Hospital tan and the little Booklet

Andrew Booker 2009-08-17 10:42:06

Recently I paused the drum practice and venue info gathering for a fortnight of soaking up several layers of hospital tan at the brand new Queen's Hospital in Romford. This was in support of the lovely Mrs Rachel B, who gave birth to our first child, Charles Alexander, on Monday 03 Aug 2009 shortly after 3:30am. More on the new arrival of the little Booklet in a bit. First, the hospital.

I'm always on the lookout for interesting things I can video on my phone and turn into backdrops for our Improvizone gigs. Currently my phone is the Samsung S8300, which, in at least 70% of its over-engineered and dysfunctional feature set, is a piece of crap. However, it records good mp4 videos, even if the lens is a bit crummy, and does a couple of other things quite well too, except I cannot think what they are right now.

Queen's Hospital opened in December 2006 and is an architectural structure and visiting experience far removed from the cavernous imposing Victorian edifice that is our more local Whipps Cross Hospital. While not exactly Canary Wharf tube station in terms of (literally) ground-breaking or futuristic design, Queen's nonetheless has something for the eye here and there, especially mine. And so it was, as I parked our car for the first of its many vigils in the hospital multistory, I couldn't resist flicking open my Samsung, wiping the lens on my 15% cashmere lens-friendly polo shirt, and panning as smoothly as I could over the simple metal structures of the car park. Nor, inside the labour ward at 7am, while my brave wife psyched herself up for what turned out to be the next 21 hours, could I help notice the simple beauty of the blue dawn through a round skylight set in a thick white cylinder sunk into the white ceiling of a white birthing room that could have been in a space station. So obviously, while no-one was looking, I seized the opportunity and videoed the ceiling.

I even thought the spacious curved atrium might make a possible Improvizone venue. Seriously. I checked for wall sockets. The entrance space has a canteen-grade restaurant, and it has a cafe, outside of which is a grand piano endowed by the architect himself. Anyone who can play the piano is encouraged to for the benefit of patients and visitors. While clearly not an arts centre to any tangible degree, there is an artistic statement of intent on a large poster next to the newsagent, and sizable photographic prints on the wards. I may or may not pursue this. I'm not quite sure Improvizone make good shopping centre material, for whether I mean it disparagingly or not, that is what the Queen's Hospital entrance area looks like at three in the afternoon.

Empty at 5am it looks a bit better, as I saw for myself as I left on the Monday morning 03 Aug, finding my way out through the labyrinthine connections of concentric circles that form the inner hospital. Somewhere in there was the post-natal recovery room in which Rachel and little boy Booklet were about to fall asleep. He weighed 5.08Kg (11lbs 3oz), which is pretty massive, basically the size of a 3-month-old. Might as well not worry about the newborn clothes, we were advised, just put him straight into school uniform. Under a green disposable gown and hair net, I had comforted my wife on the operating table, while on the other side of the drape, our little Bumpy was removed by Caesarean section. As the surgeons plucked him out, they lowered the drape so we could see him, covered in his waxy vernix caseosa, eyes clamped shut, big and purple and very chubby. And definitely a boy.

While possibly the ugliest thing I had ever seen back in theatre, presented to us in white baby-gro and little hat, he was suddenly adorable. I held and talked to him for a bit, and then gave him to a remarkably alert Rachel for feeding. I hung around for a bit, but I was happy the ordeal was over, that from this point everything would be easy, and decided it would be best if I drove home to bed before my 24hr limit in the car park expired. Or I expired.

I was right about it being a good time to go home. I was wrong about the rest being easy. Soon after I took off, a paediatrician came back to see Bumpy. Those are not foot doctors, as we all know. He was whisked off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and stayed there for a week, boxed in an incubator with wires and tubes everywhere.

We went in to see him every day, and finally took him home aged seven days and 18 hours. There then followed a difficult week for me, with a baby at home but having to go out and earn a living. Happily though, I have cleared the next three weeks, and for the duration I intend to stay either at home or in the vicinity of the South Woodford shops (now boasting a terrific international supermarket selling the Turkish bread I practically lived on in my early days as a musician). When you have to be somewhere at 9am and you got to bed some time after midnight, the prospect of getting up a 4.30am to feed a baby for the next hour and a half is about as welcome as a poke in the teeth with a stiff turd. On the other hand, in the luxury of being able to go back to bed properly afterwards, the tranquility of dawn is one of the few remaining silences left to appreciate in a 21st Century suburb. So I think we should go ahead and puncture it with an ear-splitting Booklet scream, as I interrupt his bottle feed for the all-important burp. After which I try and get the baby to burp too.

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