Eight days in hospital is a long time to watch. There’s not a lot else you can do if you’re not up to reading but hooked up to bottles and drip stands. I had pipes up my nose and everywhere else and a forest of cannulas delivering stuff into veins, so apart from lugging the lot to the loo or the shower, watching and leaving meals was the entertainment on offer. There was a lady admitted in the last couple of days who thought the ward would benefit from her choice of 24 hour radio station. I pretended I was better than I was to escape, which wasn’t difficult; I was clogging up a bed.
You hear a lot about the NHS on the news at present. How the government promised pay rises for the staff that survived Covid and then reneged on the deal. You also hear a bitter bit from those that lost loved ones. You hear about an influx of nurses from overseas and doctors resigning in droves. But all of this is stuff you are hearing from outside the system.
Inside, things look a little different.
I was in a six bed ward, supposedly a gynae ward but full of those who were not there for those reasons. As I had been admitted ten times previously for ‘conservative’ treatment (otherwise known as ‘see if she gets better on her own’) I had been on this ward, and indeed, in the corner bed, several times before.
This time I had long enough to observe the patients.
In the far corner next to the door was a large lady who had broken a forearm. She had very little English, I don’t know how long she had lived here; her son, visiting, in his forties, had perfect English. She was waiting for some assisted accommodation to be arranged. I came back from the bathroom once, having met a nurse who had missed me for observations, to find the broken arm lady shouting and gesticulating at me. ‘BELL!’ she shouted making a sign pressing with her thumb. I explained that I had met the nurse. ‘NO! BELL!’ After several increasingly violent shouts, I pressed my bell and redirected the nurse. Mrs Broken Arm just wanted someone to take her to the toilet.
She drank pints of chocolate laxative out of a feeding cup, and, despite having learned several demands, didn’t appear to know ‘Thank you.’
The nurses were always kind to her, always cheerful, always willing, and, although she shouted ‘TRAINERS!’ at them several times a day, never clonked her across the head with them. I would have.
In the next bed, when I arrived, was a nineteen year old with some sort of mental problem to do with malingering or pretending physical problems that she did not have. She was as manipulative as a politician. In the phone call to her boyfriend, complaining that her bank card wasn’t working, she had his card details out of him in a trice and onto a website on her phone that takes me longer to type than it took her to do. She constantly rang for the nurses to bring her packets of crisps and sweets. When the doctors did ward rounds she cried. When they were away she had long conversations with friends about a reality dating show. Her mother came to fetch her; she wouldn’t go. She lay curled up in bed hugging a teddy, with her fingers in her ears.
Eventually a senior nurse with epaulettes, was tasked with persuading her to go home. Every half hour through the morning, the nurse drew the curtains round the bed and had a chat. She never raised her voice. She was never anything but kind, she never threatened, but halfway through the afternoon the patient capitulated and went home, without a fuss.
Later when that nurse came to do my observations I praised her consummate professionalism, and was provided by her superior with paper and pen to write down my opinion for the record.
In the next bed, opposite mine, was Shirley (not her real name). Ten years older than me with heart trouble, she’d only been there a day when she tested positive for flu. They put her on antibiotics which gave her diarrhoea. Poor Shirley trudged with a stick, backwards and forwards to the loo. Cheerful and uncomplaining, she was visited by family who lived near and were making arrangements for family care post hospital. The window between us was open because of the heat, which would have been great if the ward hadn’t been positioned above the lorries’ loading bay for the hospital.
I teased Shirley we were on holiday together to cheer her up. I made plans to go clubbing, or shopping. One particularly sonorous night, I said I wasn’t going on holiday again with her if she kept choosing a room over the docks.
That night at four in the morning there was a backing lorry, intoning ‘STAND WELL AWAY – VEHICLE REVERSING’ in the normal way for ten minutes. There was a massive crash. Someone said ‘Oh,’ preceding the sound of seventeen radiators falling off the back of a lorry. There was a long and thoughtful pause before the voice said ‘..shit’. Then I fell asleep.
In the corner bed was me. I know you know I was polite and thankful, walked up and down, tidied my food tray, wiped my table and did everything possible to help myself.
I am surprised there was no lynching party, however.
Arrived on the ward, it was clear my newly reconstructed intestines were in charge. At first I hiccupped loudly every five minutes. Not your dainty ladylike hic but a huge lengthy HYuccER…IC! By the second day it was down to every ten minutes and continued in that manner for the rest of my stay. I still do it if I get hungry, or I’ve eaten a couple of mouthfuls too much. Or drunk a fizzy drink. Or moved. Or stood up. Or sat down.
Then there were my fights with the bed. There’s a control at the foot of the bed that raises the top, bends the knees or drops the lower third of the bed. I could not get comfortable. Then the pillows joined in. They are made of a smooth substance like plastic, with one pillowcase with ambitions to be a concertina. They look quite plump but as soon as you rest on them they deflate. Crosspatch with the broken arm had EIGHT pillows. When I broke my arm I had given the hospital £200 to buy pillows; I was really quite annoyed to think I might have financed someone shouting ‘BELL!’ at me.
At one point the cleaner came to my corner and raised the bed to head height, preparatory to cleaning underneath, as I was sitting in the corner in a wipe-clean, slide-off chair. As soon as the bed was up the consultant lady arrived to see how I was. The cleaner beetled off.
There followed an interesting interview.
Consultant (on tiptoe peering over the bed) ‘Mrs. Laverick? Where are you? How are you?’
