Friday, 11 January 2019

Released, with gratitude

...for all the fine nursing and good company I've enjoyed - yes, enjoyed - during my 14 days in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital (this by way of a corrective to the horrors of the last two posts, accompanied by photos of the five-star-hotel view from my bed. The one above features the most original pick-me-up, Jonny Brown's two-piece vase of tulips from Duranus). Finally, after 48 hours' prevarication when my temperature stabilised, they performed the 'second intervention' on me to remove bag and tube into my left kidney - medical term 'nephrostomy' - and replaced it with a stent, which is more uncomfortable on the nether regions but gets me out of jail. Which I left at just after 6 yesterday evening, saying a rather reluctant farewell to the two other musketeers in Bay 6 of the ward. We three were wryly dedicated to reprimanding the moaners and complainers, telling them the nurses were doing their best and that there were other folk on the ward much worse off than them whom they needed to consider.

So, a hymn to those guys and to two others. My long-term neighbour, whom I'm sure I can name, Mr Patel, went through a lot of suffering and still needs his gall bladder removing, but he was a smiling and warm personage throughout it all. Among his several professions he runs an organic olive oil farm in Puglia. He'd asked his business partner to send a bottle; he delivered 16, so they went to the staff and to us three musketeers when he left about a week ago. I shall be heading up to the wondrous Neasden Hindu Temple for some vegetarian food in the next month.

I mentioned noble John, 94, pillar of the Iranian Christian community in London. He knew the people we'd heard about during our most extraordinary Christmas Day with the gated Anglican community in Isfahan, having managed a hotel there before being forced to flee during the revolution (that same which brought tragedy to the then-Bishop, his son stoned to death by an angry mob). I was very much moved by John's journey, after the latest of his many falls which fractured his skull, from seeming at death's door to being up and shaving himself, to retreat and then, it seemed, to full lively recovery, and I enjoyed conversations with two of his daughters*.

Memorable indeed was the afternoon when the Bishop of Iraq, who had been due to stay with John, came in with a group of friends, in the middle of which a celebrated Chelsea doyenne, artist and writer, another patient, wandered in sporting her afternoon glitter and feathers. Less happy was the night when John fell out of bed. Twice. Why hadn't they put the side guards up? I got a complicated explanation about how the patient can harm him- or herself more getting tangled in them. Anyway, fiercely independent John will need 24 hour care when he leaves, which he may already have done; he was moved to another ward five days ago.*

What a contrast to the two horrid old men who occupied the bed opposite him in succession. I've written about the Screamcougher, but maybe there was something psychologically amiss. Next was a fully compos mentis old moaner and attention-seeker who wanted to get back to his cat. Treated half the staff, who were infinitely patient with him and polite, very vehemently ('leave me alone!' 'What do you think you're doing?' 'Where's the fucking doctor'?). Just occasionally made us laugh ('I want to shit, dear'). Asked us all to help him. I gave him a banana - he always wanted more at breakfast, lunch and dinner - but there was a moment of pure black comedy when he asked Musketeer Two to help him get up. 'I've got terminal cancer, man, you're asking the wrong person'. I gave him a speech, addressing him as 'sir' and telling him this was not a five-star hotel and that the staff were doing their best under difficult circumstances. He stared at me open-mouthed but did shut up for the rest of the afternoon.

Musketeer Two (if I am One, in absolutely no order of priority), old hippy, has done a lot of drugs in his life, involved in the music business and just back from Jamaica. Very gentle and kindly, huge array of visitors, coming to terms with a diagnosis of cancer spread from kidney to liver and lungs. I joked that he was 'making a molehill out of a mountain'. Musketeer Three arrived the day after me. Crabby and laconic, but always surprising. In a lot of pain after treatment for a burst appendix. With a wife who had her own lung problems so couldn't visit often. Heard him waiting for her on the phone: 'where are you, you silly old cow?' But to my surprise we were all singing from the same hymn sheet on Brexit and Trump. I left before I could get to see Mary Poppins Returns in the MediCinema (another of C&W's fabulous setups); he went instead with his granddaughter. Next Thursday is The Favourite, which being on the lists I can go and see with a friend for free. Unfortunately J does not want to set foot inside the hospital again. Anyway, Musketeer Three and I chuckled quietly on a regular basis, bitching about the troublemakers.

I thank so many of the nursing staff. Some were indifferent - what a difference introductions would have made, given that the team of two serving the ward changed daily and nightly. Only three were fairly-to-downright useless. I've already mentioned the exchange with the mystery woman at the desk and the male nurse who failed to screw up the bottom of my bag after emptying so it went all over the floor, also referenced under 'Screamcougher and squalor'. Like many of the staff, he was always on Instagram and Facebook, looking at cars and sports. Jeremy found him fast asleep at the desk in the middle of the afternoon.

