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Robin Gets Cut Up

"Does this hurt?" asked the doctor as he poked Robin in a pokeable place. She let out an Australian shriek and leapt for the ceiling. The nurse reached casually up, pulled her down again and settled her back in the bed. By and large, you can't surprise a nurse; they've seen it all before.

"I'll take that as a yes," said the doctor. "Nurse, I think we need some pain relief here. Go and get the morphine syringes."

He scribbled a signature on an authorization form and the nurse bustled off. Soon she was back with two syringes filled with a colourless fluid. She injected the first one into Robin who began to relax a bit. For the first time since arriving at the hospital an hour ago, the pain was at a bearable level. The nurse frowned for a moment and then used the second syringe. Robin relaxed completely.

"I feel a bit light headed," she said.

"That's only to be expected," said the nurse. "You've got two syringes full of morphine in you."

"Nice," said Robin dreamily. "Can I have some more?"

"We're taking you up to the ward now," said the nurse. "We've made an appointment for a scan so we can find out exactly what's happening inside you. It's likely that you'll have to go into surgery at very short notice, so you aren't allowed any food. But you are allowed an occasional sip of water."

Robin nodded. She didn't care; she had two syringes of morphine in her. She was pain free and as a bonus she felt deliciously swimmy. They wheeled her up to the ward, attached a drip to her arm and hung a "Do Not Feed The Animals" notice on the foot of the bed.

"There's a call button here," said the nurse. "If the pain comes back and you need more pain relief, just press the button."

The hours drifted by. Every so often someone came and gave Robin a sip of water. Eventually the morphine started to wear off and they gave her some pills to take the edge off the pain again. Robin began to get bored. More hours passed.

"When is something going to happen?" she asked.

"Soon," said the nurse. "We work on hospital time here. It's a bit like the Spanish concept of maņana, only not nearly so hasty. A hospital minute is at least an hour in real time; sometimes longer. We'll be taking you to the scanning machine in about five minutes. So just be a very patient patient. You'll like the scanning machine when you get to see it. It goes buzz."

"I'm hurting again," said Robin. "Can I have more pain relief?"

The nurse went to get the tablets. When she returned, there was a doctor frowning over Robin's chart. "What a lot of tablets they've been giving you," he said.

"My tummy hurts," said Robin. The doctor poked her pokeable place again. "Ow!" said Robin. "See?"

"I've brought some more pain relief tablets," said the nurse. "Can I give them to her?"

Just then Robin's tummy emitted a gigantic gurgle.

"Aha!" said the nurse, the light of understanding dawning on her face. "You're not really in pain – those are stomach cramps. You're just hungry, that's all."

"Better give her the tablets anyway," said the doctor. "It's going to be a very long time before she eats again."

"Pain relief tablets for hunger pangs," muttered the nurse. "I don't know what the world's coming to."

Five hospital minutes later they wheeled Robin off to the machine that went buzz. Eventually it disgorged a blurred and blobby picture and everyone gathered round to examine it. It didn't take long to reach a verdict.

"You've got appendicitis. We'll operate this afternoon."

"I told you it was appendicitis two days ago," said Robin.

"Two days ago you were thirty years too old to have appendicitis," said the doctor. "The symptoms were quite atypical. We all knew that whatever you had it couldn't possibly be appendicitis. We were absolutely certain it was something else."

"Thank goodness you've got a machine that goes buzz to tell you when you're wrong," said Robin.

"One of the first things I learned in medical school" said the doctor, "is that under conditions of constant temperature and pressure the organism being studied will do whatever it damn well pleases. That's why we need machines that go buzz. They help to keep us humble."

A gaggle of nurses gathered around Robin and presented her with bits of paper.

"This is a consent form for the operation. Please sign here, here and here so that we can cut you up into little pieces. This is a form for the anaesthetist so that he can make you unconscious. Sign here and here.

"What do you want us to do with your appendix after we take it out? Do you want to keep it? It is yours after all."

"Oh yes please!" said Robin eagerly. "Of course I want to keep it."

"Ewwww!" The nurses seemed quite taken aback. One of them flipped frantically through her pieces of paper.

"I haven't got the form that lets you keep it," she cried. "Nobody's ever asked me if they can keep the slimy, rubbery bits we cut out of them before." She bustled off in search of the special form.

"What are you going to do with it?" asked one of the other nurses, consumed with prurient curiosity.

"I thought I'd put it on the coffee table in the lounge," said Robin. "It would make a nice ornament."

"Ewwww!" The nurses pulled faces at each other.

"Perhaps I'll have a dinner party when I get out. I could put the appendix on the dining table as a conversation piece."


"If I ever get bored with it, I could give it to the cats as a special treat for their tea."


The nurse who had gone looking for the special form that would allow Robin to keep her appendix returned, blowing dust off a rather grey piece of paper.

"They reprint these forms when they are all used up," she said. "And every time they reprint them they put the re-printing date on the bottom of the form."

Robin and the other nurses looked interested.

"This one was last reprinted in 1958," said the nurse. Robin smiled with secret satisfaction as they wheeled her away, knocked her out, cut her open and took her appendix out. And she hasn't stopped smiling since.

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