Another restless night passed with less frequent checks of the toob, blood pressure, heart rate and 02 levels – I was still alive. The window was not allowed to be open and the room an ambient 28 degrees c (no wonder I couldn’t sleep). Sister D had helped me clean my teeth the night before and by 9pm I was ready to sleep but the ward doesn’t close for visitors until 10pm and the lights don’t go off until midnight. In 1974 I had had my tonsils removed in the Royal Naval Hospital in Stonehouse Plymouth. Although my memory may be hazy I can remember that we were woken at 6am and it was in bed by 6pm and lights out (which was a bit useless as it was the summer and light until after 9pm). I know this because as the oldest child on the ward I was volunteered to ask the Sister if we were allowed to stay up on Saturday night to watch Doctor Who on the TV which was wheeled onto the ward. I also know this as my dad was serving in Northern Ireland and he phoned later than 6pm and there was a bit of huffing and puffing before my brother and I were allowed to have a croaky conversation with him. The image shows what Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval nurses looked like – what extraordinary headgear – the Sister wore a wider cap and a blue cape. My brother and I were also hacked off as we’d heard that if you had your tonsils out in Greenbank Hospital in Plymouth you got jelly and icecream… at RNH Stonehouse it was scratchy toast to toughen you up!
By now (day 4) I could recognise the signs for the handover, the flurry of activity from the night to the day crew. So having learnt how to get into the chair I decided that I would surprise the next lot of Rounds men and women by being in the chair. Sadly I couldn’t manage as I couldn’t unhook the catheter bag and get all the drains over to one side so I was flummoxed. Each morning there was a new batch of Doctors to see me, however, all the young men seemed to dress in a similar way… striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up, open necked (to stop a tie flapping about infecting everyone) and chinos. Before they came in they knocked at the door and used the hand cleanser at the door or at the foot of the bed. This morning I was bleary eyed as tired but up and awake and I knew the routine so had the toob and tummy ready for examination. The leader of this pack declared that a couple of the drains could come out (from chest and underarm) which I was highly delighted about (then I remembered how they do it… deep breath in… breath out and a sharp tug as several centimetres of straw sized tube is withdrawn from your body…followed by a new dressing) and the catheter could go too. Much to my surprise, the pack leader then asked me about bowels, I thought young man: I’m probably older than your mum I don’t think you should be asking me about this. However, having an operational digestive track is another milestone in getting home. He prescribed Lactulose twice a day and told me to eat more. The saline drip would remain for another 24 hours as per the orders of Mr A.
Free from the catheter (not as bad as you may imagine as it is held in place by a balloon which once deflated means the entire thing easy to remove) and two of the drains (slightly ouchy but do-able), with the bag of saline on a portable stand I almost felt like an Olympic athlete – okay, not quite but these were all steps forward. I swung my legs over, sat at the edge of the bed, didn’t feel sick and made it from old crone position to the chair with a footstool.
Next a young physio came to visit. She got me up and in old crone position helped me walk from one wall to another. It was a good idea to hold the portable drip stand to help steady me and to lean forward, in a slightly hunched posture was ideal as it didn’t strain the hip to hip incision. I was given some arm and shoulder exercises to do and then she was on her way. This new found freedom was exhilarating and when it was time for the obs I was keen to show of my new found skills, this soon wore off as it was pretty knackering. I still hadn’t ventured out of the side room and so I became Queen of the on call button. The room was still very warm, I was drinking up to 5 litres of fluid a day and was on a saline drip – I needed to pass water, which was still being measured, my only option was to press the button and call for the…. commode. What a contraption – a seat on wheels with brakes, lift the lid to reveal a macerated cardboard potty which was then taken away – output measured and taken to the ……… sluice room.
Macerated cardboard appears to be Derriford Hospital’s material of choice for liquids which have to be disposed of, maybe this is common to all hospitals. As soon as I was able to get into the chair and free of some of the tubing there was a concerted effort to make me less institutionalised and more independent. No more bed baths for me, no a macerated cardboard basin was brought to the chair complete with some disposable cloths and I had wash and dry myself. Nick still helped me though as it was a bit of a challenge as both hands had canulars in. The next challenge was to wash my skanky hair with hibiscrub. Nick and the HCA from Shanghai escorted me as I shuffled out of the room, past the bays of men and to the same bathroom which Nick had cleaned some 18 months previously. A chair was dragged to the end of the bath and I sat on hit with gamgee over the toob and tummy and leant forward, between them they washed by hair with the stringent pink anti bac hibiscrub and rinsed my hair with warm water.. it was utter bliss. Another step to getting home. Nick asked at the nurses station if there was a hair dryer.. there was and not only was my hair washed it was blown dry too. I was like a new woman by the time Sister D came on duty that night.
When I was on Lynher Ward some 18 months previously to recover from the mastectomy I’d had a poor experience with one of the staff nurses who hadn’t been particularly kind or helpful. There were three incidents which had stuck in my mind: not being able to help me up the bed when my feet were hard up against the end of it, the cardboard slipper pan/changing the bedding event at 3am and finally the standing at the end of the bed and saying to Nick and I “I can’t remember if I gave you your meds or not”. This young woman had not inspired me with confidence at all. When I returned to Lynher Ward I recounted all of this to Sister D and had said I had been very anxious about coming back and didn’t want that nurse to come near me if she still worked on the ward. She did still work on the ward and I would meet her within the next 24 hours. Firstly though there was another sleepless night to get through.