The Thanet Trinity – Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Margate.

Sunny Broadstairs – maybe not.

As I promised in the last post (no, not the bugle call) there are going to be several days rolled into one here as not a lot happened so it is just for the sake of completeness. Appropriately it encompasses three days so I have dated it to the latest date.
The 24th of September had no World Cup Rugby so that was one option ruled out and it was tipping down with rain so any sort of walking was right out. The image shows you how unpleasant it was weatherwise. Yes, I still wanted to do a bit of walking, partially to aid my recovery and build up my strength and also because it is one of my favourite pastimes, at least it was until I started feeling unwell. What was I to do?

My newly rediscovered appetite made breakfast a must and I really fancied a pancake breakfast which meant Wetherspoons at Margate. I much prefer their outlet in Ramsgate but they have some odd ways of working there. I do eat breakfast quite a bit in JDW and my two favourite breakfasts there are the pancake breakfast or else Eggs Royale but neither are offered in Ramsgate. My preferred tipple, even under this current abstemious regime is Strongbow, one of the most popular ciders in UK and again not available in the Pavilion although it is in every other ‘Spoons that I know. I am fobbed off with Thatchers instead which is not a bad drop but not my first choice.

I am very partial to “bangers and mash” for lunch or dinner and again it is available in every other Wetherspoons I know but not Ramsgate. I believe they have exceeded it now with another outlet but when the Pavilion opened it was reputed to be the largest pub in Europe and certainly in the UK. It was very much their flagship with a customer area of a staggering 11,000 sq. ft. not to mention kitchen, staff, storage areas etc. so you would think they would offer their full range of food and drink but apparently not. It completely baffles me.

Not their finest hour.

Off to Margate then on the Loop bus, into the Mechanical Elephant which I have mentioned here before is not my favourite of what is an excellent chain. You would think that pancakes, maple syrup substitute, bacon and blueberries is not too difficult to get out but they could not even do that right and the non-maple syrup was fridge cold. Apaprently they could not even manage a few seconds in the microwave where they cook most of their food. When I received the obligatory “Is everything OK Sir” which was as mechanical as the elephant of the pub name, I did point this out and she offered to have it sent back to the kitchen. Not a chance, I have known enough chefs to know what happens to returned food.

Even the internet was down.

As usual, the internet was not working in the Elephant so there was nothing else for it but to head back to Broadstairs as the weather didn’t look like livening up any time soon as you can see below. I won’t bore you with my evening in the pub tapping up this stuff on my computer and nursing a pint or two of cider spritzer so we shall pass quickly on to the next day.

Margate was as dismal as Broadstairs.

A quiet day, wired in the evening and a bit of seagull wrangling thrown in.

The 25th was not a lot better than the previous day weatherwise, it really was getting autumnal. I have mentioned before that Thanet has an odd weather system and I have known T-shirt days in October but here it was wet, blowy and none too warm.

After the slight debacle of the Wetherspoons the day before I decided to play a bit safe and return to the Pavilion for breakfast. OK, there would be no pancakes nor Eggs Royale but I had half an idea to try something I had seen on the menu which was a relatively recent innovation known as Miners Benedict which I am quite sure is something the chain had invented themselves as I had never heard of it before. It substitutes black pudding for the ham in the traditional Eggs Benedict. I was not sure how it would work as the Benedict family is served with Hollandaise sauce whereas I would normally associate brown sauce or preferably English mustard as the condiments of choice for black pudding but I am game to try anything once and so that was the order.

Strangely it works although it shouldn’t.

No doubt Wetherspoons have very well qualified executive chefs, all sorts of focus groups and whatnot and had probably trialled the new dish before putting it on general release so I really should not have had too many misgivings about my Miners Benedict. Let’s be honest, as a man who makes tuna, banana and garlic pizza nothing should seem too odd and, against all expectation, it worked very well and provided a good start to the day.

As I was sitting allowing my breakfast to settle and doing a bit of leisurely blogging I became aware of a bit of a commotion which was a couple of members of staff making a fairly half-hearted attempt to direct a juvenile seagull, which had somehow found it’s way in, back the way it had come. The creature was obviously confused by the concept of glass and was persistently trying to get through the window to the outside world it could so clearly see. Incidentally, I apologise for the quality of the images but the beast just would not keep still, probably understandably. Lest anyone is concerned, it was eventually returned to the great outdoors, apparently none the worse for it’s visit to the Pavilion. With the excitement over, I settled down to another quiet day of blogging and attempting to keep my alcohol consumption down. I must say I was becoming increasingly good at that although I will never like it.

As I was walking back the short distance to get the Loop bus back to Broadstairs I stopped to capture the two images above. I had seen them many times before and knew the whole history but I thought I would capture them to share with you. I have told you before how much I love Ramsgate Harbour not to mention boring you with interminable images of it but in addition to it’s obvious aesthetic qualities it is packed to the gunwales (note the nautical reference there) with history and these plaques represent only a fraction of it.

I was heading home for the afternoon dozette that is becoming increasingly a part of my daily routine the older I get. I wanted to be fresh for the evening as it was “Wired” in the Wrotham so I suppose I should explain what that is.

“Wired” is a long-running open jam session which has had several venues rond the town and has now settled in the Wrotham which seems to be the centre for so much good live music. It is held on the last Wednesday of the month and is an open jam session tending towards electric music, predominantly blues and rock. It is not to be confused with “Griff’s Open Mic night” which I shall explain in a future post, nor the “Woodshed” (ditto re: explanation), both of which are also held in the Wrotham.

I know a lot of musos on the scene round Thanet and have played with most of the guys you see pictured here but I did not know the guy who provided me with a great treat that night in the shape of the Hammond organ you can see being expertly played in one of the images above. I love Hammond organs and whilst Lee (apparently that is his name) did not have the Leslie speakers (are there many originals still around?) but it still sounded great especially as he was such a good keysman. It was a great night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A very short trip up the stairs (no, I did not literally trip up the stairs) and straight into bed for another great night’s sleep.

Two breakfasts, one rugby match, one hospital appointment and little else.

Thursday 26th rolled around and the only item in my rather full social diary (I am only semi-joking about that) was yet another hospital appointment at the QEQM in the late afternoon. I knew Dave would not be opening the George for the early rugby match of Italy vs. Canada as it was of little interest locally but England were due on at 1145 and whilst it was a foregone conclusion I fancied watching it as I love my rugby.

I awoke early and hungry which thankfully seems to be my default position now and so I took off over to Ramsgate for a quick breakfast. I only ordered the small version as I knew damn rightly that Dave would be putting food on in the bar and he does not take no for an answer when it comes to eating, at least not with me. As I told you before that the man is on a very well-intentioned and much appreciated mission to bulk me up again. My supposition proved correct on both counts and the two feeds are shown above.

The match was pretty much as expected with England running not only riot against USA but also running out 45 -7 victors. Then it was back to the QEQM hospital again for my appointment before back to the bar where it was quiz night and despite being asked I declined the offer to join a team and make a complete fool of myself.

As always, a gentle stroll home and off to bed content with another day on the road to recovery. Certainly I was not going to be entering any Ironman events in the near future but my wound was healing nicely and I was able to walk increasing distances with no ill effects. As I have described I was eating with a vengeance and an appetite I had not had for a very long time. The only downside were those annoying jabs but they were an inconvenience rather than a major problem although they were becoming gradually more uncomfortable as I was forced to revisit the same injection sites but I suppose it is preferable to a blood clot roaming around inside me.

In the next post I get to visit a fascinating place I have wanted to see for a very long time and there is inevitably yet another breakfast so stay tuned and spread the word.

More of Margate – and the hospital!

Monday morning and I was up early again and again it was on purpose but regrettably for me it was not for the Rugby World Cup which was offering Wales vs. Georgia at 1115. I could have made it back in time for kickoff easily enough but I didn’t bother as you shall find out if you care to read on a bit. Back from where you may wonder? Go on, take a guess. Yes, you’ve probably got it, I was back to the QEQM hospital for another outpatients appointment and before I even got in the door I was thinking about this blog and I reckoned you were probably all sick of looking at the same generic image of the main entrance so I took one of the helipad just to break up the monotony. Don’t say I don’t think about my small band of faithful readers, I do. Sorry I could not hang around until a helicopter turned up but I had places to go and people to see.

Sorry, no chopper in sight.

I won’t bore you with the details of my appointment except to tell you that it was another chapter in the ongoing game of ping-pong between QEQM and Broadstairs Health Centre in which I had taken on the role of the ball. There was much talk of legal obligation, temporary patient status, in fact all the apparently incorrect information I had already been carrying around with me. As always, they seemed to feel the need to take blood which they did at the second rather uncomfortable attempt and told me to come back at 1130 (it had just gone 1000). I actually had the vaguest of plans for the day which is unlike me and I knew I could fit the first part in before my blood had been analysed.

Where the Beano mystery is solved.

Part one of the plan involved the Beano Cafe which I have mentioned before as I knew there was one on the front, 10 Marine Crescent to be exact and not to be confused with the Best Beano Cafe in Dane Road or even the Beano Cafe in nearby Westgate. It seems a little confusing but I am going to explain it all to you now but first the breakfast. One of the set offerings was egg, bacon, beans and bubble which is what I went for as I had not had bubble for literally years and I love it.

Do you know about Bubble?

Bubble brekkie in the Beano.

Readers from London and the Southeast and probably most of England will have an idea of what Bubble is but perhaps readers from further afield will not so here is a bit of an introduction. Bubble is a contraction of Bubble and Squeak and is the square item you can see in the image. Irish readers may recognise it as Colcannon which is near enough the same thing although served loose and not normally formed into cakes like Bubble. There are variants all over Europe like Stamppot in Netherlands (which I have had) and stoemp from Belgium.

Whatever you want to call it, this predominantly breakfast dish was a way of using up leftovers from a roast dinner, if you were rich enough to afford such a luxury. It is often viewed as a poor man’s food but it is popping up in various forms in restaurants nowadays. Traditionally it was mashed potatoes and cabbage mixed together and pan fried although any vegetables can be thrown in if you have them and I have had it made with leftover Brussels sprouts which was gorgeous although I know they are a bit of an acquired taste. If you are wondering about the odd name, apparently it refers to the noise the cabbage makes as it cooks. Now you know all about Bubble, let’s get back to the “Beano Cafe Mystery” as I named it in the last post.

