Is Gravy a Condiment?

I’ll tell you what gravy is not. Gravy is not a dish. Dish = the main basis of a meal. Condiment = whatever you put on top.

It’s a pretty basic concept, but one that the catering staff haven’t quite grasped at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, sadly. They came round and asked what I would like for my dinner on Thursday night, to which I replied that I would like the cheese flan (a lie, I would have liked chocolate biscuits, but that option wasn’t offered). They said they were all out, to which I replied that that would be a problem, as I was a vegetarian (another lie, I just don’t eat red meat, but when in any dodgy dining situation – airplane, sketchy restaurant, hospital – I say I am to simplify matters and hopefully get the safest meal I can). They said there was another vegetarian option. I ran my eyes down the menu to encounter it – gravy.

Gravy is not a meal, I protested, and compromised with them. They brought me a delicious (ok, third lie and I’m only three paragraphs in – clearly I have a problem here) jacket potato with cheese.

Friday night I made H1 bring me in a pizza. We had a picnic on my bed, and it was awesome.

So….Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. That's right. There is an explanation, and it's not that I’m submitting myself to the food there as a money-saving measure, although as a lowly freelance it may not be a bad idea. It's not a drastic pre-wedding diet either, although again, that would probably work quite well.

I was very much in two minds as to whether to write this piece or not. ‘Hospital’ doesn’t exactly fit with my image of a glamazon dashing round the hot spots of London, flitting from party to party. Then again, neither does the rest of this blog. My other concern was privacy, and the general sharing of personal information, and then I realised I’ve been forgoing anonymity for a long time now. About the same time as I rang everyone I know, five minutes after publishing the first post, telling them all excitedly that I was finally putting my writing out there for the general world to admire, revile, or mock, as they chose (oh God, please choose admire). And now with the photo and the name and the constant references to my neighbourhood, I’ve pretty much established this blog as an open invitation to steal my identity.

Honesty, then. If my life in the city is the main meal, a chronic illness is one of those condiments that lends it added flavour. Gravy, if you like (ah-ha, see what I did there, catering staff of Chelsea and Westminster?)

This particular gravy is a chronic illness called ulcerative colitis, and I was diagnosed with it five years ago. Most of those five years I have been fine and in remission, successfully graduating university, travelling a good amount, settling in a new country, finding myself a new career, new friends, and a new fiancé (well, a fiancé – H1 is the first and last). However, sometimes the medication stops working and I relapse, as happened last May.

Yes, last May is a long time ago. Various short term treatments led me to where I am today, getting me through into remission but refusing to hold me there. So today I recklessly spent about £1500 of the NHS’s money on an infusion of Infliximab, which will hopefully show my body what’s what. They wouldn’t give me a Prada handbag instead, but for good measure threw a few blood transfusions in there.

So that’s that – why for three days and two nights I was calling home bed 5 on a ward at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Only three days, thankfully. I may have been residing in a more chi-chi area than usual, but the food really let it down.

Oh, and the company too. In a generally grumpy mood on Wednesday morning, I decided that the biggest problem with London is not that you’re never more than ten feet from a rat. It’s that you’re never more than two feet from an absolute nutter. Well, I can now firmly establish that that would be more like one foot if it weren’t for the regular rounding up and trapping of said nutters in hospitals (um, present company excluded, of course).

There were six beds in my room, featuring an assortment of characters including Day Nutter and Night Nutter. Day Nutter would wander round trying to fob off her rubbish on others, losing her bed with alarming regularity, making weird hoicking noises, and being generally annoying, although mostly harmless. She’d fall asleep in the early evening, after dinner, and Night Nutter would pick up the baton, yelling obscenities at the nurses and other patients. Myself included. Yes, I can be a bitch, especially when someone is roaring that I am at 4am. It’s very much a chicken and egg scenario at that point. Earlier in the night she dropped the C-bomb, and I virtually went into cardiac arrest. She was 90 if she was a day. Guess Tourettes doesn’t discriminate on basis of age.

After her 4am tantrum, and repeated moans for both ‘John’ and ‘Warren’ (hussy), Night Nutter fell peacefully asleep, followed by me. An hour and a half later I was awake again, thanks to Day Nutter arising in full style, standing at the side of my bed drinking my water – before spitting it back into my grapes.

Best alarm clock ever. I was awake. And alarmed. And not prepared to go back to sleep any time soon.

And this was one night.

Thankfully, night two was considerably calmer, and I was awoken only by the nurses doing their usual observations (I should be very thankful for that, but am actually wondering whether it's now safe for me to fall asleep at home without anyone checking my blood pressure, pulse, or temperature every hour on the hour) and a man down the hall, who kept intermittently crying out 'Noooooooo' and 'C'mooooon' for a period of about two hours. He had a guttural, low voice full of drear, and sounded like Frankenstein's Monster cheering on the most terribly longwinded, boring football match ever (oh wait - that would be all football matches everywhere). However, he quietened down and I slept peacefully until 6:50am, at which time I called a nurse to remove my canula, got up, packed, and texted H1. By 7:30am I was sitting in the middle of my bed, fully dressed, waiting for him to come and pick me up, desperate to return to the everyday normality of the crazy homeless in the park, the crazy woman who runs the sex shop, and the crazy ladybug infestation in my home. Ah, home!

Home is where I now am, full of pleasure at the tranquillity of it all. My brief stay in hospital got me thinking many things - things such as I'm so glad I don't often find it necessary to go there, I hope I don't have to go back for a long time, and how best to handle it if I did? This last led to a short-lived but serious discussion between H1 and me about switching our focus from buying a private plane (I don’t like flying with others) to buying a private hospital (clearly, I don’t like convalescing with others either. Safe to say I’m just not so keen on others).

Fortunately, I’ve determined that this will be unnecessary, as I’m convinced the Infliximab will work wonders (you'd hope so at that designer handbag price), and I shall smoothly pick up my uber-glamorous existence where I’ve temporarily dumped it, and never feel the need to refer to the gravy on my life again.