No ranting about funding shortfalls just yet…
Apologies for not updating my blog for a while but six, almost seven weeks of hospital life in the UK, and not a lot of internet connection will do that for you.
One MS attack affecting my left hand and arm, with weakness in my legs has stopped me from doing much other than let my imagination run riot. So, while I’ve not been able to travel I’ve been writing short pieces about life as I see it from my hospital bed.
I’ll release a few pieces over the coming days starting here with Chapters One to Three – introducing Tales from the Ward.
Chapter One: The Ward.
I’m the new arrival in a side bay of an acute and chronic neurological ward at a big teaching hospital. There are six of us, three each side of the bay, facing each other. Even lying prone I have a bird’s eye view of my surroundings from my centre bed.
Opposite me are beds one to three. Bed one is closest to the nursing station. There are doors to the bay, which can be closed but they remain open all the time. At the other end – the windows. And even though these barely open, they are our only access to fresh air.
Each bed could be veiled by a polyester-cotton sweep round curtain with a bamboo-leaf style print on it. I could never decide its exact colour – it depended on the daylight and time of day. But puce green – the kind of colour you feel when you’re about to vomit – was the only fix I could get, despite hours of staring.
The first few days I just watched, not really sure of who was who, or what was going on. And then it blew up quite literally in front of me. This is an episode of scatological proportions.
It began quietly, virtually unnoticed in Bed Three, opposite to my right.
A quadriplegic patient was trying to have a crap. (Aren’t there a lot of euphemisms for the same thing in English? Poop, crap, shit, Number 2, pooh. We’ll settle on crap, for now)
She’d been trying for ages.
It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t move. But everything below her neck was without movement or sensation. Her innards as powerless as the rest of her body.
But there she was lying on her back trying to force out waste that she could not feel and had no ultimate control of. Multiple doses of laxatives had had little, or no effect. Whatever was going on, it didn’t sound pleasant.
Next door in Bed two, facing me, there was an explosive incident, resulting in the forced intervention of two nurses. Uncontrolled urination sounded like the problem here. I couldn’t see. All veiled behind the bamboo curtain.
Not that I would probably want to be a witness to the nurses’ mopping up operations.
But like the child hiding behind the sofa facing the tv with fingers over their face hoping the Daleks didn’t invade, they can’t help but look.
And I wanted an eye on the world inside my new home.
It was getting late.
And the nurses hadn’t turned out the lights until gone 11. They normally wanted us to settle down after dishing out the last round of medications.
I was trying to sleep, but the noise and low lights were making it impossible.
Inexplicably the woman I had figured to be a manic depressive in cubicle one suddenly exploded in a torrent of abuse.
How can I sleep with people pissing and shitting everywhere? This is fucking ridiculous.
How can we? I thought, with your racket.
Where is my privacy?
Impossible in a curtained side bay of six beds.
The dementia ridden stroke patient in bed four to my left – who I later learned was named Linda – had stopped her nightly monologue of nonsense about the location of her shoes and to ‘look behind the washing machine’ to complain about the cold.
It was 20 degrees and I would have been sweating if I could.
At least the windows were open until Manic decided otherwise and promptly got up to close them, knocking a jug of water over and blasting the nurses for storing pee in a pot.
The histrionics continued till gone one, until the offer of tea and cake placated her outside our six- bed bay.
All went quiet for about 20 minutes when the form of the Norwich One appeared. A ranting geriatric loudly complaining about her being moved to the ward from another room. And late at night.
(She had a point about that -The details are too boring to relate here but in her own words they were going in circles.)
Finally, she moved to the nurses’ station outside where she continued. She respected their position but she reserved the right to contradict theirs.
Even the stroke patient had finally tailed off about finding her shoes and wheelchair. It was gone four and the sun was coming up.
At five am, after just one hour of blissful sleep I was woken to change my position to prevent bedsores.
Norwich One was still talking. I’m getting tired now, she said.
Only two hours to breakfast.
Tales from the ward Chapter Two:
The curious incident of the banana in the night time.
I woke early this morning after a peaceful night at last.
It was about five and the sunshine was only just piercing the thin cotton curtains that covered the windows.
As my eyes adjusted to the light I caught sight of the banana I’d left on the table overnight to munch on for breakfast.
That’s weird. Never seen banana skin split like that before, I thought.
As I looked closer I’d could see the fruit inside half eaten and then the fruit delicately placed back in position on the table.
Oh, that’ll be our night stalker, one of the nurses said. She meant Manic, but Night Stalker sounded so much better.
Not exactly comforting to think that someone had stood over me unwrapping that fruit while I slept, carefully consuming half of it and returning it to its place.
I’d been warned about keeping my phone locked up, so my wash bag was the nearest I could hide anything.
The other patients spoke of waking to see the stalker standing over them. Watching.
It’s all fun here.
Changes overnight: Linda to another room, apparently with an infection.
But it meant quiet had returned.
Tales from the ward Chapter Three: Think of the white bear.
It’s amazing I get the opportunity to sleep here. The lights go down the madness comes out.
Yesterday had started out so well.
We’d chopped the legs off the standard hospital issue pyjamas to make some shorts. Everyone had had hair washed. By 11am things almost seemed normal.
After Linda, we said goodbye to Pam from Bed two, who came in with pins and needles and left with cancer.
To my left now, in Bed four, was Two-tone, so called because when conscious she emitted a non-stop two tone beep like an alarm clock stuck in wake up mode. Nobody minded during the day when the general bustle of the day hid her noises.
It would take on a whole new meaning later.
I gave Norwich One a name. Christine from Down under. She’d had a fall, banged her head, but kept wanting to get up to use the bathroom.
I shared her desire to escape but was not in a position to do anything about it.
Bed three – Quadriplegia – was suffering from something straight off the home page of weird diseases dot com (There is such a site, but there’s nothing actually on it and it’s up for sale. Too weird I guess…)
She had Functional neurological disorder, where the brain seems to have short circuited and forgot what it’s meant to do – like send nerve messages to bits of the body so they can do what they’re supposed to.
Net result here: quadriplegia.
Sharon was another new face in two, facing me.
Welcome to the weird diseases ward, I said. What have you got?
Night fell. Characters changed.
Down Under Christine became belligerent. Suddenly she was at the bottom of my bed. I must get to the loo.
She fell. Put back to bed. She tried again and again and again.
Bed One Night Stalker was keen to intervene. The only patient able to walk was just in the way.
The staff were herding cats.
Down the hall, a man was demanding: feed me.
Two-tone’s chanting volume had reached multi decibel levels.
Hashimoto is desperate for her to stop.
A nursing assistant tells me: think of the white bear