Drinking, Anniversaries and Zombies

Apologies everyone, time has been running away from me. So sit back and enjoy the warm weather for this (in Britain at least) Bank holiday weather 🙂 and take in a leisurely catch-up read.

Tales from the Ward Chapter 50: The Demon Drink 


You’d think for a pseudo medical facility/ residential home/ rehab centre there would be some kind of check on how much alcohol any patient can hold.

But my room is beginning to resemble the bar of the Rovers Return.
Two bottles of wine.

A gin house containing four gins, three of which I’ve heard of, two of which I’ve tried, and a black bottle I’m really rather suspicious about.

But as fond as I am of gin, it is the Swedish vodka Absolut that is my absolute favourite.

They’ve been doing this promo pack of flavoured vodkas at the local supermarket.

Just a tenner for five miniature glass bottles that are good for at least half a dozen swigs each.

Raspberry helped me as a mild anaesthetic for a minor surgical procedure a few weeks back.

And the vanilla one reminded me of ice cream.

If I’d not necked the raspberry one so quick I could have enjoyed a raspberry ripple effect I suppose.

By the fourth bottle I’m getting a bit easy with how I drink my vodkas.

I’m nearing the end of my lime vodka. Slowly I twist off the top and lift the bottle to my lips.

But I’m too quick to throw my neck back and the vodka’s going straight down the wrong hole.

I’m choking and the vodka’s burning my throat. I’m trying to cough but I can’t draw breath without inhaling pure lime hinted vodka. I don’t want to die of vodka aspiration.

Somehow I spit it out.

The next morning I’m coughing fluid out my lungs.

Ever the hyperchondriac, I diagnose the start of vodka induced pneumonia.


Tales from the Ward Chapter 51: The Anniversary.

This week marks a date I would rather forget. One year since my admission to hospital and the start of what has been one of the toughest years of my life.

A dramatic shift from independent person, able to travel solo – despite disability, live alone, drive, to one that requires two others to help me get up, wash and dress.

Anyone who knows me will tell you how independent I am.

What life could I have having someone watching over me day and night?
Unable to transfer from chair to bed or toilet. Incontinent and using adult daipers. What life was this?

This isn’t a post about the complete inadequacies of social care in the UK.

But being placed on a rota of when I can get up, piss or shit is not a life. Or certainly not a life I care to lead. And what hope could I have ever had of having a social life when government approved carers would come at 9pm to put me to bed?

I have to thank Quadriplegia for helping save me. She told me about the rehab centre

I’ve now been at for 6 months. And to the several hundred others who helped finance my stay here. Progress is slow and the work is hard. I can’t stand yet. I may never.

I’ve had a funky catheter coming out of my belly for 6 months too. I don’t need to worry about peeing anymore – only to remember the small leg bag that needs emptying. Often.

I fear embarrassment but others don’t seem bothered. A long-haul flight to Africa is no longer filled with dread.

And overseas travel is possible if you make the effort to find people who can look after you. Disability is not inability, just a lot more planning.


My present days are busy, filled with routine.

Physio, hand and arm therapy, cycling. Food, mostly inedible. Waiting for the fights between Djokic and Karin, who gets more aggressive by the day.

I still rage at the NHS and its inefficiencies. Good now, I think, only for placing a sticking plaster over a massive gaping wound.

Chances for new drug treatments six months away at least.

But I am still here. Plans for a new business are underway.There’s the possibility of a job.

The days are long now and I wake early. I listen to bird song and think.

The carers come to shower me and we gossip about the Royal wedding. They’re moisturizing my bare legs, but there’s no awkward intimacy.

Would it be better if things had stayed the way they were? I’m not so sure.

I’m no less of a person because my physical self no longer moves in the same plane it once did. It’s taken this year for me to accept the new me.

The crazies and weirdos of this neurological space are my neighbours now.

Tales from The Ward. Chapter 52: Zombies


The sound of The Zombies ‘She’s not there’ drifts through my open windows.

It’s very warm for May and the sky is perfectly blue.

