Sunday, April 27, 2008

To the lighthouse

The hospital I was in, which is reserved for lung cases and infectious diseases (in separate wings) with the TB ward lying somewhere in the middle, sitting on the pulmonary fence, is in a beautiful old building. Think mittel-european house of some minor voivode. (More Colditz than Stalag-Luft III. Oh sorry, I forgot I was going to try and lay off the prison references). A bit crumbling, but looking onto a nice courtyard, and with views in all directions, and located not actually in Csikszereda, but in the former-village, now-suburb of Csiksomlyo (Sumuleu Ciuc in Romanian). When I got tired of reading it was pleasant to spend time watching the Spring arrive - the tree outside my window went from bud to full-on blossom during the week, the snows on Hargita mountain gradually receded, the birds in the courtyard fluttered around collecting nesting materials and the like. It was all very tranquil.

Sadly though, this hospital will not be a hospital for very much longer. You see the building is owned by the church (the Roman catholic church in this case). It became a hospital during communism when it was nationalised, but now the church want it back (as under post-communist rules they are allowed to). I'm not quite sure what they want to do with it (the former orphanage in the same area reverted to RCC control a few years ago, and as far as I can tell they haven't touched the place since). To me, it would seem that having a hospital in the building goes some way to fulfilling the church's supposed raison-d'etre - you know about helping people and all that - but instead they will probably just use it for accommodation for the pilgrimage weekend, and leave it lying dormant for the rest of the year. It's a real shame, and a bit crap really.

In other religion related news, today is Easter Sunday in the Orthodox calendar. As I understand it this means that roughly 1975 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and was resurrected a couple of days later. Then a few weeks later, he repeated the trick, just to head off the doubters. That's commitment for you.

Anyway, Happy Easter Romanians and anyone else of an orthodox bent.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The English Patient

So, as you may have surmised, I was indeed admitted to hospital last week. I went in on Wednesday, and was expecting to be there for a week, but my parole hearing today (Tuesday) went well, and I got let out a day early for good behaviour.

So now I'm home, struggling to cope with the sheer randomness and unpredictability of non-institutional life. It's all very strange.

First things first - I was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia and pleurisy in a kind of double whammy of pulmonary trauma. If you look up pleurisy on wikipedia, you get a list of famous people who snuffed it from the disease. Wordsworth, Charlemagne, Cezanne, Hardy. Luckily as the list gets more contemporary, the results get more slight - Steinbeck, for example, merely had a rib removed. Not that I really wanted a rib removed, but given the option of the Steinbeck or the Wordsworth, I would have plumped for the Steinbeck. In addition, I had very high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. All in all quite a selection.

Erika went off to buy me some pyjamas and slippers, vital parts of hospital uniform, which I didn't previously possess, and on Wednesday morning at the appointed hour I drew up, clutching my new nightwear and various items of foodstuff to tide me over in case the Romanian hospital food didn't really meet my needs. After a few more tests ("Please spit in this cup"), I was shown to my new room. This room, I later realised was effectively the VIP room. Perhaps because I was foreign, or a bit rubbish at Hungarian, or just very important in some other unspecified way. [I think they use it for problem patients too, so maybe I fit into that category]. The VIP room had it's own en-suite bathroom (well, a shower and toilet) and only two inmates (while all the other rooms on the corridor had 4, and had to share the bathroom at the end of the corridor) I changed into my pyjamas and slippers and dressing gown, what the hip-patient-about-ward is wearing these days, and slid my bags and so on under the bed. I chatted with my roommate (the director of the town's "culturehouse" - VIP room I told you), and quickly began to get into the routine.

It was the next morning that the bad bit of the routine became apparent. At 6am (I'll repeat that time, as it's a little unreal at first glance), at 6am, the door was noisily opened, the lights (of the bright retina-searing fluorescent type) were turned on, and the first injection of the day was administered. For me this involved the insertion of a needle in a vein, and the slow intravenous drip-drip-drip of 500ml of antibiotics. In terms of sheer brutality - the bare room, the bright lights, the insane hour, the needle - it must be akin to Guantanamo.