Me (craning and sliding) ‘Um, OK’
Consultant (peering under the bed) ‘You’ve had a lot of work done.’
Me (Peering down and nearly sliding on to the floor.) ‘Yes’
Consultant’ ‘Oh be careful. Can we move this table? Oh good thank you. There you are.’
Me (scrabbling back into the chair) ‘Yes.’
Consultant (consulting a chart) ‘We’ll have couple of tubes out of you, Mrs Laverick, later today.’ She turns and walks straight into the bed. ‘Arrgh.’
In the next bed when I arrived was a lady in later stages of dementia. After a day and a half she tested positive for Covid, was wheeled off elsewhere and the entire ward was in for a deep clean.
The cleaning crew were cheerful, foreign assorted and constantly wished each other ‘Happy Christmas!’ and laughed.
First they took all the curtains off all the rails and bagged them and sealed them and put them in a heap in the middle of the floor.
Then they raised all the unoccupied beds to five foot and washed them. Then they washed the floor, the door, a bit of the walls and all the curtain rails.
And then they took two big buckets of water with two cloths each bucket and washed the television.
The front the back, the stand, the top, the workings, the speaker bar and the antenna.
Then they very thoroughly soused the remote control.
A very comely nurse with incredible multicoloured dreadlocks, three inch curly eyelashes, massive pink lips, beautiful round cheeks, an impressive frontage, a substantial derriere and a very short skirt came in, did a 360 and left at speed.
Then they brought in new curtains for every bed, replaced them all, high fived each other
The TV dripped for a couple of hours, but it was by the window, so it blew dry eventually.
After a few days the next bed was filled by a pregnant lady with an entourage of two young men, who closed her curtains and lay on the bed with her. By this stage the OH had brought me earplugs, which I used.
The bed opposite, vacated by the teenager, was filled by a young lady with Quinsy and a massive backpack. The first morning she stood at the end of her bed and bent her knees so bendily if she had swayed slightly she could have swept the floor with her bottom. Then she wiggled her arms a bit, then she stood on one leg, picked up the foot she was not standing on and placed it on her head.
As you do.
She was a Canadian volleyball player who had represented her country at National level. If you’ve ever wondered about you and the Olympics – not like us dear, different species.
On the second day her coach, a local lad, arrived for a visit. He did not take his eyes off her eyes for a second and he laughed at her every utterance including once when she sneezed. There was quite a lot about his mum in the conversation.
But by the third day she was cured and set off with her massive backpack alone.
The last bed was dramatically occupied by a twenty one year old who swept into the ward with many bags and asked ‘How are we all doing girls?’
She was a teacher, she said constantly, and also twenty one. She had brought laptops belonging to the school, jewellery and many things for which she was required to sign forms absolving the hospital from responsibility in the case of theft. She then left them all and went off to find a hospital garden to vape in.
Later in the morning another loud dramatic conversation through the soundproof bed curtains revealed that she had an ear infection which might just invade her brain.
There was a lot of bravado, but by eleven she was in tears, so I took her half my box of tissues and and stroked her arm and told her I knew she was frightened but the doctors knew what they were doing.
The drama continued through the night as she summoned nurses, contemplated discharging herself, and flounced out to vape.
The last patient
came in in the middle of the night, covered in blood and looking as if she had come off worse in a fight. She couldn’t stand, the ligaments down her legs were destroyed, so the nurses had to put her on a commode. She couldn’t see out of one blood-covered eye.
But when her family visited in ones and twos the following day it turned out the damage was self inflicted, that she had been lucky someone found her in the hall. Every family member asked her why she was doing this to herself and when she was going to stop.
I gave her my Lucozade and best wishes as I left.
I was just as much a problem as the rest.
I have fine veins, after a week in hospital any visible veins to get a line in are in short supply and require a skilled practitioner to do the job. One night I waited a couple of hours for a young doctor to be fetched from the other side of the building to carefully cannulate me to get a painkiller into me. He was patient, kind and cheerful, on a scholarship from far away. I hope his mum knows how good he is.
There was a gentle, slim African nurse, constantly worried about her little boy, in a flat, in a heatwave.
There was a large incredibly capable white nurse. She has several children, struggles with finance for all their needs and is one of those who were definitely born to be a nurse. Always kind, always gentle, never forgetting a request.
Some of the black nurses were so gorgeous they were out of everybody’s league. Any one of them could have been a model but every one of them was a nurse.
And then there were the self-styled Minions of the Night. A pair of nurses who I have met before on the wards. On permanent night duty, a short middle aged lady and a taller thinner one, keeping each other going through the darkness with banter, ribbing, biscuits and an occasional nudge in the ribs and laughter.
And there was a Matron. I don’t know if that was her title but she was in charge of two wards but was not too busy to spot me after the doctors had left. The surgeon who had just removed my insides suggested I could eat anything I liked and recommended a whole baked potato. The Matron spotted me creeping out subsequently to vomit it all up again blackly by the litre. She rescued me afterwards, shepherding me back to the ward with a quiet ‘Doctors, what do they know?’ muttered under what I swear was a wing.
Nurses are not paid enough. Nurses are insufficiently valued in society. When you need them they are there for you. We should be there for them. Whoever looks after you in your hour of need ought to be encouraged to be there because sooner or later we all encounter an hour of need. I had 192 hours + district nurses, surgery nurses and counting and needed every nurse in every hour.
Never there to judge, always there to help. How lucky we are that there are nurses. Long may they continue.