The song is ‘live’; being thrashed out by one of the carers, who clearly dreams of a different life as a pop star.

But it is a welcome relief from the tuneless pap muzak emanating from Marin’s room further down the corridor.

I’m trying to decide if the choice of song was deliberate or accidental but the guitarist is playing in the garden of the dementia unit.

I giggle to myself as the chorus reaches its crescendo.

The warmer weather seems to have brought a change of feel to rehab.

Marin seems to have taken a happy pill. He greets me by my name for the first time in six months. I didn’t realise he even knew what I was called.

There are more changes. Kathleen is a new arrival and has taken the room of softly spoken Michael.

So quiet I didn’t notice him slip away.

Kathleen’s chatty. Recovering from a brain tumour and bleed on the brain.
Who do I need to be wary of? she whispers conspiratorily.

My reply comes in an instant: Karin. Watch any soft drinks you have. She will take them from you.

Karin’s behaviour is slowly getting worse. She’s moodier and more aggressive.

Perhaps she retains some record in her mind of the constant revision to her departure plans, and her failure to achieve them is the source of her anger.

She has a thick puffer jacket on despite the weather. As I come by she glowers at me.

You’re all dressed up, I say as I wheel past. It’s subliminal. Not ‘With no where to go.’ More: No where you’re allowed to go.

I’m going home today, she says.

Tales from the Ward Chapter 42:

The Great Christmas Cake Off

Xmas cake

Today as part of Occupational Therapy we’re team making mince pies. Giovanni used to be a chef in Italy. Well, he used to cook pizzas, someone says.

That’s enough to make him our de-facto master chef. And I suggest we call him Gordon.
Yes you can, he replies, in his strongest Italian accent. But you better do what I fucking say.

He’s giggling as the nurses say: no cooking if there’s swearing.

But there’s not much real baking anyway. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith would be horrified. Shop bought pastry and jars of mincemeat?



It’s a sacrilege of Santa.

Quadriplegia’s rolling out the pastry while I’m greasing the pastry tins.

Someone doesn’t like mincemeat and wants stewed apple filling.

Then there’s a request for jam from Bernard, whose blood sugar levels are rising despite the best attempts of his wife to keep his diabetes under còntrol.

The only one who’s lost control is me. I can’t speak and can barely breathe I’m laughing so much. Tears are rolling down my face.

Shouldn’t we be blind baking, I suggest, trawling up some long forgotten baking rule from school years.

No, rules our head chef. So I begin to fill our pies with mincemeat.

Are these deep filled then? I try again. This pastry making is serious business. I’d never even heard of the concept until I saw it mentioned in a Christmas tv ad a few days ago.

I don’t know what that means, says Giovanni. The idea or my sentence, I ask?  Oh never mind.

My next challenge: how to glaze the tops with an egg wash when I’ve already liberally sprinkled them with cinnamon powder.


Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, food and indoor
I still need funds to continue my rehab. Please share my story. You can find out more by taking a look at youcaring.com/savestephaniescawen. Thank you.
Merry Christmas to all those celebrating and Happy Holidays. Wishing you all a fabulous and better 2018

❤ ❤ ❤

Tales from the Ward Chapter 39 and 40

Chapter 39: A Cacophony of Disapproval

I’m in the physio gym with Pilar my physio. She’s trying to prod my outstretched legs to lift up. Come on come on, she says as she lightly prods my ankle into action.
I’m breathing pretty hard considering how simple this exercise is to an able bodied person.
In the process rather than grunting like a weight lifter with the effort I’m emitting a small squeal like a deflating balloon.
Across the room Noelle is demanding her training record to be marked with a gold star for every five second period she keeps her legs separated. She’s up to four and a half. And argues for a five. It seems petty but her childish expectations are becoming familar. It motivates her. I know how hard I’m trying to get even 10 millimetres of air under my leg so I can’t really criticise.
She starts singing another of her unrecognizable off key pop songs.
Giovanni is moaning his physio Alessandro is hurting him, like most days. But he joins Noelle in a tuneless duet. The performance makes me groan.
Steph doesn’t like me singing, Noelle proclaims.
No please stop.
Giovanni laughs and begins to serenade his gym partner been louder.
Down the corridor i can hear faint yelps from someone’s therapy dog.

