This Is Not A
Part 3 - Up-Wards
(Our Hero is still in hospital, waiting...)
Monday. The day the consultants re-appeared. The day I would have Answers.
Except that it became clear quite early on that it wasn't going to happen. The doctor assigned to our ward (and how soon and how quickly one becomes proprietorial about these things! 'Our' ward, indeed!) did his rounds sometime after 10am and I was informed at that time that the specialist team dealing with me held its weekly case review conference on Tuesday mornings, so there would be no decision taken on what they were going to do until that had taken place.
I had come to a conclusion off my own bat, however, and that was that they wouldn't be doing what they were doing to me - like administering my diuretic not only in tablet form but intravenously as well - simply to send me home at the end of it and tell me to come back later. After all, the fluid issue would only recur before any further action could be taken. No, they were going to go for surgery; the only question being what sort and when. I wasn't bothered at all by the 'what sort' by this stage; I just wanted it (whichever 'it' it would turn out to be) done so that I could move on. The 'when' bothered me rather more, especially bearing in mind (like I said before) that some of the patients on Ward 4 had been there weeks waiting for surgery.
So I lay there (why sit on a chair when you can lounge on a bed?), once again frustrated, listening to as much Radio 3 as I could take (I have a general aversion to vocal 'classical' music, especially when it involves sopranos), exchanging the odd text with family and looking forward to my brother and sister-in-law's visit that afternoon.
(That unit has a quite generous policy when it comes to visiting hours; 2 till 5 and 6 till 8 every day. When I was in Wrexham Maelor 25 years ago, you got one hour in the afternoon and one hour in the evening and were deemed highly favoured simply to get that. There is still a limit of two visitors at a time per patient, which was openly flouted by the family of the big-bellied Czech I referred to last time, at least until one of the senior nurses on duty put her foot down).
They duly turned up around about 2.30, and I'm afraid that my emotionally-vulnerable state once again made itself manifest, not helped remotely by the fact that everything was still so uncertain. After their departure, I withdrew somewhat and when my comrades-in-arms (or I suppose that 'cannulae in arms' would be more graphically precise) had their visitors later, I tried inconspicuously to nap. Whether it was a function of my state of mind, my state of body or both, other people's conversations ended up merging and forming a sort of surreal soundtrack which - if I had had the facilities to do so - I could have put some sort of ambient backing to and got Verity Thing to play on Late Junction that evening.
If it's the next day, it must be Tuesday. Surely today I would find out where I was going and at what velocity. Sure enough, just as I had started my lunch...
...And here's where I digress to talk about the food at Manchester Royal. Provided by outside contractors of course, such is the nature of 'public' services nowadays, especially in England, which might lead one to suspect the worst. However, I have to say that the general quality is very good and - at its best - was almost worth, as it were, the price of admission. I had thought over the weekend that I had discovered an important new scientific principle, viz. that hospital soup is always red, irrespective of contents (which is potentially worrying if you allow your mind to follow a certain path); however, Monday had brought what I think was Cream Of Asparagus, and not even the worst that outsourced corporate catering had to offer could make that red (or at least, one would jolly well hope not).
(What added to the fun was that you never knew what you were getting until you took off the plate over the bowl which held the bread roll. This may have been an exercise in keeping patients' minds sharp during their enforced recumbence; if so, we were grateful for it).
Anyway, I'd just started on my pea soup (also not red) when one of the specialist team turned up. Dr. Dua was a quietly-spoken Sikh - turban, beard and all. He kindly agreed to let me continue with my lunch while he told me that - all other things being equal - I would be having surgery on the Wednesday morning. Better still, it would be the less invasive and substantial surgery, whereby they would - for want of a better description - be shoving a balloon up the artery from my groin to the affected valve, inflating said balloon and thereby widening the valve again.
Now, I had thought for a long time that the very prospect of surgery at all - let alone surgery carried out under a general anaesthetic - would have caused my judgely wits to wobble with trepidation. Not so. As I said before, I no longer cared what they did, so long as they went ahead and bloody well did it. The fact that I was discussing this calmly over a meal gives some indication of how far I had got; in a strange way, I was looking forward to it.
I phoned my brother to let him know what was going to happen, and texted my niece and Julie, and settled down to wait.
Wednesday turned up at its appointed hour and I started to prepare myself. But have you ever tried taking a shower when you've got a cannula in? Have you ever tried doing anything when you have one of those wretched (if necessary) things stuck in your arm, and often in the most inconvenient place? I managed somehow, and decanted myself into the surgical gown and the disposable knickers. My appearance on the ward in this garb provoked hilarity from Mohammad (the 'delightfully cheerful' bloke I referred to last time) because I had put the gown on back-to-front, and it was tied up before rather than aft. It made perfect sense to me - surely the surgeon was going to come at me from the front rather than from the rear, and would therefore need easy access from that direction? But there was nothing for it but for me to go back behind my curtain and put it on the 'right' way round by official protocol, during which exercise in contortion the tube extending from the cannula did its level best to get tangled up in the cord of the gown.
