“Ah, Mr Crowley. You’re here to see the limb reconstruction surgeon aren’t you?”
I’m here to what the what?!
Ahh, the National Health Service. It’s a little known fact, but the ‘Service’ part of the name is actually drawn from ‘net’ sports, such as volleyball or tennis. It seems obvious now, after two years of medical staff continuously palming me off into someone else’s court.
From the doctor to the physio, back to the doctor, physio, doctor, x-ray, doctor, ultrasound, doctor, different doctor, nurse, doctor, hospital, orthopaedics, MRI, orthopaedics, CT Scan, specialist orthopaedics, into the stands, ball lost, short break, Muscular-skeletal clinic, longer break, specialist orthopaedics, and then finally a game winning ace into surgery, two and a half years later.
What it was, and I don’t know how they didn’t pick this up earlier, was CM type IIa chronic osteomyelitis, which caused a “small sinus with some granulation tissue over the right illiac crest with a small amount of haemoserous discharge on the dressing. There [was] no surrounding soft tissue inflammation. [I had] some shotty bilateral symmetrical inguinal lymphadenopathy.”
It was at this point that I realised they were just trying to use up their Scrabble letters and hope no one had a dictionary to hand, and didn’t actually know what was wrong with me. What I actually had was a lot of pain in my right hip bone, some swelling and skin disfiguration, and an abscess (or ‘sinus’) that refused to heal no matter how much I poked it.
I was finally admitted to the OUH Nuffield Orthopaedic hospital, two weeks after winning the 1,500m event barefoot in a local track meet, and one week after cycling [some of the way] and swimming [probably none of the way] to Amsterdam. I was stuck full of needles and had a tube stuck in my spine so they could administer an epidural to numb me from the waist down, before putting me to sleep.
I woke up in the care of a very nice (and, as a bit of post-hoc
Facebook stalking professional research revealed, very much not single at all) Italian nurse from Florence, and was eventually shipped off to Ward D, to be looked after by several other nurses, most of whom were nice, although none of whom I have felt strongly inclined to professionally research.
So I’d chat to them, try to be a good a patient as I could, to make their long shifts more tolerable. I found out about their children, where they lived, what their holiday plans were, all the kind of information that may come useful if they get a bit careless and leave me crippled for life… And so they’d come back from days off, and I’d ask what they got up to in the glorious weather, and they’d say they had a barbecue, or a party, or saw friends, and then ask what I got up to, and I’d look at them, and then look at my crutches, and then look at the IV drip-feeding into my arm, and smile, and say, ‘oh, nothing much, the usual, you know’, and laugh, and die a little bit inside, and think ‘what the hell do you think I’ve been up to? I can’t bloody walk!’ and they’d smile back at me, and then stick a needle in my arm, or pump me full of saline, or blast me with cold spray, and then leave me alone for another two hours.
And then (unlike after my appendectomy when they either ignored me because I was in the shower or I ignored them because I still felt sick after my general anaesthetic) three times a day, someone would bring me a tray of something to eat. And, three times a day, I would eat it. And, at least three times a day, I would regret it.
The large portions weren’t, the cheese and biscuits dessert option had presumably been stolen from a mousetrap, the creamed potatoes were more like curdled potatoes, the peas – which are never a good idea when you’re eating in a hospital bed – were more like buckshot, and everything else was like cardboard. Except the gravy. But you don’t want me to describe that. And the Ready Brek. I didn’t think you could get Ready Brek wrong. Apparently you can if you try hard enough. Although that could probably be described as soggy cardboard, after it has dried up a bit. You want to know where your paper goes to be recycled? Hospital. Even the fruit looked like it had just checked into A&E… You gotta fight for your right to half-decent tea, it seems. Lots of ‘ill’, very little ‘yum’.
Luckily, after a few days, I built up enough strength to walk the kilometre or so to Headington, where there was a Tesco Metro, a Sainsbury’s Local, and a Waitrose Don’t Even Think Of Bringing Your Ill-Showered Self In Here With Your Crutches And Pink Flip-flops And What Is Going On With Your Hair, What. I don’t know if I was supposed to leave the grounds, so I got a little kick from Sneakin’ Out the Hospital and the thrill of ‘what if I can’t make it back to the ward and nobody knows where I am?’ I had been duly and doubly barcoded, so there was probably no danger of being abandoned on the cruel streets of Oxford, fortunately. There was also a Domino’s, and a Subway. But I had to eat my hospital
food meals to give me the strength to walk there, and by the time I got there, I felt so sick from the effort, all I wanted to do was walk back and go to sleep, so I bought some apples and shampoo from Sainsbury’s, walked back, and went to sleep.
The best, or at least most intriguing, thing about the food service procedures was the explanation for protected mealtimes – the three hours between 12h00 and 15h00 in which visitors were kicked out so patients could eat their meals in peace and quiet. Well, except for the sound of retching. Meals, the flyer explained, are a crucial part of the recovery process. In order for patients to be able to fully enjoy their meals, distractions must be minimised, which means no visitors.
I don’t know, I mean, everything I learned during my Hospitality Management degree suggests that the first thing you might want to do to help patients enjoy their meals is provide them with enjoyable meals, and then control the environmental variables… But what do I know? I do know that the first thing I did after getting home was nip (limp) around the corner and buy a kebab. If I’m going to eat junk, I might as well eat decent junk, and if the antibiotics are going to rearrange, or streamline, my internal plumbing, I might as well kickstart it with a dodgy kebab.
Getting home was an event in itself. The day after my op, one of the assistant surgeons or registrars or maybe even just a person who happened to have been in theatre at the same time as me came to see me and said I could go home the next day. I gave him a weak grin and panicked, as I still couldn’t move my legs and was peeing in a cardboard box. Fortunately, he was an idiot. Communication between departments appeared to happen through me. “What did the doctor say?” I don’t know, I can barely remember my name right now, and I repeat that 50 million times a day… If it had been left up to him, whoever he was, I’d have been sent home within hours. And if you left everything up to the aerodynamics team, F1 cars would be designed with no wheels…
The next day I could move my legs, but didn’t go home. I didn’t go home for a few days. The day I did go home, a week later, I was told in the morning that I would be able to go home that day, and asked if I felt ready to go home, and how I was going to get home. I didn’t know how I was going to get home as I didn’t know when I was going to go home. I suggested going home the following day as that would enable me to persuade some sorry person to come and pick me up. He thought it was a good idea.
Then at 14h00 I was told as soon as my meds arrived I was going home. Alright then. So I got out of bed, packed, and sat in a chair for the next four hours. As is always the case in hospital, nothing happens until you fall asleep, so I eventually fell asleep and was almost immediately woken back up by the arrival of most of my dinner, swiftly followed by a bagful of drugs.
“Do you want to stay and eat dinner before you leave?” the nurse asked.
Strangely enough, I did not.