Two days of hospital tests detected an infection in my gall bladder, which the surgeon told me would have to be removed.
“It’s a simple keyhole operation,” he said with a reassuring smile, “you’ll probably be playing golf the day after tomorrow!”
“That’s great news,” I replied, dredging through my personal bad joke file, “I’ve never played golf before."
His silence signalled doom for any dream of a career in stand-up comedy. Now, with my riposte relegated to its rightful place, he finished outlining the procedure.
It was late the next day before narrow slits allowed diffused light into my eyes, seeping through a thick mental fog of detachment from my surroundings.
Counter-balancing this detachment was a strong, new attachment: to a thin plastic tube that protruded from the back of my heavily-bandaged left hand. From there it ascended to a flexible saline bag that was dripping its contents into the tube, while it hung overhead from a kind of chrome-plated portable hatstand on wheels.
Looking up, I saw a big sign which said NIL ORALLY—which meant nothing by mouth. I first wondered if it was the surgeon's message the he would accept no further repartee from me. But after seeing the same signs above the beds of patients who were also connected to similar saline bags, I realised that none of us was allowed to eat anything. We would be nourished intravenously by saline drip, with other tubes connected at red junction boxes halfway down each tube.
This was clearly not the golf course my surgeon had promised. His keyhole had apparently opened up a Pandora’s Box of minor complications that required closer attention. But right now I don’t have the gall to elaborate like a bladder-mouth.
My drip and I became close friends—quite inseparable. Yet nurses paid less attention to me than to whatever my drip communicated; for they carefully noted whatever it told them whenever they stopped by.
Dave was my main man when the saline bag needed replacing, for he cheerfully announced which selection of international cuisine his saline chef had prepared for me. It allegedly ranged from Thai to Italian, though I kidded along with him that my favourite was the mixed grill with mushroom sauce. But despite his menu nominations, my taste buds were none the wiser, and cleaning my teeth was not an option.
Augmenting the nourishment that my drip provided, my red junction box provided a blend of sedatives and other therapeutic chemicals to compensate for what my body could not produce at the time.
Accompanying my recovery was increasing appreciation for whoever invented that intravenous drip.
Soon after I was discharged, I opened my computer for a quick Google search—little realising how close I had been to the answer throughout my hospital stay.
The search tracked down a dietician whose name was Nill. On staff at a Dublin hospital, he was concerned about patients in induced comas—or those whose digestive systems could not cope with processing even pureed food—for they were unable to maintain their strength. Oral food intake was too strenuous for them, physically and emotionally, but something was needed to speed their recovery.
Nill’s concern led him to a research laboratory, where he conducted tests to simulate digestion processes. His resulting saline-based, intravenous injections of proteins, enzymes and vitamins proved to be very easily absorbed by patients’ bloodstreams. This resulted in such short recovery times that hospitals around the world quickly adopted his methods.
Though Nill never sought any fame; and never thought of taking out a patent on his simple device; nursing staff attach misspelled signs in his honour above the beds of all patients who feed intravenously.
Had I known the story behind the sign above my bed, I would have happily grabbed a marker pen and corrected its spelling; so instead of it reading NIL ORALLY, it could have been my personal tribute.
To NILL O’RALLY!
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