Another fairly uncomfortable night and up in the morning for a shower and get dressed. I still felt lousy and getting ready took a while but fortunately the bus stop is literally across the road and I got the bus to the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital (known locally as the QEQM) where I was dumped near enough the door of the A&E (ER for my American readers) and queued up to sign in. The receptionist obviously did not have English as a first language and after four attempts of very slow and distinct spelling I thought she must have it but subsequent events were to show that she had rendered Fergus as Fergess which is what I am now known as on the NHS computer and who knows what hassle that will lead to eventually?
Always bring a good book.
I know that A&E Departments are notoriously slow and so I had made sure to bring a very thick book with me. Had I known at the time that the whole hospital has free wifi I could have brought the laptop and got a bit of blogging done. In fact, I could have got a lot of blogging done as I did an awful lot of sitting about that day.
I am very aware that there are very few things as boring as listening to someone else’s medical stories and so I am going to precis this as much as possible and merely add any little anecdotes which may be of interest. I know it will still be massive and if you want to skip directly to the next post then please feel free, this one will be a slog and if you do want to read it you may wish to get a drink of your choice before you begin.
I had walked into A&E at about 1130 and in the next 12 hours I was seen by three different Doctors, poked and prodded in the same places, asked the same questions and then sent for a CT scan all between long periods of sitting about and I was so glad I had the book!
By now I had come to the conclusion that maybe there was something a bit more than trapped wind involved and this was confirmed by the fourth Doctor who took me into yet another consulting room and told me that I would be staying the night and they would be operating on me in the morning. Whoa, hold on, operating? What for? “Mr. Campbell, you have a perforated duodenal ulcer”. “Is that serious, Doc”? “Extremely, now if you just wait there a minute or two we’ll get you moved to the ward”. I am sure I knew it was serious but it was just an instinctive thing to ask and I suspect I was in a little bit of shock. I genuinely had no idea I even had a duodenal ulcer never mind that it had decided to open itself in such a dramatic fashion. Thinking back later it must have been there for at least four years if the symptoms from the canal trip are to be believed.
Once they had decided to admit me, things picked up pace considerably and a bed quickly appeared which I was told to get on so naturally I bent down to take off my shoes, well you don’t get on a bed with your shoes on, do you? Apparently in hospital you do as I was told not to worry about them, get on the bed. There I was, fully clothed on a bed with a porter and a nurse fore and aft and feeling like a complete fraud. I had walked into the place and I was sure I could get to the ward unaided but no chance of even trying.
As I was wheeled into the ward I caught sight of the name of the place and I wondered had they given me some drugs I had forgotten about and which were making my hallucinate. Cheerful Sparrows, I kid you not. Cheerful bloody Sparrows, what deranged mind thought that one up? Like so much else, it all actually makes perfect sense once you look into it a bit and I shall explain it all to you when it comes up in the narrative later on.
I was put into bedspace 28 in bay two (of three) which meant nothing to me at the time but I was later to find out the significance of. Bay two is directly behind the nurse’s station and there is a window so they can keep a constant eye even when they are not wandering about doing the many things they have to do. This is where they put the most serious cases, usually on admission, and my bedspace was right opposite the window. Later on when I got friendly with a lot of the nurses, they told me that they were keeping me under very, very close observation that first night. Certainly I did not feel great but I did not know how just how seriously the medical staff were taking my condition.
I was given a not very flattering hospital gown, as you can see in the image above, and told to get into it which I did. I was weighed and the result was displayed in kilogrammes which meant nothing to me as I still work in proper Imperial measurements as I was taught at school. I asked the nurse what it was in “real money” and she had to resort to her mobile (cell) ‘phone to find out! I do not possess a set of scales and it had been a very long time since I weighed myself but I was a lot lighter than I had been in “my prime” if indeed I ever had such a thing. I suppose it is hardly surprising as I had not been eating properly for a very long time. Things were really starting to mount up against me.
I was asked another load of questions, most of which I had already answered three or four times, and all of which were duly recorded and then it was time to get down to the real work.
Next up was the “obs” i.e. blood pressure and temperature and it had really changed a bit since I was last in a British hospital almost 30 years before. Long gone are the days of the thermometer under the tongue which is replaced by some electronic device that they stick in your ear and it comes up with a digital reading. In fact, they don’t even need to do that as they can just point it at your forehead from a range of about an inch for a reading.
For the BP there is still the same inflatable cuff but instead of a Doctor or nurse pumping a little rubber ball and listening with a stethoscope the mighty wheelaround machine does it all. A sensor on your finger gives your pulse rate and even manages to provide a reading on how efficient your blood is at supplying oxygen to the body. I still do not know how it does that without access to the bloodstream but it does. Surprisingly, given the amount I smoked and over the period I did, my readings were consistently 98 or 99% and even topped a perfect 100% several times. Incredible. They told me that my BP was slightly low but I have always had low blood pressure and so it was to prove throughout my stay. If medical science has advanced so much in 30 years I can only wonder where it will be in 30 years hence. Presumably a nurse will stand at the end of your bed and say, “Alexa, obs” and some machine will do it all without even touching you. Or perhaps not.
