Monday, May 15, 2006

Dark Night of the Sole

I woke up on Saturday April 29th feeling very unwell and shivering uncontrollably. On getting up to go to the bathroom (I felt I was going to vomit) I collapsed and had to be revived by B. who had assumed initially that this was the big bang. Amid alarums and excursions an ambulance was called and I was taken off on a stretcher. I was aware of my daughter watching anxiously from the front door as I was loaded up.

I arrived in A & E in St. Michael's (Dun Laoghaire) and was taken straight into the Resuscitation Room (very comforting that). I was attended by a nurse and a very pretty Pakistani doctor. They inserted a drip and an oxygen mask and began checking me out. Once they determined that it wasn't a coronary (I could have told them that -the heart is very robust), they concentrated on my lungs. A clot? To check the lungs out they had to send me to St. Vincent's, accompanied by a nurse from the Philipines, where the appropriate scanner resided. Another ambulance journey and another A & E department. I was brought into a high-tech room and dye was injected into my veins and I was passed under the scanner. Back out and a brief wait before a very smart and articulate Chinese doctor informed me that I had pneumonia. They also x-rayed my foot which had got hurt when I fell and was giving me some pain.

Then a four-hour hiatus while I awaited an ambulance to return me to St. Michael's. The lack of urgency led me to assume that my life was not in danger. Although, knowing our public health system, this may have been a rash assumption. Eventually I get back and they take me straight to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) - not that comforting really. I was put next to (almost elbow-to-elbow) someone who just had an ileostomy and seemed very sick indeed - stuff dripped out of him into a large bag under the bed, in full view of me as I ate my evening sandwich. Across the aisle and old lady, rigged up to all kinds of machinery, farted unrelentingly - all the while staring at me intently. I was in a chamber of horrors.

The nurses were very attentive, making me comfortable and checking my vital signs regularly. They also began pumping me full of antibiotics to combat the pneumonia. My big toe seemed very misshapen and was giving me a lot of pain. Eventually the night nurse gave me a serious pain-killer (via the arse) and I drifted off.

It makes me laugh the way hospital routine trumps all considerations of care and good sense. Therefore I am awoken from my fitful slumbers at around 6.30 for various tests and then my breakfast.

They just don't care about nutrition in hospitals do they. It's as if it's not considered - it's generic institution fare, I bet prisons get much the same. Breakfast is corn flakes or rice crispies (not even Alpen), white sliced pan, a hard-boiled egg, jam, and a pot of tea. No sign of any fuit. Lunch is meat, watery gravy, mashed potatoes, soggy vegetables, and cake or tart with the ubiquitous pot of tea. Supper is a sandwich, an omelette, or a very limited salad (limp lettuce, tomato, coleslaw and a slice of ham; with a pot of tea of course.

But I'm not hungry so I can't be arsed really. Now that I begin to feel better I start noticing things. There are no doctors around. When I ask why I'm told that it's the Bank Holiday weekend so I won't see anyone until Tuesday. Silly me getting sick on a holiday. I need to see the chest man for my pneumonia and the orthopaedic guy for my ankle and toe - both apparently broken.

The man apparently dying beside me suddenly vomits loudly and copiously just missing the side of my bed, and follows up shortly afterwards with another torrent. The nurses quickly pull the curtains around him and clean up but the not before the offending tide carries under my bed. Grossville Alabama. Get me out of here. I tell the night staff I'm feeling fine and eventually when they need an ICU bed, they transfer me to a public ward. As I've come in through the A&E I am unable to get a private room.

So here I am with Anto, Decco and an amiable old lunatic who appears to have Alzheimer's. They are all Dun Laoghaire and all appear to know each other well as the recount their adventures in various pubs around (O'Loughlin's and Dunphy's). This is a male surgical ward and the others are all witing for some form of surgery.

They may as well be waiting for Godot it seems. Where are all the consultants? Becalmed off Dalkey Island? Lingering in Barbados? Who knows. I have now been in hospital for 4 days with pneumonia and two breaks in my foot and I have yet to see a consultant. Like my brothers in exile I have no idea what the prognosis is or how long I will be detained. I appear less unwell than a lot of them yet they seem resigned to a situation where nobody knows what the hell is going on. I bitch to any staff member I can find but am benignly shrugged off - tomorrow, soon, they're very busy etc.

Finally on day five my chest man sails in with his entourage and gives me a couple of minutes of his time. The drugs are working, I can leave when I get my foot sorted out.

In the course of my toing and froing around St. Michael's I kept encountering this large redundant old fraud of a priest. He'd waft into the ward clutching a leather brief-case and wander unconvincingly from bed to bed asking how we were today in a tone that veered from perfunctory to downright insincere. There was no lingering for an answer - he was in and out in a flash.