Inside every hospital exists a world no outsider has been allowed to see, not even the idealistic young man who has come to start a career in medicine. What awaits him is a life of institutionalised cynicism, pitch-black humour and visceral sex, and soon it changes him more terribly than he could ever have feared. Written by a former doctor, Bodies is a novel of almost unbearable power and intensity. It is also a moving portrait of the loss of innocence, the healing power of sexual love, and of a young man's quest for redemption in a world that's lost its sense of right and wrong. In Bodies, Jed Mercurio, the man behind the television series Cardiac Arrest, has produced an even more disturbingly authentic despatch from the frontline of hospital life.
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Jed Mercurio trained at the University of Birmingham Medical School and worked at various hospitals in the West Midlands. He wrote the highly acclaimed television drama Cardiac Arrest (under the pseudonym of John Macure). Bodies is his first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Killing Season
...like the stars, these ideals are hard to reach -
but they serve for navigation during the night.
'Ideals ', The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine..
1: The Interior
Leaving behind the outside world I turn off the perimeter road and on the First of August I pass under the metal arch of the hospital gates. Ahead towers of concrete and glass carve blocks out of cloudless blue sky under which I'm swallowed into a city within a city with its own speed limits and language and even its own weather.
As I enter the building my reflection slithers over panes of glass. Windows reframe the sky into blue squares while my heels click on hard .at floors and echo off corridor walls. The air turns dry and sterile and as I burrow deeper into the hospital it cools to a constant twenty-one Celsius. Sunshine fades to a trickle then in its place humming strip lights burn.
Bracketed to a high white wall a sign throws down directions for wards and departments. Each destination is coded a colour and a line of that colour is etched into the floor and it maps the route ahead.
Standing here under the sign looking lost I look like what I am. I slip into my white coat, the same one I wore in finals but with a new badge that puts 'Dr 'in front of my name, and with the white coat stiff like armour I plunge farther into the hospital.
Some people ask me the way to Pharmacy. I think I might be able to remember from the sign but I can't and I blush and I have to shake my head.
I say, 'It's my first day.'
They laugh. It's a nervous laugh. If a doctor doesn't know the way round his own hospital then maybe there are other things he doesn't know.
Ahead of me a straight white corridor drops away to a set of doors and through the glass of the doors I see another straight white corridor stretching to another set of doors. In the glass of those second doors I make out a third straight white corridor and all together the corridors and the doors are an ever diminishing series of arrows pointing me deeper in and I feel like I'm falling.
I'm falling through layers of brick, concrete and glass. In the weatherless vaults of corridors and stairwells outsiders dwindle. Here come only the sick, those who love them and those who look after them. From the perimeter road I've travelled inwards three-quarters of a mile. This is the interior.
On my home ward I meet the SHO. Rich is mixed race with light brown skin and pale eyes, tall with wide shoulders and hair razored to stubble. He says, 'At ten, there 's an induction seminar for new housemen,' and then he gives me a list of jobs.
Word spreads that the new houseman's arrived. The nurses stack in front of me a pile of drug charts that each contains a patchwork of boxes for me to. fill in. It takes me ten minutes to work out how to write up a patient for paracetamol. Even then I have to check with Rich. Later a nurse tells me she can't find Rich and she needs someone to look at a heart monitor. I stand at the foot of a bed and in it lies an obese man whose body smells of sweat and skin creams. Mysterious shapes float across the monitor's black screen. As I struggle to make sense of them my heart rate outruns the patient's.
I turn to the nurse. I open my mouth about to confess I 'm worried so we should bleep someone more senior when she says, 'Oh. It s .fine. He's stopped doing it now. 'She pats me on the arm. 'Thanks,' she says and then she goes. I glance at the monitor but to me it still looks the same. I smile a nervous smile and then I leave the smelly fat man to return to my list of jobs.
At ten to ten the time bomb strapped to my body goes off at last. I shudder. It could be anything, anything at all, they want me for. I read the four red numbers displayed on my bleep's LED then with my thumb press a button to cancel the beeping but it must be the wrong button because the sound continues. I try all the buttons but the beeping won't stop. In the end I give in and dial the four numbers on the phone at the nurses 'station with my bleep cycling through chorus after chorus of beeps and people looking at me to switch it ff and me acting like it's not me at all -no, the noise must be coming from somewhere else. At the other end of the phone line a casualty nurse tells me they've got a patient for me to see. I find Rich and tell him the one true fact I know I know for sure. I tell him, 'But we're not on take today.
Rich reaches inside my white coat and presses the right button and my bleep stops beeping. He says, 'If it's an old patient of ours, it's us rather than the firm on call who have to clerk them in.' With a shrug he adds, 'It's a hospital rule,'and in shrugging them his shoulders rise like mountains and then he turns to go.
'But I've got this induction seminar.'
'I've got Outpatients. Sorry.'
Wearing my stiff dry-cleaned white coat and my badge saying 'Dr 'I tread out into a building full of patients and diseases not even knowing the way to Casualty and halfway there or not there realising I don't know the way back either. Lost and late I arrive at last. A nurse laughs at me because I've run. 'Sorry,' she says but then she continues to snigger behind her hand. In slick black marker the board in A&E displays the firms on take and the name plus bleep number of the doctor on call for each specialty. The casualty officers are screening patients and referring those in need of admission. The doctor listed for them to call is that firm's most junior, usually only a houseman like me. No one seeing patients here has been a doctor longer than a couple of years.
Through gaps in curtains I peer into the cubicles and see only old people with faces like skulls. Warts and moles and tumours add to their bodies; limbs and teeth and eyes have been subtracted. One cubicle lies empty with its curtains pegged open on both the A&E side and the waiting room side. For a moment as I glide past I glimpse what seems part of the outside world. Civilians are waiting on banks of seats and chatting and some mill near the vending machines. I count no uniforms or white coats. My patient lies in the next cubicle. I leave a gap in the curtain on my side but reach back to shut out the waiting room. I'm drawing the line between us and the outside world. He's crossed into this one now.
The patient is young, only twenty-two. He complained to his mother of waking up with a crushing headache, now he's barely conscious with a fever. The Young Headache Man lies on his side on a trolley and a blanket hoods his head. For the first time I'm witnessing acute disease. As a student we were led in groups to patients sat up in bed who put aside their newspaper or cup of tea to indulge our pokes and fumbles.
'Does the light bother you?' I ask.
He groans. 'Yes, 'comes his mother's answer.
'Has he been sick or lost consciousness?'
'He was sick once, only a little bit.'
The Young Headache Man groans again and shifts position. I slide my fingers round the base of his skull and try to bend his neck forward, angling his chin towards his chest. He resists and groans. I draw his legs up towards his chest then try to straighten his knees. Again he resists and groans.
The thought pricks me: This is meningitis. But it's not big enough, this experience of being in the presence of actual disease with its potential to cause real-life death. Because medical school didn't try it's fallen to television to train me but the iconography of emergency is missing. For a few seconds I hesitate in this incongruous environment lacking any barking of orders or crashing of trolleys. Then I scan in a slow pan over the cubicles. As my blinks paste together the images, I register bleeding and no rush to stem the flow, a pregnant woman hunched retching on a trolley and no hands clamouring to support her, a screaming old woman and no hurry to divine the cause. Here isn't television. Here isn't the outside world. Here is somewhere different.
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Book Description Random House UK Ltd, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Mti. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0099472295