“Mrs Cattell? This is University College Hospital. I am sorry to have to tell you that we have had to cancel your operation. We will let you know when we can re-schedule.’
I thought I was about to be sick. I was so psyched up for the op, all preparations and decisions made – like for instance the decision to have a spinal block rather than a full anaesthetic, on advice from a friendly anaesthetist. The reason was unforeseen emergencies. I did rather wonder how you could have emergencies on a Monday that could affect a list on a Friday – but felt too weak to question further.
The past few weeks have been taken up with mental and physical preparations for my hip operation – visits to UCLH for briefings, blood tests and so on…so that all is set. I have bought the metal picking-up arm, taken delivery of my NHS free shower stool, and even bought a shoe horn, now not required as I splashed out on two sets of expensive Sketchers which I can just slip on and off. I set up the first two weeks of cover, filled the freezer, and Ross had taken two days off to see me in and out of hospital. Then the phone call….
As soon as I reached home I contacted my chum Fiona Felix, Prof Haddad’s secretary who had helped me when the NHS chucked me into a black hole by losing my referral notes. Within three hours she had given me a new date of a week later, same surgeon, but no Prof on hand. I had played my hand well – my sarcoma, living alone, difficulty arranging care etc.
So now its Thursday the day before. Every time the phone rings I jump out of my skin and urgently scan the caller ID. Any unknown number sends an arrow of panic right though my heart…
Having got this far I am now about to pack my case and re-read my instructions….
Tommy and are in the cab by 6.30 the next morning and at the surgical reception by 6.50, third in the queue. That is the good news: the bad news is that I am last on the list, and so begins a wait of 8 hours. Luckily I have a Guardian and a thriller, so somehow the time passes. People-watching is always a good sport in such situations and I quickly become aware of an eccentric and demanding woman, ‘Just my luck she’ll be in the next bed to me,’ I say to Tommy
I opt for the spinal block plus sedative, on advice. This is all administered to classical music and the next thing I know is I am in recovery and convinced that I have been abducted by aliens who had performed the incorrect operation. That’s opiates for you!
And look who’s here when I come out of surgery. My heart sinks…She is swathed in blankets, wooly hat, Fairisle sweater and still claims to be freezing – she chunters on all night long, about pain, being on her own, being a germophobe which means she refuses a bed pan and has to be helped to the loo. She is so nuts that it turns out that she refused the operation despite being in terrible pain and barely able to walk…what a waste of all those resources, I think.
Ross is waiting for me and has bought a selection of goodies, but I have no appetite: just a bruised throat, a terrible thirst and worryingly low blood pressure which they take once an hour, all night. For some reason they had not catheterised me so its the bed pan several times during the night as a result of all the water I am required to drink. Not pleasant, especially through a fog of morphine. My Pilates and yoga have deintintly paid off as I find the bridge a useful technique for the bed pan (!) and all the leg raises help in trying to mobilise the bad leg. Certainly my mobility as a result of all this contributes to my leaving after 2 nights.
The tramadol I request at 11pm as pain relief has been overlooked and only appears at 7 am. No sleeping pills available either. All this because UCLH only has one duty doctor on the trauma ward, who was in an emergency operation. This is true the next day, when my x-rays and blood test are similarly delayed as the duty registrars are in theatre.
As soon as the physio arrives I am raring to go: the pain throughout the night has been excruciating and I can’t wait to try and get moving. We kick of with the Zimmer frame so I can go to the loo, but can’t graduate to crutches until the x-rays have been Ok’d. All a bit frustrating. Later we dress my wound, in the process taking off some skin from my thigh which is very sore. I count 40 staples: the wound is a good 9-10 inches long. But it looks clean and tidy.
However, the ward is surprisingly clean and new, and all the nursing staff so polite, helpful and friendly. As part of my NHS observations, I noted the pecking order: African staff on night duties, with European, British and Filipinos during the day. Naturally none of the zero hours cleaners are British.
It’s night time and all hell breaks loose. Screaming down the corridor – panic, shouting, nurses running around. A patient, one of the dear old boys I had seen yesterday, waiting like me, is confused and trying to walk unaided on a new knee unaware of the dangers to himself. And impossible to stop as he has lost his marbles.
Later there is an altercation in the cubicle next door as my poor Ugandan neighbour, elderly also with a new knee and not coping at all well, has some sort of spat with the nurse who she claims hurt her, and then keens and wails all night, invoking God, mother Mary and anyone else prepared to listen. Long heated conversations with herself pepper the convocations. I take morphine and a sleeping pill and somehow drift though the night on top of it all. The next day a priest turns up and they discuss the Bishops’ visit…
In the afternoon a 95 year-old woman is admitted, who is very demanding. She is convinced someone tried to steal her handbag and is full of indignation; she has three nurses dancing attendance (looking up phone numbers, finding her grapes etc) and is very loud. I tell the nurses I cannot stay another night in this bedlam as it will be the third with no sleep. They are sympathetic although the weekend short staffing does its best to thwart my intentions.
I manage eventfully to get my x-rays and blood tests, my physio session on stairs and crutches and I am being discharged when I am told I haven’t seen the occupational therapist and I can’t go without doing so, and that will be Monday. I tell them I saw them pre-admission and we did all the furniture measurements, I have my shower stool, so can’t see why. ‘I’m going home anyway, I am responsible for my own well-being and that’s that’. The problem with their record keeping is their own, and not mine! Ross says I am rather fierce!
So here I am home at last, with my beloved Pickle, and Ross. Feel so whacked I go to bed at 8.30 and sleep though till 5 am, which is very refreshing.
I am glad in some ways I was unprepared for the pain, as I think I might have put it off. It’s good that people only tell you the benefits of having a new hip, and none of the downsides! So I write this for others who might just want to be prepared for the excruciating pain, despite all the morphine….