John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 18 – Stalin, ‘Mr Bedlam’ and I leave hospital

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 17

My release seemed to be almost within reach…

MONDAY 25th May

The mattress, pillows and bedclothes of the man who apparently died last night were taken away in big plastic bags, replaced by new ones. 

Another patient, whom I shall call The Welshman replaced the dead man. He is only here for one night – going to be released tomorrow.

I am in a 4-bed ward or rather bay. In fact, I think maybe the larger ward itself has four ‘bays’ each with 4 beds. But all I am aware of is my own section – my own ward.

I now share the 4-bed ward with the almost blind man opposite (George – not his real name) and the guy next to me (Basil – again, not his real name).

Basil was here when I first arrived. He spends most of his days silently with his chin slightly down and his eyelids hooded, so you can’t tell if he is awake or asleep. He is fairly deaf.

The nurses work in 12-hour shifts 0800-2000 and 2000-0800. At the changeover point, the old shift leader tells the new shift what they need to know about the patients in the ward.

I overheard the morning briefing today. The shift leader told them that Basil was almost in dementia (he mutters in his sleep overnight and plays out entire nighttime scenarios in conversation).

She told the new shift that George was a ‘Do not revive’ patient.

And she said I was ‘random diabetes’… I do not have diabetes and they know I don’t have diabetes but – because they have no idea what has caused my kidney/calcium problem – they randomly test me on occasion as if I do have diabetes to see if that might give them some result which might give them a clue.

The first blood sample of the day was taken – eventually – by a man who clearly didn’t quite know how to do it. Presumably one of the medical students brought in to beef up staff numbers during the coronavirus crisis.

Just before lunch, a doctor came in to tell the staff a visitor had walked into a nearby ward (not this one) with no protection on to visit her dad. No visitors are allowed anywhere except close family members in the end-of-life wards.

I asked British performer Matt Roper in New York: “I hope President Trump is paying you something – or do you count as a Mexican alien?”

He replied: “No Trump money. Living off money allocated to pay taxes next year. (We can see where this is going…)”

George – in the bed opposite me – is isolated by his near-blindness and fairly bad hearing. He told a West African nurse that he was the former General Secretary of a major British trade union, which he named. And, indeed, I checked on Wikipedia and he had been.

This, of course, meant nothing to the young West African nurse. He mentioned an honour he was given by the Queen and told her that “The press know who I am.”

I imagine the nurse just thought he was fantasising. There is a lot of it around.

Later, George asked another nurse if he could use her mobile phone (it is actually the ward’s mobile) to call his son. He had his own two mobile phones brought to the hospital by his son yesterday. But he doesn’t know how to use either of them. 

This is not something you want to share a ward with (Photo by Peter Coxhead via Wikipedia)

There is a hornet in the ward. I thought this was a fly-like creature but, when one of the nurses thwacked it, it turned out to be like some giant creature from a Hollywood special effects movie.

George – former General Secretary of a major trade union but now a bit doolally – asked a young black nurse (who was saying this morning how she missed Africa) if she knew David Lammy. 

She said No. Perfectly reasonably. He is a black UK Labour MP.

George said: “He came and spoke for me…”

So I presume this very caring young nurse also now thinks he is fantasising about how his possibly imaginary mate Dave came in to visit him yesterday… even though no visitors are allowed.

Later in the day, George – remember he is a bit deaf – started listening without headphones to an audio book he has about history after WW2. This was bad enough – there is a limit to how much I want to hear about the intricacies of Stalinist squabbles in the 1940s and 1950s Soviet Union – but also the reader of the audiobook kept mispronouncing ‘nuclear’ as ‘nucular’. For some reason, after a time, exploding a ‘nucular’ device seemed a fair option to me.

After the lecture on Stalinist ‘nucular’ policy abated, a kidney consultant came in to see me. He said they may release me tomorrow. Only ‘may’. 

It depends on the kidney and calcium numbers.

They think the calcium level is affecting my kidneys and they have, really, I think, been trying to treat and monitor my calcium level not my kidney function. Who knew?

My kidney function is up from 27 yesterday to 28 today.

If the calcium is OK, then my kidneys should be nearer to OK, as I understand it.

But, as yet, they as yet have no idea why the calcium number is/was off.

Kidney Man said the kidney function numbers I have been asking about – eg 62 last October down to 19 last Wednesday – are always slightly unreliable. He went into a very complicated multi-faceted explanation of the two more trustworthy numbers they really follow, neither of which I can get my head round. Did I mention chemistry is a mystery to me?

Once my kidneys are at an OK (not necessarily perfect) level, they will continue testing stuff, but I will not need drip feeding or measuring urine or the poor nurses investigating and reporting on the texture and colour of my ‘stools’ etc etc so I can go home.

After they release me (whenever that might be) he will treat me as an outpatient from his clinic either here or in another hospital, probably by phone. I presume because of the continuing coronavirus outbreak. On the NHS. They will do a PetScan after I am released.

After he left, I started the first of three more 6-hour drips.

TUESDAY 26th May

In the early morning, around dawn:

Nurse – “Are you in pain?”

George – “Where?”

Nurse – “Anywhere.”

George – “No.”

The ward ran out of its recyclable cardboard urine bottles…

The ward has run out of cardboard (ie recyclable) urine bottles. I get through about four each night, with the drip putting litres of liquid into me.

The nurse thought the supply problem might be because yesterday was a Bank Holiday. Luckily I had hidden one big cardboard urine bottle under the bed for just such an eventuality… Another, far-sighted, nurse gave it to me a few days ago as a precaution.

