Polo Mint


(A get well message from my mum’s dogs…)


I am restless.

I don’t know when I will be moved to St Barts and it’s making me anxious.

I drift off again and dream it’s time for me to go now. I need to get my things! I have to sort my stuff… 

I wake up with a start, expecting a porter to be at the end of my bed ready for me to leave right away…

No one is there.

It’s 4:30am.

Everything in my room is quiet and still. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest.

I lie awake, staring at the ceiling, until the nursing assistant comes in to do my ‘Obs’. 

I make eye contact with her. I don’t need to be asked. I’m a seasoned expert…

Right arm up ready for the pressure cuff. She attaches it firmly round my bicep. Next, finger out for the blood oxygen counter clip. Attached. Then I tuck my hair neatly behind my ear, ready for the thermometer. Inserted. 

We wait.

The thermometer clicks and is removed. The pressure cuff tightens and tightens, then releases. The Velcro is pulled apart and my arm is released. Finally we both watch as the blood oxygen counter goes up and up. 78 – 82 – 89 – 96 – 97 – 99…. It settles on 99 and the nursing assistant records this on my chart then removes the clip from my finger.

She wheels the sphygmomanometer machine out. Neither of us said a word during the whole exchange.

I get up and go to the bathroom. It’s still close enough from my release from the suction machine to make using an actual toilet feel like unbridled luxury. I’d really like to have a shower but there has been some disagreement between the nursing staff about whether I should be showering at all while still attached to the chest drain. I settle for a wash in the sink instead. I scrub my face and brush my teeth. My hair feels greasy and is stuck to my forehead. I can see flakes of dandruff through it. I decide that rather than ask for help washing it from a nursing assistant, I’ll wait for my sister to arrive and ask her. In the meantime I scrape it into a pony tail to stop it falling into my face.

My morning Meds arrive and I knock the six pills back with water in one big gulp. I’m not sure if it’s a codeine or a paracetamol but one of them gets stuck on its way down and I burp up a bitter medicine taste into my mouth. It’s rancid and takes a long time to fade. Breakfast is soon here but I don’t want the sad looking cereal. I keep the banana and yoghurt for later and make a lemon and ginger tea with the mug of hot water I’m given. 

I stand up and look out the window. It’s much cloudier than it has been. I wonder how hot it is? It’s hard to judge the temperature from just looking. It could be muggy and warm, or bitterly cold. I’m too high up to to tell if the insect like people below are wearing coats or not.

It’s still very early. It will be a long time before any visitors arrive. I’m not sure how to entertain myself. I start to flick through the various magazines I’ve been brought. They tell me that Kate Middleton’s bump is growing and Clare Danes really fancies her husband. Then I learn that I really aught to grow my eyebrows in because they are too thin. There are various pictures from the 1990’s of Kate Moss, Gwen Stefani and Madonna with plucked thin arched eyebrows. Then next to them are current ones showing the same women sporting much bushier brows. Thick eyebrows ‘make you look younger and suit every face shape’ apparently…

My door opens and Mr Member of Parliament comes in. I quickly stuff Gwen Stefani’s eyebrows under a pile of other magazines on my bedside table.

Something unexpected happens.

‘How are you feeling today?’

I look up at him, shocked and completely lost for words.

Before I answer, he carefully sits down in my chair, obviously mindful of me chastising him yesterday for towering over me.

‘I appreciate how stressful this situation has been for you and I’m hoping your feeling a bit better today?’

I’m still stunned but I manage to respond that I’m feeling alright. Not in too much pain but obviously very bored and frustrated to be still stuck in hospital after ten days…

‘Well we are hoping to get you moved today. It’s going to have to be today really or tomorrow morning if you end up on the afternoon surgery list. In the meantime I’ve ordered your CAT Scan for later this morning.’

I ask him when they will know if I am on the morning list or afternoon list for surgery on Friday?

‘Should know today. My registrar will be here later. I’ll ask him to drop in and let you know. I can get him to look at the CAT Scan for you too.’ 

I ask him what kinds of things they are hoping to see on the CAT Scan?

‘These things sometimes show up blebs and bullae which are little air blisters on the lung which can burst and cause a pneumothorax. They are present in 80-90% of all lungs operated on for pneumothorax. Sometimes the CAT Scan shows up nothing at all, but it’s good for the surgeon to get a look at what he’s dealing with anyway… Now is there anything else you’d like to ask me today?’

I say no and Mr Member of Parliament leaves. 

I reflect on what has just happened. He seemed like a different doctor just now, polite and genuinely concerned… Perhaps my temper yesterday has yielded some results! I start to wonder what it would be like to meet Mr Member of Parliament, the T-1000 and some of the moodier nursing staff out in the Real World? Would they be as patronising and dismissive of me if I met them dressed in smart clothes and fully healthy? Doctor/Patient is a very unequal relationship. It’s too easy for medical staff to forget we have lives outside our current illnesses. I want to shout Mr Member of Parliament back in and tell him I haven’t always been pyjama clad and dependent!

