second time this year, I see.”
“Can’t you just give me some antibiotics and send me home?”
“Oh, but I couldn’t do that. We don’t see a urinary tract infection of this severity every day of the week, you know,” she answered, happily. “If it’s any comfort, you’ll be quite the celebrity around here, the absolute star of the urology department, with all the finest specialists in the field beating a path to your bed. Why, if you get any worse, you might even earn a mention in this little paper I’m writing... not by name, of course,” she added when she saw my face. “Dear me, no...”
* * *
Now, you needn’t worry that I’m going to inflict on you the details of all the indignities to which I was subjected over the next few days. Let’s just say urological stardom is not all it’s cracked up to be and leave it at that. Not that I’d had high expectations of it in the first place. I mean, UTI: The Movie really doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?
The company wasn’t much to write home about, either. In fact, my little ward was empty when I arrived except for the miserable-looking elderly chap glaring at me from the bed opposite mine.
Well, if I’m the star here, I thought to myself, I don’t think too much of the supporting cast. On my first day I did try nodding and smiling at him a couple of times, but he ignored me. When I inquired after his health, hoping for an excuse to complain about my own, he stared straight ahead and answered not a word.
It turned out it wasn’t just me he refused to speak to. Those patients who could get up had their meals in the little dining room next to the ward, and so did we. The place was so cramped you had to sit at the table with somebody, and the ice soon thawed when you found yourself eating with the same people every day. Not with him, though. The only time he opened his mouth was to point at the salt. Apart from that he acted as if none of us were there.
Being a naturally talkative person I persisted a while in my efforts to draw the old boy out. I began to have little bets with myself as to how long it would take to get him to speak.
For three whole days I asked how he was doing every time I shuffled painfully past his bed, and I never failed to wish him good night when the nurses turned out the lights. I might just as well have tried talking to a brick. By the fourth day I gave him up as a bad job and discovered the more rewarding occupation of counting the cracks in the ceiling.
* * *
But all good things come to an end. In less than a week my purgatory was over, and I was pronounced fit and well and ready to go home. Feeling twenty years younger, I joyfully shouldered my bag and strode vigorously towards the door. As I reached it I looked back at the old man from across the aisle. To my surprise he was sitting up and beckoning to me.
I went and stood before him, rather touched that he should wish to bid me farewell. He observed me in silence for a moment, nodding his head and chewing his thin, wrinkled lips, as if savouring the words he was about to pronounce. And then he spoke.
“You’ll be back,” he said.
Copyright © 2013 by Arthur Mackeown