Chapter 40: In the bleak mid winter

You know the day is going to be less than tropical when even your catheter’s night bag contains ice crystals.
The radiator is on at full blast but It’s not cutting into the chill.
Accuweather says It’s only two degrees outside with a ‘real feel’ of minus six ie fookin freezing, felt even more because I’m unable to move around and it’s my first winter in 21 years.
In the summer I could happily sleep with just a sheet over me, sometimes not even that. But as the year has progressed the amount of covers have increased with it.
Last night’s layers were socks, sheet, polar fleece blanket, and wool shawl over my legs. When even all that couldn’t stop me shivering the staff had to dig out a duvet for me.
Now at midday the temperature is a steamy six degrees (real feel minus two) and having prised me out of my nighttime layers into fleece lined trousers a fleece jacket with wool shawl on my legs I’m seriously thinking about my fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm.
Earlier this year I expressed an interest in a Loughborough University study on how heat affects people with MS. The chief researcher wanted to know if cold affected me in the same way.
I can definitively say yes.
My nose is dripping like a wet dog’s.
And it’s not even really winter. Yet.

You can find out more about me and help my fundraiser by visiting youcaring.com/savestephaniescawen



More Tales from the Ward…


New challenges, old problems, familiar faces

Chapter 35: The return

Three and a half months after being kicked out of rehab I’ve arrived back in the clink.

This one though is a specialist Neuro centre, where positive reinforcement helps even the most afflicted.

Stroke victims, people with brain injury and others with yet to be diagnosed odd things.
I’m reunited with quadriplegia who’s been taking her first tentative steps.

As we meet I eye the can of Pepsi she’s drinking and able to hold by hand.
My first words: You can cut that shit out.

Good to see you too sweetheart, comes the reply.

It’s good to see her up right and able to move rather than flat on her back feeling nothing.

The rehab centre not only makes sure she gets out of bed, she’s been allowed out the building to a rock concert and even a few bars. Not that they’re encouraging her to drink, she doesn’t.

It’s cold now and dark early. Sun’s up gone seven and down just after four. Winter is upon us, and up north there is snow and frost. Actually everything’s been cold since ambient average temperatures dropped below 25 degrees as far as I’m concerned.

It genuinely is freezing and I’m wearing leg warmers for the first time in 30-odd years.

Facebook is trending the best Xmas ad and it’s not even December.

The food looks similar to the other hospital, though there’s a supermarket across the road just in case.

There are four branches of wards all leading off from the central reception. It’s not quite Prisoner Cell Block H. But I can’t help thinking Open Prison and doors to the outside are in fact locked. Actually I can’t even get out of my wing. My unit is secure.

I’m in the complex care section and my room is on the quiet side.
I can still hear Mitchell shouting from the other.

 Chapter 36: The United Nations of nursing

Good job I’m not a racist or Brexiteer. Don’t think I’d be able to cope.
One week here and so far I’ve met:
From Africa: 1 Nigerian 2 Ghanians 1 South African 1 Cameroonian 1 Moroccan 1 Mauritian
From Europe: 2 Poles 2 Romanians 2 Lithuanians 1 Latvian 2 Greek 2 Spaniards
From Asia: numerous Filipina
The Brits are most definitely in the minority here.

I am of course aiming to be fluent in several other languages by the time I leave 😊
Mastering the basics of course is just the start.
So in no particular order and spelling definitely incorrect:
Thank you
Achòo (Lithuania)
Mee dasi(Ghana)
Salamat P.o (Philippines)
Nkosi (Xhosa)
Ashima (Nigerian)

Polish I have no idea but I’m sure there will be a combination of consonants including a Z.

My daily ritual up at 7 breakfast at 8.30 the first of two physio sessions.
In the morning it begins with stretching and then improving muscle strength. There is no CAN’T only TRY. The attitude of the staff is only to give positive reinforcement not chastise when a patient says something negative.