I got talking to the guy behind the counter when I was paying the bill (the meal was superb incidentally) and asked him were they associated with the Broadstairs and Ramsgate Beanos as they looked very much the same with the signage etc. and served much the same menu. I did not mention that the staff all spoke with the same Eastern Mediterranean accent. The story he told me was fascinating and just goes to show what you can find out if you are prepared to talk to people.

He told me that they are sort of connected but not owned by the same person. They are something like a franchise without a central franchising body. All the Beanos Cafes in Kent are run by members of a very extended Turkish family (I was right about the accent) from one village and the closely surrounding area. I asked how many there were as I knew of three and he told me 15 or maybe 20, even he did not know for sure. He told me there was one in Sheerness, which is miles away and I have found out there is one in Canterbury as well. I think they are on a mission to take over Kent and with the food they serve, the standards of hygiene, the prices and the friendly service, good luck to them say I!

With the Beano mystery solved and a bellyful of Bubble (there must be a song lyric or title in that) I jumped back on the Loop bus. All this hopping on and off buses didn’t bother me as the good old “rover” ticket covered everything.
I set out on the second part of my little plan which took me on the Loop again through Margate centre, up the hill out of town towards Northdown and back the way the bus comes from Broadstairs.

Mining in Margate?

Let’s go underground.

On my various trips to the QEQM hospital in particular and Margate in general I had noticed something that I could not remember seeing before and that was the rather smart building you can see in the image above. I had heard about the Margate Shell Grotto and was wondering if I was getting confused and this was it with a fancy frontage but then I had seen signs elsewhere for it so that could not be the case. For once my old mind was not playing tricks on me and it transpired that this building had only been opened about a month. As I have mentioned, there is not too much to do here so I thought I would go and pay a visit.

I went in to what was a very pleasant coffee bar type of space which I believe also doubles as a community facility. I spoke to a charming lady who told me a bit about the caves, sold me my entrance ticket and readily agreed to look after my rather heavy daysack for me as it was becoming a bit of a burden in my slightly weakened state. I really must get something lighter than my laptop to write up my blog for you good people.

The first room was on the ground floor adjacent to the ticket desk and obligatory gift shop and gave a general overview of the caves. I got the impression that it was mainly aimed at children as there were a lot of “hands on” exhibits, mostly at small person height near the floor. It was nicely mixed up though and there was enough information to keep not so small persons like me interested. With my brief overview finished I made my way to the stairs where there were a couple exiting accompanied by the volunteer guide who asked me to wait a moment whilst she changed over with her colleague. No problem, I was in no rush. Barring the guide, these two visitors were the only other people I saw which made for a pleasant experience.

Mind your step- sensible shoes essential.

Despite the introductory room, I still was not entirely sure what to expect as I descended the stairs and followed the new guide along a narrow walkway which was a little uneven underfoot into the caves. I should mention here that because of the nature of this attraction it is entirely unsuitable for those with mobility problems or baby buggies etc.

It is quite cathedral like, I thought.

As I entered the main chamber I was immediately struck with the thought, which persisted throughout my stay, that it was like a cathedral with it’s vaulted roof, quiet from the outside world and so on. It is not huge and the artworks are hardly going to rival the Sistine Chapel but that was my over-riding impression.

In contrast to the Margate Museum which I have mentioned elsewhere in these posts and where photography is banned, it is positively encouraged here with signs exhorting you to go image mad and post everything on anti-social media as I call it. Whilst I do not subscribe to any of those sites, I am happy to do so here albeit that it will not generate anything like the traffic the others would but every little helps as they say.

The caves were originally dug out as a small chalk mine in the late 17th and early 18th centuries although not much is known about them then as they were an illegal venture and nothing was recorded officially. They then fell into disuse and were more or less forgotten about until a chap called Francis Foster “rediscovered” them. He was the man who built nearby Northdown House, a listed building which survives today as a wedding and conference venue.

There are various stories told about how he located them ranging from a family pet disappearing down a hole in the grounds of the house to ground subsidence to observations of rabbits but nobody really knows. Foster re-opened the caves and used them as a wine cellar and ice house both of which were guaranteed to impress his visitors. There are stories that the caves were used as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars with prisoners manacled to the walls but the flaw in this tale is instantly apparent. Chalk is one of the softest types of stone in existence, why do you think we use it on blackboards? The thought of anchoring manacles to it is laughable as they would just fall out!

Eventually the caves metamorphosed into a tourist attraction in the 19th century with the advent of the tourist trade here and this continued on and off for many years with a secondary use as a shelter from German aerial attack in both world wars. In 2004 the hated “health and safety police” closed the caves down but the local people banded together and after a serious amount of fundraising they got the caves fully compliant with the multitude of regulations placed in their way and the wonderful new visitor centre / community facility. It is a credit to them.

During the time they were originally a tourist draw various paintings were added to the bare walls and they range in quality from, shall we say, of the naive school to the frankly appallingly amateur but they do have a certain charm.  I should add that they had all been professionally restored in the original style prior to the re-opening.  I have reproduced a selection here so you can make up your own mind.

King Vortigern? Probably not.

I believe that the image above is supposed to represent King Vortigern and this is the name given to the caves by an enterprising entrepreneur in the mid 19th century in a bid to attract customers.  There is much myth surrounding Vortigern (or any one of the myriad alternate spellings of his name) but he is believed to have invited the Saxons Hengist and Herta to Britain effectively as mercenaries to defeat the Picts but they turned on him and founded what is now Kent.  Or so the story goes.  Whilst it may have impressed the Victorian daytripper, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to support Vortigern’s presence here.


The caves were supposed to open in time for the summer season 2019 but due to them being let down by various contractors they did not manage to unlock the doors until mid August thereby missing a good proportion of the “season”. This is a shame and I hope it does not damage them too much financially.

I had a long chat with the guide who was delightful and who I would have said was in her late teens or early 20’s and I asked her if she enjoyed being down here. In an answer that surprised and heartened me in about equal measure coming form one of her age she said she loved it especially as her mobile (cell) ‘phone didn’t work down there. I would not have believed that possible (her mindset not the lack of signal as I struggle at ground level in Thanet).

As you have probably guessed from the tone of my writing I enjoyed the caves and would recommend a visit. No, it is not a full day activity and I would suggest an hour would easily cover it but I am so impressed with the ethos behind it that I believe it deserves all the support it can get.

Lest we forget not once but four times.

With the caves ticked off my list I decided to walk back into town as it is not too far and all downhill, plus which I had spotted a war memorial en route and wished to visit. regular readers of my submissions here and elsewhere will know that I like to visit war memorials for a couple of reasons. The first is that I believe it right to pay my respects to those who died in former conflicts and, regrettably and occasionally current ones, and secondly I contribute to the excellent War Memorials website which is under the overall supervision of the Imperial War Museum. The linked website gives much fuller details but it is basically a website and resource dedicated to recording every war memorial in the UK. Whilst it does include the traditional war memorials you see in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, it also includes numerous items you would not expect and it is a fascinating site to visit or even contribute to if you feel so inclined.

War Memorial, Margate.

The war memorial is a traditional obelisk set in what looks like a park although I worked out later that the park is in fact the site of the Holy Trinity Church which was destroyed in a German air raid in 1943 which I suppose makes it a somewhat appropriate site.

I walked in through the “uphill” gate to a well-tended green space regrettably bearing the signs of misuse by the locals as it appears it is used as some sort of drinking den.

Before I even made it to the main memorial I had to pause at not one but two other memorials to the fallen. The first I chanced upon was in memory of those killed in the Korean War of 1950 – 1953 and which has been slightly forgotten by history, overshadowed I suppose by the Second World War which had preceeded it a mere five years earlier.

The second memorial was to a theatre of operations in that global conflict which has been dubbed “the Forgotten War” and that is the war in the Far East, particularly Burma and a conflict that has particular resonance for me. I have visited Burma (before the new regime) and loved the country and the people. That trip will form the basis of another series of posts here if I ever get time but that is not the main reason for my connection to the fighting there. My uncle Tommy was serving with the RAF regiment in the Far East campaign, was captured and died due to maltreatment at the hands of the Japanese in the infamous Changi prison camp in Singapore. He is commemorated on the memorial there. I was a little dismayed at the slightly rundown appearance of some of the lettering on the memorial as you can see in the images but I shall report it to the appropriate body through the memorials website (another of it’s functions) and hopefully something can be done about it.

I deliberately left the rum bottle and polythene bag in situ as I took the image to shw the complete lack of respect some people have for places like this and which I mentioned above. I did remove and bin them but no doubt there were more deposited that evening. Sad really.

I didn’t even bother replacing my headgear as it was only a few steps to the largest memorial, the one I had seen from the bus so often. It is of a fairly typical design of such structures erected after the First World War and was apparently erected in 1922 by public subscription as they all were.

TTo the rear of the obelisk is the series of tablets you can see in the images which are dedicated “In memory of those of this town who lost their lives in the 1939 – 1945 war…..” and this leads me to believe that both service personnel and civilians are commemorated here. Certainly there is a Master Bernard Evans, a Councillor W.R.P. Avery and, most tragically, a Baby J. Denton noted but in the absence of a separate memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving I can only surmise that they are noted here without rank.

To the bottom right of the WWII memorial, presumably where there was space, is the single name Alistair Leighton, again with no rank indicated, a victim of the Falklands War. A quick internet search shows him to be a MEM(M)2 [Marine Engineer Mechanical (Mechanical) Class 2 ] in the Royal Navy whose body was lost at sea following the sinking of HMS Ardent in 1982. He had joined the Navy at 16, served three years and was 19 when he perished which made him younger than me and certainly gave me pause for thought when I just discovered that.

How did I miss this for over 30 years?

With all three memorials duly recorded and respects paid, I continued my walk back into town and was confronted with a most lovely sight and something I cannot believe I had never seen before as I like to think of myself as being pretty observant but apparently this is not the case. I shall let the image above show you how it seems incredible I had not noticed it. I checked it out but it appeared it was only open at very limited timesand this was not one of them. Still, another one for the “to do” list.