I retrieve Gwen Stefani from my bedside table and continue to read about eyebrows…

Lunch and the porter arrive at the same time. I ask the nursing assistant if it is possible to keep the macaroni cheese warm until I come back from the CAT Scan? She informs me it is not, so I quickly eat a few mouthfuls. Tinned macaroni cheese tastes even worse when eaten in a hurry. I take the orange juice and yoghurt off the tray and put them in the fridge. There are several yoghurts and juices already in the tiny fridge, carefully stock piled from previous lunches and dinners earlier in the week. Momentarily it occurs to me I am like a squirrel hiding my hoard for winter…

The nursing assistant takes the lunch tray away and I climb into the wheelchair, positioning my chest drain between my feet ready for the journey to Imaging.

I’m taken to a different waiting area than the one I’ve been to for X-Rays. It’s much bigger, has its own reception and is bright white. It’s full of very sick looking people, laid out on portable beds, partitioned by curtains. The elderly lady directly in front of me looks very thin and is attached to a drip. Presently a doctor comes to speak to her and pulls the curtain right round for privacy. I hear him loudly discussing her liver biopsy and I wonder if he thinks that the flimsy curtain is somehow sound proof too? I’m sure the poor woman doesn’t want us all to hear her medical details…

‘Are you Ruth Tapp?’

I look up and see a young radiographer smiling at me.

I nod my head and she goes behind me, unlocks the wheelchair brake and pushes me towards the CAT Scan room. 

‘Have you had a CAT Scan before?’

I shake my head.

‘No problem, I’ll talk you through what to do’

I am wheeled into the Scanning Room and confronted with what looks like a giant, rotating, Polo Mint. There is a flat bed which stretches through the mint’s hole with several pillows scattered across it.

‘Can you get up ok?’

I nod my head and she asks me to position myself lying flat, feet facing the hole, with a pillow under my shoulders and neck. There is a buzzing noise and the bed moves like a conveyer belt positioning my chest directly under the top of the huge Mint.

A voice comes over loud speaker.

‘I’m going to give you some breathing instructions to follow’

The Polo Mint begins to whirr and rotate. Faster and faster…

‘Take a deep breath in and out. In and out. In. And hold…’

The noise and rotation reach a peak then begin to slow, then stop.

‘And breathe normally…’

The conveyer belt begins buzzing again and I am ejected from the mint with the hole…

I get into the wheelchair and the young radiographer takes me back to the waiting area. A porter arrives quickly and I am again taken up to Ward 13F.

I am not long back in my room when my sister and friend arrive. They have brought me some healthy salads from Tesco, some lip balm for my dry lips and a moisture mask for my flakey skin. My sister helps me wash my hair in the sink and I feel so much better. We sit chatting and for a few hours at least, I feel relatively normal. 

No sign of my hospital transfer yet. I’m starting to doubt it’s going to happen. Surely surgery tomorrow is off the cards now?

Dinner arrives and it’s a rather bizarre combination of vegetable lasagne with mashed potato so my sister and friend go out in search of a pizza place recommended to them by the Nurse on duty.

While they are gone the Registrar bumbles in. He tells me in a round about way he has not had a chance to look at my CAT Scan yet but will do tomorrow morning – if I am still here. Then he explains I won’t be as he is expecting I will be moved at some point tonight.

‘It could be 2, 3, 5 in the morning, but you will be going tonight, I’m sure.’

He’s none the wiser as to where I am on tomorrow’s surgery list though, but it can’t be the morning I think to myself – nobody has told me to stop eating tonight for a start…?

When my sister and friend return with pizza I tell them I should be transferred some time during the night and that when they come to see me tomorrow it will most likely be in a different hospital. I may even have had the surgery I say, not really believing myself.

They stay with me way past visiting hours. The nurse comes in to give me my night time Meds but doesn’t say anything about my visitors still being with me. It’s good to have them there for the blood thinning injection. I get them to distract me and tell me jokes as the needle goes in. I focus on their conversation as it stings… My stomach is riddled with five pence piece sized bruises. Some are purple, some blue and some almost black in colour now.

Eventually my sister and friend leave and I realise I’m back in the same position as I was this morning. Lying in bed, alone, feeling anxious about when exactly this move to St Barts will happen. I have to be prepared it could be at any point during the night.

I try to tell myself I can’t control when it will happen so there is no point worrying about it, but it’s so hard to stop my mind racing. What will St Barts be like? Will I be on a ward rather than have my own room? Will the other patients be nice? If I fall asleep now will I just be woken up again in half an hour and told it’s time leave? And the most overriding thought of all – Surely I cannot now be having surgery tomorrow with this little preparation?

I lie starring at the ceiling for what seems like an age, until I eventually begin to tire. I start to fret a bit less. My mind is drifting and I without realising it’s even happening I fall into a deep, exhausted sleep. 



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