Friday, 30 August 2013

The Hospital Drama - Part One

I haven't written anything for a while you may have noticed. For the past three weeks that has been due to the fact that I am world class in the field of laziness. However, for the three or four weeks before that it was due to the fact that I was either ill, in hospital or both.

It all started the week I came back from Portugal. By the way I will finish that story also. There are a few more things that happened on that holiday that I'd like to tell you about but that's for another time. For now I had gone back to work on the Tuesday after we got back to the UK. For the first couple of days in work everything was fine but by the Thursday I was beginning to feel very peaky indeed. I had booked Thursday afternoon off that week anyway because the Ashes series was starting. What? There can't be anything better to use one's annual leave on than vegging around on your sofa watching a couple of sessions of test cricket. Especially the Ashes. People who say it's boring just haven't got the patience or, dare I say it in some cases, the intellect to appreciate the longer form of the game. Anyway I didn't see any cricket that day.

I went straight to bed. Obviously I have had illnesses before but it would normally take a particularly nasty bout of the bubonic plague to stop me from watching the Ashes. This must be serious, I thought. I was feeling nauseous without actually being able to vomit, had an impressive variety of bladder and kidney pains and was roasting hot. The fact that 2013 was one of those rare years when summer actually arrives was not helping in all of this. Anyway I just gave up and went to bed as I say. By the time Emma came home from work at about 6.00 I didn't feel any better. I got up briefly but I don't remember eating anything before going back to bed a few hours later.

I had planned another afternoon off on the Friday but that wouldn't be necessary. The symptoms had just got worse and so I called in sick. Annoying when you know you are only due in for three and a half hours but this was getting perilous. In any case I am quite sure my colleagues had had enough of me wretching at my desk and having to look at me as I turned ever more green. The weekend I remember passed in a blur of illness and anti-biotics but by Monday I was starting to feel a little better. Not much, but the improvement led me to believe that I might be alright to go back into work the following week after four or five days rest. That was what I thought before I went to the hospital for a blood test. Because my doctors kept insisting that my water test results showed no evidence of an infection I had agreed to go and have a blood test. There had to be something there if the anti-biotics were making me feel slightly better so I thought that a blood test might show something up that the water test had not been able to. All of which was straightforward enough. I still felt rough but it was no great hardship to get the blood taken. It was not until I got home and tried to rest again that things got tricky.

At about 4.00 I was watching some over-rated Robert Redford film about a man who runs for office in California (or somewhere) and then finds out that everyone and everything about Californian (or wherever) politics is corrupt. Who would have thought it? Anyway before I find out what happens to this man the phone rings. It's my GP. He tells me that the blood test I have had earlier in the day shows that I have very high levels of potassium. So what? you may ask. He also says that high potassium is extremely dangerous for the heart and that I need to go into A & E as soon as possible to have treatment to lower my potassium levels. He tells me that if I do not go for the treatment then the condition I have is potentially fatal. Potentially Fatal. He actually uses that phrase. So little more than a week ago I'm on a beach in the Algarve with hardly a care in the world yet today I'm going to die. Potentially, obviously. How things change. At the precise moment he tells me this, and I can pinpoint it exactly in my memory, I start having heart palpitations. Small at first, like the feeling you get when you have a bit of a fright. Maybe like you think you have forgotten something important, but then it goes away when you realised that you have remembered it after all. My palpitations only subsided temporarily though. They began to return every few seconds, even as Emma and I had a pointless argument about whether I should go for the treatment or not. I said I wasn't going but Emma said I was, and it kept on like that for a little while until I reluctantly agreed to go.

It had been a long time since I had been in an A & E department. Hospitals just aren't for me. I don't trust doctors and I'm paranoid enough to believe that the health service considers those of us with physical limitations to be expendable. If I were to write a list of names here of the people I have known with various disabilities who are no longer with us and who left us at a ludicrously young age it would take you the rest of the day to get through it. There are countless, some of them really close to me, others just acquaintances. But it scarcely matters. Once you have seen death among your peers you start to wonder a lot about your own mortality. How am I here and they are not? Something went wrong somewhere. Surely someone could have done something? I remember one morning I was on the school bus and we pulled up outside the house of one lad to pick him up. There was a black van outside the house which didn't mean that much to me at first. At that age I had never seen anything like it. But the lad had died that morning and presumably the van was there to take the body away.

Anyway, I consider that the best way to avoid adding your name to the list is to not go to a doctor or a hospital unless you absolutely have to. Just don't let them get their hands on you and complicate things, is my philosophy. As long as you feel well, who gives two shites if your kidneys are working at roughly the same level as your legs? But of course now, as we go back to the plot, I'm being told I have heart problems. Potentially Fatal heart problems. Now this is different gravy. I know my kidneys aren't going to kill me just yet but my heart? How do I know what state that is in? I've never had to have a scan or an ECG or anything. What I do know is that it is currently palpitating at the rate that Usain Bolt turns his legs over in the 100m. Still, at the back of my mind is the knowledge that it has only been doing so since the doctor told me I had Potentially Fatal heart trouble and so maybe the palps (as they became known) are a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm ill because I'm being told I'm ill. Or something.

