- Ta, brilliant, says E@L and he skips (slowly) down the steps in the chill wind down the easy winding, brick-paved walking steps to the road. There are four taxis. E@L considers jumping into the last one, but hey, don't be a smart-arse prick E@L.
The driver in the front cab, somewhat sullen, says nothing; no 'Good morning,' nothing. He starts the car, puts it into D and starts to pull out.
- H***** hospital, please.
The driver looks at him. His foot lifts sightly off the accelerator. They are already out of the rank's demarcated confines.
- Which H***** hospital?
- The H***** hospital. The Royal? Hang on let me check.
- Which hospital? the driver repeats. There are several.
E@L drags his man-bag onto his lap and pulls out his Tab.
- Yep, the Royal H***** Hospital, he says looking at the email from his colleague.
They are slowly (this is H***** at 8am: there is no other traffic) passing through the first intersection.
The driver points up the road to a squat grey, white, glass, mulit-blocked, multi-temporal building two streets away.
- That's the Royal H***** Hospital, just there. Shit man, you pulled me out of the rank. You could have walked.
- Well, OK, so it's not far. I'll know for tomorrow. You can drive me there. Like, it's you job (E@L mumbles this.)
They are up to the next block, and the driver turns right.
- Shit, man. Which entrance. I'll drop you up here on A***** St.
- I'm meeting someone on the coffee shop on E****** St.
- That's around the corner.
He keeps moving out of the drop-off bay and back to the road, where he immediately turns right, to the road behind the hospital. This side of the hospital is partially obscured by scaffolding. Half the earth seems to be under construction, have you noticed that? The driver drops E@L at a closed sandwich shop on the next corner.
- That's the only cafe on this street. Must be this one, man.
E@L shuffles his wallet out from under his arse. Like everyone else, he only goes for his money at the last possible minute.
- How much?
- Man, I didn't even turn on the fucking meter. (No receipt then?)
- Here's five for your troubles. Buy a pleasant attitude.
E@L meets his colleague, not at the coffee shop on the corner but, on the phone with her for directions until he sees her at the coffee-shop outside the north entrance to the hospital, waves, hangs up - hidden behind the scaffolding.
After introductions and small-talk about the customer's not-all-uncommon-amongst-gastroenterologists obsession with David Foster Wallace, she begins to walk towards the entrance. E@L hesitates, his tummy protesting, and asks:
- Haven't you had breakfast yet?
- Well, no (it was included in his hotel room-charge, but, hey, might as well be sociable), I was expecting, you know, as we were meeting in a coffee shop… You've had breakfast?
- I have. But sure, sorry, let's have something.
- Do we have time?
- Plenty of time. (Then why did I get out of bed so fucking early?)
The serving ladies seems your classic looking waitresses, slightly updated; homely apron (the word 'apron', interestingly, or not, has the same root as 'nappy' and 'map', btw - any rectangular piece of material), scarf (not sure how this fits with previous comment) tied back DFW bandana-like, and she is moderately unattractive. Could have been a body-double for the girl in Five Easy Pieces, except shorter by a little, but movies, TV, you really can't be sure, can you?
- How can I help? asks the shorter of the two waitresses.
- Oh, in lots of ways.
They crack-up for some reason. The waitresses can't help laughing, one has her arms on the counter, she lays her head in them. Never heard this one before, obviously. Stressed out; too many serious types this morning?
- What's wrong, asks E@L with a grin.
- Oh, nothing. We have dirty minds that's all.
- That's all? (They're still laughing. These girls go in the front row when E@L next does a show.)
- OK, what do you want to order?
- Ah, you're back. Flat white and some of that toasted banana bread. (Hold the chicken.)
- Thanks, have a seat. I'll bring it to your table. (She wipes away a tear.)
They arrive in the Day Surgery, sign in as visitors, get some Ni-Viz stickers for their shirts and are 20 minutes early. The machine is ready to go, but they need a scope as his bloody thing won't let you do anything unless there is a full scope attached. The machine's probe is part of an endoscope and so it needs to be connected to the large fibre-optic camera - a stylish stack of cream and blue boxes from once respected company that has yet to completely negotiate itself through major legal/corporate issues back in Japan. The scope is still in the disinfectant and will be another 10 minutes.
They have another scope, they'll go get that. E@L fishes into his bag, pushes his hand around. Tries the secret compartment at the back. The secret compartment insode. Nope. He has left the USB thumb-drives (USB sticks, USB drives, what do you call them) back in his hotel.
A small clump of self-adherent RBCs have pulled out of his heart (the disjecta, the jetsam from an atrial thrombus?) or his leg (ditto from a long-haul flight induced soleal sinus DVT?), shot up the carotid, found an impassably small arteriole and knocked a few brain cells into ischaemia this morning: the integrated synaptic song-lines are interrupted and so a memory fades, an essential task is omitted, an anomic aphasia tips on the tongue, a name is list at a crucial career-making/breaking introduction, a forgotten lover's face coming towards you at a party. Hate it when that happens.
- Do I have time to go back to the hotel? (A short walk, two blocks away, don't need a fucking taxi, man.)
- Sure the Doctor is normally not in 'til about 20 to. (Then why did I…)
E@L puts his jacket back on (a jacket and tie, E@L? Unhealthy precedent, that) and finds his way past the anxious patients and the indifferent staff (stranger? shrug) to the lift, thence the street.