One night nurse who was busy on Facebook at her desk said, when I pointed to my three-quarters-full bag on my way out from the toilet, 'I'll come when I've finished this'. 40 minutes later she appeared in the ward and said, 'I haven't forgotten', before walking out again. When it reached full to bursting I went to the toilet and emptied it myself. She looked disapproving when I told her I had to do it (as I had been, before they decided they wanted to measure and/or analyse the contents). 'An hour has passed', I said, knowing it was between 50 minutes and an hour or more. 'Not an hour,' she said, walking away again. One other nurse was rude (when  I asked politely about making up the bed, usually done around 10am but this time unmade way past noon, 'let us do our job') but clearly good at his work, and we got on better after that. I could have done without the ineptitude of a too-tight dressing which was apparently the real reason for blistering on my right forearm and cellulitis above it. That retreated swiftish, but the extra hospital contributions to my suffering were unnecessary and unwelcome.

I repeat - that stuff was very much in the minority. I thank the majority, dealing well in situations of serious understaffing, from the bottom of my heart. One thing I shall be on the warpath about: the hygiene.

Cleaning the few toilets and showers shared by the ward only three times a day - twice, in this instance, it seems (photographed at 21.30 that night; on the next morning, the third entry was filled in, possibly fraudulently) - with the last cleaning usually at 2.30pm. Contracting out to an inadequate company is false, short-term economy; stamp out the chance of MRSA etc and in the long term the NHS saves money.

While nights proved a trial - I can't get over the silence back home - days were never boring. My reading tailed off a bit after finishing the Ferrante quartet; an earlier novel, The Days of Abandonment, is of the highest literary quality, a Kafkaesque narrative of how a woman loses her sense of self and falls into absurd, irrational behaviour after her husband abruptly leaves her for a younger model, but not a pageturner. My most recent visitor apart from J, the wonderful Frances Stonor Saunders, brought me Virginia Woolf's On Being Ill, an astonishingly rich essay for its 24 pages.

Frances also offered invaluable advice based on experience: when you leave, ask for a full printout of your treatment rather than just the usual signing-off summary. Papers go missing; when you return for any connected appointments, bring it all with you just in case.

I finished one fine TV series and got through a shorter, more recent one. Earlier this year, I was drawn in immediately to Eve Myles' utterly mesmerising, infinitely various characterisation, the core of the Welsh thriller Keeping Faith.

How bereft I'd felt when it went off the BBC iPlayer in September as soon as I'd got to the end of episode 4 (of 8). Fortunately I found the rest this time by entering 'Keeping Faith watch online' into Google, happy to put up wih the odd interjection of an advert in each instalment. The slow burn, always plausible drama maintained its high standards to the end, with all the other roles superbly taken (plenty of stillness, a rare quality in TV acting. Pictured below, Myles with Hanna Daniel as Faith's sassy fellow lawyer Cerys Jones). Roll on Series Two.

After that I turned to The ABC Murders, well aware that Agatha Christie adapter Sarah Phelps always serves up thoughtful rewriting (and replotting in some cases) since I reviewed And Then There Were None for The Arts Desk. Malkovich as Poirot? Ungenial, perhaps not Christie's detective, but a magnificent and compelling creation, so watchful.

All acting fine, cinematography beautiful or grim to look at (though they seem to have taken a bit of a train going through a landscape from last year's Scotland-set Witness for the Prosecution; no routes to the south coast from London look remotely like that). The original is one of the few I never read, so the twist came as a genuine surprise; I don't expect anyone would anticipate it.

Got to the end just before they wheeled me down for the second intervention, less painful than the first though I wished I didn't have to hear every word of the surgeon and assistants; I was trying to focus on the closing scene of Strauss's Daphne in my head. Now I just have to wait in line for the stonebreaking, which of course was done in a day two and a half years ago along with the rest in the Acibadem Private Hospital, Bodrum, Turkey. I'm afraid that because of NHS waiting times, worse than ever for cancer patients as The Guardian states today, I'm going to take up the very reasonably priced private healthcare plan J has just discovered.

*I bumped into one of them, Caroline, in the lift on my return visit this Tuesday to give a sample and blood, and though we were delighted to see each other, I was sorry to hear that John, now in a ward one floor below, has been up and down (and still there, though we had talked about options for temporary care home - my 90 year old friend Thomas, now bereft of Beulah who went there with him, is in the permanent part of what sounds like a very good one in Wimbledon).


Willym said...

So good to hear that you are out and if not exactly about, about to get about. Who else but you could write so entertainingly and yet so wryly about the ordeal? I found myself laughing out loud a few times. But you are right about the medical system - ours is not as "broken" as your's seems to be but the dedication of 90% of the doctors, nurses, staff etc make it work in spite of itself.

David said...