It’s polar opposite to how I’m perceived in the state health system.

Yesterday I watched as a stroke patient refused to work any more because his leg hurt. Was it really hurt or just tired? Even the patient wasnt sure. They listened and distracted him sufficiently to then suggest he work again which he did without complaint.
The attention is constant and detailed.

Therapy is not just physical but also psychological.

I find threatening the physio with violence motivational, but generally just met with laughter.

Later in the day I have occupational therapy to strengthen my arm and work on the fingers of my left hand. My index finger is mostly curled making pen holding almost impossible.

We spend about 20 minutes on this finger alone aiming to stretch it to its full length and extent my entire palm. It’s tough and I wonder if it’s worth it but the following morning my hand and fingers are straighter.
Now to repeat several times a day every day.

Chapter 37: New characters old problems

Noelle had tried to commit suicide by gassing herself.

The build up of carbon monoxide in her blood failed to kill her thankfully but left her partially paraplegic. She can stand, lucky her, with encouragement, but is full of anxieties.

A perceived sleight when things don’t go quite to plan often results in a childlike meltdown and tears.

Reassurance is needed. Often.

Her husband has taken her credit card. Liberal spending on Amazon was becoming expensive.
But she gets it.

Steph’ s ok she declares. (Phew) She’s one of the few non crazies here.

Top of the driving every one else crazy is Mitchell. Constantly pleading: let me out of here!
But to look at him it’s hard to know if this is a request to escape the ward or escape the body he’s now trapped in.

His speech is slurred I guess from a stroke and it’s quite hard to understand him. He seems acutely frustrated. Why is he now in a wheelchair and not able to communicate well?

Perhaps, in true British style when addressing foreigners, he’s thinking: If I say it loud enough long enough people will understand me.
Why do they just tell me to shut up?

At lunch he takes a few mouthfuls, claims he’s no longer hungry and wants to return to his room. In the next moment demands he wants to eat again.

Cliff is not allowed seconds. He’s very over weight with a 9-month belly and has been told he must lose the excess kilos. He is another of Carol’s husbands who responds to ‘how are you?’ With ‘same shit different day’.

I know that feeling. He’s also in a chair, the result of a stroke brought on after watching a football match. He can’t remember who was playing or who won.

Chapter 38: Physio

I’m sure Djokic is happy the bean bags I’m throwing at him are soft and not made of brick.
He seems amused by the fact I’m aiming for his head.

Is he really just a sadist masquerading as an Occupational Therapist or just someone who enjoys the challenge of trying to piss me off.
Oh wait, isn’t that the same thing?

He grows quiet when I mockingly suggest he has a darker past. Is that because he does, or that maybe he doesn’t share my sense of humour? Maybe it really isn’t funny? Jokes don’t translate well, I find.

Anyway, I’m throwing the damn things as far as I can – and that’s with my good arm.
I’ve never had the speed of a baseball pitcher and the bags are barely aerodynamic so there’s a cat in hell’s chance of me making contact.

Plus he artfully steps out the way and out of range of the soft touch slow-moving missile.
The smirk on his face as I screw mine up in frustration just makes things worse.

After this there’s the bending forward in my chair to see how far I go before I face plant exercise.
I swallow my desire to call him an utter bastard because I know that will only make him laugh.

Then we do the same thing going backwards. I’m meant to pull myself forward using my stomach muscles. His response to my protests of: ‘I’m not a frickin limbo dancer’ as my spine bends back almost at 90 degrees are simple: Go on you can do it.

Not. Effing. Helping.

You can help me by donating and sharing my story. Please go to: #youcaring.com/savestephaniescawen


Tall stories and goodbyes…more from the ward

Chapter 24: Canterbury Tales

There’s a new kid on the block. From the town not too far away. Married at 18 for 72 years to Dorothy who died earlier this year. Three children and countless grandchildren and god knows how many great grand kids.

You can’t keep up in the end, says Joan. Every Christmas it seems there’s another one. Of course you love them but you think surely not more.

My new lunch partner has had a stroke but he seems sprightly enough.

