The Greatest Roommate EVER
Alright. I have had some serious doozies in regard to roommates over the last three years, but this one absolutely, ABSOLUTELY takes the cake so far.
I’m on a ward of four beds for the duration of this stay, four beds and a broken toilet in our private bathroom. I’m okay with this, as is the woman beside me – Grascia, who is from Poland and taught us all to flush the toilet by filling the bedpan with water and pouring it down. Carol, the lovely Portuguese woman diagonal to me seems okay with this too, as the three of us have been finding the ordeal rather comical together.
Penny is not okay with this. Penny is not okay with anything.
See, Penny is a lovely woman (erm… most of the time), that loves to discuss plays and the works of Voltaire. Whether her audience is willing or not. She is here recovering from surgery, as are my two other roommates.
But she doesn’t grasp why I am here.
I have explained to her that I’ve not just come out of surgery, this is a general recovery and monitoring ward – but she’s not buying it. In fact, she’s pretty sure I have Cancer, because I look like I have Cancer (…?) and I should probably get tested because well, I probably have Cancer.
And she drops that bomb on me as a greeting each morning.
“Good morning everyone.”
“Good morning Penny.”
“How is everyone feeling? “
“Did they test you for Cancer last night?”
“No, Penny. But I’ll be sure to bring it up during ward rounds, just in case.”
See, for the life of me I cannot work out Penny. At times she is a lovely, kind and highly complimentary woman. At others she is a raving, racist, diabolical torrent of abuse. Yet this only happens late at night, to catch us all off guard.
She’s like…. Were-Penny.
And then we also have the third side of her, the oblivious Penny.
Our first group indication that Penny might not quite be the sweet old lady we assumed happened when ordering her meals for the day earlier this week with a poor, poor young care assistant. Now, Penny is an elderly, white British woman that quotes Shakespeare and lectures us on the work of Voltaire. And the care assistant was a young, black British male putting himself through nursing school. Really nice guy, very chatty and friendly. The three of us loved him as he checked on us and worked around us. And then he made the grave error of asking Penny what she would like for lunch and dinner.
She couldn’t read without her glasses, and made him read out the menu to her. Nothing too out of the ordinary yet, but there was a vibe going on in the room that made the three of us sit up and pay attention.
It started with angry bursts from Penny of “What?! I can’t understand you!”
The three of us shared puzzled looks across our beds.
“I can’t understand your accent. You are not outside, you know. You need to speak properly in a hospital.”
Wait, what?? Our eyebrows shot straight up into our hairlines as we sat up in bed, watching the scene unfold.
“I am speaking properly Madame.”
“No, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with your accent, just that you need to speak the Queen’s English so I can understand you better.”
Oh my God. She did not just say that.
“Do you want the rice pudding?”
“No.” she spit back, “Do you have porridge?”
“No. We don’t serve porridge for lunch Madame.”
“Look. I know you are probably from South of the river but you need to treat me with proper respect in a hospital young man! I am a patient here, and I have paid taxes all my life! Now speak properly to me, I cannot understand you!”
Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. The three of us shared looks of incredulity while two of us simultaneously pressed our buzzers, calling in a rescue team for the poor kid, which arrived quickly and efficiently – understanding what had happened and whisking Penny through her remaining lunch order and urging the poor kid to finish the rest of us off.
When he got to me I told him I couldn’t understand a word he was saying as he was far too British and could he please read out the vegetarian menu items in an American accent for me.
And I got a high-five and an extra pillow from him out of that one. ; )
And then Penny turned to us as though nothing had happened at all and was again perfectly lovely. Nothing to see here.
Leery, the three of us shared another look and continued on with our day, with Penny being lovely and chatty all through her obnoxiously loud opera radio until around 10pm when she accidentally locked herself in the bathroom and I darted out of bed like a freaking ninja to turn off her TV and radio before she got back. I was back in my bed quite innocently and to the applause of the other two sane roommates before the nurses arrived to talk Penny through unlocking the bathroom door, again.
And when she got out she was furious at the nurses for having locked her in there in the first place.
I was awoken again at around 2pm by lights and angry shouting. Penny was up, swaying like a madwoman at the foot of her bed and waving around her drainage bag (tubes from her surgery connected to pots to collect her seeping innards). The night nurses were being too loud out in the hallway for her, which was rude and obnoxious and unacceptable as people were trying to sleep.
