I wake up early at 5am, and the ward routine begins. I’d drained my IV bags, so they’re replaced and I’m given two tablets of Paracetamol. Paracetamol?! After my biggest surgery yet, I expected something with a bit more of a kick. The ward nurse doesn’t sugar coat her words, and reminds me that I’m still riding the wave of the general anaesthetic. Long may it continue. She asks me to pull up my top, and jabs me in the belly with an injection to thin my blood.
The lights blink on, and the 6 ladies on the ward are woken up by the swelling pumps constricting our arms. The dressing gown I thought was mine during the night doesn’t remotely resemble my own, which is hanging up on the chair besides me. Strangely (especially for me), I’m toasty warm despite the fact I’m not wearing any knickers and am strapped to a leg-length ice pack.
The ward nurse deals out drugs in a matronly manner, wearing an apron that reads: ‘Do not disturb – I am distributing drugs to patients.’ Despite this, my neighbour Janet* blurts out a reel of drugs she should have as the nurse moves around the bay. The nurse eventually walks over, and says that the small pill that Janet is pointing to on her tray is actually a spec of yoghurt left over from dinner last night.
Janet does not stop talking, and introduces herself as I try to pull up some genie pants in order to go to the loo. I’d have felt rude pulling the curtain between us, so I just carry on as she lists her full medical history, and how she had her knee replacement with just local anaesthetic. She steams on without pausing to ask any questions, and I wonder if I should offer her some of my oxygen. I find out all about her 6 grandchildren before the breakfast trolley arrives.
The two ladies dishing out toast and cereal were a real double act. One was squat with a bleached blonde fringe that splayed out from her plastic hair net, and the other was tall and spoke with a thick Brummy accent, and her deep laugh revealed two lonely teeth. Marmalade on toast with tea was exactly what I needed after a restless night.
The toilet trip had reached the critical point now. Wheeling my table tray away, and with the nurses unhooking me from the numerous tubes, I unsteadily swayed over the bed with my good leg tapping the ground. A rush of hot blood hit my left knee, causing me to swear. I looked up at Beatrice in apology, but she only winked at me. ‘They’ve heard it all before, and you should hear Doreen,’ reassured the young nurse.
Using a frame, I swayed my leg which was held dead straight in the brace, and lava erupted inside. My blood pressure was dropping, and despite the loo only being a few hops away, it was too far. A bed pan was brought to my bed, and the curtains were drawn.
Thinking about it now, I don’t think it was the indignity of the situation that upset me – it was the dependency to do even the simplest thing. It was embarrassing to be so helpless.
After my failed attempt to get up, my knee is now fully awake. A raw pain nibbles at the back and a hot metallic wave surges to the front. More fluids are administered through the drips, an oxygen tube is pushed up my nostrils and I fall into a morphine-induced sleep.
I’m woken by a surgeon doing the rounds, along with different nurses checking my obs every half hour. I sip some water, but I’m conscious of having to go through the whole toilet malarkey again. Lunch comes at midday, and the jacket potatoes with chilli are surprisingly tasty. The nurses hand out small plastic cups of a viscous orange liquid to all the other ladies, and as I ponder what it could be, I hear them asking about bowel movements which answers that.
In between the set meals, the ladies on the ward doze and chat. There is pain here audible from the occasional groan or sharp sucking in of breath, but for the most part you could ignore it if the machines didn’t bleep and churn so much. Everyone else sits in chairs except for me and a lady in her thirties who’s had back surgery. Beatrice returns to her chair with the biggest smile on her face, and mouths the word ‘suppository.’
I try to message my family to let them know how it went, but there’s no signal. The hospital wifi doesn’t work either. Normally, I enjoy any excuse to switch off, but I’m worrying that I’ve not spoken to them. We each have a pay phone hanging above our heads, so I ring the operator and ask him to send my direct line to my closest relatives.
At 2pm, treachery is afoot. All the other beds have visitors. I move my water jug that shows the visiting hours laminated on my tray: 6:30-8pm only. I can’t even get hold of Tom to let him know – he’s 10mins away and has travelled all the way from London to Rugby.
I call the nurse over – I have to go, but given my dizziness a bed pan is once again summoned and the curtains drawn around me. Lifting up my weight on bent elbows, I promise myself I won’t cry this time. The bed pan tilts and it runs down my back. Shame feels warm. My arms are shaking and I just lower myself down. Once I’m cleaned up, the curtains reopen and the Indian lady gives me an encouraging nod across the room.
At 4pm, the physio arrives. He gets me up on crutches, and I’m relieved to say that the reign of the bedpan was over from that point. Having spent a year on crutches with my previous 3 ops, I show him my tekkers. With no weight bearing or flexion beyond 90 degrees for 6 weeks, it’s going to be challenging.
Dinner again – chicken korma, rice and greens. I can see why Doreen doesn’t want to be discharged yet. At 6:30pm, Tom arrives. I tell him about the missed visit, but given what happened it’s probably for the best. Our old housemate in Singapore, Te-Anne, arrives just after. Her flowers were confiscated at the door, but I ask the nurse to bring them just close enough for me to see. Towards the end of our time together, I’m so tired I can barely stay in focus.
The night passes without incident – no traumatic toilet breaks or screaming women to report.
*No real patient names used here, not just for confidentiality but also because I was so high I couldn’t remember them if I tried.