In the big bottom drawer by my bed at home are the boxes. These are my stacked supply of prednisolone in 5 mgs and 1 mgs tabs, dozens, enough to de-polymyalgia a whole street. The boxes are dated and aging. I haven’t touched them since my dose rate dropped to zero. They are the reserve, held against the pains returning. I should take them back to the pharmacy but they are my psychological prop.
In the drawer by my bed where I am now there is no prednisolone. In fact there is not even a drawer, just a mobile cabinet containing my clothes with a box of Kimberly-Clark Professional Tissue sitting on its top. In style these are hygienic regulation NHS. In reality they are little different from the serviettes offered to me last week at Lobster & Burger in Hills Street. No printed menu, three items only served, same price for each, all of them containing lobster.
I’m in an otherwise empty side ward at the back of the being rebuilt Short Stay Surgical Unit. The corridor outside is sealed with plastic sheeting held in place with gaffer tape. This is the University Hospital of Wales, built in 1971 and now showing signs of wear. I’ve taken oral morphine, given to me in a self-dosing syringe. It’s put a great bank of soft glory between me and the pain. The catheter with its bloody bag recedes into the clouds. The ceiling glows.
I’ve been under having samples taken from inside my bladder and several tumours removed. I’ve no idea how long I was in there. One minute I’m talking to the anaesthetist who is administering dope into the cannula inserted in my wrist and next I’m seeing two versions of everything in post op. Now I’m languishing in that half world between crisp reality and the safe haven of fog.
The night rolls. I drift through it. At 3.00 am in the near distance an alarm sounds and the winking equipment around me flickers off before coming back on. Fire alarm. I realise in the total dark that there’s not much I can do about this, secured as I am to the bed by tubes and drips and full with somnambulant drugs. I call but no one hears. I reach for my phone and try to check current UHW status on the UHW web site. Nothing. There’s an emergency phone number. I ring that, at least I think I do. No one answers. I search for things like “what to do in hospital when there’s a fire” and “large building evacuation procedures” and finally “how to get down a corridor with a catheter inserted into your old man”. The results I pull up all suggest that help will come. It doesn’t.
I’m worried, I suppose I am but the dope takes off the edge. The alarm which has rung for at least half an hour suddenly silences. They’ve put the fire out. The alarm system itself has been consumed in a conflagration. I’m in heaven on the other side. One of those. Eventually a nurse carrying a torch turns up to check on me. “You alright love? ” I nod.
The following day, which is not long in arriving, the staff nurse reviews my case. The catheter is removed. “There’ll be a bit of sensation as this comes out.” Jeez and a half. The deal is that so long as there is someone with me and so long as I can lie down and be looked after for a few days I can go. That and the fact that I am able to pee again. Sounds so easy doesn’t it?
Down at the SSSU latrines, one working, two out of commission, one with a sign up showing that it is currently being cleaned, I get into the queue. There are two blokes in front of me both aged beyond, using the walls for support and generally looking terrible. Once it’s my turn I stare at myself in the mirror. I look pretty much the same.
Pee is beyond me. I return to my bed dispirited and depressed. The nurse advises drinking more. “That’s the answer.” I’ve already done two jugs of water and four polystyrene cups of hospital tea. “Why don’t you go down to the concourse and have one of their giant coffees? The walk will help.”
In the real world of the concourse, such as it is, everyone seems so business-like and aware. I’m still full of fog. I do a Grande something, hot brown liquid sold for an exorbitant price and then walk myself slowly back to the ward. I join the latrine queue and manage a miserable eighth of a cup. Nurse says no. Not enough. Drink more. Keep trying. She hands me another tea. I can feel it, this flood of liquid, swilling around inside me. I’m filling up like a tanker.
Eventually after a few more failures there’s relief, of sorts, a trickle that the medical staff declare to be just about sufficient. They need the bed, after all. I’m clogging the system slowing the flow of patients. So long as I can just about cope I should go.
It takes a good two days before proper flow returns and a whole two weeks before the pain subsides. It’ll happen again, I’m told. These things, benign mostly, have an 80% likelihood of regrowth. What causes them? Exposure to certain chemicals, being Caucasian, getting older. Two out three then. Rock on.
SSSU: Short Stay Surgical Unit
SSSU: Short Stay Surgical Unit