Thanks, Will, and I am so pleased you laughed. There was plenty of humour in the human predicament there, albeit somewhat black at times and stripped to the bone. I normally exist within such a bubble of like-minded friends that this tested my belief that all human beings are equal when it comes to the essentials. And some are naturally selfish. All human life is there, at least from ages 16 to 94 according to my witnessing. And one saw newborn babies in their parents' arms on hospital walkabout.

The system is so laborious, though. One can't begin to imagine how overwork causes compassion fatigue in a lot of doctors and nurses. The NHS is creaking, but not yet broken.

Now I'm off for my first slow walk down the North End Road... Queen of Spades at the Royal Opera will be my musical re-entry on Sunday afternoon, then teaching my first Valkyrie class on Monday. Still in need of much sleep.

Liam mansfield said...

Good to hear you have been released....... It makes one realise how lucky and costed one is from harsh realities.
We all Ned our bubble and should really be thankful for ones privileged existence

Susan said...

Oh, hurrah, on your escape, and what a gracious, thoughtful essay you offer now that you are freed. I will be interested in your reaction to The Favourite, which we enjoyed with some hesitations, but loved Olivia Coleman, a favorite of ours from Broadchurch, as Queen Anne. And the line I most enjoyed in this post was this, the reason you didn’t want the interrupting chatter from the medical staff, “I was trying to focus on the closing scene of Strauss's Daphne in my head.” So, may the stone soon be gone, and may all be well, and all manner of things be well.

David said...

Well, Liam, we all need to leave our bubble from time to time. As I think I made clear, I enjoyed the days if not the nights, and I met a wider spectrum of humanity than in the usual run of things. And most of it was good.

Slight trepidation about The Favourite, Sue, the director is so wilfully weird. But better that than cliched costume drama. First episode of the BBC Les Miserables, handsomely filmed, was very much that. Not so hooked as to want to continue - even without those ghastly songs...

Liam mansfield said...

I agree but 14 days is along time

David said...

Indeed - though I never got bored, only increasingly frustrated.

Dale Bilsland said...


Delighted with the progress and home is always better than hospital. From direct personal experience (and indirect through treatment of my late parents [no connection!]) I am a great evangelist for the NHS. I hate it that only the few bad experiences get reported and never the multitude of good treatment.

Looking forward to hearing from you only(!) when you are up to it.

Best wishes for a comfortable groin.


David said...

Thanks, Dale. Quite chuffed that I sat through the afternoon Royal Opera performance of The Queen of Spades (just back) without much discomfort. It's tiring, going out, though. I am spacing excursions (though nothing will stop me teaching the first Valkyrie class down here tomorrow afternoon). And then I'll do your blurb. Sehr langsam.

Dale Bilsland said...


Seeing Queen of Spades in the cinema in a couple of weeks.


David said...

Probably worth seeing, but I adjusted to the shock of the concept via the Dutch premiere DVD of Herheim's production, which has a much better Hermann and Lisa. And the Graham Vick Glyndebourne QoS will always be the benchmark (used that mostly when teaching the classes last term). Felicity Palmer is still singing superbly, but she doesn't get much of a shot at characterisation here - something's wrong when the Countess is marginal...

john graham said...

At the age of thirteen I spent five and a half MONTHS living in an NHS ward(broken legs, both femurs), so perhaps your 14 days is relatively short. As for being kept awake, did you ever try earplugs? I used to be given them to use when I couldn't sleep for the noise and they worked well.

David said...

Yes, I knew that, and I'm extremely sorry for it. But the relevance to this description is rather like the reaction of our (now former) UNRWA friend who, responding to J's news that he will probably lose his EU job on 29 March, replied, 'it's not Gaza, is it?' *Hint - empathy* And yes, I tried earplugs but they do not shut off the noise of the bells and machine alarms going off all night nor the Screamcougher. The white-noise waves on a beach through headphones (see earlier post) were good for everything else.

Josie Holford said...

I was looking for the grisly Julian Maclaren-Ross account of getting pneumonia in the army in WW2 but couldn't find it anywhere. (I would have sworn it was in Horizon but no luck.)

I'm not sure it would have been suitable hospital reading but maybe when it's all over and all to be recollected in tranquillity and full health and strength.

I am pleased they've sprung you. You certainly made something silk out of that ear.

David said...

Thanks so much, Josie. My current reading is divided between the grisly tragicomedy of Adam Kay's This is Going to Hurt, the all too truthful chronicles of a junior doctor who became a scriptwriter and comedian, and the poetic ingenuity - not without comedy too - of A Hospital Odyssey, an epic by the wonderful Gwyneth Lewis (whose work I first encountered through her 'cheerful book about depression' Sunbathing in the Rain). These have temporarily taken over from another stunner, George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo. Very pleased I got out tonight, though it was a struggle there and back, to hear Bang on a Can at Kings Place - I hope Sue knows them. Founder members Julia Wolfe and David Lang are on my list of top contemporary composers - this week's prizewinner Rebecca Saunders is definitely not.