Mum loved hospital soap operas on TV, her husband didn't. "Now's your chance," I said to her earlier this year. "You've got your own TV. You can watch all the hospital dramas you want." She looked shocked, but was kind enough to laugh. She was in hospital, and being horribly abused by the national health system. The last thing she needed was more of the same on TV.
I'm just out of hospital myself (a stomach operation) and found the reality of life there so much like a soap. Different characters come and go, each with their own rapport with the nurses, their own support team of visitors, their own medical emergency.
A man across from me bent down to feed his invisible dog and had loud conversations with invisible strangers (experiences with my mother this summer showed me how real these appearances can be). He would recount his life story, from joining the army in India in 1929 to protesting his innocence over his wife's death. He was deaf and partially blind as well as confused. Doctors came to visit him to tell him that scans had discovered tumours in his stomach. He had already been treated once for bowel cancer. This was not good news.
Later his daughter arrived on a visit. Her father had no recollection of what he had been told. I called her over and broke the news. Later I passed her in the corridor, looking for some official, teary-eyed. I gave her a hug. "That's what I need," she said. "A hug. My son's at university. There's no-one to give me a hug."
When life is so dramatic I wonder if we need books, if we need to invent tales, but then maybe books can be like that hug. There's comfort in their company, a sense of something shared.