Category Archives: Medical

My difficulty in self-isolating before a minor hospital operation during Covid

(Photograph: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash)

I am probably going to have a minor operation at a local hospital next Friday.

I say ‘probably’ because, when I was phoned-up at around 8.30pm last Thursday night (three days ago), I was told the operation could not be 100% confirmed until Tuesday (two days from now).

I say the ‘probable’ operation is at a ‘local’ hospital though, to get there, I have to travel on two trains.

Anyway, because I am probably having this minor operation on Friday, on Tuesday afternoon I have to go to the same hospital and have a Covid test – just for safety. The result will be known two days later.

After having the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will need to self-isolate for the rest of that day and for the whole of Wednesday/Thursday before turning up for the operation on Friday morning.

This is, of course, to avoid my being infected by anyone between having the presumably negative Covid test and the operation.

Which is fine…

Except, of course, that, after the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will be taking two trains to get back home.

And, on Friday morning, I have to turn up at the hospital by 08.00, which will involve me travelling on two fairly-crowded early-rush-hour trains to get there.

So I will be potentially exposing myself to infection.

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My eternally-un-named friend had an idea to get me to keep my mouth shut…

Those who have read my appropriate blogs will know I was hospitalised for seven days last May and seven days this July because my body suddenly developed very high calcium levels and a dangerously low kidney function. 

As a result, I have not had a full night’s sleep since June 2020. I wake up every hour throughout the night, dehydrated – my tongue and the inside of my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert.

The doctors still do not know the cause of my calcium and kidney problems.

Inevitably, my eternally-un-named friend has recently been looking on the internet for explanations about dry mouths and has decided, with little evidence, that the problem is that I sleep with an open mouth.

The passages inside my nose were severely buggered in my teens by an overindulgence in Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray.

“In your bathroom cupboard,” my eternally-un-named friend told me yesterday, “there is one of my black hairbands. Put it round your head when you go to bed at night. It will keep your mouth shut.”

I tried to persuade her that a hairband is impractical for me because I have no hair on my head, but she would not be swayed.

She got an old photo she took of me and sent me a visual representation of how I should wear the hairband as a medical aid…

She helpfully added: “My hairband does not have a bow.”

I found the hairband in my bathroom cupboard. I tried her suggestion. It is not a good look. Life is a trial.

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Medical stuff, a fairground ride in my head and my normal abnormal…

After my recent jolly week in hospital, I seem to be back to my normal abnormal.

I try to go to sleep at night but it takes a bit of time. Then I wake up after two hours, go back to sleep and then wake up again every hour all the way through the night.

My normal abnormal.

Fortunately, I have not had serious vertigo (which I first had in January) since 1st June…

…until a couple of days ago.

In the afternoon I was feeling a bit unsteady. It was as if my brain were padded with suffocating cotton wool but I was also lightly swirly inside my head. So I went upstairs to my bedroom to lie down. 

When I did lie down on the bed, it was as if the soft brain tissue inside my head started whizzing round-and-round in a circle, faster and faster, parallel with the pillows… like a bicycle wheel or a fairground ride whizzing round and round, faster and faster, parallel with the ground but with centrifugal force trying to spin it off out of control and out of my head. 

I was able to stop this by lying on my left side not my right side, with my left ear on the pillow instead of my right ear; and by sitting up.

Around teatime, I was standing vertically again, so OK and went out thinking fresh air might help, but was a little wobbly inside my head, as if my brain were telling me it was not altogether in total control of how my feet worked nor safe controlling my overall balance.

I went to bed around 8.30pm and got to sleep around 12.50am, then woke up around 2.50am with my tongue, the roof of my mouth, the insides of my cheeks and my throat all parched totally dry – no lubrication, no liquid of any type anywhere. And I woke up once every hour through the night with the same thing, having to drink water to stop the parched mouth.

So, as I say, back to my normal abnormal.

Going to the toilet, I was a little unsteady on my feet. Going from my bedroom door to the toilet door, I pass the top of the stairs and, for safety, made sure the ends of my fingers touched both the edge of my bedroom’s door frame and my toilet’s doorframe, just in case I toppled into the gap between and fell down the stairs.

Swings and roundabouts, though.

There are the dreams.

For most of my life I went to sleep very fast at night and slept soundly, waking very slowly in the morning. What this seemed to mean in practice was that I was never aware of having dreams. Perhaps once every six or nine months if I was awoken in mid-dream by something like a noise or whatever.

So I think back then, because I went into deep sleep quickly at the start of the night and took a long non-deep-sleep time to wake in the morning, I never remembered dreams.

I always wished I could remember my dreams, because I like surreality.

Now, waking up virtually every hour throughout the night, I sometimes do remember the dreams. But they are not surreal. They are realistic, narrative and linear.

Swings and roundabouts.

Perhaps now, when I’m awake, it feels surreal. And, when I’m dreaming, it seems real.

The kidney doctor is phoning me tomorrow.

Their latest guess is it might be renal sarcoidosis but, as this has been going on for around fourteen months – since at least June last year – that’s just another guesstimate to explore.

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A slow UK handclap for the continuing bureaucratic incompetence of the NHS

A standardised NHS container designed for taking the piss

As regular readers of this blog – particularly some recent blogs – will know, I have a very high opinion of the medical staff working in Britain’s NHS.

Equally, I have a very low opinion of all large bureaucratic organisations, of which the NHS is one.

This year I have written several blogs about the NHS’ wild incompetence.

I currently have high calcium level and low kidney function problems which have been going on for over a year – since at least May last year. And the doctors have still got no idea what the cause of the problems is.

That is fine. They are trying.

But it means I have to have dealings with the bureaucratic side of the NHS.

Yesterday I received three letters in two envelopes from the NHS, all dated four days before.

I have had a longstanding appointment to see a kidney specialist in my local hospital at 1030 on Monday 20th September.

The first of the three letters was from my local hospital and cancelled that appointment.

