Wednesday, January 5, 2011

79. Back in the land of the living - almost

The feeding tube is removed and they say it is time for me to eat normally. They are winding the bed up and placing a dish of jelly on the table before me. I laugh at my feeble attempts to lift the spoon. I cannot even make contact with the jelly, let alone eat it, so they feed me like a baby and the nurse is telling me that I have been receiving intensive care for five, disorientated, heavily sedated days, but now they are going to move me to the cardiac ward. She says it will be quieter there and I should get a good night’s rest after the previous noisy night.

So, she knows how much I was disturbed by the undertakers and the dead people, the knitting, the blood and the chiming battery clocks. I want to know if the baby’s heart got away in time, but maybe it is better not to ask. She obviously knows that I know about the strange stuff that has been happening, maybe if I keep quiet they won’t kill me after all. It will be a relief to get away from the morticians, the cobwebs and the nurse who will not give me the blood I need. “They” may not believe me about the cobwebs, but as soon as I am discharged and well enough, I will buy a fluffy coloured hand mop, creep back into the Intensive Care Unit, collect the cobwebby stuff on the mop and then send it for analyses. If I am right then the place will be condemned and shut down.

To add to my discomfort, somewhere in the hospital someone is playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” on a Hi Fi, very loud. That really is unacceptable. My bed is being pushed right through a wall from the Intensive Care Unit into a private room. This is very strange, beds cannot be pushed through walls! Oh dear! I am sobbing, and the two nurses are holding my hands, one is being particularly gentle and loving. I plead with her to tell everyone that I am not mad. Look, I can count the lights set into the ceiling, I can describe the pattern on the hall carpet, and I am not going insane. But, please, please make them stop playing “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Later I am put into the armchair again. A young nurse comes in and I again complain about the noisy music. She tells me it is coming from the male patient in the next room, so I give her a pair of headphones that I have brought in with me and ask her to take them to him. She returns with them saying that he already has a pair. “Well, why doesn’t he damn well use them?” I shout.

The saga of the music continues throughout that day and possibly the following day too. I am hysterical. I hear my surgeon telling the nursing staff that the man making the noise is a friend of his and he will not tell him to stop. If  I do not like it, I can be moved further down the corridor, but I know that will not help because “Sweet Georgia Brown” is everywhere. I tell one of the nurses that I have come here to rest and if Dr. van Zyl cares more about the entertainment of his friends that the comfort of his patients, then he does not deserve to be a doctor!

A friend telephones and, quite lucidly, I complain to her about the loud music and she agrees that it should not be allowed. Another friend phones to ask if he can visit me. I agree on condition that he insists on seeing the hospital manager when he arrives, to see if he can get the music turned off. I again complain to a nurse who tells me, despairingly, that there is no music playing. I glare at her and shout “What is the matter with you, girl. Are you deaf or just stupid?” Is this really me speaking? I would never normally talk to anyone like that.

The cot sides have been put up on my bed. I try to sit up but overbalance and become trapped against them. I pick up anything I can reach and throw it feebly at the door to try to attract attention, but no-body comes. Finally, with some incredible effort, I climb over the cot sides, hospital gown flapping exposing my naked rear, and crawl cross the floor towards the corridor, intent on finding the music player and removing the masculine parts of his anatomy. At this point two nurses arrive and I am captured and placed in the armchair. I hear one nurse say that perhaps they should call Dr. van Zyl. I grab her arm and hiss, “If you bring Dr. van Zyl in here I will take you to court!”

Across the hall I can see the good doctor in a bed. I hope he is going to have surgery and I hope it hurts. During the night his wife arrives and they have an argument because he wants to return to America where he feels safe and at home, while his wife wants to remain in South Africa. They have a young son, about six or seven years old, and the doctor gets dressed, takes the boy outside to the car park where I hear him say, “Now, act like a big boy. You don’t want people to think you are a baby. I am going to put you in the car for a while, and here is a blanket to keep you warm”. Back in the ward the argument continues with his wife asking him how he could treat his son like that. The following morning I sit in the armchair, glaring viciously across the corridor at Dr. van Zyl, determined to sue him for neglecting his patient and being cruel to that poor little boy. But it isn’t Dr. Van Zyl, it is another man who wonders why I am glaring at him.

In the middle of the night I ask the nurse to phone my friend, John Manners, and ask him to come to the hospital. Too many frightening things have been happening and I feel in need of protection. Outside the rain falls in torrents, there is a howling gale blowing but I sit in the armchair all night waiting for John to come. Somehow I know they never called him, it is all part of the plot against me. I go back to bed and sleep.

When I awake the music has stopped. A woman has replaced Dr. van Zyl in the bed across the hall. With a nurse assisting me I can make a wobbly journey to the bathroom on my own and I feel a little bit hungry. Doctors make their rounds and I no longer plan to sue Dr. van Zyl who, I am told, does not have a little boy nor does he plan to live in America. He tells me that he replaced my stuffed up aortic valve with a tissue valve (i.e. part of a pig) and that I am making an excellent recovery. Pity about the pig, I always did like a bit of ham but now eating ham would be almost cannibalistic.

The nurse I called deaf and stupid is back on duty and I am able to apologise for my rudeness to her. My intellect tells me that all the strange happenings were really caused by five hours under anaesthetic followed by five days under heavy sedation. However, in my memory everything I have related is vivid and true and, at the time, no one could persuade me otherwise.

The lesson I learned from this experience is that patients should be comforted and reassured while hallucinating. Agree and sympathise them, for what they are seeing and hearing is as real to them as reality is to you, and telling them that they are just imagining things only adds to their confusion and torment. The helplessness I experienced, lying in that bed, unable to move, was like something out of a horror movie.

Was it worth all the money and the discomfort? It seems they ‘nearly lost me’ on the table, but I made it, or rather the medical team did, and that was over five years ago. And in those five years I have had many adventures, have played with three beautiful great grandchildren, and grown even closer to Tommy and Jeni, so yes it was worth it.

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