He tells us stories of being stationed in Inverness when he was in the army.

After the war he worked in a local print works in the typesetting department.

He says he can’t see very well anymore but he can see the lettering on the ketchup sachet without too much problem.

I used to set 5pt print.

Wow, I say, that’s tiny, thinking back to my very first job in newspapers 30 odd years ago when typewriters, blacks and setters were king.

And then Murdoch’s fight with the printers a few years later.

All single lettering, he says.
No block set words? I ask.

Oh no.

I can only use a computer now, I say.

I’m not sure of his name and feel too embarrassed to ask. I can’t see his wrist band so finally I ask.

What’s your name?

Jeffrey like Chaucer

Oh, can you write like him? I joke

No, but I can tell a damn good tale.

 Chapter 25:Departure hall

Into God’s waiting room at the nursing home went Marjorie 91.

She’d become increasingly confused after being told she was going to a new home.

Trying to get up in the middle of the night. She’d wake me calling for help but I chose to ignore her. She wasn’t really my problem, and besides I wouldn’t be going with her.

I tried explaining that she was changing homes, but to try tell her she wasn’t going home to her daughter Gillian’s was too complicated.

She was exhausting and I tried to steer clear in the last few days.

How she didn’t fall I don’t know.

She keeps crying fearing she has hurt someone.

Gillian tells me she and her husband can’t cope any more.

He won’t come to see her. My daughters will only come every now and again.
We want to go away for few days. I feel terrible but a nursing home is best for all of us.

The care assistants ask her if she needs the toilet after finally answering her calls for help.

I don’t know. I’ll do what you want.

No Marjorie we’ll help you do what you want. So what do you want?

I don’t know. I might need the toilet.

Shall we go then?

Ok if you say so.

Then later I’d hear the rapid clank of her walking frame as she climbs out of bed and is half way to the loo before anyone notices.

I could have called out, but again when and why should I take on the responsibility of looking after someone I happen to share the same bed space with?

Betty had gone the day before. Now her daughters were back from vacation there was no reason to keep her in.

At night she’d be in a snore-fest with Joan, the pair snorting a duet loud enough to wake the dead.

Then competing in a choke-cough off also with Joan. I tried to guess which of the pair might expire first. Betty choking on her lungs or Joan coughing them up.

There was no point waking them to tell them to be quiet.

It would be dawn soon.


Tales from the Ward: Kittens and the SheWee

 Chapter 21: Kittens in the bed clothes

I could tell I wasn’t going to get much sleep when I saw Joan talking to someone.
What’s that Joan i ask.
Oh just talking to my son.
I don’t know whether to tell her she’s hallucinating.
But I don’t. Is that unkind of me?
She’s swapped beds with Sheila because she’s been getting out of bed and falling and the nurses want to keep a closer eye on her.
I ask one of the nurses why have you dumped a ranting jumper on me?
Well that’s better than a jumping ranter comes the reply.
I paused thinking.
Well yes maybe.
Joan is rummaging around with the sheets on her bed.
What’s up now?
There’s an animal in my bed. I think it’s a kitten.
Well a kitten won’t hurt you I say trying to reassure her. It’s probably trying to find somewhere warm and safe to sleep.
Oh I don’t mind cats. It’s snakes I wouldn’t want in my bed.
Neither would I but there aren’t any big snakes in England.
I thought of the 1 metre cobra that lived around my condo in Malaysia.
Last seen after consuming a full litter of six Persian greys over the course of a week. One kitten a day.
I decided not to tell her that bit.

Chapter 22: Conversations in the night time

I now know the names of Joan’s children.

Darren is the naughty one – the frequent subject of admonition for bad behaviour.
Then there’s a Michael and a John.

Sometimes you can hear the anger on her voice. Others It’s pleading: please don’t do that.

She’s apparently recalling moments from a long forgotten past.
But why?

Is it because she’s sad at how life has turned out or because it was a serious or dangerous incident?

Or because she feels like she’s failed her kids or her kids have failed her?

