The thought of spending the day watching cleaners at my local hospital, all in the name of research for this column, was as appealing as cleaning itself.
Unlike my wife who appears to get pleasure from cleaning, I get nothing from washing floors, making beds or dusting rarely used rooms. I've got a long list of well-used excuses should I need to justify my lack of enthusiasm for such a boring, tedious, dull and repetitively mind-numbing task. You get the picture; I don't like cleaning.
I arrived at the hospital just before 6am, having fed the parking meter with enough coins to clear the national debt. Soon a handful of sleepy individuals appeared, twitching, yawning and still enjoying their dreams. A few swapped stories about what they'd done the night before, the number of pints they'd consumed or the attractive girl they'd almost pulled. A little like fisherman talking about the one that got away.
First I met Jo, 28 who'd been working here since she'd left school. After a quick glance at herself in a mirror to check how she looked, having just changed from her figure hugging navy tracksuit to a more appropriate grey coloured uniform. We headed off to the 4th floor with an assortment of buckets, mops and various bottles of disinfectant all cleverly wedged into a plastic knee height trolley.
For Jo it was a novelty having someone other than her supervisor follow her, more concerned that I spelt her name correctly than worried about what she'd find to clean on her shift. For me I was embarrassed that patients or other hospital staff would think I was new on the job, learning how to clean the ward.
Jo wasn't fazed at the thought of mopping up a stranger’s urine, congealed blood, or the idea of cleaning a toilet where someone had spent the night vomiting down it. "It’s a team effort" she kept repeating in response to my questions. "I ain't no doctor, so this is the best I can do to help these poor souls", she said with as much conviction as David Cameron announcing he'd formed a coalition government for the best interests of the country.
A couple of hours later, having had a quick coffee with the cleaning staff in a cupboard that doubled as a staff room, I was introduced to an older woman called Evelyn. She was from an era where it would have been rude to ask her age. Instantly I'm reminded of the fictional Betty Eagleton character from Emmerdale Farm. Like Betty, she's more interested in learning the problems of each patient, and offering her own diagnosis or wise words rather than the cleanliness of their room. It was obvious that Betty, I mean Evelyn was doing the job for different reasons to Jo, she was doing the job as a hobby, a way of occupying her lonely life with the problems of others.
I take my hat off to the likes of Jo, Evelyn and the others who repeatedly drag themselves out of bed at such an early hour, to clean up the bodily fluids of people who don't judge them. Patients are simply grateful to everyone who contributes towards their wellbeing and recovery. Whether Jo, Evelyn and others are cleaning simply for the minimum wage they receive, or as a method of somehow occupying their time, I'll not be so judgemental on a team of people this hospital couldn't do without.
I'll remember next time my wife asks me to make the bed, that I'm fortunate enough to be able to do so, and I can almost guarantee the patients I met today wish they were capable of doing so too.
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