I want to talk about hospitals. They’re weird places, aren’t they? So much happens in them. Lives start, lives end, people are sick, people get well. It doesn’t matter who you are, how rich or how poor, what your race, religion or political persuasions are, at some point you will spend time in a hospital. It is inevitable.
I am very fortunate to have limited experience of hospitals in my life (excluding the dramatic events of early 1990 when my appendix decided it had had enough and was coming out one way or another) until my small ginger child, Brad Logan (not his real name, may do another post to explain the names of my kids one day) turned up. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a sickly or terribly unwell child but when he does get ill it can be quite dramatic. We are incredibly lucky that all the matters he has had to go to hospital for are things he will hopefully grow out of in the coming years. I cannot imagine how unbearable it must be to have a child with more serious long-term conditions or worse. For anyone reading this that is or has been in that situation I am sending you a pretty useless cyber cuddle but a cuddle nonetheless.
In addition to Brad Logan’s sporadic trips to A&E, this year I also had the ‘pleasure’ of a week’s stay at the Royal Berkshire Hospital after I randomly contracted pneumonia. This was literally just before the whole lockdown thing kicked off so it was a weird time in the hospital. Nobody was really sure what was going on and what people could and couldn’t do. I was admitted through A&E after turning up wearing a combination of pyjamas, a big fuzzy coat cardigan thing and boots one morning at 7am. I was looking pretty special, if I do say so myself. It was a look, for sure. I had been unwell with a hideous cough for a week and ultimately experienced some severe breathing issues which I wasn’t really enjoying that much. Obviously, I thought I was dying although at the same time I wondered whether I was actually being a bit overdramatic by bothering the hospital. Turns out I was really quite seriously ill.
So, as I said, it was a weird time for the hospital because Covid-19 was a thing and people were starting to worry but nobody really knew what they were doing or what was expected of them. Visiting was limited to begin and with eventually stopped and as Andy needed to be looking after the boys he didn’t come into the ward much so I had lots of time to just lie coughing my lungs up observing the world (and binge watching Tiger King on Netflix). I wasn’t able to speak much myself but luckily, due to my apparently approachable face and the super power I have which makes people just tell me stuff, I was kept very well entertained.
I was on a respiratory ward initially which was mainly occupied by elderly ladies. When I first arrived on the ward every single one of them was asleep or unconscious in some capacity. One by one the ones that were able to regained consciousness. It quickly became apparent that there was no such thing as privacy or confidentiality on this ward as far as between the patients were concerned. I think a hospital ward is the only place where it’s socially acceptable (particularly if you are over a certain age) to ask other people how old they are and exactly what is wrong with them within minutes of meeting them. I would describe myself as someone who has a keen interest in people (also known as a bit nosy) and I’m pretty open about myself too so for me this was brilliant! I’ve often sat waiting in the doctor’s surgery looking at people and trying to guess what’s wrong with them so to have a full on show and tell on current and historical ailments and illnesses was quite exciting.They all seemed very sympathetic over my lung based plight and how terribly young I was to be suffering so badly with what one of them called “an old people’s illness”.
We had Mary who had been in for a couple of days following an asthma attack, she was 82, she had a kind grandmother face and kept offering to get up and get me some water even though walking was clearly a struggle for her.
Maureen who was opposite me, a widow in her 70s who only does her food shop at Marks & Spencer or Waitrose. She had a nightie that matched her dressing gown and slippers and her hair looked very well-coiffed for someone who had been in hospital for a couple of days. Well posh, she was. I can’t remember what was wrong with her but she was not happy about my excessive coughing on the ward and did a terrible job of hiding it. Not long after I arrived and had done my full disclosure to the ward of what was wrong with me I saw her scribble something on a piece of paper and show the nurse who was taking her blood pressure. The nurse squinted at what she’d written saying “I can’t read that”. Maureen mumbled “not to worry” but the nurse wasn’t having any of it and insisted she told her what it said. “Is pneumonia contagious?”, she tried and failed to whisper while desperately trying not to look at me. That was a bit awkward. Luckily judgey old Waitrose fangirl Maureen left soon after that so she was safe from my disease ridden hacking.
