Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday 17 March - Hospital Time (Part 3)

And so onto the day of the surgery: today. I had to be at the hospital for 6.30am as I was scheduled to be the first appointment of the day. Lucky me. He'll still be half asleep when he does it. As it happened, I was put back to the second appointment which meant a 4 hour wait.

In this time I had my blood pressure taken (twice). Yes, it's very high, I'm nervous. Got asked various questions from the nurses (again, bear in mind this is all being done in French. My vocabularly doesn't extend to all things medical) which resulted in the first of many misunderstandings. I opened my mouth as the nurse pointed a thermometer in my direction. She laughed. Why? Oh, it was to be put under my armpit, not in my mouth.

Then she asked me something about how much salt I had taken. At least that's the word I recognised. I couldn't answer, she seemed surprised. With a little more explanation, and a quick consultation of my dictionary, I realised she was asking me whether I'd passed stools today. 'Passed stools!' How the hell am I meant to know that word in French? It would have been a lot easier if she'd just acted it out. And the word 'selles' (stools) sounds just like the word for salt, 'sel,' so I'm forgiven for that one. Although when are you ever asked how much salt you've taken?

Then came the humiliation: the shaving. I'd actually forgotten all about this part. Along came a nurse with a razor, ordering me to take my pants off. I made sure I'd understood this bit correctly (visions flashing back to that episode of Only Fools and Horses). Thank god it was an electric razor. I couldn't bear to watch. C found the whole thing hilarious. Yup, I was being shaved down below in preparation for my surgery.

The only thing I kept thinking was, 'please don't nick me.' I felt like a sheep being shaved in time for Spring. At the end of it, I merely resembled a plucked chicken. Oh, the dignity.

It was then off for a shower with an anti-bacterial gel and time to put on one of those lovely hospital gowns, which have been cleverly designed to come loose at the back, thus regularly exposing your bum to the outside world. They'd obviously read the anaesthetist's report, as I was given a 'calming pill,' shortly before the operation, to be 'zen,' as the nurse brilliantly put it in French.

I think the moment immediately before my operation was one of the most nerve-wracking I have ever experienced. Legs shaking uncontrollably, lying on my bed, waiting to be wheeled in to theatre. From my bed, I could see various surgeons (or their assistants) walking from room to room, chatting to each other along the way, looking relaxed. Someone making a bed, another person filling up a bottle with liquid. It's those big bright lights above you that make you think of all those hospital dramas you've ever seen. And just before I was due to go in I could hear the opening rifts of 'Scar Tissue,' by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers playing in the background. I smiled.

The next few hours were mostly a blur. Once finally into theatre I was greeted by the anaesthetist and his strikingly beautiful assistant. Before I knew it I was being injected, made to breathe into an oxygen mask, and then gone.

Not too sure what time I finally came round but I was groaning and complaining of pain once I did. To be fair, it just felt really sore, but the offer of morphine was too much to resist. Every now and again a nurse would ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 (they do this in England too. I find it really helpful). I kept saying 7. They kept on administering more morphine. Eventually they got me down to a 6 and a half, but by then had refused to give me any more. I think they also stopped believing that I was in that much pain. I wasn't really, but the morphine felt good!! I also noticed that I had various drips stuck in my arm, and something stuck up my nose. The latter was oxygen.

I found myself back on my ward by 3pm, sharing it with two other guys. I was dying of thirst but still wasn't allowed to drink or eat. I hadn't touched a thing since 7pm the previous evening. I was also given a bottle to pee in. I was told that I wouldn't be allowed out of my bed until the following morning, and just to ensure that I didn't try to get up, they'd put up the safety bars on either side of my bed.

Needless to say, I barely got much sleep. Spent most of the night being woken up by the old guy opposite, who needed rather a lot of bowel attention. All I kept hearing from him was "ooh la la, ooh la la." It doesn't matter how good my French is, I don't think I'll ever be able to utter these words and keep a straight face.

At 7am the next morning I was greeted by a very young looking nurse, a student nurse as it happens. She had a bowl, a towel and various bottles of things in her hands. I couldn't work out whether I was now supposed to wash myself, or whether she was going to wash me. To be honest, I didn't want a wash. Smelling was the last of my concerns. She left me with everything, wondering what to do. How on earth was I meant to wash myself? For a start, the water would go everywhere and I'd just end up soaking the bed. The drips in my arm also hindered my mobility, as did the pain in my groin.

When she returned it became obvious that I was feeling pretty fed up and a little bit helpless. So, she ended up washing me. More humiliation. I know, I know, being washed by a student nurse, every guy's dream. Not really. You just sit there feeling like you're being treated like a kid and looking like an idiot. The experience wasn't helped by her telling me that I might have to stay an extra night depending on what the doctor said. I wasn't happy. I told her I wanted to leave later today and that I felt like I was being kept in a prison by not being able to leave my bed. She smiled politely.

At this stage I was feeling thoroughly miserable but also determined that this really should be a one night stay only. I had mentally prepared myself for one night. Reassuringly, my surgeon came along to see me a couple of hours later to say that if I felt ready to leave, I could. Equally, if I wanted to stay another night I could. My face lit up. In between all this it made me think of my treatment here, and how it would probably have differed on the NHS.

Throughout my stay I had excellent care and was looked after round the clock. I know from my own reading that this type of surgery is usually an out patient thing in England. Here they were willing to give me 2 nights, maybe more. They seem to be far more cautious in the way they treat people, quite conservative in fact, but also a lot more thorough. So, whilst I was texting C and moaning that they still wouldn't let me drink or leave my bed, she was telling me to appreciate being looked after so attentively, and reflecting on the fact that this is what the NHS probably used to be like 30 or 40 years ago: where a new mum could expect to spend several days in hospital after giving birth. Where the nurses had much more time for you. And before this followed years of chronic under-investment and sapping morale in our health service.

It was this that got me through my last few hours before I was discharged at around 3pm. I spent my last couple of hours trying to get out of bed and dress myself. Not an easy task. My first steps were like the ones of a new born deer: all wobbly and unsteady on my feet. It felt like I was having to teach myself to walk again. It was great to finally be able to move (relatively)freely again, and once again pee into a proper toilet.

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