Night terrors stalk a hospital drama

Night terrors stalk a hospital drama

What I relate here all happened this week at a London hospital which I will not name. I guard its identity not because there is anything wrong with the care  there — it was very good, actually — but because its name is irrelevant. 

I had gone into the hospital for a knee replacement — which nowadays seems to be considered a pretty routine procedure. Its prevalence testifies to one of the unacknowledged facts of modern life, that playing sport  is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Orthopaedic surgeons have bought the sort of aircraft that Donald Trump would snort at, on the rewards of trying to rebuild footballers’ knees after they have hit forty.

In my own case, it was, I am certain, jogging. Of course, there are people who run marathons in their eighties. They’re generally whispy creatures who, if laid on a butcher’s counter, would still be there at closing time – every species of offal having been seized upon by Mayfair mothers with a sudden urge for tripe or trotters.  Octogenarian runners do, however,  have lucky genes. Others don’t, and it is high time someone said what needs to be said to the advocates of urban fitness. Robin Wright looks awfully decorative dancing through Washington graveyards in her trainers in House of Cards. But, mark my words, she will regret it later.

Though I was, of course, present for the operation, I did not pay close attention, due to having been knocked out by a very nice Welsh anaesthetist wearing, for some reason, biker trousers and a tweed waistcoat. The operation was carried out by cheery surgeon acknowledged by his peers to be at the top of his game.

But when I awoke from dreams of darting across the savannah like an antelope, I found myself in great pain. Morphine was prescribed, administered on a drip controlled by the patient. Like all first-time users, I greatly enjoyed the woozy world into which I now had admission. My dreams that night were of wrestling the Queen Mother for occupancy of the coveted hospital bed.

But the following day, another consequence of the painkiller — acute constipation — was also making itself apparent.

Then came some more serious bad news. A scan detected a post-operative blood-clot in my lungs. I was wheeled down into the intensive care unit and prescribed more drugs. The care in intensive care is, well, intensive.

That night, another dream had the Nazis taking over the hospital around which  I was riding a bicycle. In a basket on the front handlebars were all the other patients. On waking I immediately asked a nurse “Are you German?” It turned out she came from Croydon.

The constipation being now very uncomfortable indeed, laxatives were administered, with Bikini Atoll-style consequences.

With even greater frequency than commercial breaks advertising the supermarket Christmas offers, efficient nurses arrived to take blood pressure, measure oxygen saturation and to ask personal questions about my bowels. Results of their readings were recorded in flashing coloured numbers on a screen above the bed. These screens seemed to beep incessantly and I soon realized that the  reason people don’t spend a long time in the ICU is because they have all been driven mad by the noise and sent to psychiatric wards.

That night I was unable to move much because of a painful leg. There were inflatable devices — clearly borrowed from an early prototype of the Michelin Man — around my calves, a permanently attached blood-pressure cuff on one arm and a drip in the other. Amid this discomfort, I had a sudden flash of insight. This was not a hospital at all. It was the base of a religious sect. One by one the entire staff of the place,  including the consultants, entered the room in the half light and knelt in front of the beeping screen in mumbling devotion.

The following night I hardly dreamt at all. But at about one in the morning I needed a pee. A pair of crutches were propped against the wall next to my bed. Surely, I thought, there is really no need to disturb the poor nurses?

After managing to disconnect myself from various tubes  I shuffled towards the crutches. Then I noticed something. No adult male has ever passed a washbasin on a middle-of-the-night mission without thinking the very thought that seized me in that moment: “no one will know and it all ends up in the same place anyway. What’s the problem?”

Having relieved myself, I discovered there was no handle, knob or tap on the chrome above the sink. (It later turned out that the water supply was controlled by a sensor in the wall.) Oh Hell, I’d sort it out in the morning. I was about to slither  into the bedclothes when there was a knock on the door. Through it came the Night Sister.

‘Everything alright?’ she asked.

‘Oh yes,’ I lied. ‘Was thinking of having a pee, but changed my mind.’ (Something no man over the age of forty has ever thought.)

She helped me into bed, reattaching the various devices.

‘Just as a  matter of interest,’ I ask, ‘why did you knock on the door at that moment?’

She points to the transparent conning tower in the ceiling which houses the CCTV camera.

Article courtesy of The Financial Times. Original found here.

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