Impossible to know. She certainly won’t know if I ask her now.
Then shouting: sorry for waking you all up.
I think you haven’t given me the chance to get to sleep yet.
Finally at about 4am she passes out.

After the day shift starts Joan is still unconscious. Her mouth is wide open.
I joke with the nurses asking if they can apply a gag tonight.
No, they say.

Good job I can’t get out of bed independently then to do it myself.
Yes just as well.

How how about me practicing my hand eye coordination with the Velcro balls I use in the gym ‘dart board’? I’m eyeing Joan’s mouth as the goal.

We all laugh and we are being horribly cruel to joke at Joan’s expense. Her condition is not her fault.
If she is diagnosed with dementia she’s not alone.

Our gallows humour is our way of coping faced with the prospect of a similar fate in future.
That intangible thing life has designed we can’t pre-determine to preserve our reason for being and our sanity.

Rates of dementia in the UK are skyrocketing as elsewhere in the world. The projected figures of dementia sufferers in the next decade are horrifying.

And it’s more than obvious more money needs to be pumped into the creaking health system now to cope with the care needs of today.

Let alone tomorrow.

 Chapter 23: Defying gravity

You may know the Space Shuttle burned almost two million litres of liquid hydrogen and oxygen to escape the gravitational pull of the earth.

Creating over five million Newtons’ of force.

I don’t actually understand this, and I was rubbish at physics in school but the numbers alone suggest a bucket load of pushing power that anyone might need to pee uphill.

Essentially though one big controlled explosion.

This afternoon I was lying on my back with a She Wee shoved between my legs in a serious discussion with my physio practitioners Veronica and Jessie as to whether this was even a possibility.

As I looked down towards my groin all I could see was the plastic extension tube from my She Wee pointing skyward. Much like an erect thin pink penis.

You can have a purple one if you prefer, or Nato Green and even Desert Sand, though for some reason I’m reminded of Norman Schwarzkopf and Gulf War One, not exactly conducive for taking a leak.

We’re trying to find ways I can safely pee at night at home without getting out of bed while I’m still recovering from the MS attack which has stopped me weight bearing on my legs and transferring from bed to chair and onto toilet.

(Two weeks of enforced bed rest hasn’t helped me either, thank you NHS)

I’m laughing so much at even the prospect of trying I might even piss myself. Which of course would prove the point either way I suppose.

Music festival goers, campers and general outdoorsy ladies will already be familiar with this bit of kit.
I’ve used it on safari in Kenya too.

Obviously meant to be used standing up, the idea is that in my current reality I’d roll onto my side and place the She Wee between my legs and point the extension tube aka the pink penis into a bag containing little moisture absorbing capsules that turn liquid into solid jelly.

No leaks, no liquid, no wet sheets. No risk of infection or bed sores.

The aim: to stay dry till morning when the carers come again.

The care system dictates carers can only come up to 4x a day morning, lunchtime, afternoon, evening and not overnight.

So what to do when you pee at night and not much during the day like I do? Necessity being the mother of all invention…

I tried on my side. I tried on my back. I just tried.

But on earth pee can only go one way.

Real world testing shows Newton’s laws can be broken if you are piloting the Space Shuttle into outer space.

And I personally am not about to stick a rocket up my ass to prove him wrong.

She Wee test experiment 0 Newton’s laws of gravity 1

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?


More Tales from the Ward.

Chapter Four: The morning drug run

Pablo Escobar would have more luck shifting this load of narcotics than the nurses today.

Six patients and 90 minutes later and the nurses are still trying to rouse half the patients here.

Christine’s insisting she doesn’t need the mega-dose of antibiotics for her infection because she’s a nurse and she knows it doesn’t work for her.

In the next moment she’s asking to have her appointment at the New Zealand cardiac centre changed, and can she call to change it.

Meanwhile Two-Tone cannot be woken in any way. Her silence the only indicator of her state of consciousness.

Overnight there’s been a huge thunderstorm. The man down the hall has been calling for his wife Carol, roaming the corridors with some determination to find her.

Night Stalker is also comatose having spent the night hovering over the sleepers.
No amount of prodding results in even a flicker of movement.

