There is no wall clock in my new ward. I’m not sure of the time but it’s early.
There have been a lot of strange noises and commotions during the night that didn’t happen in my single room at The Royal London.
My curtain is pulled round so I can’t see anything much but I can hear a nurse’s voice and one of the elderly ladies vomiting.
I need the toilet but I don’t want to break the security of my closed curtain cocoon.
I lie awake and stare at the ceiling until it’s time for morning Obs.
The nursing assistant pulls my curtain round and I can see that both the lady next to me and the one opposite are already up and sitting in the chairs next to their beds.
I dutifully hold out my arm ready for the pressure cuff as I listen to the two ladies chat.
‘Did you sleep alright?’ Asks the lady next to me.
‘Not too bad’ replies the one opposite. ‘Just these antibiotics they’ve got me on. Make me so sick…’
‘Yes. I did hear you in the night. What a shame. Can’t you ask them to give you something?’
‘They did but it still comes on sometimes…’
Once the nursing assistant has finished taking my Obs she informs me that on this ward patients are expected to get up and sit in their chairs until lunchtime. Then there is a ‘rest period’ between one and three.
I ask her whether there is wifi. She informs me there is not. She tells me there is no TV on the ward either.
It’s just turned 7am.
I do as I’m told and sit in my chair, take my meds, eat my breakfast and contemplate what the next six hours until lunch are going to be like…
‘Are you alright, dear? How was your first night?’
I realise the lady next to me is speaking to me.
I tell her that I didn’t really sleep all that much because I’m not used to being on a ward.
‘Is that a Scottish accent I can hear?’
I nod my head.
‘Oh how lovely. I’ve got a lot of Scottish jumpers. Fair isle knit. And tweed skirts. What about Highland Dancing? Do you do that?’
I say no.
The lady opposite joins in. ‘Oh I used to do Highland Dancing. At school instead of gym class.’
‘Did you? How funny you did it down here but she didn’t do any and she’s Scottish.
‘Oh yes. That is funny isn’t it?
I learn that the lady opposite me is called Edna and the one next to me is Gloria. I ask my two ward mates what they do to occupy themselves since there is no wifi or TV?
‘I’ve got a book’ says Edna. ‘And I do dose of in my chair even though we’re not supposed to..’
‘Well, I do a spot of knitting’ Gloria says. ‘You look fairly mobile dear, there is a breakout room across the way. I think there is a TV in there. You can go and sit in there if you prefer.’
I say I’ll check it out.
I lift up my chest drain and walk out of the ward. Sure enough the ‘breakout’ room is directly opposite. It’s fairly grim. No windows. A few scattered chairs, a table and a very old looking TV. There is nobody else here so I sit down on one of the chairs and turn the TV on with the remote control.
I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the whole situation. Tears begin pouring down my cheeks and before I’ve even realised what’s happening I’m doubled over, wracking with sobs.
What new hell is this? I think to myself. It’s not even 9 o’clock.
I must be making a noise because the ward Sister has noticed and comes in and sits next to me.
She’s an intimidating woman. She’s matter of fact and not too sympathetic.
She tells me I will be having my operation tomorrow and that’s a good thing because my lung is broken and it needs to be fixed.
I tell her I am scared. I’ve never had an operation before and I’m frightened.
She says the surgeon will be coming in to speak to me today and he will reassure me.
I’m calming down. I can sense the ward Sister is not the kind of nurse who’s going to give me a hug and commiserate with me so I tell her I’m ok and I’m just going to watch TV for a bit. She says she will let me know when the surgeon is on his way and leaves me alone in the breakout room.
I spend the next couple of hours texting my friends and watching morning television.
I head back to the ward when lunch arrives.
‘Oh dear’ says Gloria. ‘What on earth is that?’
She’s referring to the ‘pie’ both she and Edna have been presented with. My own cheese and onion ‘pasty’ is not much better…
‘You know I think tomorrow I’m just going to ask for a sandwich’ says Edna. ‘They can’t mess up a sandwich can they?’
I say I wouldn’t bet on it and we have a bit of a laugh exchanging horrendous hospital food stories.
‘You’re very young to be in here, dear’ remarks Gloria. ‘What happened to you?’
I recount the story of my pneumothorax and both Edna and Gloria are very kind.
‘How terrible, dear. Must have been a dreadful shock’ sympathises Gloria.
I ask them if they have been here for a while?
‘Well, I’ve been in and out. They found a shadow on my lung before Christmas. It turned out to be cancerous so I’ve had a lobe removed. Now I’m stuck till the lung stops leaking. Bubbling everyday though…’ Says Edna referring to her chest drain, which unlike mine is filled with a bloody mixture.