I'm exaggerating of course. The difference between the two are many. Guantanamo is on a tropical beach for a start.

On the downside, the regular injections of sodium pentathol, which I imagine in my seen-too-much-TV way to be a feature of "enemy combatant" life, are administered by bull-necked crew-cut marines, rather than by attractive young women. And then there are the snarling dogs, and the bags on the head, and the electrodes, and the probability of never being allowed out, and never getting a fair trial.

After the rude awakening of the 6am jab, the day settled into it's regular flow. 6.45 am (ish) drip is completed, needle removed; 7am shower (this wasn't a mandated time, it was just the time that there seemed to be some hot water); 8 am breakfast (bread roll, cheese or meat - as far as I was concerned then, bread roll); 8.30 am cleaner comes in; 9am blood pressure checked; 9.30 am pills brought. Not quite sure why I needed to have them hand delivered every day, and not just left for me to take them when I was supposed to but perhaps it's a way of preventing prisoner suicide bids. They should really have taken my belt from me.

At this point I think I must have done this extended prisoner metaphor to death so I will attempt to leave it alone now, since it must be getting a tad tiresome. I can't promise it won't return, but I'll do my best.

To continue with the exciting day outline: Noon lunch; 1pm doctor's rounds; (long fun-filled gap) 6pm second intravenous drip of the day, coinciding exactly with dinner appearing (a tad annoying really, it's not like there couldn't have been a way in which to stagger these two major events of the day); 10pm lights out.

As you can see it was a fun-packed existence. There were a few bonus moments though - Once we got a surprise 4am visit from a delirious patient, roaming the corridors randomly waking everyone up, which added a certain je ne sais quoi to the evening (and also to the 6am wake-up). There were two trips out in an ambulance, too - once to the cardiologist and once to the throat specialist (there must be a Latin-derived name for a throat doctor, but I have no idea what it is). I also managed to break a few rules while there. On Saturday afternoon, for example, Erika walked up with the kids in tow. Rather than have them come in the ward, they stayed out in the garden and I got dressed and came out to join them. We had an enjoyable hour soaking up the late afternoon spring sun, in the courtyard garden of the hospital, and then they headed home and I went back to my cell room. It was then I was informed of my terrible error in ... putting on my clothes. This apparently is definitely against the rules, and I should have gone out in my pyjamas (and then got told off for getting cold). I obviously had no idea of this clothing transgression, but when I mentioned it to anyone they said "Well, of course you can't put your clothes on" like I was an idiot. Not quite sure why the rule exists - so you can always tell who the patients are? It doesn't necessarily work that way, though, since the nurses wear dressing gowns over their uniforms when it gets a bit chilly in the hospital.

So, gradually, the minutes intravenously dripped by, slowly becoming hours and days. I had no need to carve notches on the walls to see how many days I'd been inside though, as I could conveniently count the track marks on my arm. (Or at least I could for a while, until my veins, sussing out what was going on started to bury themselves further and further into my arms, pulling the muscles over their heads in an effort to avoid the needle, and thus meaning that each session started to involve two or three holes each).

I should at this point say that despite my whining above, the experience of being in hospital was really very good. The nurses were all extremely friendly and professional, the doctor was fantastic (I gave her the URL of this blog, so she's probably reading this, but I'm saying it because it's true not for any other reasons), the food was...well, the food was food, the place was spotless, despite being in a run down old building, and on top of that I got to read a stack of books. I can't compare it with hospitals elsewhere, because I haven't been in one for this length of time, but I reckon that despite the pressures everyone is under in an underfunded system, they manage to do a great job of taking care of patients.

At the end of it all, my blood pressure is still pretty high - though as a complete layman, it seems logical to me that if you stick a litre a day of extra liquid into someone's system (as they did) then the blood pressure would be bloody high. I know it doesn't work like that, but I don't really understand why not. But everything else seems to be getting better. I have to take it easy for a little while, and have not strain myself or be too active. Does anyone know where one can hire handmaidens to feed one the occasional grape?

