Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Une Semaine de Bonté: A week in Papworth
Operation and Waking: Procedures, Routines (1)

It wasn’t a good night yet I felt perfectly well but for a dry mouth. They said they’d wake me at 6am but they came at 5:30. The male nurse took me to the shower-room where he shaved my chest, arms, groin and legs. These are indignities but dignity has little place here. You just shrug and let them get on with things. Then he put me in the shower and I washed myself all over with antispectic, including my hair. Once out, my blood pressure was taken and they also took a sample of blood to register the blood sugar level. This was the first time I was to meet the little stamp with the pin at the end that releases a drop of blood that is then encouraged to run down the tongue of a meter or roughly mobile phone size which delivers the level immediately. It didn’t hurt at all though I was warned it might. This was to happen every day, several times, during the whole extent of my stay there, including my discharge day. My blood sugar having been measured I slipped into a surgical gown tying at the back and pulled on a pair of small plastic knickers under. Back to bed.

Now I was ready and utterly resigned to whatever might follow, my only concern being the tube down my throat because I have a tendency to gag easily. Don’t worry, they said. The early TV news was on. It was not the moment for Joseph Roth. Clarissa came over to pick up my valuables including watch, mobile phone and glasses. Everything was a blur. My pyjamas and wash bag were deposited in a sealable green plastic bag that would travel with me.

Then they came for me, put me in a wheelchair, and drove me over to the appropriate building. It was cold and steely grey outside. Soon we were in a corridor, then in a waiting room with someone else in a wheelchair. I was chilly. Specialists bustled in and out. My anaesthetist called - a different one from last night - and told me what would happen. I’d be sedated first then anaesthetised. The whole would take five seconds.

For the next nine hours I was dead to the world. It was the 30 January 2016.


The first entry in my notebook after that is early morning, Tuesday, 2 February. The operation was on the morning of Saturday, 30 January.

My notebook records that I woke to the sight of Clarissa, Tom, and Helen standing over me. You look well, they said. Thank you, I think I said. I think I smiled. Then they went away. They had been together all day supporting each other, spending hours in conversation. Apparently the tube was still down my throat at that time but I wasn’t aware of it. In fact I have no conscious memory of the tube at all, either of its insertion or its withdrawal. I was aware of very little,  passing through clouds of perfectly acceptable oblivion, emerging into moments of haze, then slipping back into unconsciousness again.

I was however becoming increasingly aware of the need to cough, a sharp hacking cough which was the closest I got to pain. It went through my chest and neck and filled my head. Seeing I was in discomfort they gave me a small teddy-bear sized hard cushion they told me to hold against my chest whenever I coughed. I think it was I who first called it my teddy-bear but as it turned out all the nursing staff referred to it the same way.

This was intensive care. I kept waking and asking if it was morning yet to be told that it was only 8:30 in the evening. I wanted it to be morning because I didn’t like the night. I didn’t like lying flat on my back and coughing. I didn’t like not being able to see the clock for lack of glasses and not being able to tell the time for lack of watch and phone. I wanted to know the time and I wanted it to pass. Then came Sunday of which I have no clear memory except as escalating waves of oblivion and discomfort, and of being shifted to another ward, shared with three other men, one of whom was about to have the same procedure as I had had. I was a consolation and encouragement to him, chiefly in terms of appearance. Blimey, you look pretty good, he said. I began to be aware of specific nurses, male and female, and of various specialists wanting blood samples.

Beyond that I was aware of being hooked up to several appliances at once so that moving could be very awkward. The strangest and most detested of these  was the catheter inserted into my penis which didn’t hurt but felt peculiar because I felt I was urinating as normal, or was wanting to urinate as normal, though that was impossible. There were monitors and drips. I hadn’t yet got out of bed but was soon advised of the best way to do that.  They encourge mobility from the earliest possible moment.

To get out of bed you have to make sure your various tubes or ‘lines’ are on the best side. You don’t want to dislodge them. Since you mustn’t pull or push on your arms or elbows and hands, the best way is to swing your body rounds and get your feet down to the floor while in a sitting position. Then breathe deeply, hold it, and let the breath out. Do this a third time, the third time bouncing to your feet and standing. Of course you must first be released from the main monitor but you don’t escape the catheter and the bag of urine to which it is attached. You carry it round like a handbag. 

Why are you getting up? Chiefly so you can sit up in a chair rather than lie on your back shaken by that cough. You don’t need to get up for the loo. You have it with you, but sitting up helps.

Getting back into bed is more complicated and hard to do at the beginning without help. The trick is to move backwards until your calves and thighs are touching the side of the bed. Then you sit down and allow yourself to fall over to your side, towards your pillow while swinging your legs back on to the bed. Then, providing you haven’t disengaged or tangled your lines, you can ask to be tucked back in. Having been tucked in you can’t move much because your only way of moving up is by wiggling your bum and digging your heels in again. The trouble is there is little to dig against. The bed can be raised or lowered of course with a button device but, unless your bum is high enough to start with you will only slip down the rising slope of the bedhead. Is that clear?

Last night I asked to be allowed to sit in a chair with the lights on. I read Private Eye without laughing (that is not unusual, I am not even sure that laughter is always the point) and did the Codeword, Sudoku and Shorter Crossword in the I.

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