I sat and waited. I had been told by Dr. Dua that someone would come and talk me through the operation beforehand, but no-one did. Finally, another doctor came along and told me that my 'procedure' would be taking place at 2pm. This was annoying not simply because of the tension caused by the extra wait, but because I had been Nil By Mouth since the previous midnight and now faced another three hours or so without food or water. Apparently, they'd had trouble getting hold of an anaesthetist, and one was having to make his way over from Liverpool to do the job.
There was time for a rather morbid act on my part. I had never made a will, which is terribly remiss of me as I know it would make things unnecessarily complicated, but there was no time now. All I could do, just in case something went wrong, was to make a number of notes regarding small bequests and what I did and did not want at my funeral and to text my niece to tell her that the notes were on my phone if the need arose.
Finally, just after 2pm, I was wheeled in my bed through a short maze of corridors to somewhere which looked like the medical equivalent of a supermarket trolley park, with one or two other patients lying there either going in or coming out. I was given the consent form to sign by a nurse of oriental extraction and was introduced to Dr Shauq, who would be doing for me, and to Dr Joshi the flying anaesthetist.
After about fifteen minutes of lying there, I was wheeled through into a room which didn't much resemble an operating theatre as television cliché had portrayed such a venue. I was transferred to a very narrow table over which was a bank of large computer screens. Yet another bloody cannula was inserted (in the arm which didn't already have one), and then Dr. Joshi placed a mask over my face. "Just some oxygen to help you breathe", he said. I wasn't having any trouble breathing anyway, but it was a nice thought. It was about twenty seconds later, when the rectangular lights in the ceiling above me started to get all fuzzy that I thought, "Ah yes! It isn't oxygen now, is it, you crafty devil! I wonder what this is going to..."
And that, m'dears, was the last thing I remember. There was nothing - no odd dreams or sensations, none of the interesting things you read about from other people's experience - until I woke up back in the trolley park some three hours later. I had no reaction to the anaesthetic at all - none of the retching or any of that sort of impertinence which I had been more than half-expecting to experience. The oriental nurse was there again. "How am I?", I asked her. "Everything went fine", she replied. "I was there for the whole thing.". Satisfied that I had been given the right answer by someone who obviously knew what she was talking about, I lay back and waited to be returned to the ward. I noticed a pad of some sort which had been stuffed into the join of my groin and the top of my right leg. This was quite heavily blood-stained, and the blood had run down onto the bedsheet, but the sole other evidence of my 'ordeal' was two puncture marks under the pad, which merely looked as if I had been got at by a vampire with either a weird fetish ('weird' even by vampiric standards, I mean) or a malfunctioning sense of direction. The wound was overlaid with some sort of thin plastic skin, no doubt for purposes both styptic and hygienic.
After a little while I was wheeled back to my place on the ward, feeling mildly euphoric in a way which I am sure had nothing to do with anything they may have administered. Once back, I grabbed my glasses and looked down at my feet. At least, I assumed that they were my feet, given that they seemed to be attached to the rest of me via the usual arrangements. But they had changed, dear reader! Oh, how they had changed! Although scarcely more than two hours had elapsed since the 'procedure' had been completed, the swelling on my feet, ankles and lower shins had already diminished to a remarkable degree, even on the left foot, which had suffered with the oedema for nearly a decade. The 'procedure' had worked!
I had one small problem, though, in that although I had strength and grip in my left arm, I had very limited sensation in it. This led to something really funny, in that when I moved my left arm, it seemed to move faster and further than I intended, so that attempting to scratch an itch on the left side of my face led to my gently punching myself instead. I rationalised this as being a function of improved blood-flow to that arm, but I was probably talking bollocks.
Once my brain and body were working in some sort of co-ordination, I phoned my brother and texted my niece and Julie (who, sadly, had suffered a family bereavement earlier that day, and to whom I was happy to provide just a little bit of light) and settled back to recuperate officially.
I was still in a mildly elevated state when it came time for 'lights out', much to the amused reproach of one of the duty nurses who insisted on turning off my Radio 3 so that I could sleep. I settled as best I could (now having no fewer than three cannulae in me; the third one having been inserted during the operation) and drifted off, content at another triumph for medical science.
(In the fourth part: Our Hero starts to chomp at the bit a bit)