Is Turner stalking me from beyond the grave?

The day was not yet done though and I chanced upon the blue plaque you can see above which was attached to a rather nondescript modern block of flats and which made me smile somewhat as to the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams once wrote. There are some famous people who seem to follow me around or perhaps I follow them around although I do not do it consciously and the noted painter J.M.W. Turner after whom both the prestigious Turner Prize and the Turner Contemporary (the large art gallery in Margate) are named. Some years ago I lived in an area of the East End called Wapping and my local pub was named “Turner’s Old Star” where Turner once lived under an assumed name with his mistresses Sophia Booth and which still stands. Interestingly, she was a widowed landlady from Margate. Then I come to Thanet and the good Mr. Turner has followed me. Another such historical “stalker” is Karl Marx but that is a story for another time.

My next “find” was a building which proved to be of great interest. What first drew my attention to the gable wall of what was to prove to be rather a large building I saw two rather dilapidated plaques, one on either side of a door which bore the legends, “The Ruby” and “Buvette” respectively. I know that buvette means bar in French and a bit of research on the excellent Lost Pubs website, to which I also contribute, shows a Ruby Bar here which closed c. 2014. It was subsequently renamed and went for another few years but is once again closed.

Where are the men on the hill now?

Looking up, as I tend to do when exploring, I saw the blue plaque you can see in the image which showed that Prince Frederick aka “The Grand Old Duke of York” of nursery rhyme fame, or infamy if you prefer, lived here and I must say that he had a very decent view. If you are wondering about the nursery rhyme it refers to the abortive Anglo – Russian invasion of Holland in 1799 where the indecisiveness of his actions were due more to political influence than incompetence on his part as he was generally regarded as a very good career officer.

Royal York Mansions.

Frederick’s residence here gives rise to the naming of the street I was on as Duke Street and, when I walked round to the front of the rather grand building I discovered that it was named Royal York Mansions, presumably for the same reason. It has actually been mansions for some time as the hotel closed in 1909 and whilst researching the building I found out that a dwelling there will cost you a pretty penny indeed. Perhaps you still need to be a Prince to afford to live on the Parade at Margate.

Three bars in a row and not one open. Shocking.

Taking a walk back along the front I was confronted by yet more bars, three to be precise and none of which was open for various reasons but which tell a story about the state of the licensed trade in East Kent. To the extreme left of the image is the Imperial Lounge and I do not know if it is permanently closed or not although it was when I went past at just after 1300 on a Monday in September. I do know there are recent plans to turn it into a boutique hotel. Next to that is XYLO’s, another of the crop of micropubs that are proliferating like Japanese Knotweed in the area and directly adjacent to it is, you’ve guessed it, yet another micropub called Halves. Micropubs generally do not open at lunchtime as they do not make enough profit so they only open in the evenings and weekends.  I do not know where it is all gong to end but I do not see it being a happy ending for the independently run traditional freehouse.


Dave is feeding me up again.

Heading back to Broadstairs, it was back into the George where Dave once again took it upon himself to feed me up with a good dose of leftover chilli which, as always, he had “livened up” especially for me. He is such a nice guy and he and Bev really do run a great pub. I know I go on about it but he does not even ask any more, he just produces food as he thinks I need feeding up and it is much appreciated.

Back off to what I was now considering as home in my lovely little room in the Wrotham and it was yet again a very contented Fergy that drifted off to sleep.
The next post will be another composite where we can whizz through a few days before getting back to the touristy stuff so stay tuned and spread the word.

I can’t keep away – QEQM hospital again.

Entrance, QEQM hospital, Margate.
I know this door better than I know my own front door.

On the 17th September, I awoke after another excellent night’s sleep in my comfy bed in my quiet cosy room and I felt good. I knew I wanted to stay round Broadstairs and Thanet for a while as a) even getting a cab to and from the train stations at either end I was not sure if I was physically strong enough to hump all that luggage back to London and b) it is so much better an environment to aid recuperation. I was still a bit surprised as to how weak I felt but I suppose it is natural. Jackie was happy for me to stay more or less as long as I wanted so everything was set fair.

Unfortunately, there was still the problem of getting registered with a Doctor locally and getting repeat prescriptions etc. If you have not read the previous post here, I had been turned away from the local health centre despite several hospital Doctors telling me they were legally obliged to take me on. The simple fact of the matter was that I needed medication and my only option was to go back to A&E (ER) at the hospital albeit that I knew it was a ridiculous waste of the time of a Doctor already busy in an already over-stretched department. I queued up again, checked in and then sat down for the long wait with another large, good book. I was not too bothered by that as there were other people there obviously in need of much more urgent attention than me.

I was finally shown through to a small room to speak with the lovely Dr. de Giorgio who quizzed me about my current condition and wrote the script out in the matter of a few minutes. She also checked across the corridor where the door to the opposite consulting room was open and asked me if I could just say hello to her colleague, the Doctor who had initially admitted me what seemed like half a lifetime ago. Sure that was no problem until the Doctor explained that her colleague (whose name I still do not know) had spoken of me when I was admitted and said that it was a long time since she had seen anyone looking as ill as I had. I have a mirror in my room and I didn’t think I looked that bad but obviously so.

The Doctor also told me that her colleague had checked with my ward later the next day to check that the surgery had gone OK, just to be sure. I wonder if she does that for every patient she admits. Somehow I doubt it and it was a bit worrying albeit I only found after everything was sorted. Naturally I went to see the other Doctor and cracked a joke about rumours of my demise being greatly exaggerated. She said I was looking a lot better than I had been before and wished me well. Nice lady.

I know of a couple of pharmacists in Broadstairs but my friend had been telling me before how poor even the largest one was when she was trying to fill prescriptions and so I jumped on the Loop bus as I had topped up my weekly card. I reckoned that as Ramsgate was a larger place than Broadstairs I might have had a better chance of success. As it turned out that was a false hope and it was the Enaxoparin sodium syringes that were causing the problem. The first pharmacy did not have them and the second one which was the biggest in the town could only give me 20 of the 30 prescribed which would have meant a return trip so I did not bother as I had enough for the night and thought I might go to Margate the following day.

I was in Ramsgate and waiting for a bus back to Broadstairs and took a couple of images of the harbour although I do not really know why as I already have dozens from every angle and in every weather condition you can imagine. I just love the place and, as is my way, I am going to share a little factoid with you about it. It is the only Royal Harbour in the UK and received the designation in 1821 from King George IV, a German who used to embark here en route to Hanover. He was so pleased with the rapturous welcome he got from the townspeople that he granted the title and allowed his Royal Standard to be flown three times a year, a tradition that continues to this day.

Old Rover car seein in Ramsgate.
What a beauty.

I also took a quick image of the lovely Rover you can see above. I do not know if it is my imagination but there seem to be an awful lot of wonderful old cars around Thanet, I seem to see them everywhere. From the number plate I reckon this was registered in 1970.

I got the bus back to Broadstairs and, more in hope than in expectation, went into the local chemist clutching my prescription. A quick check and the young lady told me I was in luck and that they had everything I needed. Happy days.

Yes, this is all for me!

I could not resist taking the image above which is my personal “medicine cabinet” on the mantlepiece in my room. Terrifying, isn’t it?

Cinelli Brothers Band at the Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
The Cinelli Brothers taken without flash! Honestly, you could see them.

The evening was taken up in the Wrotham where the excellent Cinelli Brothers Band were playing. The brothers are the drummer and the frontman with the hat who are London based Italians and the other two guys are British. They play really good basic blues and do it very well. You can have a look here to get an idea. They are also very friendly guys and I had a chat with a couple of them. Definitely recommended if you get chance to see them. I d not know how she does it but Jackie punches well above her weight with the quality of the music she puts on in what is a pretty small pub.

Having jabbed myself, filled up on various medications and dressed wounds I turned in for a few chapters of my book and another nights sleep.

I am still in Broadstairs writing this in October so if you want to know what I got up to whilst recovering please stay tuned and spread the word.

Time to go home (as Andy Pandy used to say so long ago).

The big day finally arrived, Sunday 15th September and I waited until everyone else had used the bathroom, went and had a shower, which I could do by then (I couldn’t until the PICC line was removed), changed my own dressing and headed back to my bedspace. Why on Earth I did not take my street clothes with me I shall never know, I suppose I just was not used to wearing them by now so I pulled my curtains and got changed. It seemed a bit odd after all this time. I binned my pyjamas in the laundry basket and then stripped my bed and binned the used bedlinen, I thought it was the least I could do. I donated the books I had read to the ward “library” which at that point consisted of two old Readers Digest books of four abridged titles each, not one of which I had heard of!

After that, it was a slightly odd sensation. I was sitting doing my normal things but in my “civvies”. I had ordered my lunch, which you do immediately after breakfast, although I had told the lady I wasn’t sure if I would be there for it or not. She told me to order it anyway on the principle that it was better she prepare it than me possibly go hungry. It turned out she was right and this was the rogan ghosh I spoke of in my previous post plus spotted dick and custard – lovely stuff! I am publishing the images again here as I could look at them all day as easily as I could eat that dinner all day.

I knew I would be going nowhere until I had been given drugs to take with me as I had been told that not only would I be taking some of the medications for a while including 12 weeks of the injections which I was not looking forward to, but that I would be on one of the tablets for the rest of my life. Every day as long as I live which, whilst not a major problem as taking tablets doesn’t worry me, will undoubtedly lead to all sorts of bloody hassles when I travel overseas for months on end. I really have no idea how it works but it must as I am sure others do it. A right pain but something I suppose I am going to have to get used to. Without being over-dramatic, this whole episode had been life-changing one way and another.

All the drugs duly arrived and it was time to take my leave. Cheerio to David in the next bed who had been in for a long time and looked set to be in for a long time to come, I wish him well.  Then it was farewell to Kyle in the corner bed (you shall meet him again), and a generic cheerio to the three other guys on the other side of the ward who were all recent arrivals I had not really got to know.

