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).