The second letter (contained in the same envelope as the first) was from the NHS Trust/Group to which my local hospital belongs. It said I should ignore that first letter cancelling the appointment. The appointment, it said, was not actually cancelled. I had been put on a waiting list and the appointment would be rescheduled.

The third letter, also from my local hospital and dated on the same day as the previous two, said I now had a confirmed appointment at 1030 on Monday 20th September.

The eagle-eyed may have noticed that is the same time and day as the original appointment which had been cancelled. Sorry! Not cancelled but to  be rescheduled.

I am not 100% certain if the first and second letters are referring to the third letter and the appointment no longer exists.

Or if the third letter refers to the first and second letters and it is rescheduling the appointment, which is now confirmed to be once again on Monday 20th September 2021 at 10.30.

I live on the outskirts of London. All three of the above letters from my local NHS hospitals were posted to me from the NHS in Bristol. 

I have no idea why and, I suspect, neither does the NHS.

The many-headed Hydra of mythology (The Farman Collection, 1987, via Wikipedia Commons)

 

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 7 – Agony, staring and coitus interruptus…

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Tuesday 27th July

At some point in the middle of the night, a nurse came round and took everyone’s blood pressure. General Davide was fast asleep. The nurse looked at the Friends of the Hospital woman sitting at the foot of his bed and at the security man and said quietly to them: “I do not think it is a good idea to wake him…”

She left the ward without waking him.

I woke from a DEEP sleep around 7.00am with noisy chaos around me. It turned out to be in the bed next to me, which was curtained-off. All I could tell was that there were several nurses’ voices and a man in a lot of pain.

At the staff shift change-over, the nurse in charge overnight went through the details of each patient but, with General Davide, she added: “…and there is the aggression problem which is why he (pointing at the security guard) is here.”

The man in the bed opposite me had a strange look yesterday. He was totally silent and staring. His eyes were wide open and staring blankly, seldom blinking, but he didn’t seem to be focusing on anything… and there was something oddly twisty about his mouth. Like the top half of his face was solid but the bottom half of his staring face had no bones, just muscles and flesh which floated randomly. Like he was chewing but he was chewing nothingness. He seemed very young, maybe in his twenties or thirties. His was propped up, looking ahead, wide black eyes staring, but maybe sightless.

This morning, there were two nurses and a doctor round him. he was less propped-up, his head lying back on the pillows. So his pointed chin was up and his neck was exposed. He looked like an ancient man, 120 years old, drained of life. He looked like some Egyptian mummy, raised from the dead in some 1950s Hammer horror movie.

He was refusing to eat or drink, but silently. The doctors and nurses were trying to get him to respond. But, from him, no words, no moans, nothing. Alive. But just silent resignation to something. I have no idea what.

The new nurse in charge of the day shift is a man. When he injected me, I said: “You’ve done that before, then…”

“I’ve been doing it for thirteen years,” he said.

The young female nurse today is his half-sister. She is a trainee nurse and this is her second day on a ‘real’ ward. She has kind eyes.

“We have the same father,” the male nurse explained to me.

He is Indian. His half sister is Pakistani. And, as it happens, the security guard today is Bangladeshi. The half-siblings both speak Urdu, the Bangladeshi guard does not. But they are very very friendly. In English.

The Friends of the Hospital woman was no longer at Davide’s bedside when I woke up. She must have left during the night or at dawn.

Davide is in a lot of pain now.

In the course of the morning, the man in agony in the bed next to me was removed and replaced by another man in a lot of pain.

The old/young/old man opposite me was left alone, silently staring ahead.

And then I was discharged from the hospital.

My calcium level was down, though still above the normal band of acceptability.

My kidney function was up though was not doing as well as my calcium level and the kidney function’s level had ‘plateaued’ at its abnormal level.

So all is not well, but I was told my conditions were no longer ‘dangerous’.

I and my bed could be released and I can, from now on, be treated as an outpatient. For my slightly damaged kidneys, my calcium level and the mark on my arm which might or might not be Lyme disease and which has now turned into a red smile on my skin.

Though the doctors still have no idea what caused my calcium/kidney conditions last year or this year.

That narrative continues.

But all the other people over the last week are left behind in freeze-frame. Like a narrative coitus interruptus. Like life, this story has no climax. When you die, the narrative just continues without you. So it goes.

I will never know if Michael’s brother arrived to take him away or, if so, where he went and what happened to him. 

I will never know if the man who swallowed his false teeth and the cancer man died a few days later.

Nor will I ever know what happened to blind Italian Claudio or to the boy/old man with staring eyes in the bed opposite me.

As I left the ward, the last I saw of Davide was a glimpse of him walking slowly the short distance from his bed to a chair in the bay window of the ward, which overlooks the entrance to the hospital. It was raining outside.

A tall, thin man with only one arm.

As I left, in my peripheral vision, Davide stopped and the top half of his body bent slightly forward in pain, his head bowed. I think he was carrying a bag of his own urine, but I could be wrong. 

It’s not important.

It’s all in the past, just memories now.

Just like – as Rutger Hauer said – tears in rain.

“The mark on my arm… which has now turned into a red smile on my skin…”

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 6 – The one-armed African liberation leader

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Monday 26th July

During the early hours of the night, the curtains on the interior windows and the main ward doors were closed while a dead body was removed along the corridor from another ward. A nurse told me they didn’t want patients to see it… nor any staff who might have incidentally interacted with the now stiff. So it goes. 

The ward aggro today kicked off slowly at 4.30am when Michael started getting up and roaming the ward like a caged animal, pacing back and forth and touching objects around the ward as if checking where reality started or ended. Sometimes he was up and pacing, sometimes he was lying in bed; sometimes he was up and pacing, sometimes he was lying in bed; this went on for maybe an hour.

One of the male nurses is religious (a Christian) and he told Michael: “Tell them to go away”.

Michael lay on his bed for a time, repeating: “God, tell them to go away. Please God, tell them to go away.”

