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Simon Pound: Cancerous Performance

Cancerous Performance

By Simon Pound

This originally appeared in the Herald here.I reproduce it in full because it is so short. Yet so rewarding.

Hospital smoking room for terminally ill

Terminally ill patients at Hawkes Bay Hospital will soon have their own smoking room, despite the health board's recent adoption of a non-smoking policy.

The 14sq m room will be for the sole use of terminally ill patients who have obtained written permission from their doctors.

Absolutely brilliant.

Sets me thinking like. I recently spent a heavily sedated week at the mercy of the Public Health System. I'm not sure I'd normally capitalise those words but anything that manages to distinguish itself so by such rank awfulness certainly merits the upper-case approach.

During my brief incarceration at Middlemore Hospital I encountered the full force of the smokefree policy that, while making perfect sense in theory, is an unworkable arse in the all-important practice.

While I waited 5 days for an evermore delayed operation on nil-by-mouth (after, incidentally, losing packets of blood and sustaining some not inconsiderable trauma) I was not allowed to smoke anywhere in hospital grounds.

Yes, smoking is bad. Awful, pointless, to be discouraged etc. But it is at your more difficult times that the incendiary crutch comes in most useful. Like when, through an act of god or some other bad-minded higher force, you are confronted with the news that have lost use of your dominant hand for a number of years. And lost the use through a grisly, quite frankly shocking, little accident. To add insult to this injury I was also put into this phenomenally inept institution, known affectionately amongst healthcare professionals as Muddlemore, put in here against my will or wish and denied leave to smoke.

The salt in the wound bit is that the cravings to do so were mainly brought on by the very inadequacies that the hospital foisted onto me. To catalogue all the shit I waded through here would be boring, and besides everyone who has been through a public hospital would have stories as good if not better, but it'll suffice to say that the nurse was distressingly overworked; the communication between medical staff and patient was distressingly non-existent; the food, when I was finally allowed to eat some, was simply distressing; the noise, all night, all day, all morning, was you-get-the-picture.......

To single out some of the mal-practice-suit-worthy mishaps by my nurse would also be unfair. It is not really her fault that her endless shifts, patients and lack of English conspired to provide her with a dickensian ineptitude.

Not that I forbore at the time. At one stage, directly after my operation, drugged out of my guns and officially still under general anesthetic, I awoke and let them have it. Awake in the recovery room twenty minutes out of the O.R I caused quite a commotion. After setting a new record for morphine administered I was still not asleep as, by rights and physics, I ought to have been. My friends and family, longer suffering than even the pompous I, entered the ward to find me yelling abuse at the nurses who, by now legally no longer able to give me any more morphine for risk of killing me, were offering me panadol. Not a pretty scene ensued, with a charmingly euphemistic and flattering eye-witness account likening my juvenile and solidly medicated performance to Winston Churchill had he found himself in a Nazi POW Camp Hospital.

But before all this, perhaps leading to all this, there was the not being allowed to smoke.

On the first day there I was instructed, by a none too interested security guard, that I was not to light the cigarette in my mouth. I had managed to steal five minutes outside, feeling weak in body and mind as a result of interminable waiting. So there I was, a drip connected to my arm, it, in turn, connected to an unwieldy wheeling device and my mouth very much connected to the smoke. And he, in no uncertain terms, was not going to let me smoke it. My closest option for complying with the no-smoking in the grounds policy was to cross two roads, get my way through a hedge and then over a railway line.

Which, although I didn't do it then ,was what I spent the next 4 days doing. And quite a picture it makes too - a bunch of hospital-gowned, drip-adorned mal-contents smoking in Middlemore Train Station out in the open in the middle of winter. Surely there is some line to be found with a little more compassion for those in the throes of nicotine addiction. This certainly did not look to me like public health, the actions of a benevolent bureaucracy. It looked like a good-intentioned state-sanctioned fuck-up playing out, and to hell with the people who fall outside the rule-making. Well, to hell or the train station (I would have picked hell for the warmth - nothing is worn under those hospital gowns and it is unforgivingly cold on those platforms in June).

So good on Hawkes Bay Hospital for that ounce of flexibility. Though it still isn't such a good deal - in order for the great bureaucracy to allow you to exercise your legal right to smoke you have to be terminally ill. Talk about setting the bar high. And more worryingly you need a note from your Doctor to let you in the room. As if hospitals were already not condescending enough to their patients.

Ah well, it is the small clawing back of rights that lead to the bigger......I hope.


Simon Pound is a BFM wire host - Thursdays - where he (on alternate weeks) interviews Scoop's Alastair Thompson and Selwyn Mannings at 1.30pm. He has a blog at

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