Tales from the ward: Ch..ch..ch..ch..changes,

 Chapter Sixteen: Changing Rooms.

I’ve been moved to a shared room. Maybe to keep the geriatrics entertained but it’s a tough crowd when the three ladies are either asleep or semi comatose.

Next to me is Betty, who I met at lunch. She’s unconscious, but her shirt has changed since then. Victim to the fruit crumble and custard she’d had for dessert.

Opposite me is Sheila, born in 1932, reading a magazine but keeping a close eye on the activity or lack of it on the bay.

To her right is Marjorie, who is 91, and won’t have anyone else tell her otherwise.

But she’s afraid, in fear for her life because there are men on this ward. She wants reassurance from me not that I can give it.

Nò men can come on this ward. You’re perfectly safe. Nò harm will come to you.
All I can think of was Carol’s husband and Stick Man.

I’m deaf she tells me. I can barely hear her so I shuffle closer.
I’m deaf, she repeats. Don’t worry I can’t hear.

There are some men on this ward but they’re in a separate area, I enthuse, just as a male porter comes in to change the bins.

People aren’t nice to me she continues. They say I talk in my sleep all night. But I can’t do that.
Oh yes you can , I thought. Nò more peaceful night’s sleep for me.

And there’d be no late night tv to lull me to sleep anyway. I was at the wrong end of the ward and Betty had drawn the curtains across and muted the sound.

Then Carol’s husband called out.

Chapter 17: Salt and Pepper.

Today I meet the Grandee of rehab. Marjorie who’s 99 with her hundredth coming up on Feb 6 next year.
Never met anyone twice the age of me before.

Shes got an untidy mop of white hair and felt slippers on her feet. Her beige cardigan jacket is neatly buttoned.

Marjorie’s only here because she cracked a few ribs but she still speeds her way into the dining room like a woman possessed.

I’m not sure I’d want to be a passenger in her car judging by the way she steers her walking frame.

People tell me at my age I should try to slow down but why should I? She questions.
I like to be independent.
You and me both, I think.

We’re sitting in the dining room with Sheila and Betty for lunch. There are wet wipes to clean your hands but I’ve long since given up trying to open the foil sachets they come wrapped in.

Marjorie grabs it and with one easy swipe it’s open.

She beams looking for approval. I’m seriously impressed. Her omelette and beans is the first to arrive.

While one of the nurses is squeezing open the ketchup Marjorie has grabbed the salt and pepper sachets. They too are ripped open and spread liberally over her food.

I’ve been age shamed. A woman twice my age acting like she was half mine and more.

As Betty fights with her mash Marjorie leans over to help her. It’s touching to see a woman of almost 100 mother another of 80.

How many grandchildren do you have, I ask her.

Oh, I can’t quite remember that, there are too many, but I’ve got 4 great grandchildren, a couple of great great grandchildren, and one great great great child who’s just one month old.

Five generations in less than 100 years.

I pour glasses of water and we all pretend they contain whisky or gin. Cheers , she says raising a glass in toast.

What are you doing for your 100th birthday Marjorie, I ask.

Having a party of course. Will you come?

Chapter 18: I must go down to the sea again. The lonely sea and the sky.

Two more ladies to talk to.

Emily has just had the toes of her left foot amputated after they went black. I tell her about the mother of a friend who also lost her toes but got walking again after some physio.

She wants to go home but social services need to find her carers, which they can’t right now. So she’s stuck here with me and Marjorie 99.

Opposite is Audrey who fell trying to catch a spider in the bath room that her husband’s carer was too afraid to catch.

The beast was on the ceiling and as she reached up to stick it in a pot she lost her balance and fell breaking her hip.

Her husband has dementia, so he can’t look after her. So she too is stuck here waiting for help.

Marjorie spots the dolphin pendant hanging round my neck. What’s that, she asks.
Any opportunity to talk about the sea.

Dolphins. Sharks.

Weren’t you scared? No.

I couldn’t do that.
Where have you been?

Oh the Philippines, Maldives, Tahiti. All over.
Oh, amazing.

I worked on a dive boat in Tahiti. As a guide.

Have you travelled a lot ? asks Emily, who’s never left the UK.

And I want to again.

