Thank God It's Friday

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Monday: Recurrence of my old hernia so I'm being admitted to a general surgical ward. There's a sprightly 60-year-old in the adjacent bed. Our respective states of nervousness compel us to share medical histories and personal secrets. I settle into bed then scan the ward for old pupils, parents, grandparents even. Anonymity: 100 per cent.

Evening visitors arrive. Julie, a local church helper, sees me and comes over. Later her patient calls across: "So you're the head of Abbey School. I live just round the corner. My kids went there." A conversation follows about education today then my neighbour pipes up that both his grandchildren are pupils of mine. We talk about how they're getting on and a young nurse, in passing, notes that the ward sister on the next shift has a son at the Abbey.

Tuesday: The dreaded "nil by mouth" sign hangs over my bed. I'm apprehensive. The auxiliary pushing the food trolley smiles and says: "Never mind dear, catch you tomorrow, don't look so nervous." She moves to the next bed, hesitates and then returns to whisper: "Don't I know you from somewhere?" I reply that I don't think so.

The anaesthetist appears at my bedside. He commutes many miles to work and I'm sure he's never heard of Abbey School. To my great relief I am to be "shaved" by someone who does not know me - but does know a teacher at the school.

Bad news. There's been an emergency and the operation must be postponed until tomorrow. The "dinner lady" returns with my re-heated lunch. She has "placed the face" and we discuss her niece, Julie, who is in Year 7. I can't give her the finer details of the forthcoming adventure camp and the look on her face confirms that my image is shattered.

At visiting time my neighbour's grandchildren arrive with a massive homemade Get Well card. Bold red print on the front says, "To The Headteacher of Abbey School". It will not fit on my locker and has to rest on the floor. It worries me that their grandad has not received a card.

Wednesday: The cleaner stops for a chat and asks whether the school is cleaned privately and what the pay rates are. I suggest she rings the office. A nurse stops by to give me a "pre-med" and I start to relax. An orderly will be taking me "down" soon.

The orderly arrives. It is Julian. "Hello Sir!" I estimate he is now 22. I remember him well. As we trundle down the corridors, in and out of lifts, he gives me the low-down on the hospital and how great it is to work there.

Major factors include the male:female ratio at disco evenings. I note in my befuddled mind that Julian's social skills, including a very quick sense of humour, (potentially regarded by some teachers as a problem) ensure that he is ideally suited for this job. I warm to him and wish him well as he hands me over to the theatre sister.

It is Mrs Yates. "I knew it was you as soon as I saw the name. Simon's being a little bugger at home. How is he at school?" I tell her as best I can and then comply with her request to wave to David's Mum, who is on the other side of the waiting area and who, I am informed, "...will be helping with the operation".

Thursday: The morning shift brings another set of new faces to the ward. My determination to recover in private makes me a model patient. I am out of bed like a shot when requested, eager to prove that I am fit to return home as soon as possible.

Sadly I overdo it and Wayne's Mum (Year 8) holds the bowl while I am violently sick. She is most supportive and I make a mental note that if Wayne ever has an accident I will personally take charge of his welfare.

By lunchtime I'm making good progress and waiting for the nod. Desperately disappointed when the consultant says my release date is tomorrow "Ifollowing that little bout of sickness, one more night might be a good idea".

My deputy visits this evening and is surprised to discover she's spending more time saying hello to pupils than speaking to me. "When are you coming back?" she inquires.

I reply that I was unaware that I had been away.

Friday: Discharged. As I make for the swing doors, the ward orderly points out that his friend's boy is in class 7Y and they will be so disappointed I'm leaving hospital because they've designed "...the biggest get well card ever". I assure him I'll be happy to receive it at home.

Rob Burt is a headteacher in the Midlands who writes under a pen name

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