I was well aware that the next bit was going to be the most difficult part and that was saying goodbye to the wonderful staff who had been so good to me over quite a long period. Obviously, the normal business of the ward was going on and people were busy but I cornered as many of them as I could for a brief farewell and heartfelt thanks to the point that it was getting a bit emotional. All of them wished me well, gave me various words of advice about my lifestyle, making sure I took my meds etc. etc. There was still one final little piece of nonsensical hospital procedure to be followed and Sister deputed one of the male nurses to escort me to the front door which is standard practice it appears. Apparently it did not matter that I had been wandering about the hospital alone in the dead of night for weeks. I joked with the nurse that they were just making sure I didn’t steal anything on the way out but it seems they were responsible for me until I was off the premises. Something to do with damned lawyers and spurious lawsuits, I believe.

I know I say a lot of strange things in my posts here and this will undoubtedly rank as one of the strangest to date but I was actually a little sad to leave the place. Obviously nobody wants to be ill and in pain and few people would choose to be in hospital but apart from the obvious physical discomforts (especially that damned NG tube up my nose and the extended starvation diet) I had as good a time there as could be expected under the circumstances. I was made as comfortable as was possible, I was treated with every consideration by staff of all disciplines that obviously believed in what they were doing, I had all day to do nothing but relax, read and potter about on the net. I have really no excuse for how long it has taken to post this admittedly lengthy post with the time I had at my disposal on the ward. When I was eventually allowed to eat, the grub was spot on and I was pretty much left alone to do what I wanted within the confines of my treatment.

Having finally stepped outside and smelt fresh air for the first time in what seemed like forever I relented on the matter of the bus and called a taxi. I was perfectly able to get the bus but I was conscious of time and I knew that my friends Sally and Brian were playing a gig in the Wrotham at 1600 and I really wanted to catch it as I had missed them completely during Folk Week. It turned up promptly and delivered me at my temporary home just in time to catch the start of the set and be accosted by any number of friends, many of whom did not even know I had been ill so my sorry tale was somewhat abridged and related several times. Sally and Brian were superb as they always are, I have known them for more years than any of us would care to remember and I have never seen them do a duff show yet. They do some old-style folk and some numbers which are fairly “socially aware” but they are possibly best known for their humourous numbers some of which are literally rib-hurtingly funny. It was a great welcome back to the “real world”.

Drink, Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
I had waited a ling time for this.

Naturally, I had to order a pint which you can see pictured above. I had been lectured ad nauseum about my drinking and smoking in hospital and I had a plan for the smoking which seems to be holding up fairly well as I write this a couple of weeks later but I had told the Doctors that there was no way I was giving up drinking completely, that was just not an option. Before anyone gets in touch, no, I am not an alcoholic, that was proven in hospital when I did not have a drink for a month or so and suffered no ill-effects. When I was first admitted they used to offer me medication if I was getting withdrawal symptoms but they were completely unnecessary.  I was very disciplined and limited myself to two pints all night.

The fact of the matter is that I enjoy drinking, as much for the social aspect of it as anything else. I absolutely refuse to sit and drink soda water and lime all night and if you remove pubs from the equation then I may as well put down a deposit on a small cave on a remote island as I shall instantly become a hermit. I shall have nowhere to go socially which I explained to the medical staff and told them I would cut down as far as I could. Again, a couple of weeks in, this strategy seems to be holding up well although it is very early days. We shall see how it goes.

One other thing of note is represented by the rather lovely image above and it is the fact that my spell in hospital had seen the seasons change from Summer to Autumn. Yes, I know it is not officially Autumn on the 15th of September but I always associate the coming of Autumn with the first hanging of the hops in the same way as many people associate the coming of Spring with hearing the first cuckoo.

Kent is known as the “Garden of England” and rightly so because of the variety and quality of it’s produce. It is famous for it’s apples and also it’s hops with the first English hop garden believed to have been created near Canterbury in 1520 and this is the reason for the excellent quality of both the cider and the beer in the County. Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham is reputedly the oldest in the UK and cider has been made in the UK since the time of the Norman Conquest which was very influential in Kent. Can it be merely coincidence that I spend so much time in this fine county?

Hanging hop display, Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
It’s Autumn on the Fergy calender.

When the hops are picked at this time of the year, it is the tradition all over Kent to hang garlands of them, if that is the correct term, in pubs. Not only do they look rather pretty but if you rub them gently between your thumb and forefinger, the smell is divine. In the Wrotham, Jackie has gone the extra mile as she tends to do and put up fairy lights amongst the display. I think it looks rather wonderful although it did take me a few attempts to get a decent image. I hope you like it.

After Sally and Brian had finished, the pub pretty much cleared out with only a couple of guys playing pool and I had another quiet night chatting to Jackie at the bar. I could not help but think about what had happened the last time I had done this and all that had happened in what had seemed like half a lifetime. It had been quite a ride. Although I felt OK apart from a little tenderness around my wound site, I did feel tired quite quickly and retired pretty early to my room to stick a needle in my belly, take a handful of pills, a cupful of a solution and then crash into a bed that did not have an air mattress and a remote control. I turned out all the lights and listened to the silence which was punctuated only by the occasional passing car on the Ramsgate Road and it was not long until I was fast asleep.

If you have read this far in my hospital saga then I am unsure whether to applaud your perseverance or wonder at your masochism but whichever it is, I thank you. Yes, I know I have gone on a bit but it was a fairly long period of time to write about and one that was, and still is, literally life-changing. There will undoubtedly be further references to my health and connected matters in the next few posts but I shall try to keep them relevant and to a minimum.

If you want to know more about my rehabilitation into the “real world” then stay tuned and spread the word.

A very long tale of a month in the QEQM.

Hello again there folks and welcome to what is certainly the most unusual post I have yet published on this site and promises to be one of most unusual I shall ever post if I manage to keep my blogging going for a very long time. There are a number of reasons for this and so I am going to begin with an even longer than usual preamble to try and keep you abreast of what is going on.

Firstly, you will notice that this piece is dated almost a month after the last entry relating to the day of my operation and this in itself is not unusual as I am often appallingly behind in trying to keep my entries current. In truth, I am composing this on the 24th – 30th September (yes, it took that long) to backdate as I usually do.

Rather than posting individual days from now on I am going to report this entire month in one piece as it will make more sense so please bear with me on this and hopefully all will become clear. It will be a very long post and there will be little to break it up in the way of images, the reasons for which will also become apparent.  You might want to grab yourself a drink of your choice at this juncture if you intend to read it all.

I should mention that some people of a delicate disposition may find one or two of the images I do post a little distressing but they are not for a long while in the post and I shall issue another warning in good time so you can stop scrolling if you fall into that category. It is certainly not my intention to upset anyone.

I also realise that some of the things I write here may not particularly please family and friends but I have thought long and hard and have decided to be honest as I have always tried to be in my blogging and to offer explanation of the reasoning behind my various actions. There will also be various views of mine which may not accord with everyones but, again, I am determined upon a policy of honesty and I hope this is appreciated. As always, please feel free to contact me with any comments, observations or anything else.

Right, this has all been cryptic enough so let’s get back to what happened in the days and weeks after my operation.

Whilst I had been under anaesthetic the had inserted two drains, one in each side of my abdomen to remove all the nasties that were apparently in there. Without wishing to be too indelicate the hole in my duodenum had been gradually leaking all sorts of semi-digested food or whatever into my abdominal cavity for an unknown period of time and whilst it was trying hard my body just could not get rid of it all. The left hand drain was not too bad and seemed to be getting rid of what looked to me like diluted blood but the right hand one was removing alarming quantities of a fluid which I will not even begin to describe here lest you be eating as you read this but suffice to say it did not look like it had any place in there and I was much happier to have it out of me than in me.

Of course the drains presented yet a further impediment to sleeping as I always sleep on my side, nearly always my left. With a drain in either side I was forced to lie on my back all the time and I just cannot sleep in that position. I used to spend the whole night reading my book which I was husbanding and supplementing it with the newspaper from the trolley that came round from Monday to Thursday but sadly not on Friday or at weekends when all the good big papers with the supplements come and which keep me going for days under normal circumstances.

I was slightly panicking as to what to do when I finished the book and asked one of the staff if there was a hospital library trolley which was something I remember from visiting people in my younger days. The Healthcare Assistant (HCA) who is basically an unqualified nurse and who do many of the non medically specific tasks like medications looked at me in complete bemusement and asked what I was talking about. I explained and was told that there was nothing like that. I suppose in this modern day and age that Kindles and the like as well as the free internet gave people access to all the reading material they needed. I had not bothered lugging my laptop with me when I attended nor even my daysack as I genuinely expected to be there for a couple of hours and leave clutching a prescription for some industrial strength antacid. How wrong I was but the worry about reading material never developed into a problem as I shall explain.

A fine library and this was not even all of them.

I had deliberately not told anyone except my landlady about my position as she obviously needed to know I had not done a runner from my room and also my mate Paul (who I had played the sessions with) in Newcastle as he was wondering if I had played the local Folk Club in the Tartar Frigate pub. Needless to say the Broadstairs bush telegraph went into overdrive and I started getting messages on my ‘phone with people saying they would visit and enquiring if I needed anything. The only thing I needed was a book or two and, with the wonderful network of friends I have round the area, I ended up with a library in a few days.

Thanks Rita, you’re a star.

One afternoon I was away for one of my numerous scans which I shall come to presently and returned to find a few books on my bedside table alongside the tissue box which I noticed had the message on it which you can see in the image. Thanks Rita, sorry I missed you but we have caught up since. My friend Pauline, the lady I normally stay with, appeared with more books and a newspaper and then Krista, my musician friend from the band Phoenix, the Bubbleband, the Ramshackle Band and various incarnations of my bands over the years turned up. She too came bearing gifts of books and went one better by driving over to my digs and picking up my daypack which she filled with my sponge bag, a few spare clothes although I could not actually wear them due to all the tubes and best of all my computer which meant that I was able to occupy myself and did. I could even listen to my music at night and drown out the screaming of the old guy opposite.

This was so, so welcome.

