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.


Anonymous said...

That reads like Franz Kafka Andy. Especially the bit about inevitable Szajt (spelling?) on each meal menu.

Get well soon.

Tamas Vilmos/ DG from OTF

Michael said...

Blood pressure is pretentious by a number of factors. These include the strong point of your heart, blood vessels' order and the kidneys' fitness. A person who movements regularly, most often has a healthy heart that can drive more blood with each drive and will not need to beat as often in order to keep a normal blood pressure.Blood pressure also depends upon the artery. Hardened and narrowed arteries caused by old age or a high fat diet can make it harder for the blood to flow, causing the blood pressure to rise. When the arteries begin to stop up, the heart is then subjected to harder work. The kidneys' health also affects blood force. Because the kidneys functions to maintain water and salt volume in the body, if the kidney retains too much water and salt then the blood pressure will also boost.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Sounds like you're going to pull through, Andy. Best wishes. I get to visit lot's of hospitals in Cluj as my wife's a nurse and, in addition to her own work, she's often called to friends' bedsides. Dressing gowns do seem to be a feature - probably also worn by the top specialists in winter. And the care generally looks good despite the delipidated buildings. Interesting info about blood pressure there.

Anonymous said...

Andy, I wish you get well soon. Sorry I don't have time to read your post in detail, but comparing a hospital room (even in the more dilapidated place you can think about, and I am sure that you have not been there and will never get to go there) with Guantanamo is exagerated at best. Just because we live far away from those places and problems does not mean we should minimalize what is happening there. But I understand that sometimes it can be hard to see things in this perspective and that our personal problems will always outweigh others', if only because we have to endure them.

This said, I do respect you and appreciate the mostly impartial, polite tone of your postings. Sanatate!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I was not clear enough: I really really enjoy reading your blog. It is great and that's why I became a bit demanding. But sorry, you set the high standards!

Andy said...

Hi Alex. Thanks for the comments and the praise. The Guantanamo thing was supposed be a joke (albeit one in fairly poor taste), so I obviously didn't flag it up clearly enough.


Anonymous said...

OTO - RINO - LARINGOLOGIE (the throat doctor's cabinet, shortly ORL). i hope you're in better shape now cause i like your writings