Probably the worst part of all.
I was wondering what else they could find to do to me and did not have long to wait. The next little procedure was not at all high tech and I suspect has changed little for decades if not longer. The night sister told me I was going to have a tube stuck up my nose and down my throat which did not sound overly pleasant and so it was to prove although at least she did not lie to me and told me it might be a “bit uncomfortable”. I was later to learn “nursespeak” and “a bit uncomfortable” means anything from very uncomfortable to bloody painful whilst “just a sharp scratch” means “I am about to stick a needle in you somewhere”! As time progressed I used to joke with the nurses and say “sharp scratch, Fergus” before they did which, whilst not much of a joke, invariably seemed to raise a smile. I can honestly say that the insertion of this tube, which involved much gagging, dry retching and, I am ashamed to say, a little fruity language on my part for which I hastily apologised, was the most detestable thing that happened to me during my entire confinement in QEQM. Calling it a “bit uncomfortable” was like calling Chernobyl a “bit of a mishap”.
Surely they were finished by now but that would have been too much to hope for and I had to be cannulated which I think is a lovely word for a not particularly lovely operation whereby, with another euphemistic “sharp scratch”, they stuck a needle in my left wrist with a couple of tubes attached to fill me full of various fluids. Whilst I was cannulated numerous times in there it was only this morning in September whilst researching this piece that I discovered the word cannula derives from the Latin for “little reed” and I can only re-iterate that every day is a school day when I do my blogging.
How green is this really?
I was then given a cardboard “bottle” with a circular extended aperture at one end and which I recognised from caring for my elderly grandfather many years ago as being for the purposes of urinating in if you are bedridden. I assured the nurse that I was perfectly capable of getting myself to the bathroom, which was adjacent to my bedspace, but I was told that they wanted to measure “input” and “output”. Out put I can understand but input was very simple to calculate as the figure was nil, zero, nada, zilch, rien, call it what you will. If you look again at the image above which I apologise for the quality of (if I do not use flash in a restaurant for fear of upsetting other diners, I will certainly not use it in a hospital ward in the middle of the night), you will see on the board behind me the dreaded letters NBM or Nil by Mouth. I was to come to hate this phrase with a passion as it literally means what it says, you are not even allowed a sip or two of water and your mouth gets totally parched, relieved only by a totally ineffectual mini sponge on the end of a lollipop stick which you wet and moisten your lips with. An utterly awful way to exist.
Later on in my stay I did enquire why they were now using single use cardboard “bottles” instead of the plastic ones I had known before. I was told it was part of the hospital’s “green” campaign to cut down on plastic use but whilst that is laudable I am unconvinced by the argument in this case. The plastic bottle can be sterilised and re-used hundreds of times whereas the cardboard one has to be disposed of for recycling and a new one produced. I wonder what the energy usage is for the respective processes.
“To sleep, perchance to dream” – not in this place.
Eventually the nurses seemed to have done with me and they told me to get some sleep which was much easier said than done. My natural nocturnal / insomniac nature was always going to be a factor as was a little anxiety about what was to happen in a few hours time. I can honestly say that I was not fearful and my only terms of reference for such a situation were the absolutely successful spinal operation I had undergone all those years ago with no ill effects. I am also a fairly fatalistic sort of person and I knew from what the Doctors had said that I really did not have a choice and so I reasoned that “que sera sera” and there was little I could do to alter the outcome. Just to top things off, the night lights were on for very good and obvious reasons and I prefer to sleep in the dark.
Whilst all the issues I have mentioned above were certainly a factor in my poor sleep that night, it was a far more physical reason that was primarily to blame. In the bed diagonally opposite mine was an elderly male (as were most of the ward, I reckon I was the youngest in there) who, in addition to being very ill and on some seriously strong medication, was also obviously victim of one of the many conditions of the mind that can affect the elderly. This man screamed at the top of his lungs at regular intervals at all hours of the day and night. I used to watch him sometimes when he started at night (I might as well as none of the rest of us had a hope of sleeping) and he appeared to be calling out whilst asleep, or at least his eyes were shut. He continued through his waking hours and it really did become unbearable.
There were eight of us in total in the bay and I did ask one of the nurses days later if it would not be possible to move him into one of the side rooms on the ward and I was told that they were strictly for infectious patients only. In other words the recovery of seven patients was being hampered by this poor man’s condition and it seemed there was nothing that could be done about it. The worst part of his problem was when his elderly wife and middle aged son came to visit as they did faithfully every day and he would scream and shout utter nonsense, apparently not recognising either of them even when they tried to reason with him. This obviously caused great distress and I really did feel sorry for them.
I think I managed to doze off less than an hour before they woke me again for a further round of obs and a look at the passing breakfast trolley.
There is much, much more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.