We were sitting in the tea room, a narrow space between the consult rooms and the front office. I was opposite a desk with a gap about two inches wide between it and the wall, leaning back on my chair, pondering the pile of dust bunnies and fluff and hair from the perpetual pack of rescue dogs who roamed the practice and the grim, grey cement square of back yard. This pile had been accreting for a long time: it started at floor level at the edge of the desk (a sheet of cheap fibre board) and extended upwards and onwards, ever higher, until it vanished into the gloom of shadows. The nurses were chattering away in their Geordie accents, talking about clients, talking about their lives. The kettle whistled, and hot water steamed into a row of worn and chipped old mugs. We all settled down to enjoy a hot cuppa, and take a moment.
The morning had been flat out, a constant stream of grey, pale people in cheap, worn clothes bringing in their pets. Westie terriers, mostly ready to take a finger off if you weren’t careful, rotties (how they lived with a big dog inside their small flats full time, I couldn’t fathom), skanky cats with cat fight abscesses, the odd cockatiel, vaccinations, grotty teeth, lame dogs. A stream of constant variety into this run down old practice in the heart of the poorest suburb of Newcastle Upon Tyne…
Somehow the conversation strayed onto the topic of psychedelics.
“My partner is a pharmacologist, you know,” said one of the younger nurses, “so he extracts various psychedelics from plants and so on. We had one particular one, and didn’t realise how long it lasted, so here am I still seeing rainbows around everything, and not at all in a normal state of being, and I had to come to work. So I did! It was a strange day, I tell you…”
“Get out – you’re crazy, you are, I wouldn’t touch that shit, no way,” chimed in one of the other nurses.
“Nah, the pub does me,” said the third. “I had a big night last night, I did, feel like crap today.”
There was a companionable silence for a few minutes, as we all cradled the hot cups of tea in our hands and sipped the sweet, fragrant nectar, steam rising around our faces.
“So what’s the deal with the owner of the practice?” I asked, curious (I’d never seen her in the 6 months or more I’d been working there).
“Oh she’s a shocker, she is,” said one of the nurses.
“Poor bugger,” said one of the others, and they all grimaced in sympathy. “She’s got a problem with the devil in the drink, you know… They managed to get her to stop working here a year or so back now. When she was here, she’d get through a bottle of whiskey during the morning consults -”
“Sometimes a bottle and a half!” broke in one of the others. “And then she’d keep up that sort of pace all day. By lunchtime she’d be completely rat arsed, and nearly paralytic by closing.”
“Terrible,” the third nurse added.
The phone rang, jangling, and shocked us all into motion, hopping up, cleaning cups, getting ready to go upstairs and dive into the surgery list – lumps to be removed, dogs and cats to be desexed, and a dental. I climbed up the stairs, and started getting the premedication ready for my first one…