Wednesday, 10 January 2007

The fug and the time

Prisons and schools, in fact all institutions, require their inmates to adapt to a certain set of behaviours. This has never been more apparent to me than during my hospitalisation. In an earlier post I mentioned that my two fellow patients Harry and Bert inducted me into the ways of the ward, telling me about the routine, the food and the staff. Other things though more subtly effected my change into 'a patient'. On the first day I wandered around, in my own clothes, chatting amiably with Harry and Bert. Later I changed into pyjamas; that was one significant change, wearing night clothes during the day.

My surgery and subsequent awakening attached to a syringe driver and intravenous infusion deepened the view to anyone passing that I was very much a patient, and in some ways too with Harry and Bert because all three of us now were immobile.

Another thing that bonded us as patients were our shared concerns; in our microcosm different things mattered, the quality of the food, visitors, and doctor's rounds all sparked conversation and concern. All of this was enhanced - and if you have ever been camping you will understand this - by the complete lack of privacy; curtains are not sound-proof. So, Harry and Bert knew to ask me about my pain, Harry and I knew that Bert was having difficulty going (that is the end of that phrase by the way, please don't make me spell it out).
After only 24 hours my pain was pretty much well controlled and I was heartily tucking into hospital fare. After 36 hours, although I mentioned it to no one, Bert and Harry instinctively knew that I too had my own l concerns about going.

Determined that anything that was necessary in the toilet line could wait until I was more mobile, I waited; by day three there was a lurking presence that, sooner or later, had to be dealt with.
On day four physiotherapists taught me to do non-weight bearing walking with crutches, there was only one place that I was heading, Harry and Bert knew it. After manly efforts, I gave up on the grounds that I might break something. "How'd you do lad?" asked Harry anxiously. I shook my head dejectedly and limped back to my bed. Bert was quiet, his own internal drama not yet resolved, and from the conversations we heard, requiring some pretty significant chemical intervention.

I resolved to apply all my food and nutrition knowledge to the problem and gorged on grapes, porridge and hospital curry. The following day I tried again and with considerable effort joyfully exorcised the beast.
Bert's problem though was starting to make him feel ill, he withdrew and only joined in a few of our conversations, dozing on his bed for much of the time. Bert's visitors spent time chatting anxiously with Harry and me about trivia, not knowing how to talk about their concerns about Bert. Later that afternoon from behind drawn curtains snatches of doctors' discussions could be heard:
"Looks like we'll have to...", "Yes, we'll give it him tonight..." Something was afoot.
The following morning Bert remained subdued, feeling unwell, Harry and I chatted about the papers and hoped Bert would be OK. Shortly after lunch the drama came to a head,
"Nuuurrrrsse!" shouted Bert, I reached for my nurse-call button and pressed it, so it seemed did Harry. As two nurses ran to the wrong beds Harry and I pointed in unison across the ward. Curtains were whisked shut and a wheeled seat brought to the bed side. Harry and I glanced at each other, who were they kidding?We knew what that seat with the deep bottom was. For fifteen minutes we listened to groans and strains until finally in response to Bert's call a nurse slipped back through the parted curtains.

We waited anxiously but knew all was well when we heard a happy exclamation from the nurse:
"Good grief Bert I think you've had a baby!"

For two hours a thick faecal fug hung over the ward blurring our vision like a heat haze, but nobody minded.

The title? Fans of the 70s Northumbrian folk/rock band Lindisfarne will understand, click here if you want to know more..


mark said...

good writing Steve, the Bill Bryson of Springhead.
very interesting reading of your pre-postop mindset.. i'm now one of those interlopers who arrives on the noisy usualy comradely ward shuts a thin curtain and extracts a medical history from the patient in a room thats suddenly gone very quiet. its a bit like i expect the french army felt when the officers used to pick one out of ten to be shot.
hope you get better soon, all the best from Mark, Caroline, James and pieter.

KET said...

Glad to hear you made it through the operation. Though I have been to the UK often, I have had the good fortune not to be hospitalized there. Not that there is anything wrong with hospitals in the UK. I consider it good fortune not to be hospitalized in any country.
It's interesting to see the different attitudes between the two countries, as they pertain to hospital procedure. I'm in my 30's and, unfortunately, was diagnosed with level 3c cancer. As a result I've been in hospital more than I would care to be. The comparison I want to touch upon, though there are many I could make, would be the behavior of the staff at night. After a particularly painful lung surgery, I was attempting to follow instructions and get sleep. It was afterall 23:00 hrs. I had punched the morphine button the maximum number of times permitted, and despite still being in considerate pain I finally fell asleep. Now I must have been out for no more than 30 minutes, when a nurse comes in and wakes me up to take my temperature, and blood pressure. They did this every hour. Leaving me 20 minutes time to drift back off, I never got more then forty consecutive minutes of sleep. They told me that others on the floor slept right through their rounds, however I find it a bit hard to believe that most could sleep through having a therm pushed in their mouth and a pressure cuff strapped on their arm.
The hospitals in the States are really no place for rest. I hope you continue to improve, and you have my best wishes and prayers. Be well man.