Christine wants to get out of bed again. A nurse maintains station at the bottom to prevent her. The nurses have swapped her bed with Two-tone so that they’re closer to the action.

Finally, the drug nurse arrives before me and starts to examine my stash bag of medication I’ve been faithfully taking twice a day.

I can identify what I need to take just by looking at the foil strip, but the nurse insists on removing each pill and the replacing the packet into the bag.

I call out the meds by their brand name but that’s no good here. I need to take a course in pharmacology.

Eventually I’m presented with a small paper cup of anonymous white pills of similar sizes. My bi-coloured MS capsule I know. That’s easy. But the others?

If I could out of the hospital onto the mean streets I could get something going here.


Chapter Five: Late night tales.

The fading light always seems to herald a change in character of my ward mates.

Two-tone had a new tune. The notes higher and longer. I couldn’t tell if she was more at peace but it was less annoying to my ear. No-one could wake her from her torpor during daylight. Night time really did bring her alive.

The doctors had prescribed Night Stalker a sleeping pill. She’d been unconscious most of the day.

“We need to get you resting at night,” they said. Between the lines: so we can too.

But the drugs hadn’t taken effect yet because I watched as she counted OCD-like the pleats in the curtain surrounding her cubicle.

Once she’d entered she counted them on the inside. Then she’d re-emerge to collect another coffee.

No wonder she wasn’t sleeping. Even the hot brown hot liquid masquerading as coffee must contain some caffeine.

To my left, Christine was beginning to kick off. I’d heard her earlier telling the nurses that doctors thought she had dementia but she couldn’t believe that was correct.
Then she asked when her husband John was coming to drive her home.

Later after fighting off the nurses trying to prevent her getting out of bed calling for John to wake up.

As I tried to sleep, screaming: ‘HELP POLICE.’

Carol’s husband had clearly found her because he was quiet tonight, although I could just hear the sound of a wounded animal whimpering down the corridor.

As Christine kept the nurses engaged Hashimoto decided to make the night even more lively.

Her attempt to get up to shuffle to the loo ending with high speed onto the floor.

Lights on. Everyone awake. No point trying to shut my eyes really.

Later she told me of the loss of her daughter at eight weeks old.

My marriage didn’t survive, she said.

Chapter Six: The NHS diet.

You’d think that for all the lecturing Britons are given as a nation to eat our ‘Five a day’ hospitals at the very least would make a better effort to practice what they preach.

But judging by the vast array of mush on offer on the daily menus it is a physical impossibility to even come close to that number.

The day begins early with an offer of tea, brown liquid masquerading as coffee or hot chocolate which is really just cocoa flavoured sugar.

That’s pretty good, but as it’s sugar it should probably be banned.

Lunch: soup from a tin (high salt content), a salad with plastic cheese (plastic), slices of ham (isn’t that red/processed meat banned too?)

Moving vaguely to the veggie section: jacket potato. But that’s not really veggie because it’s starch.

Accompanied by beans, which should be banned for the methane content, tuna, ditto for the mercury level, or cheese, which should be banned for the cholesterol.

Onto the hot mains of slush: cottage pie, hot pot or macaroni cheese. A possible item with texture roast chicken breast, with the skin off, of course: high fat content.

More potatoes creamed or roast.

But, oh, a possible bit of green: vegetables of the day, straight out the tin.

Dessert more stodge: jam sponge, apple pie, rice pudding, jelly and ice cream.

So, not only do I feel like I’m on a mental ward I may be on a children’s one too

If it wasn’t for the FRESH fruit lady I can’t see how anyone could get a balanced diet.

Which makes it all the more laughable that I had a row with the nurse dispensing meds this morning over a vitamin D pill I keep in my drug bag for simplicity.

We have to prescribe it, she said, and have it in our system.

Why, I asked, I can hardly overdose on a vitamin pill I take because I can’t get outside and get naturally by sitting in the sun.

Later the food lady came round to take my order.

I joked about the appalling coffee.

I can get you some Nescafé sachets if you want. You just have to ask.