Escape from Ward 66

12 Dec

I was planning to blog about Christmas films round about now. I was planning to do a lot of things this month, but ended up spending the start of it in hospital instead. That really messes with your diary and your to-do list, I find. Anyway, I’m still feeling very wobbly, but I’m out of hospital now, and I thought I would share with you all the things I like about not being in hospital, so that you can appreciate them too. Unless you’re reading this from hospital, of course, in which case you have my sympathy.

This is not to knock hospitals as centres of healthcare, of course. I very much appreciate the help I received and it’s nice not to be dead or moaning in agony. I even appreciate the fact that they fed me while I was in, which is not the case in all countries. But hospitals are not the most comfortable, restful or dignified settings, which is one reason why we don’t typically go there for our holidays.

Opening a window

You probably wouldn’t want to open your windows with the sub-zero temperatures Britain is having at the moment, but it’s nice to have the option, right? The ward I was in for most of the time had very poor ventilation. It also had a number of women with digestive complaints. That combination made for a pretty fruity atmosphere, and we all wished we could crack a window. It’s hard enough to work up an appetite for decent food in those circumstances, but hospital food?

Eating what and when I want

It’s a cliche to say hospital food is dreadful, but it is. It has to be mass produced and kept warm as it travels to all the different wards and by the time you get it, it’s worse than it was to start with. (The bedtime toast was always welcome, though.) We could pick what we wanted from a limited menu, but you didn’t necessarily get what you had picked. And it came at strictly defined times, regardless of when you felt like eating (obviously, since they have to feed everyone at once).

I’m staying with family while I recuperate, so dinnertime is still at a time not of my choosing, but I can get a snack whenever I like, and nobody is expecting me to eat breakfast at half past six.

Not being wakened at 6

Is there anything less conducive to recovery than being wakened before dawn? It killed Descartes, you know. Every day I would be wakened by someone taking observations (blood pressure, pulse, temperature), even if we had been up until after midnight playing musical beds as people were moved up from A&E. The first few days I was sleeping most of the time anyway, but once I got a bit better and tried to stay awake more during the day, this routine did not help. Getting a good eight hours (or 9, or 10 – and I don’t even mean just when I’m ill 😂) helps me to feel much more human.

Decent sheets and pillows

I’m also sleeping much better in a normal bed. Hospital linen is made to be easy to change quickly and cheap to replace, which means it’s plasticky and sweaty and unpleasant. The stuffing of the pillows is like something you find in an package to prevent damage en route. Call me fussy, but a bit of Egyptian cotton is much more pleasant to snooze in. Although I must admit that having a bed that helps you sit up at the touch of a button is pretty nifty when you’re not up to a lot of movement.

Decent coffee

This is less universal, as many people are tea drinkers, but there was only instant coffee 😭 A cup of tea made from a teabag is the same in hospital as out, but instant coffee-flavoured beverage is nothing like proper coffee. My sister took pity on my and started sneaking me in real coffee in a thermal mug, but she couldn’t do that two or three times a day, so I did drink some of the instant, too. My antipathy to instant coffee is such that once I even requested tea instead. Maybe I was suffering from delirium.

Cancer Research / Wikimedia Commons

Not having a cannula

I needed a lot of IV antibiotics so I had to have a cannula in my arm. This is a clever little gadget the allows them to plug you into the matrix – sorry, drip – whenever they want, but it is not comfortable. You have to sleep with it in, change clothes with it in, it catches on your sleeves whenever you move, and from time to time it gets blocked up so they have to rip the sticky tape off and give you a new hole somewhere else. I had three of these, and I was in for less than a week. Long-stayers must end up like pincushions.

Not being stabbed with needles

Cannulas can be used for taking blood samples, or for administering drugs, but not both (it contaminates the sample apparently). This means that I had to be stabbed every day in whichever arm didn’t have the cannula, so I could give blood samples. Blood samples are very important in tracking infection, and there was a lovely lady from Boston who did her best to make them quick and not too painful, but it is never pleasant to have needles stabbed into your blood vessels.

Taking painkillers when I want them

As you have probably gathered, I am not a fan of pain or suffering or even discomfort. There are those who think that pain is in some way good for the soul. I don’t. I have no hesitation about popping painkillers whenever the need arises. In hospital, though, these are dished out on a schedule, and it’s not yours. You can request painkillers in-between scheduled medication times, but depending on how busy the ward is, you may have quite a wait. I was transferred between wards during a shift handover, so there was a significant wait before I got some lovely morphine and could go to sleep. It was probably less than an hour, but as you can imagine, it felt neverending and it’s not a fond memory.

Peace and quiet

Hospitals are not quiet places, even at night. There are machines that beep, trolleys that squeak, metal equipment that clangs, creaky doors, and that’s before you even start on people. Snoring, moaning in pain, laughing with colleagues, chatting with visitors, shouting unintelligibly from another room or calling for the nurse at all hours of the night. Once a visitor was disturbed to find me lying with a pillow over my head, but it was my only means of volume control. The house where I am staying here is not noiseless, but there’s not an orchestra of human and mechanical noises all through the night.

Discussing health matters in private

When the doctors come on their ward round, they draw the curtains to give you privacy and then ask you potentially intimate or embarrassing questions in a normal tone of voice that the curtain does absolutely nothing to muffle. It’s a sort of convenient fiction, and it does help psychologically that you can’t see other people listening to you, but we had a bit of a chuckle on the ward about how we could all hear every word of these private conversations. It’s nice to have someone to laugh with, but at the same time…

Being away from strangers!

I’m a particularly sociable introvert, but I’m still an introvert and I find it tiring to spend time around people, especially strangers. So sharing my room with five strangers who changed from day to day, plus staff who changed according to their shifts, started to feel like torture. There was only one of my original inmates who was there when I left; every other bed had changed occupant at least once, and sometimes twice or three times. On the plus side, once I was feeling better, it was more people to tell about my books 😂 I wonder why no one has ever promoted this form of networking? Oh yes, for all the reasons above.

Anyway, I’m glad to be free and hoping not to be back in hospital anytime soon, book promotion opportunities aside. But if I do have a relapse, remember to bring me coffee.


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