Vera was in the far corner of the ward to me. She was asleep most of the time had didn’t appear to be able to do anything for herself. The nurses were so lovely with her even though she wasn’t really very responsive at all. They chatted away to her while they did her obs, washed her, combed her hair and fed her. The only time I heard her speak was during the night when she randomly started shouting “PERVERT” over and over. Obviously, I’m incredibly mature and after my initial shock being woken up by an old lady shouting “PERVERT” I definitely didn’t giggle at all. Much. At some point over the next couple of days there was a fair bit of drama around Vera, not because of her pervert allegations but her stats weren’t where they should be and there was worry aplenty. Lots of important looking medical people kept coming in to see her, drawing the Curtain of Silence (that doesn’t work) around her bed, and talking about how she could be helped. At one point her daughter was called because they didn’t think she would make it through the night. I don’t know why but her daughter never came. This made me feel sad although I’m sure there was a very good reason why she didn’t arrive. I couldn’t bear to think of either of my parents in a hospital bed like that so close to the end and nobody being there. As luck would have it though, pervert accusing Vera pulled through! Infact she pulled through so well she got out before I did! I wonder whether she was aware of how close they thought she was to dying.
Rita was a couple of beds down from me and had COPD and pneumonia. She was 88 and had had pneumonia twice before over the past 20 years since she gave up smoking. She used to smoke 40 a day you know? Never got ill in her life until she packed it in. Not a single day. Fit as a fiddle she was. When she gave up smoking it all went to pot. She was a tiny old lady who looked a bit like she was made of aged leather. It was roasting hot in the hospital as usual but she was permanently dressed in her nightclothes, a jumper and a dressing gown and still said she was cold. She was a chatty little thing and told me all about how her husband had died very suddenly when she was in her 40s but she just had to carry on because in those days there was no such thing as depression and she had 2 girls to bring up, they weren’t about to bring themselves up, you know. There was no time for sitting about feeling sorry for herself. She had worked in a shoe shop in Broad Street and used to get told off for chatting to the customers too much (I can totally believe that). She was tiny but mighty and you could tell that, although very slight and frail looking, she was totally in charge. She was on oxygen like I was but kept taking it out because she didn’t think she needed it. The nurses would come over and make her put it back in then as soon as their backs were turned she’d whip it right out again. Rita was ever so naughty.
After judgey old Maureen got shipped out, she was soon replaced by Caroline. Caroline was closer to my age and also in her 40s. She had just been diagnosed with asthma and had been brought in with an asthma attack. She had a terrible cough like me, Maureen would not have been happy about it at all, lowering the tone of the ward like that with her illness. Within half an hour of her arrival she told me all about how she was coughing so much in A&E she had wet herself which is why she was wearing paper pants. Now firstly I hadn’t actually been looking at her pants so didn’t notice they were paper and secondly that’s what I mean about hospitals being so weird… In what world is it normal to tell someone you wet yourself within an hour of meeting them? Also, what do you even say to that? “Good for you Caroline”? She was lovely too and had come onto the ward probably at my lowest point. I don’t mind being on my own and was cool about Mr D not being able to come in because I knew he couldn’t really but I was really missing the boys. I’d never been away from them for more than a day or night and although they absolutely do my head in I really quite like them just being around me (most of the time, although not when I’m in the bath and they’re launching bath toy missiles at me or when I’m just trying to have a wee in peace). So anyway, Caroline and her paper pants helped to keep my spirits up a bit telling me all about her husband who she had only been married to for a couple of years and was clearly very in love with and her ex-husband who she obviously didn’t like quite so much.
Last of all my hospital buddies was lovely Lorraine. By the time Lorraine came in I was on the mend and she was in a very bad way. In true hospital ward form it was established early on that Lorraine was 78 and had liver disease (not through alcohol abuse before you start judging her, Maureen you Waitrose lover). Her liver was so enlarged with fluid it was pressing on her lungs and severely impairing her breathing. She had come in accompanied by her husband Les. Les was 82 but clearly thought he was still about 22. He talked a bit like Dirty Den off of Eastenders; “’ello sweed’art”, winking at all the female nurses and ‘nipping out for a faaaaaaag’ every hour. Together they were like a hilarious double act, even though Lorraine was very poorly, but as soonas Les went home Lorraine went to pieces. It was heart-breaking. I looked after her though and it was nice to feel a bit useful again. Over the couple of days we were together we built up a great bond and although there is a considerable age gap we had lots in common (both have two sons, both absolutely hilarious, both like cake etc). It’s now nearly 6 months later and Lorraine and I still WhatsApp each other now and then and once this whole Covid thing blows over (can’t be much longer right??) we might meet up for tea and a cake.
So, hospitals are weird in lots of ways but by far the weirdest bit are the relationships that are formed on the wards. Some of them are really intense and personal yet fleeting and others are, like me and Lorraine, based on hilarity and cake and may well be forever.