Well you must. You must get better, so when we leave we can imagine where you’ll be.
Where should I go then?

Oh anywhere. How about South America?
Better start planning

Chapter 19: Exit plans.

Today marks exactly four weeks since I’ve been in rehab and I’m starting to feel I’m making progress.
I can get out of bed so my feet are on the floor ok.

I can use the slidy board to slide over to my chair.

And I’m mastering the machine bizarrely called the Sara Steady which I just think is the silly stand because it seems so silly that it’s so bloody hard to use (And I’m pissed that Marjorie 91 uses it without issue.)

And now here’s when I get mad.

Today I’m told the rehab centre wants to get rid of me by next Thursday.

But I’m not ready I say. I need to be able to transfer safely from bed to chair and vice versa.
I need carers if you need me to leave.

But we need to give you a discharge date before we can start the search for carers. And you can only have them four times a day.
Is that it?
I’m thinking of the times I might need help. It all seems overwhelming.

I’d rather stay until I was happy.

Going home before then and risk falling at home, breaking a bone and ending back in hospital and the whole vicious cycle starting again.

As for improving after I get home? Here I’m getting physio every day and seeing small steps every day.

At home I’ll get physio ‘in the community’ once a week IF I’m lucky.
So that will be 2x a week IF I rehire the private physio I had been using before this.

I can only hope that I’ll retain whatever fitness and strength I have when I do eventually leave.
And the government wants to get disabled people back in the overall community and stop being so reliant on social services?

We can’t if the system is so crippled itself the patients it discharges are unfit for purpose.

Chapter Twenty. Death becomes us.

Marjorie 99 left us yesterday.

She slipped away while I was meeting the social worker.

Never even had the chance to say goodbye.

Her departure kept me awake last night.

Born right before the end of WW1, a munitions worker in London in WW2.

Different times.

I woke today at about four as usual, just as the light started to filter through the skylight above me.

It was hard to see what kind of day it might be without direct reference to a window.

Betty, next to me, had been coughing like she’d smoked 100 a day her entire life and was dying from emphysema.

You could hear her struggling to cough up whatever phlegm it was stuck in her throat and wonder if she was choking.

Sheila and I would check.

She’d so far responded that she wasn’t. One day of course she would be or it would be too late to help.
I glanced across to Marjorie 91.

She lay stock-still on her back. Her mouth wide open with lips drawn back, almost as if she was in rigor.

No sign of any dentures. No sign of any breathing either. Was death was amongst us?

I waited.

She’d not been well the last few days.

Often, I’d catch her staring vacantly into space. Hearing too bad to listen to music. Eye sight too poor to read or watch tv.

Is this what death was like? The closing down of each sense one at a time until there’s nothing left? Brain might be there. Body is not.

Suddenly she flinched.

I breathed in relief. Not dead after all.

I determined to find out Marjorie 99’s details so I could make her 100th party.


Germs, bugs and getting older

More Tales from the ward

Chapter Thirteen: Outbreak.

How often have you taken a long-haul flight feeling perfectly healthy when you got on the plane but by the time you got off 12 or 13 hours later have a streaming nose and blocked sinuses?

Your cold caught from the virus circulating at 38,000 feet along with the air inside your A380 or B747.

It’s impossible to keep an aircraft sterile and germ free with the movement of so many people.

But hospitals, which by their very nature are full of sick people, constantly strive to avoid such situations.
 Obviously the majority of patients are not in hospital with infectious diseases but many do have life threatening illnesses or open wounds.

Think back to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa if you want an idea of how devastating and how fast a lethal virus can spread.

So, with the rise of drug resistant bacteria and the increasing redundancy of so many first line treatments it is more important than ever to keep the wards germ free.

Every hospital visit I’ve made in the past year (including the 10 hours in St Thomas’ 😑) began with a swab of my wet orifices.

That’s my mouth nostrils and butt hole if you’re not clear.
 The nurses were testing for the presence of MRSA – methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus to give this bacteria its full name.

It is, as its name suggests, resistant to many drugs and can be fatal.
 Nurses must wear surgical gloves every time they come into contact with one of their patients.

It’s rather impersonal but avoids potentially infecting others with any bacteria or viruses they may be carrying. 
So I had to smile when I got to the physio gym yesterday.

