I’m ripped awake.
For a moment I’ve forgotten where I am and what’s wrong with me…
I lift my hand up and touch the chest tube wound. In an instant it all comes flooding back… But why is it so sore? What have I done? Is it twisted again?
I reach for the call button and press for the nurse.
I adjust the bed into a sitting position and look to see if I’ve pulled the stitches or twisted the tube? I can’t see anything different. My armpit wound seems the same. The crusty blood is dried and old, not fresh… The stitches look intact.
Something isn’t right though. It really hurts.
I look down at the drain. The water seal is bubbling. The fluid in the tube is still ‘swinging’ up and down as I breathe like it’s supposed to…
The pain is really intense now. I can’t work out where it’s radiating from? Is it the wound site or inside my chest? It seems to be coming from everywhere on my left side…
The male nurse on night shift rushes in.
‘Are you ok?’
He switches off the call button.
I explain my chest really hurts. That I was awoken by sudden pain…
He examines my armpit wound, the chest tube and drain.
‘It all looks fine. Bubbling and swinging. The wound looks ok. No bleeding. I think it must be coming from inside your chest. I’ll call the doctor…’
He puts the call button into my hand.
‘If it gets worse while I’m gone press it again and keep pressing it until someone comes, ok?’
He leaves to get the doctor. I am alone in my room, with the call button pressed into my right hand. I try to breathe through the pain.
Almost time for morning ‘Obs’ I think to myself… Then it will be Meds, then breakfast…
Day twelve in hospital.
A young female doctor I’ve never met before comes in along with the male night shift nurse.
‘Your experiencing some chest pain?’
She also examines, my wound and chest drain. She listens to my chest and feels my pulse.
‘Ok I’m fairly sure it’s not your heart, but I’m going to order an ECG anyway just to be on the safe side and an X-ray. I think what’s probably happened is the tube inside your chest has moved slightly and is either pressing on a nerve or has slipped and is too low down… The X-ray will show us. If so we’ll probably have to change it…’
Once the doctor leaves the nurse gives me my morning Meds. I take the two paracetamol and two codeine with a swig of water.
‘If the pain is still as intense in twenty minutes let me know and I’ll bring you some Oramorph too…’ He says on his way out.
The nursing assistant takes my ‘Obs’ as usual. She wheels the sphygmomanometer towards the door and almost crashes into the young nurse who is coming in with the echocardiogram machine. It takes them a both a moment to negotiate the space and manoeuvre around each other.
‘Can you lift your top for me please?’
I do so.
‘The pads will probably feel a bit cold..’
She begins to stick the small square electrode pads to various points on my chest and belly. She has difficulty sticking one of them to my upper chest and it keeps pealing off…
‘Do you have lotion or moisturiser on?’
I say no and try to make a joke that I must just be naturally greasy but she doesn’t understand me and looks stoney faced.
She tries again and eventually it stays put.
I can’t really feel anything as the machine takes it’s reading.
The nurse tears off the paper print of my results and then helps me remove the electrode pads.
When breakfast arrives the drugs have kicked in and the pain is much less intense. I manage to eat the banana and yoghurt but not the cereal. I make myself a lemon and ginger tea with the hot water I’m brought and wait for the porter to come to take me down to Imaging.
It’s only just 8am and I am already exhausted.
I am much more comfortable in my chest now so I get out of bed and go to the window. I look out at the rainy city as usual but for some reason today my eyes are also drawn to the other hospital building slightly to the left of the one I’m in. I can see the backs of ‘Get Well’ cards pressed against the glass of windows like mine along with vases of daffodils and other flowers. I look down at the cards and daffodils on my own window ledge and wonder if anyone is looking at them now in the other building? From the outside we are just floors and floors of identical patients…
I lift up my chest drain and go to the bathroom. I brush my teeth and splash my face with water, as I do so I notice my left arm is a lot stiffer than it has been. It’s painful to lift my hand above shoulder height. I end up attempting (not very successfully) to apply facial wash to my cheeks with just my right hand. I end up soaking my pyjamas, getting soap in my hair and not really washing much of my face…
I hear the porter’s voice calling while I’m still in the bathroom. I shout that I’ll just be a minute and try to towel my pyjamas dry…
Once out of the toilet I carefully climb into the wheelchair and clasp the chest drain tightly between my feet. The porter puts a blanket over me and wheels me through the corridor towards the lift.
We stop at each one of the floors beneath Ward 13F on our way down to ground level. The doors open at Imaging and as the porter pushes me out of the lift I hear a Walkie Talkie crackle…
‘Cardiac Arrest in X-ray…’
The doctor, who had been standing behind me quietly, literally breaks into a full sprint out of the lift. Suddenly it seems as though half the hospital are pushing my wheelchair out of the way and running towards The X-ray department.