There are a couple of issues raised here, firstly the very dear friends I am fortunate enough to have in these parts and secondly the reasoning behind my trying to keep a low profile albeit unsuccessfully. I know that the first my family will know about all this will be reading about it here and may feel annoyed by that but I promised to explain my reasoning and I shall.

What would have been the point of informing my family, all of whom are in Northern Ireland? What did I expect my brother to do, jump on a ‘plane and trek all the way to Margate to visit me? What would have been the sense in that? What was the sense in worrying them unnecessarily? By the time I had actually realised how serious things had been they were more or less dealt with and anyway I was working on the same principle as I did when I was in the Forces that if anything bad did happen they would find out soon enough. I do hope my logic makes sense here and I promise you that everything was done with the best intent. To quote a Judeo-Christian concept, they were sins of commission rather than omission and I did consider the consequences of my actions.

A myth dispelled by technology.

I mentioned scans above and it seemed like I had bought a season ticket for the radiography department as I do not believe they have a piece of equipment there that I was not hooked up to at one point or another. As far as I recall I had CT, MRI, contrast, Doppler and ultrasound, all in the plural. The problem with scans is that the more they looked at me, the more they found wrong with me which was a bit worrying but probably best they did.

During all my time in the QEQM I must have driven the staff mad by asking endless questions and this started the evening I was admitted and had a CT scan as I have described. Despite my pretty poor state, I was chatting to the young radiologist as best I was able and had to ask her a question that I had often wondered about but never actually wondered enough about to look up online. Here was the perfect opportunity to enquire what CT stood for which is apparently Computer Tomography. Dare I say yet again that every day is a schoolday when blogging?  If you re wondering where the word tomography comes from as I was, it derives from the Greek tomos meaning slice or section and graphy which is just, well, graphy!

During all this scanning, I did have the rather interesting experience of seeing inside myself from various angles which I found absolutely fascinating. If there was a secondary screen the radiologist would offer the option of turning it off or tell you to look away if you did not wish to see their screen but if you showed any sort of interest they all seemed more than happy to explain what you were looking at. It was so much better than a TV documentary and also disproved a popularly held myth about me. Contrary to what many people have said over the years, I do have a heart and I have actually watched it beating!

One day, when I had been there about a week I was going for an MRI scan and as I was waiting I was chatting to Megan, a lovely nurse who was escorting me. I had been wheeled down there by a porter called Kevin who I was joking with as he had moved me a couple of days previously. On the way I exchanged greetings with another porter who had shifted me somewhere at one time and then when we got to the radiography unit I spoke to Sal and Roz, two of the staff there who I had chatted with during previous procedures.

We were waiting in the corridor when I heard a quite loud and totally unmistakable voice behind me say, “I saw the list and thought it must be you”. It was my mate Big Rob who I have known for over 30 years since he was training at the London Hospital as it was in the days before it got it’s Royal prefix in 1990. We both used to drink in the “Good Sams” pub, a haunt for staff at the hospital in Turner Street and indeed used to chase some of the same nurses as I recall! We had a brief chat and then he had to dash off to work at which point Megan said to me, “Is there anyone in this hospital you don’t know”? or words to that effect. I just like talking to people, what is the point in not talking to them? As luck would have it Rob ended up doing my scan which was slightly odd but we both went at it professionally and there was no messing about. Jokers we may both be but we are old enough now to know when to act like grown ups albeit that that was not always the case.

I might as well get all my scan stories out of the way here so they are all lumped in one place. After my op, one of my many scans revealed what looked like fluid sitting above my liver and which they ascribed to being a by-product of the procedure. They naturally wanted to drain it and the only way to do this was to insert the drain whilst I was wired up to the ultrasound as it was quite delicate negotiating the vital organs. Nature and evolution have certainly done a fine job of optimising the space within the human torso as there is not an inch of space unused and with my disordered little brain working overtime as I looked at my own insides I thought it would be wonderful if Nature was able to design campervans, caravans and canal boats where again space is at a premium. Yes, I know, it is a bloody odd thing to think when someone is about to stick a needle into the side of your ribcage but that is the way it happened.

The man doing the “needle sticking in” had introduced himself as Dr. Boersma and, unusually, he was even taller and slimmer than me. I surmised that he was possibly either Dutch or of Afrikaans extraction due to his surname and he confirmed that he was indeed Dutch although he spoke English with only the very slightest trace of an accent. As usual he offered me the option of turning off the screen facing me and I told him not to dare as I wanted to watch. Well, that was that and he proceeded to explain to me what everything was using the cursor on the screen to illustrate it as he went. It was slightly odd to watch the foreign object of the drain going into me although I did not feel a thing. He showed me my liver and lungs which, given my lifestyle were all still in existence never mind looking surprisingly healthy, and the “collection” which is a rather nice name for the not very nice pus / poison / gunge or whatever else you want to call it that had no business being there.

I am sure the radiologist was wishing he would quit the “anatomy for beginners” lesson as it was late in the afternoon and I think I must have been the last patient.  No doubt she wanted to get off home.

I should report that the good Doctor did a fine job and the nasty stuff was gone in a few days but despite all the rambling in the foregoing paragraphs that is not the major reason for relating this tale. It was a simple little thing that happened right at the end when he was taking his leave. I said, “Dank u wel”, which is one of the three Dutch phrases I know and means, “Thank you very much”. He actually laughed, undoubtedly at the mangling of Dutch with my Northern Ireland accent, and replied, “Alstublieft” which actually means “Please” but is a standard response to a thanks. We parted with a smile on both our faces and a look of mild bewilderment on that of the poor radiologist. Strange as it seems to say such a thing under the circumstances, I spent quite a bit of time smiling in the QEQM and that is a subject I shall return to.

Let me explain the food chain.

Life settled down into a bit of a daily routine of observations, internet on what was a surprisingly good connection, reading the newspaper and wading my way through my extensive library, what seemed like at least one scan and two blood-lettings (OK, taking a small amount of blood for testing), trying to sleep when the old guy opposite was not having the horrors and so on but there was still one major problem to be addressed and that was food, or more properly nutrition as food in the accepted sense was still a long way off. Libby, the delightful dietitian, came round and chatted to me and she told me I was to be put on TPN whatever that might be. What it might be was a very large green bag attached via a drip through a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter if you are interested) which would provide all my nutritional needs. I suppose I had better explain the PICC line first as you are unlikely to have heard of it if you are not a health professional or have known someone who had one.

When I had been told the TPN was intravenous I assumed that it would go in through one of the various cannulas (or should the plural be cannulae?) I already had but that was way wide of the mark. One morning a guy called Matt came round with a trolley full of all sorts of equipment and wearing a polo shirt with some fancy job description embroidered on it. What it effectively meant was that he stuck tubes a long way into veins rather than the slight intrusion of the cannula. With the calibre of the staff in QEQM it seems almost superfluous to say that he was charming and hugely professional. After having laid out all his kit and got togged up like he was going into a live nuclear reactor he inserted a needle into my right upper arm followed by a tube. He explained in detail what every stage of the procedure involved and what I could expect to feel which amounted to a slight sensation as the needle went into my arm (“sharp scratch” in nursespeak) and similar as it entered the vein.

Like so many of his colleagues from various disciplines, Matt was more than happy to explain all about his specialism and told me that he was not being boastful but he had been doing it for many years and was regarded as one of the top practitioners in the world to the extent that he went overseas to speak at conferences. I believe him when he said he was not being boastful as he didn’t strike me that way and his status was confirmed to me later by other members of staff who said that he was indeed “top banana” at his particular rather tricky line of work. Basically he guided the tube along my vein, through my armpit and across my chest to terminate not far from my heart. I would have given a lot to have been hooked up to Dr. Boersma’s ultrasound machine at that point as it would have been fascinating. Matt’s fascinating lecture leads me neatly onto

Things you didn’t know and probably didn’t want to #1.

Human veins have nerve endings on the outside but not the inside which is why I could feel the needle going into the vein but nothing thereafter. I really did learn a lot in that place.

The rather cumbersome TPN on it’s stand. I had to trail this about with me!

OK, so that is the PICC line explained and all it needed now was something to pump into me through it which came in the form of a rather large and heavy dark green polythene bag full of TPN which stands for Total Parenteral Nutrition and means that it is all you get to keep you alive. At the start I was on 2000 calories a day and was tethered to the damned thing 24 hours a day, not to mention all the other antibiotics, vitamins, pain relief (which I started declining after about three days) and various other bits and bobs and between them all they must have been doing me some good because the strangest thing happened. After about three weeks or so in hospital where I had not had so much as a peanut to eat they decided to weigh me again and I was utterly astounded to find out I had gained a touch over two kilos in weight however that happened. I joked with the nurse that if I stayed there for a year I’d be 18 stone and ripped like a bodybuilder. She just gave me a “look” and said something like, “Trust you to come out with something like that, Fergus”. By that point I was joking non-stop with the staff as it passed the days, and the nights come to that. Sleep was still not an option for reasons as explained.

Speaking of vitamins, I am now going to bore you with

Things you didn’t know and probably didn’t want to #2.

Vitamin B stinks.

I was being pumped full of various vitamins, notably B and K which I had never even heard of. I thought it went up to about E and stopped. As everything else the Vit. B was in a bag and administered intravenously. You could always tell it from the other meds as it was a bright psychedelic yellow colour for reasons never adequately explained. The first couple of times I was hooked up to it I was sure I smelt something odd and none too pleasant. Please don’t ask me what it smelt like as it is totally unlike anything I have ever smelt or tasted before.

Wait a minute, I hear you say, tasted when it was going into a vein? Yes. When I was on it and for a while after I could taste it if I ran my tongue over my lips and indeed vaguely in my mouth. Not pleasant especially when I was on Nil by Mouth and could not even wash the taste away with water. When I eventually went onto oral medication the yellow bag was replaced with a very small brown pill which I am still taking three times a day in late September and which still smells vile and tastes even worse if you do not get it swallowed quickly enough so there is another factoid you can bore your friends with and the next thing I want to tell you about is

The NHS food chain.