There's another post to be written about the building itself in which I was incarcerated treated, but I need to go for a medically mandated lie-down now. But I'll leave you with a question: When old men play up in their role as hospital patients in order to force young female nurses to treat them like children is it some kind of odd sexual perversity, loneliness, or some kind of search for a mother? I've no idea.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Random thoughts

I'm just back from England, where I attended the annual IATEFL conference in Exeter with Erika and something like 1600 other people. It was a good trip, though I wasn't feeling at my best, since the cough I had a few weeks ago turns out to have been pneumonia (or at least some similar non-specific lung inflammation, of similar levels of intensity). I am waiting today to have another delightful visit to Csikszereda's hospital so that I can work out whether or not more treatment is necessary (this possibly will involve spending a few nights in the aforementioned building while I get regular injections of antibiotics and/or monitoring of rampant blood pressure which has risen in accompaniment of the lung thing. So if I don't post anything here for a while it is likely because I am stuck in hospital and hence offline.

One of the things that I have complained about often in Romania is the fact that people are so incredibly nesh here. If I dare to take Paula out in 20 degree temperatures without a hat, I get older people especially looking at me like I'm inhumane and ought to be arrested. You see people wearing cotton wool in their ears just to keep the draughts out (and also sounds and other such troublesome things). But I think there has to be some kind of happy medium between the approach to temperature in Romania and the approach to temperature in England.

To set the scene we flew into Luton last Sunday in the middle of a raging blizzard. In April. In southern England. No idea what's going on. Anyway, it only really snowed on that day, but the temperature never really got very warm - most nights there was a heavy frost, and the daytime temps never rose much above 7 degrees. But in the midst of this hardly summery weather people walked around wearing not much more than their underwear. Mostly these people were teenagers, and especially teenage girls, it is true, so one can put some of this masochistic lunacy down to the vagaries of fashion, but it is a fashion which seems remarkably long-lasting. Whenever I go back and find myself wandering round an English town of an evening I usually find myself marvelling at the lack of warm clothing on those out carousing. This year, if anything the phenomenon has either got worse, or prolonged exposure to Romania has made me more sensitive to it. Perhaps I am becoming assmiliated and before long I, too, will be tutting concernedly at parents whose children are not buried in a vast heavily-lined, multi-layered, all-over burqa; wearing large clumps of cotton wool in my ears; and furiously closing every window in the train.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Zero Summit Game

Bucharest is being flooded with loads of violent, aggressive and corrupt criminals. Any sane immigration policy would have kept these people out of the country and turned them back at the airport, but Romania instead is welcoming them and even cleaning up the city before them to make their stay a happier one. "How many deaths are you responsible for, sir? Certainly, of course you may come in"

I'm talking of course of the various world leaders converging on Ceausescu's delightful Palace of the People to talk about expanding NATO or not expanding it or (in the case of Greece) to once again get pissed off about Macedonia being called Macedonia. Bush, Brown, Sarkozy, Putin. They're all here (I think Putin isn't here yet, but he's on his way).

In order to welcome these people (and I use the word reluctantly) the city has been tarted up a bit (new pavements have been laid, stuff has been painted, and the stray dogs have been ... well, I'm not sure what has happened to the stray dogs, have they been rounded up, shot, shipped off to somewhere else in Romania, painted a more pleasing colour? It's not clear to me). Roads have been closed all over the city - even to pedestrians, and schools and various organisations have been given the week off, so that the children and employees don't upset Laura Bush by being dressed better than her. One of the airports has been closed so that all the fancy aeroplanes can park there for the week, while the other one just has fewer flights, and heavy security. I think if I lived in Bucharest I'd be tempted to go out and demonstrate against all this stuff even if I didn't have any axe to grind with NATO.

Maybe they'll organise a trip for the assembled dignitaries to the airport at Constanta which was used as an impromptu torture camp by the US and its allies in its euphemistically named "extraordinary rendition programme". Allegedly.