At this point the first of my paranoid theories about hospitals is crushed. I had been expecting to spend at least three, maybe as many as six hours waiting around with my palps before seeing anyone who resembles a medical professional. This despite the receptionist's suggestion that it would be 'about 40 minutes'. I wasn't having that. My only memories of being in an A & E department are of endless waiting, with around one person being called in to see someone every hour or so, or so it seemed. The receptionist was wrong, but only in as far as it didn't take as long as 40 minutes for my name to be called. I was ushered into a small room where I told my story so far, and then was taken down a corridor into one of the examination rooms. There was some waiting at that point but nothing on the scale I was expecting. That would come later, but for now it wasn't long before a young man came in asking more questions and informing me that I would need some further tests. What they call 'obs'. Observation or something. Basically what they mean is another blood test, a blood pressure reading and an ECG. Unlike earlier in the day the blood test was particularly difficult. The young medic, apart from looking like a villain in 24, was the first of several cack-handed medical staff who had an inability to find a worthy vein in either of my arms and so just settled on a strategy of butchering me. That's not racist by the way, the 24 thing. If it is then the makers of 24 are racist. Regardless, our friend stabbed me three or four times before he was happy that he had taken a good enough blood sample.

Of course the other thing about this particular Monday was that Saints were playing at home to Wigan that evening. Being off sick and feeling decidedly off colour I had already resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to go to Langtree Park as I would have normally. But I had thought, before the call from the doctor this afternoon, that I would be able to continue my convalescence in front of the television watching the game. I didn't really expect the win that eventually materialised but that wasn't the point. It was just about seeing the game. But that didn't happen. What happened instead was that I was hooked up to a drip for the next two hours and had various forms of fluid pumped into me in an attempt to lower my potassium levels I supposed. Though it was mostly painless one of the fluids, a type of glucoze or some such, caused my arm to feel a little dead when it was entering my system. It felt like I had been punched in the arm repeatedly. It got a little too uncomfortable at which point the nurse came around again, messed with a few wires and syringes and helped it ease slightly but not quite satisfactorily. It would take 15 minutes for all of the fluid to drain into me and so I just had to put up with it. All the while trying to find the best position in which to ease the heart palpitations.

At the end of this I had expected to be able to go home. Not so. I was then transferred to another room. An observation ward. Not quite a real ward, although I got a bed, but not quite an examination room either. There we waited, and waited, and waited. All this time I had been thinking that it was the people in A & E who made you wait when in fact they had nothing on the people in the observations wards. We had been told that I would need to speak to a doctor before I could be discharged. The trouble was that there weren't many of them about and they were still busy wandering from patient to patient handing out their daily titbits of bad news. I was getting very stressed. I had not stayed in hospital since I was about seven years old, and that as I remember had been some laughable attempt to 'straighten my legs' or something. What 30 years of avoiding hospitals while watching your peers pass away in sizeable numbers does is cause a phobia. At this point, I wasn't staying in hospital unless my life was at genuine risk, and not just because I was missing the game.

Finally the doctor turned up. I can't remember her name but she was very nice. As surprised as I was by that, I wasn't surprised when she didn't give me the answer I was looking for. She told me that she thought it would be best if I stayed in for the night so they could monitor me. My potassium had lowered (after yet another blood test) but they still wanted to take a longer look at me. I was adamant that I was not staying but she said that they would need to see further evidence that my potassium was continuing to decrease to be comfortable with discharging me. That would mean another blood test and another couple of hours waiting around for the results. It was already after 10.30 in the evening by this time. There was one more thing she could do, she said. She could take a blood gases test, the results of which could be obtained more quickly. Within about 10-15 minutes. That sounded good to me, though I would come to loathe blood gases tests as things progressed. For now I was quite happy to have another injection, this time in the vein that sits right on the bone between your wrist and your hand. It's lot more painful than a standard blood test, although this doctor was quite skilfull because I don't remember thinking that at the time.

As promised the doctor came back around 10 minutes later and confirmed that my potassium had dropped again. But still I was not being discharged. That was because she also told me that they had found something called acidosis as a result of the blood gases test. She couldn't explain what that was, or whether it was a genuine threat, or even whether it was a new phenomenon or something I had always had given that I had never had a blood gases test before. She wanted me to stay in to explore it further, and to take a closer look at my kidneys. That meant another scan. At this point I had not had a kidney scan for six years. I was absolutely certain that they must have declined considerably in that time but I really didn't want to know. Like I said, if you feel well then just get on with it until you don't. I stuck to my guns and told the doctor that I was not staying. She brought me a form to sign to confirm that I was discharging myself against their advice and I was more than happy to do so. I felt fine apart from the palps which had eased, and which I was still sure were only there because the doctor had frightened me earlier. Having had the ECG earlier, I was confident that there could be nothing wrong with my heart because they would have mentioned it. I signed the form and we went home. Not in time for the match and I was too tired to watch the repeat that night. I would watch it in the morning.

But my troubles were not over. Not by a long way.