Being in hospital and more or less bedridden gives you a lot of time to think and I certainly did. As you can tell from some of the ramblings here, I came up with some pretty off the wall thoughts and I do not even have the excuse of strong medication as a lot of the guys were on (oral morphine) as the strongest painkiller I was on was paracetamol and, as I said above, I gave that up after a few days. One such thought that kept scampering about in my hindbrain was the concept of small victories. I know I have read about it somewhere although in what context I cannot say for sure but I have a feeling it was something to do with POWs and how to get through that incarceration. The concept is not to worry about the big picture but to concentrate on small victories, little things achieved like getting one over on the guards or whatever. The concept was very much on my mind in relation to my diet with a series of small victories and one crushing defeat. Allow me to explain but first


I mentioned earlier that there would be a possibly distressing image later and it is coming in a few paragraphs so if you do not want to see it then stop scrolling now.

At the very bottom of the food chain is the pretty ghastly Nil by Mouth which I have explained. It was the title of a critically acclaimed film directed by Gary Oldman with Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke starring and the soundtrack by no less than Eric Clapton. As a film it was no doubt excellent but as a dietary regime it leaves a lot to be desired.

The next step is sips which is fairly self-explanatory but after the awful parched feeling of nothing it is pleasant enough and the first small victory. If sips doesn’t do you any harm you move on up to Clear Fluids (CF) which allows you black tea or coffee, herbal infusions, fruit juice and, somewhat oddly, jelly. Another small victory and I spent a few days happily downing as much green tea with mango (really tasty and I shall be buying it at home), jelly, apple juice and water as I could get down me. I know it does not sound like much but it was so good just to have the taste of something in my mouth. The catering ladies were super and gave me as much as I wanted, which was allowed, as they had been looking at me apologetically for days when I was NBM and they knew they couldn’t give me anything.

After CF we take a really major step and get onto Full Fluids (FF) and now we are really in the big league as we get up to milk in the coffee which was great as I do not like black coffee, ice cream which went beautifully with the jelly, yoghurt which I love and, joy of all joys, soup. There is tomato soup with lunch which is the main meal of the day and then tomato and another soup for supper (served with sandwiches, cake, biscuits etc. for those that are allowed) but the soup was fine by me and I must say that they make damned fine soup in that hospital. I found out that it is actually made onsite and not brought in and reheated as the main meals are and the tomato is exceptional so well done chef. Maybe my judgement was a little clouded after so much starvation but it really was at least gastropub quality of not actually Michelin starred and had loads of herbs in there. The carrot and coriander was damned tasty as well but sadly I did not get to sample the curried parsnip which is a favourite recipe of mine.  It would have been interesting to compare them.

I think it was somewhere between CF and FF that I managed to take the image below which is the one I warned you about above when the nurse went off to get a different dressing. I didn’t want to waste their time earlier by taking images so I seized the moment here. It was a rather impressive would and I am now going to have to think up a suitably ridiculous story to explain it next time I am swimming and someone asks about it. I reckon there were 22 staples in it but I might be one or two out either way.  Incidentally, the dressings you can see on either side of my abdomen are two of the three drains I had in.

My surgical would, QEQM hospital, Margate.
Sorry if I put you off your food!

Thinking about it now I should probably have warned you about the image of my ugly mug with the tube inserted and wearing a hospital gown as that is arguably more distressing than a fairly neat surgical incision!

Back to my eating habits and the halcyon days of tomato soup and jelly and ice cream were soon to end, I knew it was too good to be true but before I get to that sorry event I should tell you about the rest of the food chain. As far as I was aware the next step up from FF and positively winning the game was D&F or Drink and Food, which meant that anything goes. You had breakfast, chose what you wanted from the menu for lunch, had the soup, sandwiches and so on for supper, snacks three times a day and more rounds of the drinks trolley than you could count. I never actually reached that state of grace and the best I managed was “light diet” which I had never seen or heard of before and nobody on the nursing or catering staff was able to precisely define for me. I suspect the Doctor may have just made it up, but more of that in due course.

After one of my numerous scans (contrast X-ray if you must know) my friend Dr. Wong and the more senior Doctor, whose name I can shamefully never remember, came into my bedspace, pulled the curtains and I knew by the look on their faces that “something was rotten in the state of Denmark” or in Cheerful Sparrows ward anyway. I had been told earlier by the junior ward Doctor that the scan had been fine but apparently this was not the case and they thought they had detected either a secondary leak or a continuation of the one they had supposedly fixed but this had only come to light when the scan had been examined by a second medico after the first had given the all clear.

I am not sure what annoyed me the most, the fact that they could not even make up their bloody minds if I still had something wrong or the inevitable reversal to NBM which was to last for many more days. I had climbed a couple of small ladders and then found the biggest snake on the board. Of course, my greatest fear was that if there was a problem that would have meant another operation, re-opening the wound etc. etc. and I obviously did not fancy that at all although that scenario was never actually discussed with me. I suppose the medical staff did not want me fretting over something that may not happen but it was the only time I felt despondent throughout my stay. The catering ladies went back to their “I’m really sorry to be handing out all this food in front of you” looks and the staff did their very best to keep my spirits up but it was a bit of a blow to the spirits and I was a distinctly uncheerful (if that is a real word) sparrow for a day or two. I know some of the staff have the URL of this site and if any of them are reading and I was grumpy with them, I do apologise but I was feeling pretty down.

About this time they had changed my TPN to an 1800 calorie one for whatever reason and that meant that I was only tethered for 20 out of every 24 hours which let me loose for four whole hours and I got a routine worked out. After a day or two to synchronise things, I had it arranged that the night staff who came on at 2000 could take it down at about 2030 when it ran out and that gave me until about 0030. What was the significance of all this? Well, firstly, it meant that I could get a proper wash and wear real pyjamas instead of the theatre gown I had been in previously. You cannot remove a pyjama top with a PICC line wired up unless you cut it off and the pyjamas are so much better as the gowns are “one size fit all” but not a man of 6’5″. Shall we say it leaves little to the imagination and it lies open at the back to the extent that once or twice one of the nursing staff would tell me to cover my backside up if I was dragging my IV stand to the bathroom. I dread to think what any onlooker made of my tattoo!

With the pyjamas and free of the IV I could go into the bathroom and have a good strip wash and take as long as I liked as most of the guys were asleep or not wanting to use the facilities. Small victories, and it felt so good as I had not had a shower for weeks now. Thankfully my hair is not greasy as it was not washed for nearly a month.

Hospital corridor, QEQM hospital, Margate.
My nocturnal stomping ground.

The other great advantage to being “free” was that I could go for a walk as the medical staff had told me to do to keep me mobile and keep my strength up. Yes, I could walk a short distance with the IV stand but it was just so cumbersome it was a real pain. Now, I could go for a walk round the corridors, again when it was quiet at night and that led to some amusing incidents. I know it must just have been me and possibly my lack of eating but I always felt cold although I know hospitals are notoriously warm. I had four blankets on my bed when other guys were lying in shorts and T shorts on top of their bedding. Even when I was sitting up during warm summer days (we had record breaking August Bank Holiday temperatures when I was in there) I would sit with my combat jacket draped over my shoulders to keep warm. At night I could put it on properly as I went for my nocturnal rambles.

I said it is strange the way your mind works at times although mine seems to do it all the time but during my periods of being unhooked from the IV, the song from the Disney film Pinocchio kept coming unbidden into my head. You know the one,
“I’ve got no strings
To hold me down,
To make me fret
Or make me frown.
I had strings
But now I’m free,
There are no strings on me”.

Utterly bizarre I know as I have never even seen the film but that is what happened.

Me in a hospital corridor, QEQM hospital.
Imagine meeting this at 0200 in a deserted hospital corridor – scary!

I was shocked the first night I went for a walk as to how weak I had become in such a short period of time. After less than 100 yards I had to sit down for a rest but it gradually got better and better and I explored further every night, working up to trying stairs both up and down, going all the way to the Discharge Lounge, then North Foreland reception etc. etc. but what was really funny was when I met people, especially if they were head down over a mobile ‘phone as the whole world seems to be these days. They suddenly walk round a corner or look up to be confronted by a very tall bloke who looks like some sort of hirsute mountain man wearing a combat jacket and moving completely silently on hospital issue “house socks”. I scared the living daylights out of one or two of them and a few others asked if I was lost, was I OK etc. obviously thinking I was confused and had escaped from some ward somewhere. I was really pleased the night I got to the St. Peter’s Road entrance which was as far as I could go without going outside. Small victories.

All these things are going on more or less at the same time and I realise this account is not properly chronological but as time went on everything was hanging on the result of yet another scan to determine whether indeed I was fixed up or still at square one on the snakes and ladders board.

Thankfully, after a couple of days of being a “great big grumpy old Hector” if any of you remember that children’s TV programme, I got a grip and stopped feeling sorry for myself. The wonderful staff undoubtedly helped and would have a chat with me whenever they could spare a moment, I cannot speak highly enough of them. I came to the realisation that being a miserable sod wasn’t fair on them and it was not going to change anything anyway and so I made a conscious effort to get back to normal. Certainly, I won’t deny that I was very worried about potential outcomes but another thought crawled out of my hindbrain and I do actually know where I heard this one originally.  My Father quoted it to me many years ago when I was so young I did not really understand it and he attributed it to a teacher he had in Belfast Royal Academy back in the 1940’s. He said to me, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” which I now know to be a Bibilical quotation. It seemed appropriate somehow but I was still on bloody NBM and that was more than enough present evil for me.

It is amazing how quickly you can get institutionalised and I literally lost track of what day of the week it was as the routine continues in exactly the same manner every day. A weekday is the same as a weekend and, as I mentioned, a Bank Holiday weekend passed unnoted except in the newspaper headlines about the weather which I could look at out the window but that was it. Speaking of the window I have included a couple of images here of the view from the window beside my bed and another of the view from the window at the end of the ward. We were in Margate and I am sure I asked for a sea view. One of the nurses told me there was nowhere in the hospital where you could see the sea as there was no point high enough even if they do have a sea bathing unit (honestly).

Another odd thing was that we were supposedly on the ground floor and yet a look out the window showed us to be a good twelve feet from the ground below. On my frequent visits to the radiography department and on some of my night time rambles, I went down in a lift from the ground floor to the lower ground floor. It was explained to me that the original hospital was on the level that we were on and then it was extended downwards hence the odd naming system.