The bed I was about to lie on was certified clean with a Declaration of decontamination status.

Glad to know how we mere patients are considered

Chapter 14: Pooh stories.

Oh what a wonderful morning. Oh, what a wonderful day. I’ve got a wonderful feeling I’ll hit the bedpan ok.

Ever had that horrendous Oh shit moment, both literally and metaphorically, that you need the loo urgently to avoid the obvious.

That was exactly how I felt at 4.45am this morning when my eyes flew open.

Now while you can jump out of bed in a moment I need the use of my now favourite instrument of benevolent torture the Stand Aid.

This machine involves being first strapped in at the waist so tight around your middle you can barely breathe, then being roped and tied in close before being hauled into a standing position and transferred to a commode.

Again whilst this might take you seconds to stand up it takes me approximately 4 to 5 minutes.

And I’m doing this with my butt cheeks tightly clenched to avoid a monumental… well you get the idea.

So it continues up down up down repeated times and it is now only some 9 hours later that am I starting to feel normal.

I’m tired dehydrated any in pain and you can see how easy it is in the developing world to die from diarrhoea.

After my last use of the commode I saw the nurse writing something down.

What’s that you’re doing I asked. Noting down what you’ve pooped and its consistency.

She showed me the chart with pictures.

One being constipated (hard lumps, like nuts) to seven (watery, no solids)

Turns out there’s an online Chocolate stool chart too. One  being (Maltesers) Seven (Melted chocolate)

And a festive one too. One (Roasted chestnuts) Seven (trifle overly indulgent)

I have just two words.

Who knew.

Chapter 15: The generation game.

Today I’m lunching with the others here.

All 17 of them are easily 30 years my senior.

I may be in a rehab centre but I am definitively in an OAP home. They just about as interested in me as I am with them.

We’re fed strictly on an OAP schedule.

Tea in bed early, about 6.30am.

Lunch is late if the clock is past 12.30.

Followed by tea or coffee.

Then once the wrinklies are wheeled, pushed, or trollied back to their respective rooms there’s more hot drinks offered with cake or biscuits, before dinner served promptly at 5.30pm.

I can barely digest a meal before another is shoved in front of me.

And while I may have been enthusiastic about the menu when I came in two weeks ago, I am now seriously over the constant bland nature of what’s on offer.

A chicken biryani rarely gets any interest, I’m told. The name perhaps putting off the less adventurous diners. And having tried it I can see why.

Maybe they should have billed it on the menu as Bland Tasteless Chicken with bland unseasoned rice (better not say Basmati, for alienating the potential diners)

Sweet chilli sauce is my new BFF

The idea is to let the residents socialise but there’s no real conversation going on, more snippets of comments along the lines of: I can’t remember what I wanted for pudding, or can I have that?

And interactions are generally on the prompting of staff rather than from another resident.

What conversation did take place related to somewhere nearby. These folk had likely never had a passport nor even got to London.

How wild eyed might they be if they knew the places I’d been or things I’ve seen. Now they’ve been fed the group comes alive.

The talk of when they can get out and if they need a carer.

One lady got up and left shuffling with her walking frame.

You need someone with you said another, her voice tailing off as the woman disappeared.

A man said here was a better place than the hospital he’d been at before.

There was a man in the bay next to me threatening to blow up the hospital and kill as many as he could, the man said.

No talk of terrorism. Just another OAP.

Bed, bath & stars. More from the ward

Chapter Ten: Then they came for me.

Sara was our latest departure.

The doctors deemed her fit enough to go home, though they warned she may never recover her lost three days.

Her mother and father had gone too from her memory of who had picked her up from the roadside.

It was a man. He helped me take off my jacket, she said.

We exchanged numbers and Facebook profiles.

In her place came Joyce.

I was here two weeks ago in Christine’s bed, she said. I have bleeding in my brain from a fall and some seizures.

She was in the 2-day-stay bed  (Sara, preceded by Lily, who I’ve not mentioned before, and Hashimoto, and Pam with pins and needles) but I got the feeling she might be there a bit longer.

Night stalker, who was really called Tracey but would only answer to Jane, also had plans to leave – waking up in the night to pack her plastic bags of possessions and move them into the day room.

The nurses moved them all back this morning.

