Saturday morning arrived with me trussed up like a Shredded Wheat in an array of wires after sleeping attached to a gazillion monitors. A team of 3 managed to disentangle the mess, and then a steady stream of visitors arrived, including A and the kids, coming back early from visiting his parents despite my protestations that everything was FINE. Seeing the tears well up in my youngest’s eyes as she looked at all the monitors brought me up short. From my perspective, I was happy as Larry, being looked after, whacked out on Keppra and not having seizures. From theirs, this was all quite frightening and hard to understand.
I only remember one other patient from the Monitoring Suite, mainly because he needed a dry slap. Drunk and violent, he verbally abused nurses and doctors and only agreed to treatment after trying to escape and being wrestled to the ground by a couple of policemen. You don’t end up in a Monitoring Suite attached to Casualty because you need a plaster and a bit of a sit down. You’re there because you need to be, and every single professional I had met so far on this journey was endlessly kind, knowledgable, patient and generous with their time. This bloke was chucking it all back in their faces and it made me so angry, especially when every medic I spoke to dismissed his behaviour as a completely routine part of their job. They barely even registered what was outrageous rudeness. Ungrateful Drunken Bloke was on the receiving end of some of the hardest stares I have ever mustered, and had I been feeling more with it, he’d have been on the receiving end of a damn sight more. Some people have no idea how lucky (and obnoxious) they are.
After 24 seizure-free hours on the Monitoring Suite, I was moved to a general medical ward to wait for an MRI whilst the medics could continue to monitor my condition. The ward was calmer and again, staffed by nothing but the most wonderful people. The only possible complaint was how bad the food was.
There were six of us on the bay, and without wanting to breach anyone’s privacy, those five ladies really made an impression on me, so would like to write about them, but have changed the names and some of the details so they can’t be identified.
Nearest the door was Beryl. Probably in her 80’s, she had Alzheimers and had had a nasty fall. Her face covered in vivid bruises and she was very unsteady on her feet, but she was constantly trying to get out of bed to fetch the frying pan so she could get dinner on for the kids. She was a one woman embodiment of the phrase ‘like herding cats’. None of the kids she was so concerned to cook a fry up for came to visit her.
Opposite Beryl was a lady who was perhaps 60, and quite clearly nearing the end of her life. She spoke no English, and lived from morphine dose to morphine dose. We managed to have a stilted chat in what we remembered from school of a mutual second language, and she was pleased to be leaving for a hospice. I hope she’s comfortable. Certainly she was surrounded by a large and loving family which will no doubt make a big difference.
Then there was Helen. A former career woman, she also had advanced Alzheimers, but glimpses of her work personality shone through occasionally. She was hilariously officious with anyone who attempted to take her temperature or blood pressure. “How DARE you! You have no authority to do that, young lady!” She really came alive when her niece came in and prompted her with questions about her former workplace. It was telling that her niece always called her Aunty Nell. The nurses who overheard this conversation made sure to use the name Nell, to which she was much more responsive, but other staff didn’t realise and persisted with the name Helen. Nell had a special bed that could be lowered right to the floor because she had been assessed as immobile, and this minimised the risk of falls. She must have been pulling a fast one, because when two physiotherapists came to help her try and take a few steps, she zoomed off across the ward at an impressive pace, leaving them open-mouthed in her wake, struggling to keep up.
Nell reminded me strongly of my Grandma, a former nursing sister who had also Alzheimers, and it was her medical knowledge that stayed with her long after she’d forgotten all of us. She’d acquiesce to having her hand held only so she could surreptitiously take your pulse. My brother has a great story of visiting Grandma in hospital, and she repeatedly asked him how much 170kg was. He couldn’t understand why, but dutifully made the conversion to 26 stone 10lbs for her. As he did, his eyes fell on the label on the hospital bed base reading ‘Max weight:170kg’…. and then upwards to the massively fat woman in the bed next to Grandma. He quickly made his excuses and left. Christened Mary Jane, Grandma was always known as Maisie, and I think you could see who the best carers were by who had bothered to learn the name she responded to rather than the one written on her official records.
Dear sweet Dot was on the other side of me. A diabetic, her favourite drink was full fat Lucozade, and it was a Lucozade bender had landed her in a diabetic coma. She arrived from intensive care all hooked up to a catheter, but was so confused at first that she kept forgetting about it. Remember this fact, it’ll come in useful in a minute.
Opposite Dot was Janet, an absolute shrew of a woman. Also in her 80’s or 90’s, she sat stock still all day, hawkishly watching everyone with thinly veiled contempt. When I passed to go to the toilet, she grabbed my wrist and hissed “Don’t think I don’t know you’re from the papers. Don’t you know who I am? Phyllis is innocent! Publish and there’ll be hell on”. Erm… OK. Here I am publishing, Janet. Come at me. She took a particular dislike to Dot for some reason, and spotting a plastic bag on the floor, asked Dot to fetch it for her. Dot happily got up and tottered towards the bag until…. her catheter reached full stretch and pinged her back towards the bed like a bungee cord. She tumbled awkwardly on to the bed, her hospital gown falling open to add insult to injury. Poor cow must have been in agony. I leapt up to try and help her and call the nurses whilst Janet just cackled evilly. You’re not a nice person, Janet. You might think you’re better than the others because you can get to the toilet by yourself, but you don’t bloody know how to flush, do you?
What these few days on the ward taught me is that there’s probably no good age or way to die. We are all of us dying, and whilst we tend towards thinking that reaching old age is the ideal, often that journey is lonely, frightening and confusing, with no real solace at the end, especially if you’ve outlived or forgotten everyone who cares about you. I’m still bloody glad not to have died at age 44, but looking at the trials of these ladies, I realise that nor do I want to carry on forever.
Reasons to be grateful today:
- I’m so lucky to be surrounded by friends and family that love me and can be arsed to visit;
- The hospital food means I’ve lost half a stone;
- The Keppra is working so far – no more seizures;
- Everyone on the ward, both staff and patients are lovely. Except Janet.