He refused to have his various daily medical checks, verbally abusing the nurses, randomly saying he couldn’t get to sleep and that he could only sleep.

Around 7.00am, he started grabbing, pushing and tussling with the security man to get out of the closed door of the ward. The security guy, of course, could only passively resist.

After the shift change-over, Michael told one of the new nurses he wanted to phone 999 because he didn’t think he was well and wanted to go to hospital.

“You are already in hospital,” she told him gently.

“No I’m not!” he snapped.

Michael now has four Covid masks hidden under the pillows of his bed, given to him over several days. He asked for each one. He is worried he might have Covid and, I suspect, he thinks that simply owning the masks shields him from the virus. He has never put on any of the masks (and is not required to). 

The ward has twice-a-week rapid Covid tests on Tuesdays and Fridays.

When the Calcium Man came round with his two two junior doctors and found I had had the constant drip on Saturday but no drip at all on Sunday, he was not a happy man.

“I asked for the drip all weekend. What’s the point of coming in for treatment if he doesn’t get treatment?” he said to his underlings.

So I will be back on the drip again after he sees the blood tests which have not yet been done.

Michael now thinks I am watching him. 

Michael to nurse – “Everybody’s watching me.”

He then went to the loo but came out and asked where the toilet bowl was and complained he couldn’t see any toilet paper – There are two big rolls in a bright blue dispenser fixed to the wall, where they always are.

A nurse showed him the toilet bowl and the toilet paper.

About ten minutes later, he asked again where he could get toilet paper. The security man had to show him the bright blue dispenser fixed to the wall,

Michael is probably leaving today. He asked where one of the nurses lived. She told him. About two minutes later, he said to the same nurse that today he was being taken by his brother William to (the town where she lives).

A young Buddhist nurse talked to him about his life – he told her he used to work in large hotels on Park Lane in London. I switch on the recorder on my iPhone.

He asked her about Sri Lanka, where she came from.

“Michael,” the young girl asked him, “have you enjoyed your life?”

“Nah,” he replied. “Do you have children?”

“Yes,” she replied. “A daughter.”

“Married?” 

“Yes.”

“Your husband’s from Sri Lanka?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever been married, Michael?”

“No.” Michael said. “Are you happy?” 

“Yes… Don’t think about anything, Michael, just relax your mind.”

“How can you relax your mind?”

“Just forget everything,” she told him.

“You can’t forget everything,” he said, “you just can’t.”

“It’s very hard,” she said, “but you need to get better before you go home. So don’t try to fight with everybody. Just relax.”

“I can’t do it though. I’m not that type of person. I wish I was.”

“You need to relax and have a good sleep.”

“I can’t sleep. I keep going through Who wants me? and that type of thing… What do you do at your college?”

“I am studying nursing. I am still studying.”

“I’m still shaking,” Michael told her. “I can’t relax. I wish I could relax like you. Do you do the Buddhism every day, do you?”

“Yes. I am listening to the sermons.”

“What are they like?”

On her phone, she played him a soothing Buddhist Society sermon about ‘the four ways of letting go’.

Eventually, after about five or six minutes, Michael got up and asked the security man, “Why are you doing this to me? You know what you’re doing. Why are you doing it?”

The security man said nothing.

“You’re a liar!” Michael snapped at him. “It’s too late for me to be a Buddhist!”

At 1.25pm, the cancer man was taken away to the other, bigger hospital for radiotherapy.

The ambulance men who were here on Friday and today are from a county out to the south east of London but are subcontracted to this county to the north west of London because this county doesn’t have enough vehicles. The ambulance men drive their vehicle up here each morning and back each night. I guesstimate it must take them at least 90 minutes each way. Longer if the M25 motorway is clogged with traffic.

While the ambulance men from another county are moving the cancer patient to wheel him out, Michael is asking nurses how to work the shower and demanding attention.

By now, Michael has taken to wandering round in a maroon jacket on top of his NHS pyjamas and carrying a green plastic bag containing, I think, some ad leaflets and postcards.

After excessive rudeness from Michael, the security guard took to sitting outside the ward door instead of being inside.

Michael accepted this situation for about ten minutes then (I think) got lonely and went out to talk to the already overly busy Receptionists.

I think he is maybe trying to fill the loneliness gap. Complaining and being angry/paranoid means you are never alone.

“They want to examine the rash on my arm…”

I am told I am going to be kept in at least tonight because they want to examine the rash on my arm which one of the Calcium Man’s junior doctors spotted a few days ago. They think it might be Lyme disease.

Later in the day, the cancer man was brought back from his radiotherapy. About an hour or so later, after seriously dramatic vomiting, he was given more morphine and a suppository.

After this, Michael started offering to help the staff with their medical duties and offered to buy the Buddhist nurse a beer at the bar. He seems to have confused the Reception desk with a pub bar.

Michael in his self-absorbed dementia reminds me of many a stand-up comic I know.

Two beds away from me, one nurse talks with the wife of the almost-certainly-dying man who swallowed his own false teeth.

Across the ward, another nurse is dealing with Claudio the blind Italian in the toilet. 

And Michael is obsessed with what time his evening meal will arrive and I think offering to take multiple nurses out for a restaurant meal tonight. 

He offers to buy the security man a pint of bitter in the non-existent bar.

My unused monitoring screen (top left)…

At around 6.30pm, at 15 minutes notice, the doctors decide to move me to another ward because they need a monitored bed and mine is the easiest one to get.

There are only three monitored beds in the ward. The one occupied by the almost-certainly-dying false teeth man. The one with the almost certain-to-die cancer patient. And my one. And my monitoring screen is not being used.

So I am now moved to a new four-bed ward in another part of the hospital.

One of the beds is occupied by the one-armed African liberation leader Kofi Davide – the tall man from a small African country – who got booted out of my previous ward for hitting a nurse. (All names in this blog have been changed)

He now has a hospital security man sitting permanently by his bed or in the ward’s bay window presumably in case he decides to hit another nurse.