She communicated this by turning on all of the lights in our room and shouting at the nursing staff from the foot of her bed for a good 20 minutes. The irony was actually painful. A nurse asked her if she was in pain, to which Penny raged that of course she was, her stitches were killing her. The nurse countered with a perfectly reasonable question of ‘do you want some morphine?’ to which Penny exploded with:
“Why are you asking ME? Do I look like I have a medical degree behind me on the wall???YOU’RE the medical professional!”
And like lightning that nurse had a syringe of oro-morph in her mouth and was guiding her back to her bed.
She then woke the next morning and took us through the entire storyline of War Horse, the play, not the movie. Then she talked us through the movie.
See, Penny started to grow on us. Sure she caused the three of us to sleep with one eye open, just in case. Yes, she was horribly racist but only seemingly at night time and she was completely oblivious to the world around her. But on the ward she was ‘our’ Penny, and so we looked out for her.
When she somehow spilt yogurt all over her curtains we helped her back into bed and wiped down the vanilla. When her TV wouldn’t stop coming on we limped over and turned it off for her. When she went to the bathroom and left her radio on I would dart over and turn down the volume. We found her reading glasses from their hiding place atop her hair, called the nurses for her when she couldn’t work out the buzzer and we even stopped her from hurting herself whenever we could.
But the most delightful point was when she started giving us advice, particularly me as I was the one sat across from her and right in her line of sight.
For one, my voice was lovely and very song-like. It’s just a pity about my poor accent. Then there was the whole ‘me looking like I have cancer’ thing. And then, as she was a party to not only the Bra-MRI but also the vibrating bed incident, she took it upon herself to teach me to be graceful, as this would greatly improve my life, surely.
So at 9pm (were-Penny hour) tall, elderly, completely oblivious Penny rises from her bed to the pathway between us and demonstrates Tai-Chi, completely forgetting that she was attached to a series of blood drainage tubes and bags that drug behind her, knocking everything off of her bedside table and covering her drainage bag in tea and yogurt. This did not phase Penny. She did not notice, and continued with her Tai-Chi.
All three of us hit our buzzers.
Nurses came in, cleaned up Penny and got her back into bed and all was calm. Until Penny looked at me and clearly stated ‘You’re not as impressive and special as you think, you know.”
Shock. Pure shock registered on my face as my two other roommates keeled over in pain nearly busting their stitches trying to laugh quietly.
Penny continued. “I’m very accident prone as well. It’s not just you.”
Oh. So that’s what she meant. Probably.
“I really think that with a bit of Tai-Chi you can improve your movement and get into less problems. It is very calming, see.” And she was up and out of bed again, completely forgetting her drainage tubes and bags that got caught on the underside of her bed and ripped one open as the three of us screamed “PENNY! STOP!!!”
All three of us hit our buzzers.
The nurses came in again, cleaned up Penny and re-attached her to her drainage tubes. A hazmat team came in to clean up the gore beside her bed and we again thought all was good.
But Penny wasn’t finished.
“Well, Tai-Chi might not be best for you after all.” (I stole glances at the other two, why was this just happening to me?? They glanced back, howling with silent laughter that Penny didn’t notice. “You know, a friend of mine does ballet.”
Oh my God, no. No. NO.
And Penny raised up out of her bed for a third time, humming the theme from Swan Lake and standing completely tall and erect. “Penny! Your blood bags!!” all three of us cried in unison. She stammered and remembered that she was still attached. Picking up the blood bag in one hand, the dark red tubes dangling and swinging from the bag and into her side she approached me and in a graceful command began to explain that the dance of the death of the swan was the most calming ballet dance of all – “Penny, I don’t think-“
And she opened her arms wide and out behind her, beating her arms and chest like graceful swan wings as she threw her blood bag across the room and launched it into the wall.
And our buzzers, again, went wild.
The nurses have now cleaned up Penny and the wall, and have turned off the lights for the ward. All is calm and quiet as we are settling in for whatever sleep we can manage.
“It has happened to me that my knickers have fallen down, but not in public.” muses Penny aloud from the darkness of her bed.
“Good night Penny.” chime the other two, but not me. I’m wide awake, eyes now staring at the ceiling in horror.
Oh my God. I think I’m going to be Penny when I grow old.
(Erm... not racist though)