Saturday, February 01, 2014

Purple rain

I narrowly escaped a night in hospital on Jan 23rd, because at about 9 pm I managed to produce some urine that, for the first time that day, didn't look like Rioja Crianza. The same thing had happened the previous week and my GP sent me for tests and said if it happened again to go straight to A&E.

So after a morning of red streams, I went to St Mary's A&E about 2:30 pm with what looked like a blood sample. That got me to the top of the triage list and into one of those gowns that seem to go on the wrong way round. The triage nurse was very kind and pleasant and led me through.

I gave my usual spiel to a phlebotomist about where the best vein was. I said I had had a terrible experience when they hunted around in my left arm for a vein. So she took the right one. She said, "I don't think I've ever seen phlebotomists hunting around for a vein."

Recognising my mistake, I introduced some truth, which is a powerful defence. I said it was when I was a kid and there was a major screaming session. No answer. I said "I don't think there will be any screaming session this time." She was putting one of those things, a cannula, in my arm. Does that mean I'll be here for a long time? No, they "cannulise" everyone in A&E to provide quick access to a vein in case of an emergency.

Eventually, in came a young woman doctor and examined me. It was amusing, with hindsight, when she asked would I mind if she looked at my penis. I say with hindsight because at the time I felt oddly emotional. My mind was not functioning in a normal way. I couldn't remember what day it was, for example. And so I said, "Yes. What I mean is..." Then I realised I mustn't dither like I always do. So I said "It's OK!" louder than than I intended.

"I was just worried, what if someone walks in?" A mistake. She said she would get someone to guard the door and off she went and came back with a tall orderly, who stood like a security guard, guarding the closed door from the inside. "Er, other person," I said, "please avert your eyes." And so it went on. She had a good rummage around down there. Her face was a picture of wistful compassion.

I had lots of chat with the doctor. At one point I remember apologising that it was hard to make fascinating conversation when every sentence had to contain the word "wee". As I mentioned, I wasn't quite in my right mind. I can see that now. However, I would still have said that, even in my right mind. Probably because I haven't got a right mind.

They phoned Charing Cross hospital where I had an appointment for next week about all this. Charing Cross said in view of the situation they would like to see me that night. By now it was evening. Here we reach a problem. Before taking me there they wanted to stick a catheter in me. You probably know what that's about. I didn't consent.

They explained a blood clot could block the urine. (I spared you those, which I had been seeing too.) Then there would be an emergency. I dithered like the very dithery ditherer that I am. I changed my mind and changed it back. The doctor was sympathetic and patient. She went and talked to the Registrar. He said it should be done.

I asked questions about it. Each detail sounded worse than the last. "It's horrific. I had a cystoscopy many years ago that affected me for about six months. I might never be the same again." Once again I felt a bit emotional.

"Is that what worries you?"

As tactfully as possible I put forward the thought that it might only be fear of insurance claims, and a sort of bureaucracy. She told me the Registrar was the top medic in the place. I think she thought I had him down as a bureaucrat, and I sort of did too.

There was a nurse with us at this time and she said, "They're going to put it anyway."

"You mean if they don't do it here, they'll do it there?" I wanted to say they might be brutes in the other place. I was thinking I'd prefer this crew to do it because I was halfway in love with them already. I said, "Better the devil you know."

"Okay, I know nothing about it. The Registrar recommends it and he knows. You recommend it and you know. I know nothing, so I will follow your advice." The doctor said it was my decision. I repeated some of the same logic, as you do. I relented, but full of foreboding.

But wait. Will I be able to go home tonight? They said if I had the catheter I'd have to stay overnight in Ch.X. That changed the odds. I'm sorry I have to change my mind again. I'm sorry for dithering. Don't worry, that's fine, it's your decision. I thought I detected heavily veiled approval for my decision.