‘I’m waiting for a triple bypass. Can’t go ahead till they’re happy with my blood pressure so I’m stuck too.’ Gloria tells me.
I am filled with sadness at the seriousness of their conditions. My pneumothorax is so terrible to me but in comparison to lung cancer and a triple heart bypass it starts to seem fairly minor…
Gloria takes a nap during our ‘rest period’ but Edna and I quietly chat until it’s time for visiting.
‘Do you have people coming?’
I say yes, a few friends and ask if she has anyone visiting?
‘Not today. My son’s very busy and my husband doesn’t keep too well. My daughter might visit later in the week…’
When my friends arrive I suggest we go through to the breakout room as it feels a bit insensitive to have loads of people crowded round my bed when I know Edna has no visitors.
We sit in there for several hours, playing cards messing around. My friends pop out at dinner time and bring me some nice M and S salads and snacks. I tell the man with the dinner trolley not to even plate mine up when he comes round. No burnt quiche and solid mash potatoes for me tonight!
My friends say they will hang on until I’ve spoken to the surgeon. I check with the Sister and she says he is definitely on his way. We continue to play cards….
Time is ticking on and it’s eight o’clock. The end of visiting. I’ve been told they are quite strict in St Barts about people over staying past visiting hours, but the surgeon hasn’t been yet….
I ask the sister if they can stay with me until he comes?
‘I’ll make an allowance since it’s the night before your surgery, but you’ll have to stay in the breakout room as people in your ward may want to sleep…’
We resume our card game until an anaesthetist asks to have a word with me.
‘I’ll be one of your anaesthetists tomorrow’ says the tall young man.
‘Have you ever had a general anaesthetic before?’
I reply I haven’t.
‘I would consider you to be very low risk. Your young and slim and have no underlying health issues other than your pneumothorax… You can eat normally until midnight, but then don’t eat or drink anything, even water, as your first on the morning list… The surgeon will be along soon I’m sure.’
Nine o’clock. Still no surgeon. I go and ask the Sister.
‘Actually I’m not sure what’s going on here. He should have been by now. Let me call him…’
Around half past nine the Sister returns.
‘The surgeon is not coming in today but he said he has asked the registrar to speak to you. We are just trying to track him down. This is very unusual. I would expect someone to come and speak to you tonight as your first on the list…’
Half past ten.
My friends are getting very agitated on my behalf. One goes to speak to the sister again.
The Sister comes into the breakout room.
‘We can’t get hold of the registrar. His phone is switched off. No one is coming tonight. This is highly unusual. You are first in the list. They will come to speak to you tomorrow morning. Your friends can come back then if you’d like them to be there…’
I’m really confused and a bit distressed. How can I consent to surgery tomorrow when I have not even met a single doctor since I’ve been in St Barts?
‘It is very unusual. Usually the surgeon does meet all his patients the day before… You don’t have to consent to anything if you are not happy…’
My friends need to go or they’ll miss their last tube. They tell me to text them as soon as I know what’s going on. I feel very bereft once they do finally leave.
I try to sneak quietly back into the ward so as not to wake Edna and Gloria but they have both been waiting up for me…
‘Has he still not been dear?’ Gloria asks me as I sit on the bed.
I say no.
‘That’s terrible’ chimes in Edna. ‘We knew you were still waiting… We said we’d stay up to see if he came to see you.’
‘It’s shocking treatment dear’ says Gloria ‘You know you don’t have to consent to anything until they explain it to you properly!’
‘Came to see me a few times before this’ says Edna indicating towards her drain. ‘I can’t believe they let you hang on all day like that!’
I tell them I won’t consent to anything tomorrow morning unless the surgeon comes to talk to me first. I say I don’t care if he’s the best surgeon in the world, its my body and my lung and I want to know what’s he’s planning to do to it!
‘Quite right dear, you are the one who has to live with it, after all…’ Gloria agrees.
I assure Edna and Gloria it’s nothing personal but I’m going to pull the curtain round again tonight just for privacy. Just because I was so used to having my own room.
‘Of course dear. Whatever makes you most comfortable.’ says Gloria, kindly.
Once I’m safe in my curtain cocoon. I lie staring at the ceiling mulling over the day’s events in my head. I don’t feel ready for surgery at all. It seems surreal to me that I am supposed to be going first thing tomorrow. I don’t even know what they are planning to do to me. How can they expect me to be comfortable without even meeting a single doctor?
I make a decision. When I’m woken up to prepare for surgery in the morning I’m going to point blank refuse to go anywhere or do anything until I speak with the surgeon.
This decision seems to have a calming effect on me. Soon I am struggling to stay awake. I just keep reminding myself over and over in my head that they can’t operate without my consent until finally exhaustion takes hold and I drift off into a deep sleep…