Thursday, 12 July 2012
The Great Escape
It’s weird, yet kind of interesting, how being in hospital desensitizes a person. Actually not so much desensitizes as depersonalitizes, if such a word exists, and my computer dictionary is telling me it doesn’t by underlining it in red, with squiggles. But take the Bad Nurse scenario I wrote about last week (you can read it here) – I just went through that whole thing without really reacting properly. Afterwards, I spoke to my GP about him, and when I got to the bit about how he wouldn’t look at my poor, fresh, angry, suppurating Barbie butt wound, I found myself tearful. She was sympathetic and horrified as she should have been – as I should have been at the time, but wasn’t, really, until I talked about it with her, and then again when I wrote about it last week – and she mentioned Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which made me pull myself together. I wasn’t about to go through anything that serious just because some arrogant nurse made me feel repulsive – I didn’t watch anybody blown up by an IED, or have to deal with the death of a child. I just had my feelings hurt by an egocentric insensitive dickhead, which isn’t the same at all. At least, not in my book. But people do have PTSD after hospital stays, so depersonalitized are they. (It’s my word, I’m gonna use it. I don’t care about your red squiggly line, Word 2004 –wow, 2004? I really should upgrade..) There was no way I was going to be one of them, though. When I got out of hospital, I’d have post-operative healing and Crohn’s to deal with, and I wasn’t interested in adding to that list. I don’t mind the complications of Crohn’s that I occasionally get lumbered with – well, I do, but I accept them – but adding PTSD to the mix wasn’t something I was going to do.
On the fifth night of what I’d been told would be an 8-10 day stay, my surgeon came and sat on my bed, putting his hand on my leg. As a married woman of a certain age, it’s not often handsome men who aren’t my husband casually put a hand on my leg. In the real world, I might feel something – anger at his forwardness; bemusement that he thought it was ok, perhaps even a frisson of something else – but in hospital, depersonalitized (yep, still using it) as I was, it just felt comforting and entirely appropriate. He told me he thought this ward was a tough gig. He didn’t know about the Hag or the Bad Nurse, but he knew what the place smelled like, and how sick the people around me were, and he asked me if I thought I’d be ok going home. Would I? Would I rather be in my own bed with husband and teen waiting on me and nobody else’s effluent wafting under my nose? Would I rather have my own television and sky+ and shelf-fulls of dvds instead of the bizarre screen that protruded from the ceiling, cost a fortune to watch, and occasionally showed Andrew Lansley telling me how great the NHS was going to be now he was in charge (if anything was going to give me PTSD ..)? Yes, I thought I’d be ok with that. Might have to get teen to come in and yell at me to shut up occasionally though, just so the transfer wasn’t too extreme. He told me I’d have to be very careful with the butt wound; I was to bathe in salt water at least once a day, more if I could manage it, and get the nurse at my GP surgery to check it once a week, unless I felt it was getting worse. He couldn’t stress enough how much I’d have to take care of it. I felt a flash of vindication – yeah, Bad Nurse; it needs to be taken care of – checked, dressing changed … But more than that, I felt hugely relieved to be getting the hell out of there. The year before, I’d been sad to leave the friends I’d made, and had come back to visit one patient every time I had a hospital appointment. Although I liked the woman next to me who was very sick, we hadn’t made that kind of a connection. Once I was out of the ward this time, it was over. And I couldn’t have been happier about that.