As I arrived in this ward, a Russian nurse – or, at least, one with what sounded like a Russian accent – was berating the one-armed African liberation leader for “losing” the cigarette she gave him yesterday.

When the shifts changed, he asked a couple of nurses, separately, if they had a cigarette. When they said they didn’t, he said, “Go away!” curtly.

In the early-evening, another nurse came in and she started talking with him about the former leader of his country.

She asked him: “Where do you live now?”

There was a long pause while he did not answer because he obviously did not want to tell her exactly where he lived… then he said: “In the world. In the world. I am a citizen of the world.”

In mid-evening, a black woman (could be British but with a slight African accent) from the Friends of the Hospital took him – apparently out of the building (with the hospital security guard) – and they came back with takeaway food.

He told the very attentive Friends of the Hospital woman that his wife is flying in tomorrow, though it is unclear from where. He told her that his wife is flying in from England.

The Friends of the Hospital woman said to him: “I am going to stay here all night to make sure you are safe.”

And she did. She sat by his bedside all night.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 5 – “He was punching him in the stomach”

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Sunday 25th July

When you twice miss the vein with the needle…

During the night, I woke up to find Michael grappling with a male nurse, trying to push him back with his outstretched hands. The nurse was trying to calm him down by making light of it as if it were a dance. Michael and the male nurse were surrounded by three female nurses and a male security guard trying to calm him down.

I had to go to the toilet. When I came out, the grappling was over. The male nurse was washing his hands and a new security guard was there. He was a stand-in while the night’s main security man had a one-hour break. Michael was back in his bed.

Four or five times during the one-hour break, Michael got up and made a dash for the door of the ward and was silently tussled (reactively – not in an aggressive way) by the security guard.

By the time the main security man came back, Michael was quietly sleeping in his bed.

A bit later on, I was woken by Michael facing-up to the security man who was on his own in the ward. Michael made a lurch at the security man. Michael started punching him in the stomach. There was probably no power behind the punches, but they were still punches.

The security man managed to calm him down by talking to him in a firm but quiet voice.

In the early hours towards dawn, the cancer man asked for and got a double dose of morphine. 

Today, a Sunday, there was no 1-1 nurse care for Michael, just a security guard; there were not enough nurses to spare one full-time to constantly watch over Michael.

The black machine and drip bag on their frame

After the nurses’ shift handover in the morning, I was told that, today, I did not need to have the drips in my arm, but I should drink a lot of water. This made it easier to go to the toilet, because I didn’t have to drag with me the whole wheeled drip apparatus attached to my arm.

Michael was told he could go ‘home’ tomorrow if he allowed them to give him a COVID Rapid Test. At this point he was meek and quietly allowed it.

And for most of the day he was fairly quiet. I figured this was because he had been told he could leave if he behaved. He was fairly quiet. But, mid-afternoon, another possible cause was revealed. He had had diarrhoea all day.

Michael, as most days, was alternating between meekness and aggression but today meekness had the upper hand..

I read a piece in today’s Observer newspaper online:


Pay for nurses and other NHS staff in England will have fallen in real terms by more than 7% since 2010, even if they accept the latest offer from the government, according to new analysis that will fuel rising anger about public sector pay deals.

Figures produced by the TUC show that remuneration for nurses, community nurses, medical secretaries, speech therapists, physiotherapists, paramedics and radiographers will have dropped by between 7.3% and 7.6% in real terms in just over a decade, even after factoring in the 3% rise offered last week.


The nurse in charge of the ward yesterday was telling another nurse that, when she goes home at night, she has to sleep with her legs on five pillows and her head on two pillows. She has a shoulder injury. If she didn’t sleep like that, she said, she wouldn’t be able to come in to work and function properly.

What on earth poor blind Italian Claudio makes of all the current shenanigans in the ward, heaven only knows. Lots of unknown voices around him in a language that he only has a passable not good knowledge of. He has had to learn the words Left, Right and Straight when he is guided by a nurse to the toilet with his Zimmer Frame.

At 4.00pm, Claudio started saying he is going home tomorrow. He isn’t.

He must have picked the idea up from Michael.

And, ironically, Michael has decided that he does not want to leave and go to “that place” tomorrow and is trying and failing to get his brother William on the mobile phone to cancel it.

Michael has now taken to occasionally either curling up on his bed in a foetal position or sitting on the edge of the bed, head bent, gnawing at the fingers of his clenched hand like a caged bear going mad.

Around 6.30pm, after a quiet day, Michael started sniping at other people claiming they were conspiring against him.

At around the same time, there was discussion among the nurses because a Covid non-believer was going to be brought in to a neighbouring part of the ward and had refused to take a Covid swab test before admission. 

One of the nurses said that, although she would, she didn’t really see why she had to look after “people like that”.

Another said: “I’m in the 13-to-24 age group, so I will do it.”

Presumably this is also happening elsewhere in the country and it must put the nurses in a moral quandary – they have to treat all patients even if the people they treat may cause a risk to them by reckless behaviour.

We seem to have two, maybe three security guards tonight.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 4 – “You’re doing it on bloody PURPOSE!”

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Saturday 24th July

I was woken up from a deep sleep at 07.00am to have my blood pressure checked. 

This is significant because I actually had some real sleep last night. Michael settled down after two or three hours last night and I don’t think caused chaos by wandering around, talking in rambling forgetfulness etc etc.

It is potentially a big day for him today as his brother William is allegedly coming to pick him up at 2.00pm.

No 1-1 nurse care for Michael today, just a security guard; they don’t have enough staff to spare a 1-to-1 nurse.

This morning, Michael didn’t get up until 8.45am, making a staggery break for the door to get out of the ward but not wearing the bottom half of his pyjamas. He was caught and re-directed to the toilet. 

At around 9.20am, there was an almighty crash of crockery, cutlery and loud sundries as he threw (well, I think maybe kicked) his breakfast off his trolley/wheeled table onto the floor. One plate was broken; the rest bounced.