The tale of the Cheerful Sparrows.

I might as well take a moment here to explain another matter that I alluded to much earlier and is connected to the lower ground floor and my nocturnal rambles and that is the strange name of the ward which was rapidly beginning to feel like home to me, to wit Cheerful Sparrows. When I had enquired, someone had muttered something about a charity but didn’t really seem very sure and I never really thought much about researching it until one evening when I had expanded my ambulatory horizons and made it all the way down to the St. Peter’s Road end where there were a lot of old photos, portraits of distinguished people and several wooden boards listing past Chief Surgeons and the like. Also on large boards were lists of people or groups who had donated £500 or more towards the building of the “new” Margate Hospital back in the 1920’s. I do not know how much exactly but it must be worth quite a bit now. One such group was the Brotherhood of Cheerful Sparrows who donated the requisite sum in 1927. That was it and so, when I had glided on stockinged feet back to the ward that bore their name without terrifying anyone, I got to work on the internet and again every day was a schoolday.

Donations Board, QEQM Hospital, Margate.
So this is what Cheerful Sparrows are.

The Brotherhood of Cheerful Sparrows was founded during the Boer War in the late 19th century and was named for a Mr. Sparrow, a railway employee from Honor Oak Station in S.E. London who had volunteered to fight. In those days there was no provision fo the welfare of dependants and so the charity was founded after commuters at the station held impromptu whiprounds. Soon there were branches nationwide and the Thanet Branch was formed in 1925 and is believed to be the only Branch still in existence today. It was not confined to assisting the families of servicemen and by 1939 the Thanet Sparrows had not only raised the £500 required for a mention on the wooden board but a staggering £20,000 towards the new hospital and hence the ward name which I still think is a bit odd but I will never scoff at again as  I know now where it comes from.

D-Day (Decision Day at last).

The Doctors wanted to give my stomach the best possible chance of recovery and so it was a week on that awful NBM and with increasing anxiety that I was counting down to yet another scan which would determine just about everything. On the given morning, I was wheeled downstairs yet again, clutching my TPN back to my chest as they had taken it off the pump but not detached it (risk of infection) and it was back to the contrast room. I knew the score well enough by now and required the minimum of direction to get the job done before getting back on the bed, back up the stairs and what seemed like an interminable wait for the result.

Eventually Dr. Wong came round, all smiles so she didn’t really have to say anything but she confirmed that the scan had been looked at by all the top people and it was conclusive and all clear, there was no leak and no problem. She also said that the senior Doctor had let her come round to tell me herself as he knew that for some inexplicable reason she was quite fond of me. I hasten to add that there was nothing at all improper in this but she took great delight in my “small victories” and tried to help me through my occasional reversals so I think it is time I told you about

The lovely Dr. Wong.

When I was initially admitted to the ward, I had a brief visit from the on-call night doctor but the first medico that spent any time with me the next morning was Dr. Wong who was a Foundation Doctor which I should explain. Whilst the actual name of the hospital is the QEQM it is administered, along with several other sites, by a Hospital Trust, which is the way a previous government parcelled up what had hitherto been a genuinely national health service and there are various arguments about whether this was a good or a bad move which I do not intend to go into here as I really do not know enough about it. The QEQM comes under the auspices of the rather cumbersomely named East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHUFT for short, well shortish) which basically means it is a teaching hospital for various disciplines including Doctors.

When someone qualifies as a Doctor they then come to a hospital like this to learn how to be a “proper” hospital Doctor, being supervised by more senior staff. Dr. Wong, Charlotte as her name tag identified her, was in her first year of training and was obviously very diligent as she was regularly still on the ward long after her official finishing time. She would often pop in to see me before she did go off which I thought was nice of her although I did not quite understand why she seemed to be taking a particular interest in me. It was the more remarkable considering the events of that first meeting where, to use her own phrase later, “we did not get off on the right foot”.

I had decided to be totally honest with the staff there even if it made me look bad as I knew I had an pretty unhealthy lifestyle specifically in regard to smoking and drinking. I told her honestly how many I smoked, which was far, far too many and enquired about nicotine patches or gum or whatever as I reckoned I would be climbing the walls after a few hours without a cigarette as I know that is what happens on a long-haul flight. She told me that nicotine patches were available but would have to be ordered from the pharmacy. No problem, I was not feeling great and I could do without a smoke for a while. She made some comment about me obviously giving up smoking when I was eventually discharged and I replied, again in all honestly, that I would be doing nothing of the sort and the patches were merely a temporary substitute as on the ‘plane journeys I mentioned. This was obviously the wrong answer and she appeared to be most unhappy. She said she would be speaking to the pharmacist about the matter in a manner which suggested she was going to recommend that I was not prescribed patches.  I do not know if she did or didn’t but the patches eventually turned up.

I must tell you about the utterly ludicrous situation regarding the nicotine patches, bearing in mind that in the UK I can walk into any pharmacist and buy as many as I want without prescription. In hospital the patches have to be locked away in a cupboard for which the nurse holds the key and must be put on and taken off by a qualified nurse (not even an HCA) when (s)he is doing the drug rounds morning and evening. What utter nonsense. I’ll talk more about my smoking habits later on but back now to Dr. Wong.

Next time we spoke she had calmed down about the smoking business and by unspoken mutual consent it was not spoken about for some time and we started to get on quite well. She seemed impressed that I knew that Changi airport in Singapore was in the area where the POW camp had been during the Second World War (Dr. Wong is Singaporean). The only reason I know that is that my uncle Tommy died there due to maltreatment by the Japanese. The good Doctor is petite and I mean extremely petite and there was quite an amusing incident one day when I was up and about and she walked past me. I swear she could not have reached to my elbow! We did get on remarkably well and, whilst she is already a very conscientious Doctor with a great “bedside manner” I have no doubt that when she is fully trained she will be an outstanding physician.

With my all clear, I was fairly quickly moved back up the food chain but still by stages as they were not going to rush anything and I was also moved into Bay three which is the place you go when you are not quite as sick as you were and they do not have to watch you quite so closely. All good and more small victories. In bay three I was reunited with my old mate Nobby who had been admitted the same day as me and had also been moved from bay two a couple of days previously. Nobby was a great old guy in his 80’s who had managed to fall out of his bath at home , luckily just avoided smashing his head on the wash hand basin but still managed to fracture no less than wight ribs, the poor old sod. Despite his age he was as sharp as a tack and we used to chat all the time. Other patients came and went after a few days but Nobby and I were very much the “old hands” in the Sparrows. We had been there so long we knew the drill inside out and that led to a couple of interesting little things.

Whilst I was on the TPN, I was treated as being diabetic for some reason as the red triangle on my board denotes and this entailed regular blood sugar tests which involve pricking the pad of a finger with a single use very small needle and then analysing the blood with a hand held machine. It got to the point where I would draw the blood myself and I should say that one of the good things that came out of my hospitalisation was that I now know categorically that I am not diabetic so there is one item off the “to do” list.

Similarly, when I saw the obs trolley coming round I would put my own blood pressure cuff on, get the nurse / HCA to hand me the tube and the sensor and I’d do it myself but the best laugh was the handover.

There are basically two twelve hour shifts in QEQM and they change at about 1930- 2000 and 0730 -0800 with a handover procedure I have described in the previous post. I used to always make a point of saying hello to the oncoming shift and cracking some sort of a joke if I could. One night I had made some crack about a change in my dietary regime or something which led on naturally to something else that had happened as a consequence and when I had finished that bit the day sister smiled at me and said, “Go on then”. By this point I knew exactly what was covered in the handover, I knew the names and dosages of all my drugs and what procedures I was due for in the future and just about everything else so I rattled it all out and at the end I asked the Sister if I had missed anything and she said no. Everyone had a bit of a smile and it became a bit of a regular occurrence after that – one of the highlights of my day really! I should say that the handing over staff member was always ticking things off so there was no danger of anything getting missed!  Later on I heard one of the nurses showing an agency nurse round for a “short day” introduce me as, “This is Fergus, he does his own handovers” which amused me.

After a couple more days, I was taken off the TPN to my great relief and as I was now in a position to take oral medication I was completely free of any attachments which was a great relief. Pinocchio got another few mental run throughs as I wandered at will about the hospital, “I’ve got no strings……….”.

Patient board, QEQM hospital.
Light diet, what a joy.

With no ill effects from my progression back up the food chain and with no nutrition going into my arm it was time to get me back onto real food and I was eventually moved onto “light diet” as explained above although never explained to me. I had been tempting fate a bit by reading the menu which I have reproduced above and whilst a curry looked very appetising for my first meal after nearly a month, I decided to play safe and stay away from spicy food and plumped for the savoury mince with mash, carrots and peas as that was fairly “baby food”, almost pureed, fairly bland and with nothing difficult to digest.

When the lovely lunchtime catering lady took my order and later served it to me I’ll swear she was almost as happy as I was that I could finally eat as she too had been doing her bit to try to keep my spirits up.

I am going to provide another pearl of homespun wisdom from my very basically educated late maternal grandmother which is, “hunger is the best sauce” and, as always, she was perfectly correct. It was getting on for a month (27 days to be precise) since I had eaten a bite of solid food and I had been literally in discomfort with hunger pains for some days and a simple meal, cooked miles away in a “base kitchen” miles away and re-heated in an oven on the ward tasted like Michelin starred food to me. Joel Robuchon would have struggled to better it. Follow it with an old school dinners classic of syrup sponge with custard where the custard was not even lumpy and follow it off with a nice cup of coffee and Fergy was one very happy man who was smiling like some sort of simpleton all afternoon.

It is quite coincidental that I should be talking about food in the NHS here as, during my time in QEQM there were two running stories about the NHS that were taking up a lot of column inches in the daily newspapers. Well, the NHS is always a good subject to liven up a slow news day in summer and they could not fill the entire editions with Brexit, hard as they tried. The first topic was health tourism which is a national disgrace and which currently stands the NHS £150 million in unpaid fees including over £500,000 from a single patient. I am not going to go into it or I shall just make myself very angry again.

