Killing them softly with song

If something's going to go wrong medically, it's always going to happen to the doctor. Which was why, after a minor knee operation and a major haemarthrosis, I find myself on the waiting list for repair of the cervical disk that somehow popped out while I was anaesthetised.

And I've discovered in the process that waiting for a hospital bed is a terrible thing.

It's not the long-term wait - I have been lucky enough to be considered an urgent case and a couple of weeks is a nice sort of wait. But it's like falling off a tall building; it's fine until the very last little bit, then it's awful.

Today, you see, was to be admission day, except that when I rang at 8am there were no beds. At noon there were no beds and at 4pm there were no beds, but still the possibility of a bed remains.

Hmm. Who's going to leave a hospital bed after 4pm? The day's discharges must surely be complete. Are they hovering over some unfortunate soul waiting for them to shuffle off this mortal coil and join the choir invisible, just so they can pop me between the sheets before midnight?

But worse than the thought of the person I am replacing is that I have discovered an incredible inability to do anything else useful with the day.

Today was already allocated to putting on my pyjamas, drawing the curtains round my bed and reading Stephen Fry until the first medical student arrived to check that I had 12 cranial nerves.

But so far I have sat at home trying to record myself singing folk songs in my Eva Cassidy impression that only a totally captive audience would ever listen to, and I have been repeatedly checking the fridge to see if there's anything more appealing in it than the last time I looked.

The stress is because I dread that which I'm waiting for. Waiting for a bus, or indeed waiting for Christmas or supper, poses no problem. But waiting to go into hospital is two-edged - you want to get it over with and yet ...

It must be the same for patients in our waiting room. By and large they don't want to be there, and the majority are probably a little apprehensive about the encounter. They can't do anything useful and are reduced to reading old copies of magazines and their combined wait-minutes must add up to dozens of person years, an enormous untapped resource of people power.

Or an enormous audience. The Eva Cassidy impression could be useful after all. I wonder if I've time to learn another song.

- Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk. You can write to her at

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