The cancer patient in the bed next to me told the male nurse that there seemed to be blood on his (the cancer patient’s) pyjamas. It turned out it was jam from his breakfast.

At 10.45am, Michael started complaining that he was hungry and had not been given breakfast today. 

Round about midday, without warning, I was taken in a wheelchair to some imaging unit – a slightly-better than X-ray place. I had no idea why. A porter pushed the wheelchair and a nurse accompanied us.

All three of us wore Covid masks. 

Reception at the imaging place said that an appointment had been made by my Calcium Man but at no specific time. So no spot was booked. After about five minutes of the nurse and the receptionist discussing this, a woman coincidentally came along with the paperwork. It turned out the appointment was to look at my liver.

When we were waiting outside the actual imaging room, another patient was waiting with us. He either was – or was the spitting image of – a middlingly-famous actor in British B-movie gangster films. He told me he had been put in a ward with mad people. No sleep at nights for him because (like Michael) they were speaking all the time.

He mentioned the name of the ward.

My nurse said: “Yes, that’s a dementia ward.”

“They said it was the only bed they had free,” the maybe-actor replied.

My liver was said to be OK and I was taken back to my ward.

The grand daughter of the cancer man was in for a one hour visit. She had travelled up to North London from Brighton.

Normal visitors are not allowed in the hospital but a close blood-relative can come in to be with an end-of-life relative. The man has incurable cancer. They are going to start giving him radiotherapy treatment. It will not cure the cancer but it may (or may not) stop it spreading further. 

The man with cancer and his grand daughter talked about what was going to happen after he died. Cremation. No church. Money in a Cyprus bank account. 

Simultaneously, Michael was complaining to a nurse that the chain in the ward toilet had been taken away. In fact, it never had one. It is just a handle-flush toilet.

The grand daughter was telling the man with cancer: “No, we won’t forget you.”

Michael’s brother William arrived at 1.15pm and said, in fact, he isn’t taking him home but that it has now been arranged that Michael will be “released on Monday” and “taken to a hotel” for “consultation, to see what you want to do”. 

I think this means he is going to be taken into a care home. My iPhone voice recorder is a wonderful thing. (All names in this blog have been changed.)

William: Well, you been here about two weeks, haven’t you?

Michael: No! About three months… four months… It’s driving me mad. I’m very nervous, very anxious.

William: Yes, I would be, too. 

Michael: How you doing?

William: Well, Carol, my son’s wife’s got cancer, you know. This is the hospital where you were having the cancer treatment done, wasn’t it? But you haven’t got cancer.

Michael: Well, they say that. They say that.

William: They told you you haven’t got cancer. You’re definitely leaving Monday now. I’ve booked it. You’ve only got one more day, tomorrow, here. It’s Sunday tomorrow and you’ve just got one more day. You’ve only got tomorrow. On Monday, I’ll be here to sort it.

Michael: I get about three meals a day here; that’s all. It’s not worth the money.

William: Don’t worry. Everything’s free in the hospital. It’s just one more day here.

A couple of hours later, Michael phoned the police and said he was in Hospital and was imprisoned, unable to go home and do what he wanted and it was “like being in a concentration camp”. They said they couldn’t help and told him to talk to the staff.

“Did you just call the police on us?” a male nurse asked gently. “Why did you do that?”

“I can’t go anywhere. I can’t do anything.”

“We let you move around,” the nurse said. “We listen to you.You can talk to us as often as you want. You should be speaking to your family, not talking to the police.”

“I never see my brother,” said Michael. “He doesn’t come here.”

Michael again refused to take the eye drops prescribed by the doctor then, later, complained about his declining sight and that he was going blind. That is his latest obsession:

“I am going blind and need to see a doctor about it!”

The nurse offered again to put the eye drops in, but Michael yelled: “Eye drops ARE NO USE! I’m GOING BLIND!”

Meanwhile, in the bed next to him, Claudio the Italian actually IS blind.

Michael’s thoughts about going blind seem to have started when Claudio arrived.

“What do you put in the eyedrops?” Michael was saying accusingly to the young nurse. “They make my eyes bloody worse. I don’t know what you’re doing, do I?”

“Please, please?” the young nurse said.

“I’m diabetic,” Michael told her.

Later, a soft-voiced young Asian nurse came to give Michael his nightly medication. 

“Take your tablet now… Please.”

Michael pretended to take the tablet with water but threw it on the ground.

She noticed.

“This is not fair,” she told him reprovingly. “This is not fair, Michael.”

He bent down to pick the tablet off the floor.

“I will give you a different one,” the nurse told him. She gave him another tablet and watched him take it.

“Why are you doing this to me?” he asked her. “What have I done?”

In today’s nursing shift, coincidentally, one of the black male nurses and the Indian security man speak Italian.

Occasionally they talk to Claudio in Italian. He talks happily to them. His English is very weak.

Sometimes the person Claudio is talking to in English has to deal with something elsewhere in the ward and, without telling him, they wander off. Blind Claudio does not realise this, so carries on, believing he is having a dialogue but actually he is talking into the nothingness in front of him.  

With the Italian-speaking security guard, Claudio was (I think) sharing his life. He was talking animatedly about Roma, the Pigalle and Hertfordshire. 

The security guard went off to attend to something else and Claudio carried on unknowingly talking to no-one for about 5 or 6 minutes. He eventually realised there was no-one there and sat back in his chair looking into space, a sad smile on lips.

After a while, the security man came back and said a few words to him. Claudio replied but the security man wandered off again. Claudio again kept talking into space and eventually sat back again, his fingers feeling the smooth plastic surface of his wheeled trolley.

Meanwhile, the cancer man got more morphine.

At about 9.00pm in the evening, Michael threw a wobbly.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to get out. My brother is  coming to see me.”

“Michael,” a male nurse said, “He came at lunchtime. I need to take your blood pressure…”

“Come on, then.”

