The most painless appointments I’ve ever had are the ones with the Orthotic department – the ones who look after your feet. Lax connective tissue means I have a perfectly decent-looking foot arch when my feet are off the ground, but nothing to speak of when I put weight on my feet. As the bone structure in my legs is a tad, um, customised, this gives me all sorts of falling-over and potential injury problems. Our local department is run by a dour and homesick Scottish gentleman, who nonetheless is a pleasure to deal with as his focus is actually making things better for you rather than ‘observing protocol’ or ‘watching budgets’.
Orthotics is tucked away beyond various twists and turns of characterless hospital corridors like some long lost secret island. You only find directions to it if you look in very specific and varying places on the walls (and on one occasion, the floor) for the small, eclectic signs. After the fifth or sixth turn, the general buzz of hospital noise abates, and you don’t see anybody anymore.
As I wheeled along these silent corridors, I came upon a table placed in the middle of the floor that I could not negotiate. Beyond this was the final corner that would lead me to the reception area. Unfortunately the table was so placed as to alert you to a large, square hole in the floor, possibly access to some sort of basement area, with torchlight streaming upwards from it in such a manner than it reminded me of some kind of hellish pit. I could go no further and there was nobody about.
‘Hello…?’ I called down the hole, a little cautiously, lest a devil in the shape of a maintenance person should rise up from it and drag me down into it. They don’t give them any people skills training, you know. My enquiry was met with silence. ‘Probably busy devouring some poor patient’, I thought, turning around just to check one wasn’t sneaking up on me from behind. I tried another, bolder sounding hello, followed by an equally loud curse seeing as there was no one about. ‘Bugger, bugger, bugger, how am I supposed to get past this?’ I asked loudly, to nobody in particular. The pit remained silent. ‘What a stupid place for a hole’, I continued, even bolder still. ‘Right in the middle of the bloody floor getting in the way…’, I then gave way to some heavy sighing and rolling of eyeballs, in the hope such displeasure could somehow magick someone to my aid. I turned around to check my back was clear once again, and there he was, my dour Scottish orthoticist, standing behind me staring at the hole with a similarly grim look.
‘We need another room,’ he said, and disappeared back the way I had come, stopping briefly at the end of the corridor to summon me to follow before disappearing down another at the speed of a white rabbit down a hole. I followed as best I could, regretting there wasn’t time to tie a piece of string to the table leg so I could get back to somewhere I knew if I lost him.
After several corridors, we arrived in what looked like a GP’s reception area with posters about flu jabs and asthma clinics and magazines – but completely empty. In the middle of this room was a cubicle not unlike the ones you get at social security offices – heavily fortified to protect the staff from violent attacks. The cubicle was filled with women talking loudly about Celebrity Big Brother.
‘Oh good God,’ muttered the Orthoticist under his breath, before advancing on the cubicle and requesting an unoccupied room due to the fact his disabled patient couldn’t negotiate a hole in the floor to get to his department, and he needed to just see if the insoles he’d made me would fit in my shoes. ‘We’ll be two minutes’ he said to the horrified ladies, who looked as if he’d just asked if would be ok for us to pee on their rug. ‘We can’t let you use a doctors room,’ they chorused ‘the doctors don’t like anybody using their rooms.’
‘Ok thanks’, he replied, completely ignoring their warnings ‘We’ll be in that one over there for two minutes’, causing them all to take off into a rather satisfying flap. Before they could fly at us like demonic monkeys out of a gilded cage, we hastily picked a door and opened it, whereupon he briefly fell over a small storage heater. Before you could say ‘Fly, my pretty ones’, a woman was at my back, still chanting ‘The doctors don’t like anybody using their rooms!’
Seeing as the storage heater and now my wheelchair prevented her from getting any further into the room, we simply ignored her cries and got ready to fit the insoles. ‘If some people had brains they’d be dangerous,’ the Orthoticist muttered to no one in particular, whilst I just grinned and gave her what I hoped was a friendly wave. She repeated herself one more time before going forlornly back to the cubicle. A door slammed.
Just as he predicted, our appointment lasted all of two minutes as he fitted the insoles into my shoes. They fitted perfectly first time. My knee alignment feels somewhat like I think other people’s knee alignment might feel. It’s a strangely, stable sort of normalness feeling. The insoles are a pretty blue colour too.
I’d like to tell you of the dangerous adventures I had after leaving the room, back past the cubicle of celebrity-obsessed GP surgery guard-women, finding my way through the strangely quiet yet menacing corridors, and heroic avoidance of dangerous holes in the floor, but I would be lying.