The nights are getting longer and longer. This is the 10th one I’ve spent in The Royal London, Whitechapel. I feel like I’ve been here for several years…
I’m not sure whether to give in and sit up or close my eyes and try to get more sleep?
There is no point in closing my eyes. I am agitated.
The Registrar said I would be going in the night. That he was sure I would be moved to St Barts some time during this never-ending darkness.
‘Two, three, five in the morning, you will be going tonight….’
I remember his words….
I throw the covers off me, adjust my bed to sitting position and swing my legs round to the side. I pick up my chest drain and walk to the window.
The moon is full and bright. The deep blue of the night sky contrasts against the bright orange of the city lights. I can see, despite the hour, there are a few people wandering about outside… Is it a late night or an early morning for them? Are they on their way home or off to work? Are they as tired as I feel right now?
I’m already washed and in clean pyjamas by the time the nursing assistant arrives to do my ‘Obs’.
I tell her this might be the last time she does them for me, while we wait for the pressure cuff to tighten.
‘You are going home today?’
I explain that I’m not, but I am being moved to St Barts for surgery – possibly even later today…
‘So you are a step closer to going home then… You’ve been here a long time!’
She wheels the sphygmomanometer out. Meds and breakfast follow in quick succession. I realise as I look at the cardboard like cereal that what I’d really like is a slice of toast. A nice big bit of wholemeal bread, toasted, with some melted butter and maybe a touch of marmite… I’m unsure of exactly why but toast is not a breakfast option. Just plain bread. Apparently they used to make toast fresh on the ward but it was stopped for some kind of ‘health and safety reason’, according to the nurse. I leave the cereal bowl on the tray and place it on the counter near the door. I eat the banana and drink the orange juice in the little plastic carton.
Still no porter.
I am filled with unease. Why am I still here? Why has no one come to take me to St Barts yet? I start pacing around my room as vigorously as the chest drain will allow…
Not long after breakfast, the nurse comes back in. She looks apprehensive.
‘The consultant has asked me to come and speak to you. I don’t want you to panic….’
I immediately panic. What on earth is she going to say to me?
‘Your not on the list for today’s surgery. Actually there isn’t a list. It’s because it’s Good Friday. The consultant thought there would be a list for today but there’s not.’
I try to take in what she has just told me. I ask if I’m still being moved today?
‘Oh yeah! Your still going to St Barts. The surgeon’s been on the phone requesting your transfer. Your going today – later this afternoon I think. But you won’t have surgery till after the Easter weekend now… You can relax for a bit. No one’s going to move you till after lunch anyway…’
I realise that actually I am not at all surprised by this news. In fact in some ways I am relieved (I certainly didn’t like the idea of being rushed in an ambulance to St Barts ready to have surgery in a few hours…) but on the other hand the Easter weekend is four days long. I am not now going to have surgery before Tuesday.
Tuesday will be my fourteenth day in hospital. Two full weeks. Days and nights take forever in here. The pain, the boredom and the lack of privacy. There is ‘real’ time and ‘hospital’ time. How much more ‘hospital’ time until I can finally go home?
I text my sister and let her know there will be no surgery today and that I will still be here at the Royal London for the start of visiting at least…
I hear voices outside my door and the dithery Registrar asks from behind the curtain if he can come in.
‘I just wanted to ask if it would be alright if I brought some students in to do a little bit of teaching?’
I remind him that yesterday he said if I was still here he would look at my CAT scan and talk me through it.
‘Ah. Yes. I did say that. In an ideal world of course I would do that but I haven’t actually had time to look at it yet… You weren’t supposed to be here after all!’ He says with a smile.
I feel blood rush to my cheeks. Still being here is hardly my fault!
I reply that ‘in an ideal world’ I’d give permission for him to bring his students in but until I get my CAT scan results I’m not going to allow it.
The smile drops from his face.
‘Er…. Yes, yes of course. Right. Just give me a moment to get the laptop…’
After a couple of minutes he wheels in a laptop on a trolley and brings up on the screen several images of my lungs…
‘You can see how full and expanded your right lung is and how small your left lung looks in comparison…’
I can see. My left lung looks withered and tiny. It makes me feel sad looking at this broken part of me.