“…and I will give you your eye drops.”

“I want to get to see my brother. Get away from me! Please, hurry up, come on… You do it on purpose. You do it on purpose. My brother’s coming today… Come on, you’re doing it on bloody PURPOSE!”

“What?”

“You’ve done it on purpose, yes you did!”

“Did what?”

“Ive already had the eye drops today.”

“What time?”

“Earlier on. I don’t want them again today. I’m getting out. I’m getting out of here. My brother’s coming. I don’t want to stay here! Get out of it. Stop it! STOP IT! STOP IT! You do it on purpose, don’t you?”

“Do what, Michael? Why are you fighting with me?”

“I want to get out and see my brother! He won’t come here.”

“What,” another nurse asked, “is your brother’s name, Michael?”

“Michael,” he replied then, after a slight pause, “William… William!”

“Why don’t you call him on your mobile phone? Phone him and ask him what time he is coming.”

Michael left a message on William’s home answerphone. 

A couple of minutes later, someone (I guess William’s wife) phoned back. I heard only Michael’s end of the conversation:

“I’ve just given you a phone call. What time is Will coming today?…… He’s been? He hasn’t been here. I haven’t seen him yet…… No, but I’ve seen him yesterday. Today I’m seeing him…… No, I didn’t see him today! I didn’t see him! I didn’t see him at all today…… He hasn’t seen me…… (STARTING TO SHOUT) He DIDN’T see me today! He HASN’T!…… So what now?……Hello? Hello, it’s Michael. Hello?”

A few minutes later, Michael said to a nurse: “No, I’m not going anywhere because I haven’t found him. (STARTING TO SHOUT) No, I HAVEN’T FOUND him… No, I haven’t seen him today. I haven’t seen him. He said he’d be about eight-ish o’clock. That’s now. I don’t know what to do. I know, you’re laughing at me. You’re bloody laughing at me. I can see you. Why did you say he’d seen me? He hasn’t seen me.”

Michael crossed the ward to another nurse.

“Bloody liar,” he said to her. “Bloody liar.” And he walked away from her.

Ten minutes later, William phoned him.

Michael said: “So you’ll see me Monday again. What do you mean you saw me today? I didn’t see you…… You didn’t see me…… Yeah, well, no, what’s the day today anyway?……Saturday? That was yesterday, though…… Look, I don’t want to spend it in a place like this, Will. I hate it, you know? I don’t want to spend my last days in a place like this. I hate it Will, you know?…… Well I probably won’t see you Monday anyway……The people here are trying to stop me coming out…… Monday, yes.”

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 3 – The blind Italian and an old obsession

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Friday 23rd July

I find I am very attached to the equipment…

A new patient was wheeled in last night and put in General Davide’s former bed. The new patient is Italian and is blind. His name is Claudio. (I have changed all the names in this blog.)

He shouts: “I am blind!”

A nurse replies: “You are blind, not deaf. You don’t need to shout.”

Each patient has different toilet requirements.

When I get out of bed and go to the toilet, I have to disconnect the drip machine from the mains power; it then runs on battery and I re-plug it in when I return. 

At 11.10pm last night, I got up to go the toilet and, half-asleep, ripped the whole plastic tube and needle out of my arm. I went to the toilet. I went back to my bed. Using the torch light on my iPhone. I looked at the bloody torn-flesh gash on my arm.

Then I wanted to go to the toilet again. I did. This time I disconnecting myself from the wall. 

When I opened toilet door to come out again, a bed was being wheeled in through the main doors of the ward.

I saw the haggard face of an old man on it. I think he had a surgical cap on. I think there was a surgeon in attendance and maybe six people round the bed as it was wheeled in. They put him on my side of the ward, two beds away from me.

Later, during the night, Michael got up and started aimlessly, absentmindedly walking around, confused. He went over to the foot of my neighbour’s bed and started rattling the bottom up and down. The young security man in the ward stopped him.

There is now a security guard here 24 hours a day.

Michael wandered off, then turned round and round in tight circles. His face, side-lit in the mostly darkened ward, was uncontrollably distraught and almost in tears. I switch on the recorder in my iPhone.

“I’m going mad,” Michael says. “He’s got money.” (Referring to General Davide) “He can do anything.” A few minutes later, Michael was grappling with a female nurse’s hands. She was trying to control him. “You’re a woman,” he said.

Third time lucky: torn arm, re-inserted tube

About ten minutes later, a young nurse came to re-insert the drip in my arm. She tried to put the needle in the back of my left hand. She tried again. Neither attempt worked but it was very painful. Then she got a more senior nurse to come and the more experienced nurse managed to put it in the back of my left hand at the base of my thumb. 

This must be the rule of thumb – Try to put the needle in twice and, if you fail, call a trained nurse.

A little later, Michael starts saying to a nurse: “You know it’s not fair. You know it’s not bloody fair. He can do what he wants and I can’t do anything.”

He is again talking about Davide. Two nurses are moving Claudio the blind Italian off his bed – with some difficulty – onto a commode chair by the bedside, so he can sit and shit.

“He can do what he wants and I can’t do anything,” Michael repeats, still talking about Davide. “I’m going out of here. I want to get out. It’s not fair. The system’s not fair.”

Claudio the blind Italian shouts out something in Italian.

Michael continues, obsessed: “It’s not fair. You know it’s not fair. He can do what he wants that feller.”

The two nurses have managed to get Claudio the blind Italian, who speaks only rudimentary English, onto the commode.

“Why not,” one of the nurses suggests to Michael, “go to bed and you can sleep?”

“He can do what he wants,” replies Michael, as if accusing the nurse. “You know yourself.” 

Michael continues talking about Davide while Claudio the blind Italian sits and shits.

“You know what it’s like,” Michael says. “He can do anything he wants to do. He’s got money. That’s why. It’s true. I know it. You know it. He has £500,000”

A little later…

“Blanket!” says Claudio the blind Italian.

“You want another blanket?” asks a nurse.

