My beloved father, who is 67, has just had to spend nigh on a fortnight in hospital. For his sake, I won't go into detail of why he was admitted, save to say that it was illness rather than injury, he has been released now and is mercifully on the mend.
I only visited him once, as he was taken unwell during a visit to my brother's house at the other end of England, so travelling was an issue. The Natural Blonde and myself drove the near-400 miles on Saturday evening, spent Sunday with Dad, then came back Monday.
Now it's been a long time since I was in a hospital ward. The last time I visited someone, almost a decade ago, they were in intensive care. Comfort and convenience for the patient therefore was a poor second to actual care. Dad was always in a general medical ward, albeit one with a specific function, and was therefore able to pass the time in the way conscious recovering patients do. But the toys and attractions available to him really opened my eyes.
For a few quid's worth of credit, he can watch TV (including the Freeview channels), listen to the radio (the hospital station and one local commercial station), play computer games (not really Dad's thing, admittedly) or, best of all, surf the net.
Internet access from your hospital bed!
And it's all from the same gizmo. The screen pulls down to wherever you want it, then a coloured button sequence, a bit like Fastext, switches from one medium to another. Opposite Dad was a teenage lad who'd had a motorbike accident, bashing away at a games console from a totally horizontal position. Adjacent was a chap who'd fallen off a horse, tapping his fingers as he listened to the hits. The other fellow in this four-man ward had chosen to stay asleep.
Dad, meanwhile, was watching the final of the snooker with his headphones on when we pitched up to see him. He'd not done anything other than watch TV with this contraption which swung above his bed, but he showed me how it worked nonetheless; essentially, it had a phone and ID number system akin to that which allows you to watch films or, erm, 'specialist' material in hotel rooms. So patients have to pay, but it's a peppercorn amount and considering the alternative is passing the time worrying about your health, it's a decent deal.
I appreciate that the NHS is about medical care, but I can't help but feel grateful that keeping recovering patients entertained and in touch with the world outside is also an issue to the powers-that-be. My last prolonged hospital stay was for the removal of my tonsils at Christmas 1981, and the only telly I saw was a grainy black and white thing which was in a room three floors down from the children's ward and therefore for two of the five days I spent in hospital I wasn't allowed out to see it. And there's only so many times you can read a copy of the Dandy before you get thoroughly bored of it.
Assuming that these multi-purpose entertainment systems are a standard in hospitals up and down the land, it means that anyone whose business relies on internet access could theoretically continue their work from their bed should they be taken ill. You and I can update our blogs while being intravenously nourished and having our catheters removed. And, best of all, my dad could watch an entire snooker championship without my mum whingeing for something else to watch, which I doubt he's ever managed before...
I'm obviously relieved that his health is returning, and for that we have the magnificent staff to thank; but I'm just as relieved that his stay in hospital was made as familiar and unstressful as possible, and something as daft as a TV/radio/console/PC, all on a playful pulley system above his bed, was able to help him achieve that.