I hear more Walkie Talkie’s crackling and two medical staff jog up behind us pushing what I think must be a ‘crash cart’… The porter stops at the side of the corridor and tucks my wheelchair in close to the wall to let them pass.
Once I’m parked up in X-ray it’s clear that the cardiac arrest has occurred in the actual room I’m due to go into for my Chest X-ray.
X-ray room 2.
I sit a few meters away from the closed doors and can hear the charge of the defibrillator inside. I must have seen this scenario in a million films. My mind paints the image. The hands pressing the paddles down onto the bare chest. The body jerking with the shock.
I am filled with sadness. Who is this poor person fighting for their life?
Four more medical staff arrive and enter the room. Two people leave.
Then a long time of nothing.
I sit staring at the closed door of X-ray room 2.
Whoever you are in there, fight for your life! Fight for it!
Eventually after what seems like an age, the doors open and a lot of staff slowly wheel a young man out on a trolley. He looks very beaten up, like he’s been in a car crash, he has visible head injuries. There is, what looks like an inflated plastic balloon over his mouth. A nurse is carefully squeezing it every few seconds presumably helping him to breathe.
I had expected them to wheel out a body bag.
I had expected that poor man to be dead. I am choked with emotion as he is wheeled away still alive. I hear the doctors praising each other on a ‘good job’ as a young radiographer approaches me and wheels me into the same room where they brought the young man back from the brink of death just moments earlier.
The radiographers are still talking to each other about it as they position the X-ray machine at my chest height, then duck behind the glass.
‘And breathe in and hold…. And…. All done.’
I carefully get back into the wheelchair.
‘There nice and easy. No drama with you!’ The young radiographer says smiling and she wheels me back out.
By the time I am back in my room in Ward 13F I am completely drained and in pain again as my Meds are wearing off.
Lunch is possibly the most depressing yet. A huge mound of peas, a scoop of mash and a burnt quiche square. It’s not actually edible. It looks like the plastic food nursery children play ‘house’ with… I’m not particularly hungry anyway. I gratefully take my Meds when they arrive and wait for my visitors.
My friends arrive around two o’clock complete with some M and S lunch items and snacks. We sit for the next hour chatting, laughing and messing around.
There is a knock on my door and the young female doctor from early this morning comes in. I momentarily wonder what kind of bizarre shift pattern would make her still on duty at three in the afternoon? Had she only just arrived when I saw her at 5am this morning then?
‘Is it alright if I speak in front of your friends?’
I say it is.
‘Well the good news is your heart is fine. As we thought. Lung looks good too. Like it’s really coming up. I’d say only a day or so until it’s fully inflated’
I freeze… This goes against EVERYTHING I’ve been told over the last few days…
‘The chest drain looks fine too. The pain was probably it pressing on a nerve while you slept – so we’ll keep an eye on it but no need to do anything to it yet I don’t think’
I question her on what she means about my lung ‘looking good’?
‘Just a tiny tiny bit still to come up but really it’s nearly there. So it’s good news. In fact – place your hand on your chest and say ‘ninety nine’
I do so.
‘Can you feel the vibration?’
I’m not sure I can….
‘Well that’s your lung working again…’
I’m not convinced at all. I can’t feel anything. My left side feels totally flat when I say ‘ninety nine’…. Her opinion seems to be the complete opposite of every other doctor I’ve spoken to in this hospital… I am not heartened by what she has to say at all. Just dubious.
Before she leaves, I do at least get permission for my friends to take me outside for some fresh air.
‘As long as you don’t go far, you stay in the wheel chair and if anything happens you know to say ‘left side pneumothorax’ it should be fine….’
Just in case anyone else comes in and tells me I’m not allowed to go outside I immediately send my friends to get a wheel chair.
They patiently wheel me down to ground floor and outside for a half circuit of the hospital.
It’s cold and wet, but to finally have fresh air on my face after so many long days inside feels wonderful. Even as it begins to rain heavily just before they take me back inside, I appreciate every wet drop that lands on me. It’s just so refreshing after nearly two weeks of nothing but stale air conditioning…
My friends stay with me until late in the evening. They are with me when the nurse comes to give me my night time Meds. Once she has left, my friends are observant enough to notice she has forgotten to give me my daily blood thinning injection. It’s still sitting in its plastic packet on the counter. They make me promise as they leave that I’ll ring the call button and remind her. I say I will do.
I just can’t face it. I hate it so much. I know I should call her but my poor tummy is covered in bruises and it’s just one night without it…
One night won’t do any harm, surely?
Only one night….
I tell myself I’ll walk around lots in my room tomorrow to make sure I don’t get a blood clot. I’ll spend all day circling my ankles and screwing up my toes. I’m still telling myself all this as I begin to drift off into a deep, exhausted sleep…