“Yes! “shouts Claudio the blind Italian.

“You say you’re a Christian,” Michael says to the nurse. “You should worry. You know it’s true.”

“We love you,” a nurse tells him, consolingly, “and we are doing the best for you.”

“No, no,” says Michael. “You know what this is. Tell the truth. I hate it here.”

“Don’t say things like that, Michael,” says the nurse gently.

“You know it’s true,” he replies.

“Can I do your temperature?” asks the nurse, gently.

“Oh!” snaps Michael. “That’s all you care about! I hear that every night, near enough now. You know what this is!”

“Sit down and let me check your sugar level,” says the nurse.

“No. Let’s get going.”

“You are safe in here…”

Michael wanders off to the other end of the ward.

A little later, there were loud yells of agony from the man in the next bed to me. 

He has cancer. 

They give him a lot of morphine. 

The handover between the nursing night and day shifts takes place in middle of the ward at around 7.30-8.00am and all patients can hear it.

The plan for the man with cancer next to me has been to take him for preliminary radiotherapy at a larger hospital at 10.00am but this morning the hospital’s Transport Dept said they can’t take him until noon.

The new supervising nurse, coming on shift, asks: “Has the appointment moved?”

The nurse going off shift says: “It is still at 10.15. You will have to keeping phoning up and pestering to try to get them to collect him before noon.”

Michael still has a female nurse looking after him 24 hours a day in case he does something silly; and there is still a hospital security man there 24 hours a day making sure he does nothing dangerous.

In the online edition of the Guardian this morning, I read:


Ministers are forcing the NHS to cover part of the cost of its 3% staff pay rise in a move which health service chiefs say could lead to cuts in patient care.

The NHS in England will have to find about £500 million to help fund the 3% increase that the health secretary, Sajid Javid, announced on Wednesday, despite already struggling to meet the extra costs of the pandemic, including the care backlog and treatment for the soaring numbers of people with ‘long Covid’.

Ministers are also facing mounting anger from the medical profession after it emerged that tens of thousands of doctors have been excluded from the 3% deal, despite the government’s advisers on NHS pay specifically recommending that they also be rewarded for helping to tackle Covid-19.

Traditionally, the Treasury meets the full cost of annual pay rises for NHS personnel. However, Boris Johnson has decided that the service will have to help shoulder at least part of the bill for the 3% uplift, payable to more than a million staff for 2021-22 and backdated to April.


My Calcium Man and his two junior doctors come to see me.

My calcium level is down to near but still not perfect normal. My kidneys have not quite recovered as well. One has slight damage, I think. I am not absolutely sure. It is all a bit vague.

I am seeing the Kidney Man this afternoon.

The Calcium Man says I will be on a continuous drip all weekend.

As he and his two junior doctors turn and walk away, suddenly a loud alarm goes off, seemingly in the ceiling of the ward. Almost immediately, there are doctors and nurses everywhere and a heart resuscitator is brought in – for the man two beds away from me who, sometime in the last few days, swallowed his false teeth and they went into his lungs. 

A crowd of doctors and nurses look on, as if round a car crash; just observers.

The man’s heart is restarted.

A little later, Michael and his new Sikh security guard start talking about religion.

Later still, two ambulance men are in the ward with a bed on wheels – for the man with cancer in the bed next to me. The ambulance man is telling a nurse that he knows someone (not an ambulance man) who is getting a £33,000 pay rise.

A little later, one of my Calcium Man’s junior doctors comes back in to ask some more questions. She tells me Junior Doctors will get no pay rise. But, she says, nurses deserve anything they get. 

Yes indeed they do.

At lunchtime, an older security man tells a younger one about the best physical moves to take when attacked by a patient.

The Tokyo ‘2020’ Olympics have started. Just like the Euro Football Championships, because of the delay caused by the pandemic lockdowns, 2021 is still called 2020. Future generations will be numerically confused.

I am now not seeing the Kidney Man today. 

I am told, if my kidneys don’t get better, he will see me as an outpatient and maybe arrange a kidney biopsy. I will also be given another PETscan at another hospital – I had one last year. That’s the one where they put radioactive stuff in my blood and watch it go round.

I am told the hospital has started my discharge process but that doesn’t mean I’m getting out today.

They are putting me on a constant drip but – because of weekend – the earliest I can imagine anything happening is Monday or Tuesday. The main medical men don’t work weekends.

Michael is lying on his bed literally praying to God for help.

“Please God, help me. Dear God, help me…” he mutters, lying curled in a foetal position.

He refuses to allow a nurse to put in the eye drops the doctors have prescribed for him and, as normal, starts getting fully manic around 8.15pm, just after the change in nursing shifts.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 2 – “He got away with bloody murder!…”

(CONTUNUED FROM HERE)

THURSDAY 22nd JULY

For breakfast, there was a choice of cereals; I chose Corn Flakes. I could also have had bread. And fruit juices, tea and coffee.

There is now a nurse 100% of the time with Michael – to keep him as calm as possible.

But he is still mentally swirling: a new obsession every ten minutes and no memory of what he has said or what has been said to him.

He said he had lost his wallet so it must have been stolen. But his nurse finds it in the jacket in his wardrobe with £20 inside. He then says he has lost his mobile phone, but his nurse finds it in the wardrobe.

He chats to his nurse, a gentle young girl. She is a Buddhist. He was, he says, a Christian and wants to be a Christian again. They chat about religion.

The Calcium Man visits me with his two student doctors. He says today I will have three 6-hour drips – ie 18 hours of drips – with more to be decided after that.

Half an hour later, one of the Calcium Man’s junior doctors comes back to get more information from me and she spots a red circular mark on my right arm. I tell her it is a patch which was heavily sunburned a few weeks ago and, when the skin started to peel off a couple of days later, I foolishly ‘helped’ it by peeling the edges off.

She does not look convinced.

I am now wearing four socks – two tight, long green socks to try to avert deep vein thrombosis two short red slip-over non-slip socks.

