Thursday, 21 June 2012
Kicking Up A Stink
Before I get back to my eye and all that what happened next stuff, I just want to place this whole story properly in time and space. I know I’ve mentioned the dates now and again, but lots of people don’t read this every week (I know – imagine!) and some very lovely people have been tweeting me asking how I am as though what they’ve read has just happened and it makes me feel like I’m being misleading. And nobody wants to be misleading – well, nobody who isn’t a politician or a newspaper mogul or a high-powered businessman, or just Rebekah Brooks – so I want to be clear: the first surgery of my baglady transformation, the sub-total colectomy, the one where they made the stoma and gave me the bag, was in September of 2010. The second surgery, the proctectomy, the Barbie butt, rectum removal, eye damaging operation that I’m currently speaking of, was in October 2011. Eight months ago, in other words. I don’t want to create my own spoilers, but you’d be safe to assume I have two working eyes and a Barbie butt that remains sealed. More than that, you’ll just have to keep reading; even become one of those people who does read this blog every week. Just a suggestion, you don’t have to, of course – you’re the captain of your own life and as such perfectly capable of deciding for yourself what you read and when. But remember, not everything has poo in it.
That first night on the High Dependency Unit lasted a very long time, as nights in hospital so often do. What with being woken every hour to squirt more ‘natural tears’ in my eye, and nurses doing my obs, and just the ridiculous pain of said eye … it was a long time before dawn rose and curtains were opened and the day began. Which is saying a lot when you consider that happens at about 6.30am on a hospital ward. Once morning was officially declared, I found myself being ordered to get up and walk. Not without several clicks of that morphine button, I wasn’t going to. I wouldn’t put my ipod on without several clicks of that morphine button; going for a walk was asking a ridiculous amount. As I was helped up by two lovely nurses, I found I must have clicked plenty of times, as it was quite easy. At least, the first few steps were – then my body reminded me that it wasn’t my eye that had been operated on. My butt wound hurt like hell; every step I took felt like an evil goblin was standing behind me with a burning broomstick which it was happily ramming up my arse. I turned to catch him at it and give him a piece of my mind a couple of times, but he was too quick for me; little bastard. It did make me forget about my eye though, so I suppose I owed him some kind of thanks. You can only click on the morphine button a certain amount of times and actually get results. I knew that. I knew that extra clicking was useless because no more morphine would be delivered, but that didn’t stop me trying. It was that, or reveal to the nurses that I truly believed the thing about the goblin. Needless to say, I was very happy to get back into my bed. And even happier when the nurse from the colo-rectal ward came to tell me my bed there was ready for me. I could leave the HDU and embark on the next leg of my operative journey. I was about to be one step closer to going home.
When I’d been on that ward a year before, after the first surgery, I’d been lucky enough to be on there with a bunch of fantastic women. Two of them, I still count as friends today, but all of them were warm and lovely and inclusive. We were a gang of patients, spending the days laughing and talking and generally supporting each other through all the hard bits. There’d only been two of us – out of six – who’d had bags, so it wasn’t like everyone was going through the same stuff either. There was variety. And – bizarre as it might sound – there was fun. Somewhat stupidly, I think now that I rather expected to find a similar situation this time. I was wrong.
This time, I was wheeled onto a very different ward. This time, every bed had a curtain half-pulled around it, which is as good as a sign saying, ‘fuck off; I’m not here to make friends, leave me alone’ without so much as a please or thank you. The two beds that didn’t have the curtains pulled at all, with the occupants on full display, contained elderly women who were probably asleep, but to all intents and purposes could’ve passed on to the colo-rectal ward in the sky. Or wherever it is one goes. They certainly weren’t going to be sitting up, having a laugh, or nicknaming the occasional arrogant junior doctor any time soon. ‘You’ve got a special bed, Wendy’, the nurse told me as she helped me climb into it. And she was right. So that my butt wound didn’t get too sore, and didn’t stay in the same position (one would lead to the other, I suppose), my bed was like a very flat lilo that blew up and went down sporadically and seemingly not with any kind of rhyme or reason to its timing. I’d be lying in it just getting comfortable and then bits of it would swell and move and toss me about a bit and then they’d subside and things would be back to how they were. It was like being on some kind of involuntary fairground ride for people who don’t like too much adventure. It probably would have made me a bit seasick if I hadn’t been on intravenous anti-emetics every four hours. Also, I had to lie on my right side as much as I could because if I lay on the left, I was facing the windows and the sunlight hurt my damned, ridiculous, unnecessary and annoying eye.
You have to understand, I wasn’t even 24 hours post-op at this point, so things quite possibly weren’t making the kind of sense I thought they were, my general awareness hadn’t yet returned in its entirety, and life was seeming like a series of disappointments. Also, it was hours to go before visiting time. Visiting time starts at 3 and goes on until 8. Husband has always behaved in an exemplary fashion as regards visiting time and somehow usually managed to stay the full five hours. Teen found it all rather more boring and would usually pitch up after uni, stay for an hour or so during which he’d reassure himself that I wasn’t going to die before he visited me again, try not to look bored for the next 58 minutes and leave. I was waiting for that to happen, and any other visitors who might turn up, when suddenly my anaesthetist appeared and started closing the curtains around my bed. If you’ve ever had an operation you’ll know you meet your anaesthetist just before you have the surgery when they have a chat about the drugs they intend to use, you see them again in the operating theatre as they send you to sleep and that’s it. Their responsibility for you is over and you won’t see them again unless you need another operation. But here was mine, and she’d closed my curtains and it was just her and me and she was really seeming a bit of a mess compared to the cool, sensible woman I’d last seen telling me to count back from ten. It turned out she was worried about what had happened during the operation; about how my eye had got damaged. I told her the consensus seemed to be that something had got into my eye while I was unconscious. She said it couldn’t have; that my eyes were taped up and that she would have noticed. I said it clearly had and pointed to my obviously swollen eye for which I was so far still refusing any more antibiotics. She protested some more, despite the evidence in front of her until finally I said, ‘Look, I’m not blaming anyone for this. These things happen.’ And the relief on her face was palpable. In this stupid, America-copying, ever more litigious society of ours, this poor woman on whose watch something silly had gone wrong was clearly terrified for her career. Nothing permanent had happened to me; I’d been in surgery to complete a procedure that had changed my life, and if she hadn’t done her job properly I wouldn’t have survived it. I wasn’t going to sue her or the hospital or anybody else, and I so hate that anyone even had to think I would. I managed to put her mind at rest, without either of us actually mentioning anything about whose fault it might be, or litigation, or professional liability, which was quite a feat considering I still wasn’t 24 hours post-op, and she wished me well and left. But not before opening my curtains.
I looked around me again. When I’d come onto this ward last time, I’d been greeted warmly by all the other women there. They’d introduced themselves, each other, taken the piss out of how they were doing … but that was another time. With the curtains now open around all the beds I could see that, apart from the two women who looked like they’d sleep forever, there was a slightly younger woman opposite me, who smiled shyly, a woman my own kind of age in the bed next to mine who looked frail and terribly sick and an old woman in the corner who looked – well, not to put too fine a point on it, she looked nasty. I took an instant dislike to her, and I don’t think it’s just because she was scowling at me as I reached for my phone. This time around, I wasn’t one of only two patients with a bag. This time round, everybody had one. I think I was the only one with a sealed butt though – the aroma on that ward couldn’t have been coming from just one person farting. This was going to be a very different experience from the last time I’d lain on this ward post-surgery. The last time I actually had fun getting better. This time it was really going to be work. And it probably wasn’t going to smell very nice.