I feel a hand on my shoulder and awake with a start.
‘Oh I’m so sorry! You looked so still. I just wanted to check you were alive! Sorry… You were so still… I did say your name a few times first!’
It takes me a moment to remember where I am as I look up at the timid young nursing assistant standing over me.
‘Can I do your Obs now?’
I present my arm ready for the pressure cuff…
Obs, Meds and breakfast pass in a sleepy blur and soon it’s mid morning. I haven’t even got out of bed yet. Wearily I throw the sheets back, swing my legs round to the left, lift my chest drain and stand up.
I walk to the window and look out at the ominously overcast sky above the city. It looks dark grey and angry. I decide it might be quite exciting watching a dramatic thunder storm up here. I start to imagine torrential rain bouncing off the pavements, loud thunder claps growling and fork lightning dancing off all the tall buildings surrounding the hospital. I can see the tiny worker bees on the ground running for cover as they are suddenly drenched. The roads turn quickly into rivers…
I jump slightly, not realising there was anyone in the room and turn round. A young female doctor who I’ve not met before is standing next to my bed.
‘I’ve just come to check in with you before your transfer to St Barts later’
I’m confused. I’m not going to St Barts until Tuesday. Today is Easter Sunday…
‘Has no one told you? The bed manager has finally admitted you. You’ll be going later today. We’ve ordered your transport. In the meantime, we’ve had a look at your X-ray this morning and the lung is still about 50% down so surgery is definitely still the correct option…’
I’m a little taken a back that I’m being moved today, on Easter Sunday, after Mr Member of Parliament and Dr Drippy were adamant I would not be going until Tuesday. My mum is coming down today, just for the day, she’s spent a lot of money on a flight. I really hope she will be allowed to travel with me to the new hospital…
Despite my shock at the transfer news, I do still remember to question why the doctor from yesterday told me my lung was ‘very nearly fully inflated’ if it is in fact still 50% down?
‘She told you that? Er… Well I’m not sure why she would have said that. It’s not the case. Your lung is still half collapsed… I’m really not sure why you have been told that. It’s not correct. I’ll ask for you but I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have been told that… Er…. Anyway, so you can start to pack up your things.’
She looks around awkwardly.
‘You’ve been really lucky so far haven’t you? Having this big room to yourself for so long. You’ll probably be on a ward in St Barts, better get used to sharing!’
I attempt to smile. My face only half moves. I don’t feel very ‘lucky’. Thirteen days in hospital and counting with a collapsed lung feels pretty unlucky to me, private room or not.
Once she has gone, I wash myself and change my pyjamas. My sister left me a ‘honey moisturising face mask’ sachet, which I smother all over my cheeks, forehead and chin. I leave it to soak in as I sit in the chair next to my bed and read a magazine. For a while, sitting in the quiet, undisturbed, I feel almost normal.
Soon it’s time for lunch and it’s another bizarre combination. Chickpea curry, rice, a lot of peas and some tinned carrots. I wonder if the food at St Barts will be any better? I pick at the curry and eat some of the carrots but leave the rest.
It’s not long after lunch that my mum and friend arrive. I feel a bit emotional hugging my mum. She presents me with a white chocolate Hello Kitty Easter egg – It is Easter Sunday after all – and a packet of milk chocolate mini eggs. I immediately begin demolishing the mini eggs as I tell them I am to be transferred later today. They help me to pack all my things into my rucksack and two shopping bags and we sit, ready to go at a moments notice…
There is a knock at the door and we all jump up, assuming it’s the porters arriving to take me to the ambulance. It’s not. It’s the smiley nurse from a few days ago.
‘I hear your finally moving today. Oh I’m so glad. I hope they get you fixed up soon so you can go home. Now I’ve been sent in here to give you a message… You asked why the doctor yesterday gave you the wrong information? Well the consultant told me to tell you that the doctor yesterday would have been correct in another situation if she was dealing with another patient, but in your case, with you, she wasn’t…. Does that make sense?’
The three of us look at the nurse and say nothing.
‘Oh it doesn’t, does it?’
She sits on the end of my bed.
‘You know they just send me in here to do their dirty work. The consultant should have come in here himself… She got it wrong but they don’t want to just say that so they send me in and give me something stupid to say instead…’
She looks slightly emotional and I offer her a mini egg and tell her it’s not her fault. She smiles and takes a handful…
‘It’s ridiculous isn’t it? If you were a different patient in a different situation she would have been correct! What a load of rubbish – she got it wrong!’
She is till sitting on the end of the bed laughing with us when two men in paramedic uniforms arrive with a wheelchair to transfer me to St Barts.
‘Good luck! I hope you get to go home soon!’
The nurse gives me a hug and leaves. I ask the two ambulance men if my mum and friend can come with me or if they will have to make their own way to St Barts?
‘That’s fine love, we’ve plenty of room’ says the older man as he tucks a blanket round me on the wheelchair.
‘Can we just check your chest drain, before we set off?’
