Hospital Life (Part 2) - My Personal Hunger Games

My lovely prison cell


Behind every Consultant is a Registrar, the next in line, the most senior of the junior doctors, the guy/girl who gets stuff done. I had a rotation of Regs, but of course I had a favourite, it felt like he was rooting for me (I don’t think the others were rooting against me - that would be like the Hunger Games - I just wondered if some of them even knew my name, I’ll admit I didn’t know theirs!). I was due to get a Cardiac MRI and a TOE scan (Transesophageal). I ended up getting a Brain MRI and my TOE got pushed 4 days in a row (this little piggy was going nowhere). It was 4 days of fasting, just in case I got called. The Ward Sister would call it a no-go at dinner time so I could at least eat one meal.

When my fave Reg found out I was being given the runaround, he lost it! The poor guy seemed to work every hour God sent and, like us all, had frustrations with the system. He gently smiled at me, stepped out into the corridor, picked up the hospital phone on the wall and whoever he spoke to he LIFTED them out of it, threatening this, that, and the other. I exchanged wide eyes with the other five beds on my ward. He re-entered the room, smiled gently again and assured me “Little hiccup there, you’re booked in for tomorrow”. As soon as he left I had the other 5 bed fellows around me “How do you pronounce that Indian chaps name?”, “Jaysus, isn’t he great, altogether”, “And do you have to have a particular kind of sickness to get him? ... I’d say I have what you have.”

The patients on the ward came and went, but consistently every newcomer was welcomed into the fold. Biscuits were shared, ailments discussed, doctors destroyed or exalted depending on our moods. Maybe it was the Irish factor, maybe the elderly factor, maybe the public factor or a mixture of all three, but there is definitely a St James’s factor. Leave your affectations at the door!

One of my first nights on the ward, jokes were told until well after Midnight when the Matron came in to tell us to pack it in. They are not called Matrons anymore but that’s exactly what she was.

It wasn’t all warmth and fun. The man in the bed beside me, who I chatted to everyday about music and movies, the man whose breathing deteriorated night by night, struggling to keep his heart going while he waited patiently for his operation, the man who was taken in the middle of the night for emergency surgery, the man I never saw again.

There was the middle-aged woman who came to visit her elderly mother in the ward. The mother was talking away, animated and excited to see her daughter while the daughter nodded away. I smiled at the kindness, my Mum is dead (she passed away 10 years ago from a heart dissection, ironically). I would have loved to sit and talk to my Mum at that moment. I would have loved for my little daughter to be allowed in the ward, it killed me that I couldn’t see her. But then my smile faded, the middle-aged daughter was wearing a bluetooth headphone in her ear, she wasn’t listening to her Mum at all. It was the middle of the day so I assumed she was on a work call. The sadness of it all pushed me out of the room on another of my rambles.

I know James’s inside out now. It’s changed a fair bit since my cancer days. Attempts to be modern or fancy are in evidence. Orderlies, Nurse’s Aides, Porters, Patients, everyone is now called a ‘Health Care Assistant’ (or so it seemed). There is a whole wing devoted to aging gracefully or successfully or tremendously or something. There are private wards secreted around the place. On one of my rambles near these private halls I spotted Lord Henry Mount Charles, also pajama clad, out stretching his legs.

There is a rumour in my family that we are related to Silken Thomas (the 16th century Earl of Kildare). When my Dad imparted this story of old to my four year old daughter (clad in her princess pajamas) she nearly choked on her porridge “Are we royalty, Grandad?”. She has since moved on from a princess phase to a sci-fi alien phase. I think she would now be more excited to find out we were related to ET. It did cross my mind to fall in step with Lord Henry and offer a “What’s buzzin, cousin?” But, you have to respect a man’s privacy when on his daily constitution.

Speaking of privacy, I took a rest on one of the many benches that line the corridors. A visitor from another ward walked past me, stared at the telemetry wires hanging out of me and doubled back. “You’re a bit young for all that! What’s wrong with ya?” I told her I had a heart condition. “Ah jaysus,” she replied, “everyone’s got a heart condition, what type?”. A problem with my heart muscle. “Ohhh, yeah” she nodded, “I had that. You just get a bit of spray in your mouth, sort you right out. You don’t need all dem wires. Bit of spray, you’ll be graaaaaand. Mind yourself, you’re too young for this craic!”

The ‘craic’ in St James’s wasn’t just confined to the day time. I remember being woken at 1.30am. The lady in the bed opposite had pulled out her tracheostomy tube, she couldn’t speak (breathe?) and was banging on the window to get the nurses attention. They all came running. The poor lady seemed very confused about where she was and demanded her sister. The sister came but by now the lady had locked herself in the toilet. The sister was pleading with her to put the tube back on or she’d die.

Another night, a Farmer from Mayo, who had only arrived into hospital the day before, leapt out of bed at 3am, declared he’d had enough, pulled out his own catheter (ouch!), tore off his hospital gown (that was completely unnecessary) and tried to head off into the night! He was effing and jeffing, I noticed the nurses circled him but didn’t try to physically restrain him (is that illegal ? maybe they didn’t fancy their chances, maybe the lack of gown didn’t help things).

The ‘Specials’ were called. I had never heard of the Specials before, maybe it’s a St James’s thing, They are the people you call to keep a wayward patient from their wayward ways. Two huge Nigerian Specials pulled up chairs and sat at the end of the man’s bed. Two more men arrived, one sat at the back of the ward, one sat at the entrance. They didn’t utter one word, just sat there strong, quiet and enormous. Farmer Joe looked at each of them, threw his gown back on (the wrong way around, but hey, it was an improvement) and sneaked back into bed. He was sound asleep before you could sing him a Nigerian lullaby.

Some of the long term patients on the ward would be allowed out on day release. One chap on my ward was released to see his mother on her 95th birthday. She kept forgetting he was seriously ill in hospital, so would call him every day giving him grief that he hadn’t called in to see her in ages!

I thought I’d chance my arm with my doctor and ask could I also skip out on Sunday to see my daughter who wasn’t allowed in the ward? “Absolutely not!” was his response. Until I had a defibrillator surgically attached to me the risk was too high. Like a sulky teenager I pointed out that the doctor of the man in the bed next to me was letting him go (and he was probably going to drive there, and he can come back anytime he wants, his parents let him do anything, it wasn’t fair, I hate you!). I think my actual response was “Fine” <heavy teenage sigh>. 

So instead, my husband sneaked my daughter up in the elevator and I played with her out in the corridor instead. Her favourite activity was to try and yank the leads off my telemetry device, climb all over me, and smear her grubby hands on my face - I’ve no idea why they don’t allow kids into the ward.

But the benefits of staying in are the unbelievable conversations you get to overhear...

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