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Posts Tagged ‘hospital’

I’m still here, still filling a bed at Dorset County Hospital, but now with a joyful gleam in my eye that I might be released soon and allowed home.

It’s been quite a while since I was admitted, about eight days when I last counted, and in that time I have thoroughly learnt the ropes. I think you could say I am almost one of the establishment now, one of the smarty-pants types who is familiar with the nurses and remembers their names. Except, because it’s me, it’s a case of usually, not always. In fact, with just enough of a failure rate to be unreliable, so that’s all right.

There are a hundred things that happen around me that hold my interest and entertain, many of them involving snatches of conversation between nurse and patient.

Here’s one. Nurse: “Would you like a cup of tea, Elizabeth?” Patient: “Nine to five.”

Now where on earth did that come from? Way, way beyond the left field.

I have also enjoyed hearing a nurse exclaiming, “Oh, now why would there be a knife in your bed? From lunchtime?” A little later, close to the same bed, I heard a harassed nurse remark, “Good heavens! There’s a sandwich in your slipper. I’ll just clear it up for you.”

One of my delightful and interesting ward mates has the advantage, as do I, of a devoted, eager-to-please husband who will do anything to ensure the comfort of their respective spouses. Our whim is their command, so these two chaps are seen walking in daily at visiting time with a variety of items, from weird teabags to favourite handcream to my current staple, a bottle of soda water.

Sometimes the messages get not just lost but totally buried in translation, so that, for example, my ward mate’s request for her husband to bring, from the bathroom at home, her pack of anti-ageing face wipes saw her being presented triumphantly with a pack of anti-bacterial kitchen wipes. It isn’t easy explaining to an anxious chap that the two don’t do the same job.

This blokeish misunderstanding reminds me of an incident last month when my sister was quietly being sick into a bowl in her lap (it was her preoccupation at the time) and her husband remained totally unmoved because he thought she was reading her iPad.

Geoff has, I am happy to say, been beyond reproach through all this upheaval, showing endless thought, patience and resourcefulness. My request for a tin of mandarin segments in natural juice almost, but not quite defeated him. He braved no fewer than five shops and supermarkets until eventually hitting the jackpot. I could not have been more pleased than if he’d walked in bearing the keys to my release.

It’s funny how little things, like the taste and the feel of mandarin segments in the mouth, deliver not just freshness but comfort at times such as these. I probably last had them on a Sunday night before going back to school on a Monday. Yes, that sort of comfort.

Similarly, the bland bubbles of soda water seem to have hit the spot. Not sweet, not sour, just bubbly and a lot more fun than plain water. I know, I know, we’re into single-use plastic bottles, and I abhor it too, but I’m cutting myself a little slack at the moment and begging the oceans’ forgiveness with each gratifying slurp.

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What sunshine! What heat! What opportunity to revel in the joys of this prettiest, most abundant of seasons!

Now please read that all again but with each sentence as a question and not a happy exclamation. What sunshine? And so on. Here is why.

In the middle of Sunday’s fabulous sunshine and under the bluest of skies I was being driven by Geoff to A&E at Dorset County Hospital.

Goodbye to all this, I thought wistfully as I shuffled away from the car. So much for the sunshine, the heat, and those breathtaking late spring landscapes criss-crossed by foaming, frothing hedgerows sprinkled with campion and just-over bluebells and crowned with hawthorn in full bloom.

As my arrival was expected, some joined-up thinking had ensured my notes were in the right hands, so I was fast-tracked through the waiting room (my apologies to those who must have been infuriated by a queue-jumper).

Incarcerated for several long hours in a hot, airless room in the Observation ward, Geoff and I kept each other’s spirits up while learning how many interpretations there can be of the phrase ‘I’ll be back with you shortly’.

That is not to be critical for there were procedures galore to be gone through, tests to be done and questions to be asked. I am nothing if not difficult.

Eventually, it was decided I should be admitted. As I had known this was a possibility I had brought a few useful things such as a toothbrush and some books.

By early evening I was in my new home, a side ward with six beds, of which only two were occupied.

I tried to learn the boarders’ rules: this is for this, that’s for that, don’t forget you’re hooked up to a drip, and if you need help from one of us you press that, and so on.

When you’re the new bug you just want to keep your head down and not be any trouble. It was a shame then, that after lights out a nurse came rushing to my bed and asked if I was OK. Yes, thank you, I assured her. And then I saw her lean over and turn off the alarm I’d set off. It seems I’d been unwittingly lying on the ‘Help’ button on a contraption clipped to my bedding.

Story of my life really: trying so hard to get things right and then some clod-hopping comedy aspect throws it all sideways.

After several minutes spent apologising to the nurse, I tried to make her evening better with some of my specialist patronising chit-chat. She came from Poland, she told me. “Oh, heavens,” I said, and with emotion welling over (it had been a long day), I added, “Let me say what millions of others would want to say to you too – you are so very welcome here and we are incredibly grateful for what you do.”

I’m not sure which of us was more glad that my passionate outpouring was over, but after thanking me the nurse slipped way and I snuggled back down under the NHS bedclothes. I slept well, but only thanks to the earplugs I’d thought to bring, a legacy of nights under the same roof as wailing grandchildren.

The odd thing about being in hospital is that it quickly becomes as familiar as home. You learn the sounds and the routines, you master the hideous Walk of Vulnerability in a gown that gapes at the back, and you very soon learn not to lie on red buttons.