Of course, being told by the surgeon you’re going home the next morning and actually being able to leave are two very different things. He popped in during his morning rounds at about 8.30am and confirmed that I could indeed go; I gleefully called husband and told him the news, and we’d both been here before enough times to know it wouldn’t exactly be imminent. We agreed he should come and get me at about noon. When the pharmacist came round at 10, she wrote down all the drugs I’d need to take home with me, and said they should be ready in a couple of hours – we were on target. You’d think I’d never been in hospital before. You’d think I’d never been discharged before. I actually believed her. And then the pain team came round to make sure I would have enough pain relief to go home with – I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but having your anus sewn up is very painful, as is having your torso cut open and resealed. Post-operative pain after such a huge surgery is pretty extreme, and once they took away my clicky morphine drip thing, they were having a bit of a battle getting it under control. It was decided I would go home with liquid morphine. So far, they’d been upping the dosage of liquid morphine on an almost four hourly basis, so I was to be sent home with orders to take quite a lot of it at a time. I should tell you, it’s disgusting. It works, but it tastes so horrible, it’s almost not worth it. So then the pain team said they’d go and let the pharmacy know to add the liquid morphine to my discharge meds. At half past eleven, I saw the pharmacist on the ward again and asked her if my drugs were at the nurses’ station yet. She looked at me as if I had just asked her if the alien on her shoulder would like a piece of chocolate. Was I some kind of insane person? They’d be ready in a couple of hours and not before. She was right; I was some kind of insane person – I’d believed her when she’d told me they’d be ready in a couple of hours. I needed sectioning at the very least.
Husband turned up at noon and I broke it to him that we wouldn’t be leaving for a while. After an hour, I decided it might be an idea to get dressed, which is when I discovered that my shoes were gone. My coat was in the cupboard where my clothes were meant to be; my clothes were in the cupboard where my clothes were meant to be, but my shoes were nowhere to be found. I was trying to work out where else I could look for them and then husband made a weird half-laugh, half-gasp kind of a noise and put his hand to his face in embarrassment. He’d taken my shoes home on the day of the surgery, he announced. And not thought to bring them back today. He said the car wasn’t far, that I’d probably be fine. I didn’t have slippers even; I had little socky things I’d bought from M&S because my feet had swollen up after surgery the year before, like those old women you see on buses and wonder why they haven’t just bought bigger shoes instead of letting their flesh splay out between bits of the shoes they did buy. I didn’t like having that look, so I hadn’t brought my slippers – the ones with proper soles, I’d spent four quid on socky things. I was about to walk to the car in said socky things. And we were in London, so it had been raining. And my meds still weren’t there. I had to look over at the Hag to remind myself that I did indeed want to go home, even if I had to do it in bare, slashed up feet. Which I didn’t, exactly. I took a big slug of the liquid morphine that the nurse had brought round a while earlier. Maybe that way I wouldn’t feel the ground beneath my feet. If I ever got out of there at all …
Eventually, of course, the drugs came. In a huge bag, because the bulk of them were for my scratched cornea. The ridiculousness of that particular drama wasn’t over yet – I was going to have to do the hourly dribble of ‘natural tears’ for at least another month, and though I could see now, and it didn’t hurt any more, my vision was still blurry through my left eye, and felt by now like it always would be. I imagine not many people go into surgery to get their rectums removed and their bums sewn up and have to leave hospital with copious supplies of eye medication. But who wants to be like everyone else anyway? Everyone else would wear shoes to leave hospital.
As I was walking through the corridor a doctor chased after me to tell me I was low on potassium. I told him I often am, and that I would eat a banana every morning to keep it level. He said that was a fine idea, but I should also take these pills the size of 2p pieces and thickness of a slim paperback, for the next few weeks as well. I had to mix them with water and drink the solution. I took them, added them to the sack of meds and told husband that he could take them to the chemist when we got home. I’d had that stuff before – I’d rather drink liquid morphine by the cupful. I’d rather drink the contents of my ileostomy bag. Really. Walking through the street in the socky things was as painful and damp and ludicrous as I’d expected it to be, but it was kind of funny as well, and I suffered no ill effects. Maybe it was the morphine, perhaps I was still depersonalitized (yes – got it in again) and incapable of minding whether it hurt or not, or maybe it just wasn’t all that bad. Mostly, I think it was probably because I was going home. This whole Operation Ileostomy Parts 1 and 2 was finally over. At least, the really hard bit was. Now I’d get to lie in my bed for a few weeks watching telly and eating chocolate. Of course, I’d have to watch it all again at some point – liquid morphine does weird things to your memory.