“It went well. The cord moved right over to the middle. But I can’t put much more in”. So – this is probably the last time. My expectations are much lower now. If I can speak without running out of breath, I’ll count it a success.
The day starts early – Annie drops me off at the hospital at 7.00am. Although I like her to be there when it’s all over, I prefer to go in on my own. The long walk through the corridors to the admission ward gives me time to get into ‘patient’ mode.
There’s a new system in place at the hospital. My bed will be in the Ambulatory Care Unit (ACU) – it’s meant for people who can walk into an operating theatre rather than having to be wheeled in. But admission takes place in another ward – the Same Day Admission Unit (SDAU); I’ll be processed here, walk into theatre and then wake up or come round in ACU.
The SDAU is bizarre – no beds; just eight chairs where beds once stood. They’re sensible chairs too – high back, wooden arms – the sort that you see on afternoon TV adverts for people who need to be helped from the sitting position.
An aside; Annie thinks I’m showing my age with some of my metaphors and analogies. “Who watches afternoon TV?” Better still; “Who remembers the Hovis advert?” (See; reality check number 2). So I try it out on a 40-year old. Over her head. OK – I’m getting old.
The new arrangement throws me – a bed is an essential part of my preparation for patient mode. If I lay on my back with my head raised and bring my knees up for a makeshift book rest, I can lie reading for hours, successfully avoiding eye-contact with my fellow inmates.
But a chair thrusts me into the room – there is no avoiding other people when you have to sit upright facing them.
The chair is the only concession to a modernising approach to admission. There are still gowns waiting to be worn and curtains to be drawn. Although the curtain offers some privacy – you may not be able to see what is happening to your neighbour – you can still hear the litany: Name, DOB and ailment.
Opposite is a 21-year old who no longer has a right knee thanks to rugby. He came in using crutches which may be stretching Ambulatory Care a bit. On my left, a man a few years younger than me. He cannot dress himself. I stop reading when I hear this. At first, I cannot imagine being that helpless – being that dependent upon other people. And then a 50 year-old memory drifts back – my Dad couldn’t dress himself either. Although I never forget the fact of it, I’d forgotten the mechanics of the day to day until I hear this man describe his routine.
As I listen I’m struck by an alternative interpretation of ‘a trouble shared is a trouble halved’. The general idea is that by telling someone else that you’re having a bad time, you get it off your chest and you feel better. Although more often that not, sharing a problem with someone else means both of you now feel bad.
But in this ward (and countless like it) a group of strangers are thrown together for no other reason than each has an ailment of some sort. Simply being here means we are sharing our troubles – whether we want to or not. After listening to the others I know I can’t complain – when the time comes to go home I will dress myself and walk out of the hospital without the need of a stick.
The chair offers no respite from discomfort – clearly the expectation is a short stay before theatre. After a couple of hours I try another technique; I imagine sitting in an aircraft seat and seeing how far I might fly.
It’s just after midday when they come for me; apart from the odd comfort break I’ve been sitting here for 5 hours. I could be touching down in Cyprus.
It doesn’t bode well; the anaesthetist doesn’t know my history. He’s unsure how much sedation to give. I need to be awake to speak to Mr ENT when he places the injection so he can check how far the vocal cord needs to move. But I need enough to take the edge off things so they can get on with their work and not worry about me.
He doesn’t know about the reduced lung capacity or the heart drugs. He goes off to consult some three times, returning after each discussion to update me. It’s hard for me to be relaxed when he’s not. In the event, he gives me too much. “This may sting” is an understatement; it burns. I have virtually no recollection of the procedure and spend over an hour in the recovery unit before the bed in ACU.
It’s around 5.00pm by the time that Mr ENT comes to see me. My throat is sore and my neck is sore but he agrees that I can go home in the evening; “Rest it as much as you can and I’ll see you in about 4 weeks.” I manage a sincere “thank you”.
A nurse removes the cannula and I get dressed. I’m sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the floor and I’m aware of pools of red liquid at my feet. I’m still a bit slow on the uptake and I eventually reach down and touch it. Only when I realise that it’s blood do I notice the dressing from the cannula is leaking. I wander round to the nurses’ station. “Are you on Warfarin?” “No – aspirin”. “Right – I want you to hold your hand up above your head”.
So I stand in the middle of the busy ward providing a ready distraction from jacket potato with grated cheese followed by apple crumble and custard. The dressing is changed. A nurse takes my hand – and holding it above my head, walks me back to my bed. We could be Nureyev and Fonteyn about to dance the Pas des Deux from Swan Lake. Or – if you’re under 40 – some couple from Strictly Come Dancing.
Annie comes to collect me around 7.00pm. I’ve been here 12 hours. I could be in the Seychelles by now. Outside, as she fumbles for change for the car park, I face the icy blast of a British winter instead of the balmy heat of the Indian Ocean.
It’s been over a week now and the voice is still holding up. I can speak for more than 7 seconds without running out of breath. I count out loud to 30. I tend to speak quietly – I don’t want to risk straining it. It’s fine when it’s just the two of us, but at work it starts to fade as I inevitably raise my voice to be heard above the voices of others. Every now and then it goes AWOL. I can’t work out why – cold weather? A lack of oomph in my lungs? But it always seems to find its way home. It’s not the same as the original – but it is an improvement over the gasping, wheezing apology that was version 2.
I have more nocturnal visits from the Gods of Arrhythmia. The first is very strange – I sense it long before my pulse confirms it. I keep thinking I’m imagining it. Like when you dream you’re falling and suddenly wake. I check my pulse but it’s fine. A few moments later it happens again – this time it’s ectopic. Not especially fast and the rhythm seems steady – but it misses every third or fourth beat. I try deep breathing for a while but to no avail. So I take a pill.
Last night I woke with a pounding heart – it seemed really fast but the pulse meter showed 80bpm. They’re messing with my head: Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad¹. I need to get out more; perhaps I should sit in A&E in the middle of the night with an ECG and share my troubles.