Sometimes, just every now and then, you need a good shot of reality to return your mind to what is real, away from the stuff of mere thought, navel-gazing and “controversy”.

I’ve been in hospital since Sunday afternoon. It’s now Wednesday night, and I’ll be going home tomorrow. Pneumonia put me in here, via the emergency department. Pneumonia is quite a nasty condition indeed, filling parts of your lungs with fluid, causing intense pain and reducing lung capacity, just like someone squeezing your lungs to stop each breath. It even has an appreciable mortality rate; fortunately I appear to have dodged that bullet.

Between pain, restlessness, incessant (appreciated) attention from doctors and nurses, and being confined in isolation in case you have one of the very nasty ‘superbugs’ going round, this is an altogether unpleasant experience. I don’t recommend it at all. Zero stars.

One effect, I found, of hospitalization for pneumonia, is great difficulty in appreciating anything from anyone else’s point of view. It turned me into a surly, irritable bore. Even my wife left a couple of times because she could see clearly that I wasn’t getting much out of her presence, and that it was only upsetting her to see me this way. Now, those who know me might ask, “so, what’s changed?” Well, excuse me, I say, I am at least capable of sympathy and being nice and stuff. This kind of condition seems to highlight the worst in me!

Today, however, I am much improved. I am now capable of fully articulating my grievances. However, I don’t have many and those that I have (and did articulate, to the chagrin of my wife) are quite petty. They moved me into a shared room for my last night. Annoying, but it was so that someone in the same position that I was in three days ago could use it. Really, why be upset with that?

More than that, since I am now out of isolation, I was able to take my book into the hospital courtyard to read. In the fresh air! That was fantastic in itself: no beeping machines, no noises from other patients and no general activity and “goings on”. A little bit of peace in the middle of one of Perth’s busiest public hospitals.

As I sat there, I realized that the door to the courtyard is large enough and the pathways in the courtyard wide enough to allow a hospital bed to be wheeled out there. Thinking about that, I wondered, what type of patient would be wheeled outside on their bed? It occurred to me that it could be someone who wasn’t going to see the “real world” outside the hospital again.

There are trees and flowers in the courtyard. The courtyard garden would not win any awards, however, someone looks after this garden. A rectangle of sky above the courtyard provides glimpses of the weather, today revealing cold wind and rain; pretty rare in Perth recently. Even the ordinary looking shrubs and flowers, set against the drab architecture of this public hospital have a certain beauty. It occurred to me, that if this little shrubbery with its intermittent flowers were to be my final contact with nature, I wouldn’t mind. The sweeping vistas of Perth’s beaches would not be so sweeping in that state anyway; and the salty air would probably only irritate one’s condition. So, to hold a few leaves, to breath the fresh air and to watch the odd cloud pass by would be enough: Far better than to stare listlessly into a partially flickering fluorescent light for hours and hours; surely and sadly the fate of so many.

I contemplated those inside who are far more unwell; who weren’t able to wander out into the garden. Really, I am fortunate, and the marvel that is medical science has returned me almost to normal within three days of being admitted into the emergency department. Even as I type this, a man nearby is about to be seen by an Oncologist, which really means only one thing. He is not a well man either, and just telephoned a friend to say he wont be at the football match this weekend. He was offering his ticket. Last night, we had a code blue in my ward (code blue being a medical emergency with a patient, like for instance cardiac arrest). If I’m not mistaken, inconsolable tears followed from a woman I shall never meet.

Wonderful and horrible things take place in hospitals, it really depends on what ward you are in at a given time. In the middle are the majority of people like me who, in a fog of self-pity brought on by middle-of-the-road medical conditions, are awful to the very people trying to help. I regret it, but it is hard to imagine being different. Hopefully I won’t need to test it. In the end, this remains yet another tribute to the work of the Orderlies, Cleaners, Meals staff, Nurses, Technicians, Doctors, Administrators, and the Gardeners (who I imagine are too-easily forgotten) that make up the lifeblood of a hospital. And a further tribute to the decades of medical research that goes behind what made my recovery so speedy. I thank all the staff of the Sir Charles Gairdiner Hospital in Perth. Particularly, I thank the fabulous people who attended me in Emergency and those who looked after me here in Ward G54: I think you’ve fixed me!

One final thing: Next time you’re in your garden looking at an old shrub and thinking about replacing it with a slicker, trendier model, consider how important that very plant could be to a different person in different circumstances.

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