‘It looks to me like you have two bullae, which are the little air blisters we spoke to you about, in the apex of your lung. You also have some fluid, which is to be expected when a lung has been down as long as yours… And it looks like you have a fairly big cyst too…’
Nobody has mentioned the possibility of a cyst before. I ask him what that means?
‘People can have cysts all over there bodies. It looks a simple cyst… I wouldn’t worry about it. That not what’s causing the air leak… Unless, do you have cysts on your kidneys?’
I look at him confused. How could I possibly know if I had cysts on my kidneys? Nobody has ever scanned my kidneys…
‘There is a cystic condition can cause lung and kidney lesions… It only affects women and can sometimes first present with Spontaneous Pneumothorax. It’s very rare. You are in the right age bracket… I’ll order a blood test just to rule it out… Now can I bring my students in?’
I nod yes. I try to take in what has just happened as Dr Drippy mumbles on about my X-ray’s to his two female students. I was expecting to have lung bullae. That’s the classic cause of Spontaneous Pneumothorax but I feel unsettled at the thought of this ‘cyst’ and the mysterious condition I’ll need to be tested for…
‘Ruth will be going to St Barts today so this is probably the last time we will see her…’
Dr Drippy suddenly extends his hand out for me to shake it. I snap back into the room.
‘Good luck and goodbye – I mean this in the nicest possible way but I hope I never see you again’
Dr Drippy and his two students leave.
I’m going out of my mind with boredom by the time lunch arrives. It’s a rather sorry looking affair. I leave the rubbery omelette and the tinned diced vegetables but I find myself strangely enjoying the cheap hash browns. Sometimes pure stodgy potato carbs provide comfort in a way nothing else can!
It seems a long, tedious, wait between lunch and my visitors arriving although in reality it’s probably less than an hour.
I immediately apologise to my sister and friends as as they arrive because I’m acutely aware that at any point during their visit the porters could arrive to transfer me to St Barts…
We spend the next few hours chatting, laughing and playing games. Very quickly I’ve forgotten all about the move to St Barts. It’s only when dinner arrives I realise I start to wonder if the transfer is still happening?
Soon I get my answer. The nurse from earlier comes in, looking nervous and (I’m sure I’m not imagining it) slightly tearful.
‘I’m so sorry. You’re not going now. I feel so bad I told you this morning you would be.’
I ask her if she knows why I’m not now being moved?
‘St Barts won’t admit you. They don’t have enough staff on over the bank holiday weekend. Not enough nurses. They won’t admit you until Tuesday now. I’m so sorry.’
Then I ask if I’m not being moved till Tuesday, does that mean surgery won’t now be until Wednesday or Thursday?
‘I don’t know I’m sorry. Probably not. I’m so sorry.’
She looks tearful again.
‘You know I feel like I’ve spent this whole shift giving people bad news…’
I say she shouldn’t feel bad as it’s not her fault and offer her a Lindt chocolate from the box one of my friends brought me.
‘Oh thanks. I’ll save this for when I finish! Now I’ll leave you to talk to your friends…’
Once she has left I feel myself welling up. This whole thing just seems to be turning into an unending nightmare. When will I get out of here? When can I rejoin society and become a normal person again?
My sister and friends comfort me as the tears roll down my cheeks. They remind me it’s only a few extra days and in the long run of my life it’s a very short space of time…
I know they are right but it is incredible how ‘hospital time’ makes me feel. Every hour drags. Every day is both mind numbingly dull and completely exhausting at the same time. Every night is restless, long and lonely. Now I face another torturous weekend of nothingness while I wait to be transferred.
My sister and friends stay with me well past the end of visiting and are with me for the dreaded blood thinning injection.
My sister is going home tomorrow and I get emotional again when it is time for her to leave. I had hoped she would be here when I had the surgery, but instead she is going home and I don’t even know when my operation will be…
When everyone has finally gone I am tired. I feel emotionally drained. I’ve spent the last few days waiting to be moved any second. Now at least I know I will not be woken at two o’clock or five o’clock to be transferred in the night. I’m going nowhere. Hopefully this means I can sleep…
I lie starring at the ceiling for a long time, endlessly repeating unanswerable questions in my mind. Why me? Why did this have to happen? Why did it have to coincide with the Easter Weekend? When will this all be over and when can I go home?
Eventually, even with all these thoughts floating around in my head, I begin to drift off. My mind wanders and I start to dream…