I was in recovery after my total hip replacement operation. I can’t remember who spoke to me first, but it was all very calm. I didn’t lash out, swear, or try to walk. The surgeon’s face appeared and said a brief hello and told me to expect the rest of him tomorrow, and then it was a gradual process of waking up – first my mind and then my body.
My legs and feet were still numb. I therefore saw rather than felt a pair of slippers that I didn’t remember owning, attached by tubes to my bed. These turned out to be magical pulsating anti-DVT shoes that I ended up wearing for about 24 hours. I would have worn them longer, given the choice, because having an unsolicited foot massage is a pleasant experience that I recommend to all.
After a while (forgive the lack of specific time references here) I was given a glass of water and some attention from a nurse. She eventually decided that I was OK to go to the next recovery stage, which was the ‘step-down room’. This was a multi-bay ward of recoverees in the same boat as me, our beds separated by curtains. Introductions were made, and my vital signs were reassessed. No problem there, thank goodness.
Finally – and I’d been looking forward to this all day – I was given a cup of tea, plus a biscuit. Despite being served in a beige plastic beaker with a lid, the tea was delicious, so I asked for another straight away.
Then my wife and daughter came in, and I was overjoyed to see them. They brought tidings of the world outside, a packet of crisps, some lemonade, and a copy of September’s GQ magazine. Had I been unconscious for a month? No – it’s just a habit of magazine publishers to date their issues ahead of schedule.
The longer they stayed, the more the sensation returned to my legs, until at last I could feel and control everything both up and down from the waist.
Or could I? Having fed me all this tea the nurses now wanted to see it come out again. They ultrasounded me and discovered the best part of a litre swilling around with nowhere to go, so they gave me a cardboard urinal. But I couldn’t do it. It’s curious that the bladder’s default position is closed, when I’d have assumed the opposite.
So they put in a catheter. This is an experience I’d rather not have again, but it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. I definitely felt it going in, and I knew it was there once in place. The nurses were pleased with their work, especially when they saw the litre with their own eyes travelling bag-bound down the tube. This catheter was my constant companion until the next morning. I didn’t like it but I grew accustomed to it. In its favour was the fact that I didn’t need to get up to go to the toilet in the night.
Note to self: don’t ask for a second cup of tea next time.
I forgot to say that my wife and daughter had left me by now, for the third time that day. I passed the next few hours ‘reading’ GQ magazine, drinking tea in the smug knowledge that I wouldn’t have to pay the lavatorial price, and eating biscuits. I was very happy. Incidentally, please never buy me GQ magazine again. Most of its five hundred or so pages are given over to pictures of gloomy-looking young men advertising products so distantly related to the photographic subject matter that I lost interest trying to work out the link. Products I have no interest in buying, either. I donated the magazine to the hospital.
The day’s nursing staff were good to me, on the whole. Listening to them was entertaining, anyway. I award one of them (I’ll call her S) my Indiscreet Nurse of the Day award, no contest. Her foghorn voice echoed freely through the room unhindered by the flimsy curtain dividers, so that every inmate ended up knowing every detail about all the others. These details were interesting to me. It transpired that my immediate neighbour had undergone the same procedure as mine, and S left nothing out when providing her colourful descriptions of what had happened in theatre, as far as she could read from the notes.
I liked her, but I’d change a few things if I had the chance. She didn’t seem to want me to ask her any questions, and batted my efforts away with a politician’s skill, if not the finesse. Once I remarked to her in my politest tone that my questions seemed to be causing some offence, and I was pleased to see the ward sister come around the corner just as I said it. Another time I mentioned to her that I was feeling pain in my right hand, just below where the cannula went in. ‘How do you know you feel pain?’ was her unfathomable reply.
This actually turned into a bit of a problem. S came along with some antibiotics in the late afternoon and attached them to the cannula tap. Putting them through me was the worst pain I had yet felt, by far. I mentioned this. But she dismissed my concerns and implied that a bit of discomfort was normal – a statement that turned out not to be true! She also said that my next lot of antibiotics via this torture device was due at 2am, so I spent most of the rest of the day in silent dread of the mid-sleep pain to come.
I had visitors once more that day – this time including my youngest daughter, who is 2. She behaved herself unusually well, even posing for the nurse who claimed to be a keen children’s photographer. In fact, she more than claimed it – she proved it later by showing me some of her award-winning pictures.
Next door’s visitor wasn’t quite so well behaved. I’d met him once before, in fact. Yes – it was pink trousers guy! He seemed very at home in the step-down room. So at home in fact that he felt able to wander casually around the curtain and peer at my catheter bag, nodding a greeting to me as he took in the contents (visually, not literally). He stopped short of looking at my notes, but I bet he would have if I’d been asleep. In fact – given that I snoozed through most of the afternoon – maybe he did! Remember that I’d assumed that he was a medical man, so I guess he thought it was OK to do all this. Well, it isn’t. Not that I cared at the time; my defences were well and truly down. How vulnerable we are in our hospital beds! I drifted in and out of sleep again that evening, dreaming about eating omelette and chips. And waking up to find that I’d actually done this.
Mercy! At 9pm there was a shift change, and the new team were a total contrast. Caring, discreet, willing to make tea and toast in the middle of the night. This was turning into my kind of hospital.
I discovered just how professional they were at 2am, when it was time for my next lot of antibiotics to be delivered into my hand. Once again the stuff was attached, and once again it was really very painful – just as much as before. I mentioned it again, but this time the nurse (I’ll call her J) took my pain seriously and decided that something wasn’t right. She stopped what she was doing (thanks to Odin for that) and summoned the night doctor. He agreed with her, and re-sited the cannula in my other hand. The moment the first one came out was the most blissful of the week so far (not saying much, but still). And when the other one was activated I felt no pain at all. This, of course, is how the first one should have been. I’m not normally a complainer but I feel that I probably ought to mention this when I fill in the comments card. I definitely don’t want anyone else having the same experience.
After that the night passed OK. I had some morphine at one stage – the only extra pain relief I needed – and enjoyed it. The next morning I felt good, and ready to move to the next stage of my recovery.