Saturday, 20 November 2010

Messed around on a day of wonders - Part 2

I will just to break into blog time in order to announce that I am, from today, using a new toy in real time, namely dictation software. Utterly fed up with my dismal efforts at typing and multiple errors, I have decided to throw in the towel and to cast myself upon the mercy of technology.  It works well beyond my wildest dreams–very clever stuff!

You will remember that, upon my admission to hospital the previous day, I had told the ward staff that I was due for a CT scan on the day that I am now telling you about, Tuesday, 21 September 2010.  I was confident that the message had got through because, as directed in my initial appointment letter, I would from seven in the morning not be taking any food by mouth. The breakfast I was about to receive therefore would be my last for several hours. The ward sister who took my order allowed me to push the boat out and have tea, orange juice, no less than three Weetabix, toast, marmalade and a side order of medications.  I even got to listen to the Today programme.

Bringer of free radio

At 7:50am I received a visit from a very jolly woman who announced, with a mischievous giggle, that she was a phlebotomist, otherwise known as “one of the Brides of Dracula”. She went on in this vein (pun fully intended) by telling me that one of the samples she was about to take from me would be used to make black pudding while the other would make a high-quality Bloody Mary. Our subsequent conversation was more serious and during it she told me that a friend of hers had recommended that she take up this line of work as she would be “good at it”. As she did an excellent job of taking my blood without undue pain, I concluded that the friend had been right. Some people would deprecate the sense of humour that the worthy phlebotomist deployed, but I found it an admirable antidote to the institutional rigours of hospital life.

 I was saved from an account on the radio of the last days of the premiership of Gordon Brown by a nurse coming to change my bedding—this was luxury indeed! After a brief wash and the cleaning of teeth, accompanied always by the nagging drip pump, a pharmacist came to take away my medications for checking at about 9:35am.

The first sign that the message had maybe not got through that I was to have a CT scan that day came in the form of an inappropriate offer of a cup of tea at 9:40am—you will remember that, by now, I was “nil by mouth”.

My wife phoned at 10:05am to say that she would be able to visit later. My brother phoned at 10:19am to say that he would be coming in to accompany me to my CT scan appointment. The Friends of the hospital called by with their shop trolley at 10:59am, but I was not at that moment in need of anything that they were offering for sale, although I was glad of the social interaction their visit afforded.

Cordon Sanitaire
Wash hands before passing this virtual barrier - prudent but a bit alienating!
A  charming doctor previously unknown to me called on me at 11:05am and told me that my neutrophils were low at 1.2. I was therefore in a state bordering neutropenia and thus had a significantly impaired resistance to infection.  This was, as you will appreciate, very alarming to me, but the good doctor seemed to take it in his stride. After a further occlusion of my drip line, I was very glad to see my brother coming into the room at 11:25 AM, bringing with him a copy of Private Eye and a bag of licorice All Sorts.

My beloved elder brother (lower half)
My brother took it upon himself to chase the CT scan at 12 noon and later at 12:30pm. When I was, shortly after this, inappropriately offered lunch, I found myself becoming increasingly angry and frustrated, my CT appointment originally having been fixed for 11am. In this otherwise excellent hospital it was apparent that mistakes, albeit not life-threatening, were being made.

The situation drifted yet further into Kafka territory when, my brother having pointed out to staff that I had been “nil by mouth” since 7am, I was given a meal. Apparently the “nil by mouth” instruction is given to outpatients but does not apply to inpatients; presumably it is given to outpatients in order to impose some uniformity on the great group of people who might otherwise present themselves for scans having eaten or imbibed all manner of inappropriate substances.

My wife arrived at 1:25pm  and I was taken off the drip at 1:40 PM. At 3:17 PM my brother, who had already been so giving of his time and energies, had to leave.

I was told that the scan would definitely be carried out today and that it could be done at any time as I was an inpatient. My frustration only deepened at this, because I was left wondering who had taken my original morning appointment. It was apparent that I would have another night in hospital and so I asked my wife to bring in more of my personal effects the next day. Supper was a quite pleasant dish of meatballs, followed by a banana.

There was a gentle interlude as my wife read to me Alan Bennett’s touching tribute to Russell Harty. It is funny how this enforced rest has provided my wife and me with opportunities for quiet and gentle companionship that can be so easily lost in the rush and commitments of everyday life and work. I make an inner vow that we will make more time for each other to enjoy these moments, whether in sickness or in health.

At 7pm my daughter, son and his girlfriend arrived.

More legs (son, his girlfriend and my wife)
Across the hospital road from the block in which Aspen Ward is situated lies a large building housing mental health facilities. One of the inhabitants of this unit now began a lengthy solo on a West African djembe drum. What he may have lacked in technique and finesse he more than made up for in passion and a growing intensity to his playing. I was moved that he was using these ancient means to send his voice out into the night air and the universe beyond. Had I had my own drum with me, I would have put on some warm clothes and gone over to join him and I am sure we could have made good music together. I was uplifted by the craziness of it all and gave thanks that the ancient simplicities of the drum have been adopted so readily in our technological culture as a tool for healing and communication.

A djembe
Widely adopted by amateurs and professionals: accessible to the former and and awe-inspiring under the hands of the latter.
Highly responsive to the slightest touch and with a thin head, yielding cracking high tones and resonant middles, its goblet shape also permits bass notes of a visceral intensity.
As the playing continued it was now finally apparent that I would not have my CT scan today, the radiology department having by then closed. We now learned that the origin of the problem with my appointment was that the ward noted it down for 12:45pm rather than the correct time of 11am. You will have noticed that this entry contains many references to specific times. One of the characteristics I noted about my hospital experience, even one as brief as this, was a creeping institutionalisation and a greater awareness that the day was marked out by divisions of the clock.

NHS-issue clock.
Ironically, it is branded "niceday".
Hmmmmmm... I'll get back to you on that...

After a discussion about arrangements for the following day my wife and daughter departed at  8:05pm, shortly followed by my son and his girlfriend at 8:45. My temperature was 37.1° (that is to say, still elevated). By 9:20, it had risen to 37.5°, but my other vital signs were normal. As my drip had been removed, the lines into my arm were now taped in order to prevent them dangling, getting caught up in clothing and bedding and causing discomfort.  As it happened, they would not be reconnected during the rest of my stay.

My wife telephoned at 9:45pm to wish me good night and I asked God to be with me and to help me through the hours of darkness that were to follow. By 10:33 PM I was tired and requested that my lights be turned out.

The drummer had stopped playing some time ago and was now replaced by a deeply distressed woman, whose howls of anguish, directed at some nameless other, grew ever louder and more agitated as the night deepened. Eventually she fell silent, giving way in my consciousness to the silence of the night, broken this time by the bleeps and buzzers of the ward, another form of torture.

No comments:

Post a Comment