When they told me I was finally going to rehab I burst into tears.

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my dysfunctional ward family.

It’s amazing how quickly we become institutionalised getting used to the routine of eating washing physio resting.

Lights out about 10 listening to nightly chaos.

The madness of ward 11 in 13 days. I’d had only one night of full sleep since I’d been here.

Vertigo was still dizzy in the head to my right.
Christine was still very dizzy in the head to my left. Calling out for husband John children Sarah and George, grandchildren Sophie and Julia in the night.

Still insisting she did not have dementia, despite agreeing with me she did get confused.

This morning believing she had a lunch appointment in the Isle of Wight and she needed a car to get there.

And despite being on bed rest deciding to get up change out of her hospital gown into her clothes and make for the exit.

How would quadriplegia fare?

A family full of drama and friends who seemed not to understand that sometimes the best help they could offer was to stand back and let her decide for herself what was best for her not them.

I hate goodbyes.

The ambulance was coming at two.

Tales from the ward Chapter Eleven: The bed bath.

Keeping clean is one of the animal world’s essential needs.

Just this morning I watched a blackbird perform his own daily ablutions in the stone birdbath through the window of my new hospital room.

First he would lower his chest onto the water then dunk his tail into the liquid and with his wings artfully fling it over his back. It didn’t look particularly effective at first but a few splashes later he was wet all over.

Obviously, he did not have the benefit of a weather forecast, as it is now bucketing down.

But how about when you are stuck in bed and unable to get to the bathroom yourself?

Let me introduce the ‘bed bath’ performed by nurses in every hospital everywhere.

This is no time for prudishness. You are going to get naked in front of strangers and they will be prodding poking and rubbing parts of you that you might prefer they didn’t.

But what choice do you have?

Scuba diving to cleaner stations has allowed me to witness close up manta rays, thresher sharks and even my own fingernails being manicured as cleaner fish and shrimp nibble parasites and dead skin from their far larger counterparts.

So the human version: face arms and torso first.

Would you like soap on your face, you are always asked. Then it’s your pits and under your boobs.

Next your legs the delicate parts followed by a roll to your side for your back and bum. A good wash and dry between the legs and you’re done. No more than five minutes to complete.

A roll of deodorant, a slather of moisturiser and body lotion finishes your look. A hair wash can wait until tomorrow.

Tales from the ward Chapter Twelve: Twinkle twinkle little star.

Maybe I am going mad, but I woke at 4am this morning asking Christine where she was going and then turning over to ask quadriplegia how many times Christine had tried to get up in the night.

Dawn had broken and it was already light outside.

I realised in another second where I was but the act of rolling had induced my need to pee.

And here is one of the more difficult issues facing the bed and wheelchair bound – what to do when you need to relieve yourself.

You can’t simply get up and go to the loo and the length of time it would take to get you onto a commode would also likely mean just peeing on the floor.

So what do you do?

Quadriplegia preferred a bedpan but I can’t pee horizontally and I generally end up peeing down my legs. Yeuch.

She’d also used a catheter until it gave her a UTI.

A doctor had previously tried one on me but it felt like being raped and we’d had to abandon the idea before I’d even used it.

So I pee-ed in my pad like most women. These are like an industrial sized sanitary towel with an amazing ability to capture liquid. Humiliating? Yes. But also a necessity.

In the boredom of ward life quadriplegia then coined a code word for peeing behind the curtain. Twinkle meant success.

We began comparing the amount of each pee.

Epic was for obvious reasons just epic.

We kept a tally of who was winning our pissing match.

I think I won on a technicality only because Danielle our nursing assistant would teasingly count the number of pads I’d used during her shift threatening to limit me to three.

Our crap shoot was a different matter altogether.

Lying bed bound means getting peristalsis going is difficult if not impossible.

Often days went by without a poop. Feeling bloated was a constant.

A daily dose of laxatives was required. For quadriplegia, multiple doses. Her paralysis affecting the movement perhaps more than me.

I needed the benefit of altitude to get me going, using a hoist to get me vertically off the bed. A contraption that can only be described as an instrument of benevolent torture. My opponent still preferred the pan.

I don’t know how she did it.

There were a few epics, sometimes smelly, but finally success when the unicorn had landed.