The younger man, crouches down and inspects my chest drain, making some notes on a form attached to the clip board in his hands.
‘Did they put that in Resus?’
‘Without knocking you out?’
I nod again.
‘Must have been nasty.’
He sounds genuinely sympathetic.
‘Not very pleasant things, chest drains… Ok, all good to go…’
The younger man stands and walks ahead as the older man pushes me through the corridors towards the lift. I feel emotional. It’s finally happening. I’m finally going to St Barts… I thought this day might never come!
Once down at the ambulance my mum gets in the front with the younger man and my friend comes in the back with me and the older paramedic.
‘I’m just going to take your blood pressure before we leave…’
I hold my arm out like a robot… I wonder how many times I have had my blood pressure taken since my lung collapsed? Must be at least fifty…
The cuff tightens and tightens, then fails to take a reading. He tries again…
‘Your blood pressure is quite high. Are you nervous?’
I say I suppose I am a bit but usually my blood pressure is low. He tries one more time, gets a different result and records that one instead.
‘Alright mate, your good to go now’
The younger man starts the engine and we begin the journey to St Barts.
I can’t actually see anything sitting in the back. I think we are driving down Whitechapel road but I’m not sure, I’m just guessing the route in my head.
The older man asks me what I do, when I’m not in hospital with a pneumothorax and I tell him I am an actress.
‘An actress, eh? I’ve worked on a few films myself. As a medic. I was one of the medics on Skyfall. I won’t name names but some actors are right wimps. Especially the men. Calling for the medic when they just need a paracetamol for a headache… I’m sure your not like that though…’
Once we arrive at St Barts they put me into another wheelchair and push me into the George V building via the back entrance.
It’s a shiny, new, modern building but completely deserted… It seems like we are the only people here as I am pushed through the ground floor towards the lift.
‘Easter holidays. It’s a skeleton crew…’ says the younger man.
Even most of the lights are off…
Once we do get to the Cardiothoracic ward there are two nursing assistants chatting at the Nurses Station. The first staff members we’ve seen. One comes over and introduces herself. The two paramedics wish me well and leave me in the nursing assistant’s care. She leads me, my mum and friend through into a ward with four beds. There are two elderly ladies in the beds closest to the window. The other two beds are empty.
The nursing assistant walks to the bed on our left as we enter the ward.
‘This will be your bed.’
She indicates towards a cupboard and fridge on the right.
‘Here you can store your things and any food or drink in the fridge…’
I zone out as she continues through her introduction. My eyes wander to the two other patients. The lady opposite on the left is sitting in a chair. She looks very poorly. I can see she has a chest drain in like me, only hers is full of blood. Deep, dark, crimson blood. The lady directly next to me is fully dressed and reading in her chair. She looks perfectly healthy. I wonder why she is here?
‘So I’ll leave you to get settled in.’
The nursing assistant leaves and I realise I haven’t really heard anything she’s said.
My mum and friend help me unpack and sort out my things. My mum leaves first. She has a plane to catch. I feel very emotional saying goodbye. I’m glad she was here for my move. I wish she could be here for the surgery too though. Both my mum and sister had hoped to be here for it when they booked their travel but with all the delays and uncertainty both their visits have come and gone and I’m still waiting…
My friend leaves soon after. Unlike The Royal London, St Barts are quite strict about visiting hours. Strictly no visitors after 8pm, I’m told.
Once I am alone I try to become accustomed to my new environment. There is no wifi or TV in the ward but there is a day room with a telly just opposite… I don’t have my own room but I can pull the curtain round for some privacy at least.
The two elderly ladies chat for a bit. Their conversation is inane and irritating. I feel very unkind for thinking that.
‘Am I dribbling?’ says the lady next to me as she drinks a cup of tea. Her voice reminds me of Terry Jones’ mother in Life of Brian.
‘Since I had the mini stroke I can’t tell if I’m swallowing properly… I think I’m dribbling…’
‘No, no I don’t think your dribbling…. Mind you my eyes aren’t the best…’ The other lady says in an old fashioned cockney accent, a bit like Barbara Windsor’s.
‘I always think I’m dribbling! It’s terrible really when you can’t tell if your swallowing or not…’
‘Yes, yes it must be…’
Barbara and Terry continue in this vein until the nurse come in to do our Obs.
I’ve said exactly nothing. I know I’m being mean. Really unfriendly. I think to myself – tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll make an effort and try to get to know my ward mates. Tomorrow I’ll feel less unkind. Tonight I just want to keep myself to myself and go to sleep…
The nurse pulls the curtain round to do my blood thinning injection. I lift up my pyjama top. She pinches a lump of my already bruised flesh and plunges the needle in. I feel a tear roll down my cheek.
‘Shall I pull the curtain back?’
I ask if she can leave it closed.
Once she’s gone I try to close my eyes and get some sleep. I am completely exhausted but it takes me a while in this strange, unfamiliar environment before I’m able to relax. Soon, despite all my worries and fears, sleep comes over me and I eventually drift off…