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It’s funny when you think you are familiar with something, read about it, discuss it knowledgably, but in truth do not really know much about it until . . .  suddenly, you land kerplunk in the middle of it and become a world expert.

Let’s end the mystery: I’m talking about the NHS, the monolith that, if fortune is with us, grinds away mostly in the background of our lives.

Most of us have an opinion about it, about the way it works or how we feel it doesn’t work, the way it comes to our rescue or falls short, and the way – so many, many times – it makes us truly grateful for everything it stands for and does and without it where would we be.

I was catapulted into its caring arms last week, just for two nights but long enough for a procedure to be carried out that enabled me to remain in the land of the living and to be sitting writing these words a handful of days later as if nothing had happened.

Now, I shall be able to be a complete battle-hardened know-all about ‘our NHS’ whenever a conversation turns that way. I shall be the bore who prompts hands to cover ears and loud humming to start when I launch into my riveting tale of “When I was in Dorset County Hospital at Dorchester . . .”

I have also become, overnight, one of those people for whom nothing negative can be said about the NHS. I am in love with it. I adore its system that seems to be as joined up as anything on that scale could ever be, I am passionate about its staff at all levels, its wonderful volunteers who guide the bewildered to their appointments along seemingly identical corridors and who run the shops, the refreshment pit stops and the trolleys bearing kaleidoscopes of sugary temptation and reading material.

The porters? Oh, the porters! Cheerful and bright and funny and such skilful drivers. The nurses, from newly qualified to trusty old hands, are an unfailing source of efficiency and quiet calm and show the most amazing teamwork. Nothing is ever too much trouble for them, which is a cliché but true.

My mother used to drop hints to me about becoming a nurse, presumably to distract me during my long phase of daydreaming about riding in the Olympics. Needless to say, I achieved neither.

Thanks to having subsequently become a mother, I could, I hope, muster the necessary caring skills all these years later (though not the intellect, obviously), but at the risk of sounding shallow, it just wouldn’t be the same being a nurse nowadays without those starched caps and crisp uniforms pinned with a bouncy upside-down fob watch which, aged 10, I read about with a certain envy in ‘Jean Becomes a Nurse’.

The regular swoop through the ward of ‘the doctors’ (of which my son is one, at a different hospital) certainly made me sit up straight. Each little phalanx peeled off to have private chats with the patient in their care.

When my entourage arrived and swarmed around my bed, drew the curtains, and engaged me in earnest discussion, all I could think while these brains full of wisdom worked their miracles to set me back on my feet, was ‘Gosh, this is what my son does. He’s one of you lot.’

That was when I diagnosed a new ailment that threatened to overwhelm me: a serious case of Mother’s Pride.

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TEMPTING though it may be to lead you the long way round to the nub of this week’s column, I shall spare you the merry dance and instead reveal, right here in the first paragraph, the happy news that we are a grandmother again.

That’s three times now, so here you are in the company of a granny cubed. After a pair of bonny boys, courtesy of my daughter and her husband, we now have a sweetly pretty little girl, thanks to my son and his wife. Rather well-organised, I feel, to produce a variety like that between them.

Geoff and I have already driven up to London to meet, swoon over and pay our respects to the angelic Poppy, the first of many visits, no doubt, where we get caught in inexplicably dreadful traffic no matter what time of day we make the journey. Poppy has chosen to be born into a home located in one of those outer London areas described in fancy mags and newspaper features as ‘not lovely, but on the up and will soon become sought-after’. Hard to believe, but stranger things can happen. Until then it works perfectly as a staging-post for the new family and the fact it is two minutes’ walk from a hospital that is a centre of excellence for paediatrics is serendipitous indeed.

Poppy’s first day was just awful, and the next four not much better. She was born in distress, having ingested meconium, and had to be whisked away to special care for it to be sucked out of her tiny, struggling lungs. For the first 12 hours her terrified parents couldn’t hold her, only reach through into the incubator and touch her gently, their fingertips laden with tender messages of love.

After that miserable eternity, during which her tininess was hooked up to machinery for dispensing oxygen and antibiotics, the incubator was suddenly needed for a more urgent case and our clever Poppy was trusted to fly solo in the arms of her grateful parents. Now pink instead of her initial alarming shade of blue, the wonder-babe quickly assumed the necessary DIY survival skills and, finally, after four more days of blood tests and checks and more blood tests, the magic words “You can go home now” were uttered.

There, gifts and cards and flowers awaited and relieved relatives formed an orderly queue to admire the plucky little heroine.

While she slept and practised angelic expressions, her proud-as-punch parents relived the angst of the previous week. It had started with a 36-hour labour – no details, I promise – so it was not surprising that the new mother, whacked out both physically and emotionally, should be the focus of concern.

I really hoped my son had made a fuss of her because she so deserved it. Upon inquiry, I learnt he had indeed brought her a bag of gifts one evening, bought while hurrying to the hospital from his medical school lectures. No paternity leave for him, poor chap.

And what did he bring, I asked, feeling my maternal pride rising at the thought of the thoughtfully chosen delights that my son might have showered on his beloved.

In the whole pantheon of goodies a new mother might expect, the lotions and potions, fragrances, frou-frous, frills  and sparkling tokens of love and fierce pride, the selection that he handed her from the crumpled carrier bag might at best be classed as surprising. At worst, it amounted to two yogurts, left over from a Tesco value-pack of four, a bottle of water and a copy of the Big Issue. He ate the yogurts, drank the water and dropped the magazine off in the waiting area.

My poor daughter-in-law. I can see Poppy assuming an important role as Mum’s ally – very soon.

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