The second major area of discussion was the state of food in NHS hospitals in the wake of a scandal a few weeks previously when at least six people had died in various hospitals after eating sandwiches which had been prepared in a central kitchen and were contaminated by listeria . The pot was kept boiling, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the appointment of the celebrity chef Prue Leith to improve the standards of hospital food despite the failure of her celebrity predecessors who include James Martin and Jamie Oliver. Still, it cannot be easy when some hospitals attempt to feed ill people nutritious food on a budget of £2:61 a day. It just cannot be done, even by a chef of Prue’s obvious talents.

In a very interesting sidebar to this story it was revealed a few days later that Prue Leith’s son Danny Kruger is a top aide to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide.

Of the long time I was being a mostly cheerful little sparrow, I only got to eat three lunches which slightly disappointed me as those I did have were pretty good. Having got past the savoury mince OK, I decided on the chicken curry which was described as mild (it was actually nicely spiced if not lunatically hot) and then the next day the lamb rogan ghosh which was equally tasty. I never even got to sample the fish pie, the sweet and sour chicken or the chilli con carne!

If you are paying attention, you are probably a bit ahead of me now and know that I was fairly close to being discharged. I had been given the all clear from my final scan on the Wednesday evening and on the Thursday my Doctor changed my food regime and told me they would think about discharging me in the early part of the next week. Great stuff and all sorts of things began to happen then. I was interviewed about where I would be staying and how I would get home and when I told them I would be getting a bus home to stay in a room above a pub, I do not think that it was perhaps their preferred option and something was muttered about patient transport and so on with further questions about who would look after me etc. It took me a while to explain that I probably had a better support network in Broadstairs than I have in London where I can go for long enough without seeing another soul I know and where I do not know a single one of my neighbours, the building I live in is just not like that.

There were other considerations as well. For some time I had been on twice daily subcutaneous injections into my stomach region for blood anti-coagulants (enoxaparin sodium) and there was also my “midline” (i.e. the wound through my belly button as pictured above) dressing to be considered. The wound was still not completely healed.  There was talk of District Nurses twice a day and I quickly kicked that idea into touch. Apart from the fact it was a total waste of the time of staff who are already overworked, it would have meant me having to sit about all the time in my digs waiting for them. Not a chance. I told them to give me the pre-filled syringes and some dressings and I’d look after myself.

My offer of self-care obviously required some sort of conference with someone higher up the medical heirarchy but later on the nurse came round for the evening drug round and gave me a crash course on self-injecting which is a doddle as I had watched it dozens of times and so, in a classic role reversal, she watched me as I did one.  I managed to make her smile as I had the hypo poised above my abdomen and said in a slightly falsetto voice, “Sharp scratch, Mr. Campbell” and then replied in my own voice, “Yes, nurse”.  Still, the nurse in question was not difficult to coax into a smile, she was an absolute darling as they all were.

I obviously passed the test as I am still self-injecting with no problem. As for the dressings, I went back for an outpatients appointment to examine the wound and asked the sister if the dressing was OK whereupon she pronounced it “a very tidy job” which pleased me and now I have another couple of life skills to add to my CV in the unlikely event I ever go for another job.

Having got myself mentally attuned to being discharged in the early or middle part of the next week it was something of a shock to me when the Doctor who examined me on the Saturday morning told me I could go home the next day. Things really had moved quickly, from sips of water to discharge in four days, that was something I had not expected.

I just kept on with my routine on the Saturday when the only event of note was that dear old Nobby was discharged. I was rather sad to see him go as we had become pretty friendly but I was happy for him obviously. As well as him I would also miss his family who always made a point of having a word with me when they were visiting. One thing I did find a bit odd was that the nurses kept insisting on injecting me when I was supposedly “trained” and going to be doing it for myself as of the next evening. Probably some ludicrous health and safety regulation or another.

I didn’t sleep much on the Saturday night but I did not read too much into that as I rarely slept a lot in there or indeed when I am at home. The nurses were quite used to it and passed no remarks when I would be up typing or reading at all hours or wandering off, complete with combat jacket, for another nocturnal ramble. I knew every inch of that hospital and I never have to ask for directions to one of my many out-patient appointments!

In the next post I finally taste fresh air (and a pint) after about four weeks, I see a great gig, catch up with friends and get to sleep in a bed in total silence with all the lights off so stay tuned and spread the word.

Sharp scalpels and staples in the QEQM.

Ward scene, QEQM hospital, Margate.
Home from home and very comfy it was too.

For all the reasons outlined in the previous post I only managed a catnap or two and the morning eventually arrived to a further round of obs, being ignored totally by the catering lady with the breakfast tray (remember the hated NBM?) and then I was visited by a Doctor in scrubs so obviously kitted out for theatre. He had a clipboard with him which turned out to be my consent form for the operation. The first few questions were fairly straightforward and then it started to get a little bit worrying. After explaining the procedure and confirming I understood what was to be done it came to the slightly worrying part when he showed me the list of potential problems that might occur although he was at pains to point out that they were extremely unlikely and this was merely a legal requirement. As the list included stroke, stoma (colostomy bag) and death, I was glad he seemed so sure they were unlikely but it did focus the mind somewhat.

I had no option but to sign as it was clear I could not continue as I was and he told me I would be in theatre about 1200. No sooner had he departed than another young man in scrubs appeared and I briefly considered employing one of the nurses as my social secretary as it seemed I was the most popular man in the hospital that morning. He got me to confirm my name which I did fairly monosyllabically, not out of rudeness but because he immediately launched into his spiel about being my anaesthetist for the procedure and what was involved. About half a sentence in and it was obvious that he was from Northern Ireland and my mischevious nature quickly kicked in again, I just cannot help myself.

If anything the young man said required an answer I continued with the monosyllabic ploy and lots of what I was once taught is called “gurgling” i.e. non-verbal communication. Years ago I attended an interview course and I am apparently quite good at it. After a while of this I cranked my already thick Belfast accent up a notch or two to almost caricature levels and said, “Tell me this fella, what part of the home country are you from”? The look on his face was priceless and even under the circumstances made me smile. He told me he was from Fermanagh and we had the quick “old home week” so beloved of my countrymen before he finished up what he had to tell me, reassured me all would be fine and told me he would see me in the theatre shortly. For no logical reason I felt marginally more comfortable that he was from my homeplace although it would have made no professional difference had he been from Belcoo, Belgium or Belarus. Strange how the mind works.

Next to appear was a porter with a wonderful bit of kit I had never seen before which lifts one end of a hospital bed a couple of inches and is motorised so it allows one person to do the work of two when it comes to shifting beds and patients. I really fancied having a go on one but it never came to pass. Accompanied by one of the nurses we took off the relatively short distance to theatre where I was again greeted by my “new best friend” from Fermanagh who introduced me to a rather large group of people in scrubs all bustling about so I just smiled a generic hello to all of them and let them get on with what they were doing. Then he got on with what he was there for and in no time flat I was way off in the arms of Morpheus (fast asleep if you are not into the classics). I was expecting the “count down from 10 to one” routine I had gone through 30 years before during my previous op but no such nonsense here, one minute I was awake and the next I most definitely was not.

I do not know exactly how long surgery was and how long for recovery but I know that it was about 1230 last time I looked at the clock in the theatre and it was after 1630 by the time I was “compos mentis” back on the ward. What happened in the interim was quite amusing even under such relatively serious circumstances.

I started to come round in what was presumably the recovery room and through one half-open eye I had a brief look round although I quickly learned not to move anything more than my head as it hurt! I could see a lot of bright lights above and all around what looked like slabs. Do not panic, I do not mean slabs as in a morgue (I wasn’t that morbid) but slabs in a fish market or fishmongers and my still befuddled brain came to the conclusion that somebody had put me to sleep in Billingsgate Market or somewhere similar although I could not for the life of me imagine why. One of the staff must have noticed signs of life and said to me, “Hello Mister Campbell, do you know where you are”? I replied confidently (I hoped) and obviously intelligibly, “In the fish market”, what a ludicrous thing to say. The reason I know I was able to be understood was that I heard a female voice say, presumably to a junior member of staff, “It’s OK they are often like this, he will be fine in a little while”. After that it was lights out again in the Fergy household until I awoke in the land of the Cheerful Sparrows with a member of the nursing staff fussing round me and taking the inevitable obs etc.

I was going to write here I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach by a horse and then I considered just how common such terms are in writing and how ludicrous they are albeit hugely descriptive and valuable in a literary sense. Thankfully I have never been kicked in the stomach by a horse so how would I know? As a child I was butted in the backside by an ill-tempered goat but it is hardly the same. In the interests of satisfying my undoubted pedantry here shall we just say that I felt like I imagine I would have felt had I been kicked in the stomach by a horse. I do sometimes worry about the tangents my mind takes off on when I write.

I was certainly in no mood to eat which was probably just as well as I was still not allowed anything orally which made sense as they had just cut a large hole in my abdomen and been messing around in there so best to leave it well alone for a while. Because of this I was not able to take tablets and so my pain relief was paracetamol through the drip. They did tell me that if I required it that I could have oral morphine although I did not quite understand how this squared with the nil by mouth concept but it was certainly on offer. They must have thought I was in a lot of pain and whilst it was undeniably uncomfortable it was not unbearably so and I do not like taking medication of any sort at the best of times. In my own home I do not even have a packet of aspirin.

I did feel fairly drowsy which I suppose was a combination of the anaesthetic wearing off and the physical trauma of the day so I dozed on and off until the ritual of the handover at about 1930. Somehow I had missed the morning one at 0730. The ward basically works on 12 hour day and night shifts although sometimes staff work a “short” day of eight hours. During handover all the incoming staff are escorted round the ward by a senior member of the outgoing and the notes of each patient are gone over, including what has happened to them on that shift, changes of medication, proposed procedures and just about anything else of note. I’ll bore you with a story about handover later on if you do not lose the will to live before the end of this saga.

I am sure you will appreciate why there are no images taken on this day and the one which is at the top of this entry is of my bedspace taken much later (you can tell as there are no IV stands evident!).  I just thought I had better put something to liven the page up a bit.

Plenty more medical musings to come so stay tuned and spread the word.