The drip has been moved from my right to my left arm – it was leaking plus it is easier for me, as a right-handed man, to have it in my left arm. The trainee nurse had two attempts to inject me with a needle to get the plastic tube into my left arm and failed. So she gave up and got a more experienced nurse to needle it in.

Michael’s brother William phoned him. He said he is going to collect Michael at 1.00pm on Saturday to take him ‘home’… As far as I can gather, this actually means an old people’s care home. Michael does not really understand this and, as far as I can see, confused, he thinks he is being collected at 5.30pm tonight.

Around 6.00pm, I start watching the BBC News on my iPhone, with my earphones in. As a result of this, I don’t really hear the rumpus that is going on (I think) just outside the ward,

It seems that, at some point, the tall man from a small African country who only has one arm hit a nurse. Another nurse.

There are now two hospital security men at the door of the ward; one sitting inside the ward; and five in the outer area by Reception.

The tall man from a small African country who only has one arm and Michael both have beds on the other side of the ward.

Their verbal tiffs have been continuing throughout the day and I am amazed it was not Michael he hit.

Michael, still obsessed with his brother William not coming to collect him at 5.30pm, now also starts obsessing about the tall man from a small African country who only has one arm and who is called Davide.

“He’s got away with murder!” Michael says to the nurses about the tall man from a small African country, who is lying in his nearby bed. “You know he has. I saw it. Because he’s got half a million quid. That’s why you treat him different. He is always shouting.”

Trying to get out of the ward, he is physically restrained and brought back from the Reception area into the ward by two male nurses, a security man and a female nurse.

Michael tells a nurse (my iPhone is a good recording device): “I want to die. I do. I want to die. Why did you let him go? Get out of it! Get out of my way!… No. No! You let him get away with murder!”

He starts walking round the ward in an agitated, random way, never looking at the tall man from a small African country.

The nurse: “Michael, what’s wrong?”

Michael: “You let him get away with murder!”

The nurse: “No-one has been murdered…”

Michael: “There WAS money in the bag! There WAS! You know it. You knew it.”

The supervising nurse calls for more security to come up to the ward.

Michael: “He got away with it.”

The nurse: “Alright. Alright, Michael. (with concern in her voice) What’s upsetting you?

Michael: “That fellah got away with murder!”

The nurse: “Nobody got away with murder… It’s OK…”

Michael: “Get away!”

The nurse: “Michael, come and sit down. What’s wrong?”

Michael (SHOUTING): “I SAW THAT FELLER COME AND… COME AND… he was shouting all of the time and he… got away with… murder… didn’t he… You know he did!”

The nurse: “Nobody’s done an…”

Michael: “He done that. Security wise you know that.”

The nurse: “Please, you’re going to injure…”

Michael: “Get away, get away, get away… I see that feller get away with murder…”

The nurse: “Nobody’s got away with…”

Michael: “He got away with it… I see him”

The nurse: “OK… OK… What do you want? How can we help?”

Michael: “Well, I should have the same things.”

The nurse: “OK. Come and sit here and we’ll talk about it, OK?”

Michael: “No, I feel very upset about it.”

The nurse: “Do you want to sit here and we’ll talk about it?”

Michael: “No, no, no… He got AWAY WITH IT! He got away with it. I see him got away with it.”

The nurse: “Do you want a cup of tea, Michael?”

Michael: “He got away. He got away… with… No, he got away with bloody murder!”

The nurse: “Do you want to sit down and we can get you a cup of tea?”

Michael: “I saw it with my own eyes.”

The nurse: “Tell me. What did you see?”

Michael: “I’ve seen him… I see… I see him abusing a couple of women. I saw it happen. You know it happened.”

The nurse: “Do you want to come and sit beside me?”

Michael: “Why should I come and sit beside you?… No, no. You saw that happen, didn’t you! He got away with bloody murder!”

During all this, the tall man from a small African country just lies quietly in his bed.

Later, the tall man from a small African country is wheeled out of the ward on his bed. 

As he is taken out, he says to no-one in particular: “I am General Kofi Davide.” (I have changed all the names in this blog)

Later, Michael wanders round the ward and comes over to my bed, confused. He absentmindedly bends down to pick up my shoes.

“They’re my shoes, Michael,” I tell him gently.

“Davide was always shouting,” he says later.

“Why are you keeping me here?” Michael asks a nurse. “I’ve done nothing. You know I haven’t.”

He is genuinely frightened, but it also feels like maybe he gets a kick out of being noticed. He is 83 years old. He wanders round the ward absentmindedly, touching objects – the end of beds, walls, windows – as if making sure they are there.

He refuses to have a nurse put in the eye drops doctors have prescribed for him.

On a whim, I look up Kofi Davide online. (I have changed all names in this blog.)

He was a commander in the Liberation Front army during his country’s war of independence, later becoming a politician with roles in the new government but, eventually, he fell foul of the new leadership and, allegedly, has not been heard of for the last ten years, presumed to be in prison somewhere. His wife was also a freedom finder during their war of liberation.

Around 8.00pm, Michael desperately tries to leave. He is pulled back by a male nurse, today’s current 1-to-1 care nurse and a security guard (who is now permanently in the ward and follows Michael wherever he goes). The security guard has Michael’s arm in a half-nelson.

Throughout the night, Michael lies on his bed, gets up, wanders around the ward, lies on his bed, gets up, wanders around the ward, lies on his bed, gets up, wanders around the ward, lies on his bed, gets up…

At one point, he bangs on the windows with his first.

“Why are you doing this?” the nurse asks.

“I want to smash the windows!” Michael replies. “I want justice done!”

“Look, Michael,” the nurse says, “the security guard is here.”

“No no,” Michael replies. “I see what happened then. What’s he doing now?”

“Davide is going away,” says the nurse. “He’s gone upstairs.”

Michael keeps pacing the ward all night, occasionally having verbal outbursts.

I get little sleep.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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