It is 8 minutes to the hotel he guesstimates, past interesting old buildings - 1889 built Theatre Royal, "Bare Witness" starts next week, "Crapunzel" still playing. A converted 1880's warehouse, Victorian style (the queen not the rival State up north); red-brick place, the old City Hall, with pale rendered pillars and two incongruous bell/observation-towers, weird, probably the stairwells. But no time/further-interest to look closely and sort this out.
E@L is in his room now, panting. The USB suckers were in his other briefcase. Sigh. He pockets them and heads back. It's an uphill gradient, only 1in 40 or so, but still, he nearly died a few months ago (Death on his holiday) so it's 10 minutes to get back. The scope is by then out of the disinfectant, the machine is on. He loads the presets and fiddles with them, a bit of tweaking.
Three hours later, they are finished all the scans, only one of the three patients nearly died, a good enough morning, and E@L has backed-up the further tweaks to his USB sticks. He has admitted only getting 70 or so pages into "Infinite Jest" but the Doctor has forgiven him, as he at least had completed "Ulysses," which he (the Doctor) agreed was more daunting in reality. "Gravity?" E@L nods. The Doctor nods back, approvingly. "IJ" is more of an endurance test, he said.
E@L's colleague had her copy of "50 Shades" carefully tucked deep in her bag, but she already left, gone back to M*********.
Which triggers the following aside: E@L wonders - Why would you fly down from M********* last night, stay for half an appointment, and fly out at lunch-time leaving The Talent (
(She's not a beatch, just an over-stretched, under-paid (commission only 4.5%) little Greek girl.)
The doctor has more cases to do, not using the machine, but after lunch. Can E@L come back before they start agina, and do some more training, explaining, uncomplicating? Sure, certainly, that's why they're paying him so obscenely well.
A lunch at Cafe Sawak - Malaysian food in H*****! OMG, and they have Kopi! E@L, being shown a seat, asks the girl with the strong mainland accent, if they use the sock! Yes, she answers. He order the kopi, some water and the traditional, homemade laksa. The kopi is of course, densengauno inducing, disappointing: over-milked, too white, only warm. The laksa is OK - not brilliant - however just homesick defusing enough. Chili oil droplets, nonmiscible, on the creamy coconut broth, but not enough tofu, not enough "oysters" i.e. no clams, not really enough laksa kick. But hey, even in Singapore you can get just-as-shit kopi and a-lot-worse-than-this laksa.
- Salamat, shit. I mean telema kasih. Tsche-tsche (谢谢), Mm goi. Khap khun krup. Thanks. Fuck.
The Instruction Manuals are on a DVD - large files packed with Japglish and completely unhelpful explanations ("Spatial Enhance Switch [a button] - This Switch To On and Off Turn Spatial Enhance." Yes, but what the FUCK does Spatial Enhance do?), but the customer wants to read them in hs computer to find out, not about Spatial Enhance (which E@L doesn't understand and therefore has hidden its "switch") but how to turn the system itself on and off, and how to do simple measurements. E@L offers to email some simplified instructional PDFs (2 pages, VERY simplified, we are talking about the limited capabilites of surgeons here) to him.
- Why not send them by Bluetooth?
Doctor fires up his iPhone and tries to pair with E@L's Android tablet. Of course, fucking iPhone, the Bluetooth on Apple devices is
Me, get an iPhone? You've got to be joking.
- Email OK?
E@L's files are in Dropbox and, and, they must be de-clouded before he can trans-etherise them via Gmail. He manages to pull the smaller file down but the larger one (12MB) is taking too long, via 3G, so E@L promises to send it that night. All done, great, shake hands.
- Oh, I have a case tomorrow afternoon. Could you come in about 1:30, 2? Have you read "Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story," yet?
- Sure, sure. (Like who want's to go to MONA, the only reason he agreed to do this diversonary trip to T*********.) Tomorrow. Reading it now, actually.
Back in his hotel room, E@L fires up his MacBook Air (yes he does have some Apple products, reluctantly) and looks in his jacket pocket for the USB drives to back up.
Hmmm. They are conspicously absent. In the pants? Nope? Shit. Man-bag? Nope. Hey, his Tab is not in the man-bag either. Not on the bed, not on the desk. Oh Jesus.
No USB sticks, no Android Tab. They are back in the hospital, the USB still in the machine, the Tab on the back tray.
Shit. He pulls his jacket back on and heads for the door, steps out quickly in the corridor and as he walks away the door starts closing and he taps his pocket for the door-card. Top pocket, no. Wallet, nnnn…hey! No wallet at all, he lunges back at the door just as it firmly locks with a solid clunk.
Walking in an anxious pace, in 6 minutes he is the hospital door, he hopes he doesn't send off a real embolus.
He has been thinking of the people who were in the room where he was explaining the system to the doctor. A chubby (fat, but not as fat as him) red/gray-haired nurse from the cleaning room, who waddled and was cheeky. A laconic theatre tech. Tall, in a decorative paper theatre hat somewhat like a DFW bandana, but slack-mouthed, somewhat dopey looking. But these are the smart ones, slow and measured, they know what's really going on, can anticipate. These are the ones you'd want taround if something went wrong, if some surgeon or nurse didn't know how to work one of the ping-machines. The smart, sharp briskly efficient and over-friendly seeing ones are, apart from being as a rule shorter, often as not, try-hard dumb-fucks, and desperately hard to reach a level of competence your big C or G dopey look guy has when he wakes up with a fucked-over hangover, a dozen bongs and a slab of beer downed during a re-run of Apcalypse Now last night. The sort of person who already knows how to drive E@L's machine.
The sort of person who wouldn't steal a guy's Tab.
And they are still there, where he left them.