At one point, George and Basil, in beds diagonally opposite each other, both somewhat deaf, were being examined by nurses and having conversations with them. Because both are a bit deaf, both nurses were having to shout a bit.

George (registered blind) thought the voice of Basil’s nurse was his nurse so he was answering to the wrong nurse and Basil thought that George was talking to him, so we entered a complex cross-conversation situation as if a Two Ronnies comedy sketch were scripted by Harold Pinter.

Afterwards, George returned to listening to his audiobook on Stalinism – back up at full whack again.

At 1600, a new 8-hour drip started. Before the new bag was attached, I went to the toilet. I have been mildly constipated for a couple of days – well, I have not, to use the technical term, ‘had a bowel movement’. I can urinate at any time using the cardboard urine bottles (if available). But, if I want to go at any other time, I have to get disconnected from the electricity socket in the wall to which the saline drip thing is attached..

At least, I thought I wanted to go and ‘have a bowel movement’. And I did manage, with all my internal strength, to push the most gigantic ‘stool’ out of myself. One that felt worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. 

But, when I looked down into the pan, nothing, nada, zilch, absolutely nowt. 

It must have been just air.

So a nurse gave me tablets – two to be taken daily – sodium something. Everything seems to be sodium something.

Another roaming nurse offered me a free shave which I declined. You get the full Park Lane hotel treatment here, especially the truly wonderful food.

Astonishingly good: you get the full Park Lane treatment…

Astonishingly good.

If it were not for the constant blood-letting – including getting a needle in my stomach (well the fatty bit) every evening, I could happily stay here… as indeed may turn out to be the case.

The Welshman was rather disappointed not to be released today.

WEDNESDAY 27th May

My blood sugar level is 5. I have no idea what that means.

My kidney function which was 62 in October last year and was 19 last Wednesday is now 32. But, of course, that is the inexact number which the doctors don’t really use.

I talked to the lady who does the wonderful meals here. They are sent in from an outside company and then, she said, she did something to their healthiness. She may have been joking; not sure. But she supplies food for 24 people daily – that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The nurses, of course, do long-12 hour shifts. 

I was thinking: If you allow 8 hours for sleep and 1 hour for travel from home to work to home (likely to be a big underestimate in London) that leaves only 3 hours of personal life each day they work. 

After lunch – all within half an hour – Basil was taken off to be looked after at home. The Welshman was released, to be looked after at home. And George was taken to a local rehab centre/community hospital.

The ambulance men who took them out wore face masks and gloves. One of them told me that, when they deal with COVID patients, the only extra stuff they wear is an apron. He said, in April, this ward and the surrounding (non-COVID) wards were “choc a bloc with patients, like Piccadilly Circus”. 

Almost immediately after the other three left, a new patient was brought in. He was like someone from 19th century Bedlam. He would suddenly shout out, half-try to get up out of his bed, look sideways, startled, then look up and examine the ceiling as if there was something important up there – much like the acid girl when I first came into the hospital. Or the mental hospital in Essex when I was 18. Except they drugged everyone into silence then.

This is what Mr Bedlam sounded like:

Who would be a nurse?

Soon afterwards, without much warning, I was discharged (to become an outpatient) because my calcium level was OK and my kidney function was no longer in the “danger” area.

Because no-one was coming to collect me and I was an “independent” patient (which I think means I didn’t need a carer once home) they were not allowed to give me any hospital transport home: I had to make my own way home. This was not the nurses’ decision; it was a bureaucratic Discharge thing. Rules.

This meant either getting a bus back home or getting a mini-cab. 

“We would prefer it if you didn’t get a bus,” I was told.

When the Discharge person had left, I asked the nurse if she had the number for a minicab. She didn’t, but said Main Reception would and would arrange for a cab to come for me. She took me to the lifts. I was a bit light-headed. I had been basically lying on a bed for seven days with a saline drip in my arm for all seven days.

There was coincidentally a tired-looking doctor in the lift. She asked him to show me where Main Reception was. He said they would be able to phone for a cab.

He showed me where Main Reception was. They said they couldn’t phone a cab for me but, round the corner, there was a wall phone with a direct line to a cab company. I asked if they took credit cards (I only had a single £10 note in my pocket). She said she didn’t think so, but I could stop off at a cash machine on the way.

I gave up and walked out and up a slight hill to the main road and waited at a bus stop.

In the lower floor, the front area by the driver was taped-off so you couldn’t infect him. There were seven passengers, all sitting separately but no way near being 2 metres apart from each other (not possible). 

I was a bit light-headed and got near home on the bus route, then walked back home safely and drank a lot of water… The doctors still don’t know what is causing the kidney problem…

I switched on the TV. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on TV, looking like shit, bags under his eyes. Like he was auditioning for the part of Mr Covid in a Christmas panto.

… at home again …

… CONTINUED HERE

2 Comments

Filed under Medical

2 responses to “John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 18 – Stalin, ‘Mr Bedlam’ and I leave hospital

  1. Keith Martin

    In my very long past, ive often looked like shit BUT the show must go on!

  2. Brian Bell

    John, certainly hope you are on the road to recovery. Having recently spent 10 weeks in the Royal Free and the comparitively luxurious Finchley Memorial, I read your comments with interest and familiarity (I had a patient sectioned under the mental health act opposite me in the Royal Free, complete with his own burley nurse). I thought I saw you on Wednesday at South End Green, near the Royal Free. But it sounds unlikely it was you, reading your comments. Whoever it was was walking far faster than me (pushing my walking frame along, between out patient appointments) but from the back, if not you, it was your double.

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