Security, stalkers, strangers in the night

More from the ward….

Chapter seven: Hospital security.

What is it about the night?

If I thought my ward’s regular evening hostilities were extraordinary, they utterly paled to insignificance last night.

Early evening we’d spotted the Ward Stalker. A confused looking man who liked to roam the corridors with his walker.

He’d waddle past our bay and peer in.

You could see his face creasing as he either tried to work out we were women or work out this was not his part of the ward.

He seemed harmless enough.

As the light dimmed Carol’s husband was back still looking for her.
He was out walking too.
Noisy but safe.

Man with walking stick and menacing stare completed the trio.
His face was covered either in bruises or port wine stain birth marks, I couldn’t tell.

He walked into our ward demanding to speak to the nurse. His refusal to withdraw from the lady’s area should have been a teaser of what was to come.

Night fell.

I was awake again thanks to another late coffee.

Christine was settling down for the night. Even she had calmed down over the past few days.
I’m so tired, she said.

So am I, I thought.

Night Stalker was quietly chatting with a new arrival. Then peace.

Screaming from the men’s room next door. Christine’s bed guard looked alarmed.

Stick man was armed and dangerous.

Help, help, help, came the screams.

Security was summoned. I could hear Carol’s husband egging him on.

Then Stick man thrashing around making contact with security.

More screaming.

They’re trying to sedate him, one of the nurses said.

I dozed.

More screams and more security running down the hall.

Any chance someone could roll me? I asked a nurse, my hip throbbing.

No, everyone’s tied up next door. I’ve got 6 people trying to get out of bed. Six security, the director of psychiatry and nursing there.

Next morning my new bed neighbour, in six, admitted with severe vertigo, remarked: I used to work in a prison. That was nothing.

Tales from the ward Chapter Eight:

The weirdness continues.

Hashimoto had gone and there was another new member for the Weird Diseases Ward.

Sara had come in having apparently fallen from her motorbike at a junction.

She may have been test riding it but she couldn’t remember.

She may have been test riding it but she couldn’t remember.

It might have been a Yamaha but she couldn’t understand that either because she doesn’t like Yamahas.

Her parents also helped her call her partner but they died a few years ago. We told her she was imagining them, but they were there, she insisted.

It’s funny and tragic. Amnesia.

She asked again. Did I fall off my bike?

Was I on a test ride?

Have I asked you this?

Is it Saturday?

June 3?


And so on and on and on.

Night Stalker was back in business, opening and consuming Sara’s cheese and onion crisps.

If she wasn’t freaked out enough already that did it for her.

Was someone standing at the end of my bed?

Did someone eat my crisps?

Did I fall off my bike?

Was I test riding it?

Am I going mad?

No but we might.

Tales from the ward Chapter Nine:

The Ward Stalkers.

I finally got eyes on Carol’s husband.

His booming baritone did not match the diminished body I saw shuffling down the corridor.

He paused at our doorway peering in perhaps to see if Carol was there.

It was only later that he tried to enter.

His name was Marcel and he wore a greying moustache reminiscent of tv’s Hercule Poirot.

His was not quite the finely coiffed and waxed version I’d seen countless times on tv, however.

More a salt and pepper gorse hedge shoved untidily under his nose.

No three-piece suit either, but a long black dressing gown over his hospital pyjamas completing the look.

His overall demeanour said Elderly stereotypical Frenchman lost in hospital drama.
The only case he needed to solve: where his wife was and why he was there.

Marcel was accompanied by a chaperone.

It was the hospital’s attempt to keep wayward members of the male bay next door under control.

Stickman aka Steve was also on the loose.
Also with chaperone. His face not covered by birthmarks, but bruises from some monumental face plant.

His nose didn’t look broken but it was hard to see how it could not have been.

We could tell he was approaching by the sound of his stick striking the floor.

As the noise grew louder an apprehensive silence descended. All of us on alert in case he made it past the barricades we’d roughly assembled in our doorway.

Last of the walkers was Gloria.

Resplendent in her pink fluffy dressing gown.

There was no stopping her.

Sweeping in to stand and survey all those who lay down before her.

It’s getting late Gloria, I said. We’re trying to go to sleep. Maybe It’s time to go back to your ward.

Gloria turned to look at me directly.

Why should I?