So they discharged me with a letter to Charing Cross urology department describing all the gory detail and sent me by ambulance. I had an appointment there anyway. The private ambulance takes me and another guy. We're the walking wounded. Outside I see many small cafés, one with candlelit tables. On arrival, I am issued another gown that goes on the wrong way. Still peeing blood every time, which is a lot of times because blood gives you a heavy, urgent feeling.

They examined me. The urologist came. I knew he was thinking "catheter". I told him it would go away, I hoped!, like it did last week. I didn't have any problem starting. (That was not completely true.) I answered all his questions and repeated my story from the beginning like a suspect in a police procedural. My answers were a little confused. (That can happen if you get dehydrated, and they hadn't let me drink anything all day.) Some mix up about samples. So an orderly brings a jug to use next time. Meanwhile lie there for a while. 9 pm, and at last, the urine comes clear and I'm free.

They sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotics and under strict instructions not to miss my appointment the next week, when they are going to send in a camera crew on a remake of Fantastic Journey.


Skip forward to the appointment the next week.

There was a remarkable and lovely person there who was giving hell to the boss about some mix-up there had been with people's appointments that day. One old lady who was very self-possessed and dignified wanted to know why she had been called in if they couldn't see her today. Our marvellous person, whom I shall call Marilyn (because that was her name), was trying to do everything she could to get this woman seen and sort out the problems, all the time being absolutely calm and simpatico. It couldn't be done and she was rescheduled for middle of March, but Marilyn was so effective in apologising and comforting this rather stern woman, that the old woman asked her name and they hugged and called each other darling. They went away down the corridor arm in arm.

Meanwhile a couple came in, or possibly mother and son. They spoke something like Polish or some eastern European language anyway. Babushka woman sat down opposite me and splayed her feet apart as far as it is humanly possible to do, more or less doing the splits from a seated position, and pointing her toes out as if to attain the furthest possible distance. She proceeded to read out in a loud voice some medical tract she had happened upon in a newspaper, which was all about prostate cancer. I think she was showing off that she could read English, though the son or whoever he was, didn't appear to understand it. She went on and on for pages with every disastrous, horrific consequence, treatment and outcome. Imagine sitting there listening to this in mixed company, with chaps in for urology and women too, as she loudly proclaims, "Most men undergoing ...(whatever treatment it was... "will experience e-rec-tile dis-function".  I exchanged a wry curl of the lip with a woman sitting in the same row opposite.

Another character was the nurse who sort of checked me in and took blood. She was a weirdo too. Anything I asked or said, she seemed to take it personally. I asked if she was a phlebotomist and she said no, she was a nurse - "We do more". So will you be taking blood? "Do you want to go down to the phlebotomists?" Sorry, I only wanted to know whether to take off my coat. They're better at it, she de-assured me, but I can do it as well. Sorry, I just wasn't sure what was happening. I, as I mentioned before, have a spiel about which vein is a good one to take. She said she'd have one go and if she couldn't find it she'd send me to the phlebotomist. I think she wanted to punish me.

There were a few more formalities, which I'll skip over, and I waited about an hour and a half. She was behind the reception desk at this time, so I asked if she had any idea when I'd be seen. She said about 10 or 20 minutes and explained about a mix-up with appointments. Then she went off for a wander. She reappeared after another few minutes. I was sitting in the plastic chairs with the others, waiting. She says, "Wot's your name?" I said Stephen Moran. Off she went on her travels again.

Shortly afterwards, I hear a tiny voice from a door about 40 yards away, spelling "S-t-e-p-h-e-n M-o-r-a-n?" Luckily I could see her from where I was sat. So I got to see the consultant.

Oh yeah and she got off on the wrong foot with me by trying to make a joke about my address. Even though I said Sudbury, she must have read Harrow from the screen or the page and said, "Oh Harrow, that's where all the Chinese go because when they get into the taxi at the airport they say Ha-ro." They're not all locked up.


Update: I'm fine now. It was down to an infection and they gave me powerful antibiotics.
Further update (2019): It's now been put down to a bladder stone. You don't want to know. It has been resolved, and I am grateful to the NHS and all its lovely and hardworking staff.