Plastering Over the Cracks: Repairing the Ammonytes' carapace

For legal reasons I can’t go into too much detail about what happened. Suffice it to say that whilst cycling home from seeing a friend for a meal, I passed a group of young people who appeared to be having an argument, who then decided to have an argument with my head. When I had regained my senses I had an appalling pain in my ankle, lost my glasses, but regained my bicycle, so I continued home, put the bike in the lock-up garage and walked the 150 metres to my house. It was only when I was sitting on the sofa with some frozen peas on my ankle, and something moved that shouldn’t have, that I decided it might be more than sprained. So I took a taxi to Wexham A&E which is where the story really begins.

Hobbled into A&E and up to Reception. It’s about midnight. Tell my story to the receptionist, who tells me to take a seat and wait for the nurse. She suggests I call the police and report the incident, which I do whilst looking around the room. Only six or so people, several of whom appear to be together so shouldn’t be a long wait. Call 999 explain the situation and where I am, they give me a reference number and tell me to call back when I get home. Nurse calls me into her room makes a cursory check and sends me back out to continue waiting. Very thirsty so I hobble over to a vending machine and buy a coke. Now aware that my left eye is starting to hurt. Time passes. The police call several times to ask if I am home yet.

At 2 AM I am called through into A&E and it becomes clear I can’t walk any further, the duty Dr/Nurse/Whatever grabs a wheelchair and takes me into a cubicle and onto a couch. Much poking and prodding ensues. I get an ECG and lights are shone into eyes. Repeat tale of the evening several times to much sympathy. Get wheeled down to X-Ray. Repeat story to radiographer as he does my ankle. Two images, have to lie on my side for the second one, which annoys my ankle no end. Back to the booth and the Doc soon reappears to tell me it’s broken but a “pretty clean break, low down”. A more senior Doc appears and we run through the evening’s events again. I’m to be retained as I need a plate inserting to stabilise the fracture, for now they’ll put a temporary cast on to stabilise it. I call home to let my mother know what’s what, forms get filled, boxes ticked next-of-kin details taken. A couple of nurses or technicians appear with the material to plaster up my ankle, which for some reason requires me to lie on my stomach. More poking prodding and form filling ensues as the plaster dries, I’m given a Glastonbury-style wristband, another X-ray to check the ankle has been set correctly, then I’m wheeled down to the ward arriving at about 5 AM, and transfer into bed, still in my clothes and my leg is raised up on a frame, and I get the first of very many blood pressure, pulse and temperature checks.

Hooked up to a drip I lie back and try to sleep or at least doze as the Hospital moves into wake-up mode. Drugs round followed by breakfast (not for me as I start the first of several ‘nil by mouth’ days waiting the call to theatre) washing (when I get a set of green hospital pyjamas) then ward rounds. The consultants look like stereotypical consultants are followed by stereotypical looking junior doctors and dispense stereotypical imperious prognoses. Not being able to sleep, I call the Police on the number I was given in the night (blimey you can use mobile phones in hospital wahay!). I am told they would like to interview me Right Now. Soon I am giving a statement to a police officer, we go over everything in several runs, he takes copious notes, his colleague collects my outer clothing to test ‘in case’ the assailants had left evidence. Finally he gives me a run through of the services available for witness protection and victim support. It was all very thorough and professional and far far better than I was expecting, given the frequent media outrage over alleged police inaction toward violent crime. The officer is not overly hopeful though as there is no direct CCTV coverage of that area and my somewhat vague descriptions do not match ‘The Usual Suspects’.

I drift through the day in a dozy haze of painkillers, various people come to prod and poke me, including several Ophthalmologists who shine very bright lights in my eye. I can’t see much as my glasses were lost in the night and I didn’t pick up a spare pair from home, and my left eye is very painful and closed. The eye drops the ophthalmologists used in diagnosis have dilated my pupils and made my (fairly) good eye sensitive to light, so I lie there almost blind. The final verdict is, no debris in the eye, but the cornea is scratched, eye drops are prescribed and will be followed up with out-patient checks. During all of this I get a CT scan of my head to check for fractures of the orbit. None are revealed. Unfortunately I couldn’t see much of what went on in CT which was a pity as I would have been quite interested. By late early evening I’m told I won’t make today’s list of operations so am released from NBM purdah. Although I have missed the dinner round a nice nurse rustles up some shepherds pie and a cup of tea.

Face

Face

I am starting to become aware of my fellows on the ward. It’s a four-berth ward. I have a window-side location. The chap to my left has fallen from a ladder, Opposite him the bloke has had some sort of knee op, I’m not sure about the chap opposite me as he has his left leg raised, like mine, so I can see almost nothing of him. Drifting through the evening and into the night, fantastic nurses fuss around. Almost all seem to be either foreign or Asian-descended but British born. Mr Griffin ought to break a leg and find out just how stuffed we would be if his polices were ever to be implemented. I perfect the art of peeing into a cardboard bottle, and fervently hope I don’t need a number two. Friends are now discovering the news and phoning in general amazement and disbelief. I’m trying to balance battery life as I don’t have my charger, and account balance as I have a PAYG tariff.

It seems to be a very noisy night, not helped by having two elderly ladies with Alzhemiers in the ward across the corridor. One constantly calls for the nurse, unaware that having a catheter she does not need to worry about wetting the bed, the other appears to have a form of Tourettes and delivers a stream of abuse at the nurses. Her language is vile but delivered in a posh accent. If she wasn’t so posh she could pass for Mr Griffin’s mother. I have a second sleepless night.

Friday morning’s dawn chorus is the chirping of the blood-pressure monitor as the sequence begins again. I am NBM so can only watch the others consume breakfast. The day floats on through bed-baths, ward rounds, cleaners pop in and out. A trolley selling newspapers comes. I ambitiously buy one even though the pain in my eye is appalling. The ankle feels fine. I’m sure I could walk out of here at any time. An anaesthetist drops by to explain the risks and procedure for knocking me out and gets me to sign waiver forms. The afternoon brings my first visitor, John. By unhappy co-incidence I had visited him in Wycombe Hospital earlier in the year after he had a stroke (he has since made a full recovery) We chat about things and he leaves me some fruit I can’t eat (NBM) and a card I can’t read. The chap with the knee injury is hopping around on crutches and is released. His bed is soon taken by an elderly chap who fell down the stairs. I think he has been on an adjacent ward as I seem to recall having heard his voice for a while. Late afternoon I am told that I won’t make the list for today’s round of operations, so I choose a meal of Fish and Chips, which is OK and some ice cream which is nice. Another change on the Ward, the leg in the bed opposite has gone and has been replaced by a chap with a shoulder/arm injury. He seems pretty out of it. Evening visiting brings an old friend and his father. They have been via my house and have brought me the charger for my mobile phone and my sunglasses (not even I can recall where I have misplaced my spare pair of normal glasses). At least I have a better chance of seeing things now. I’m expecting Friday Night to be very noisy with lots of activity as the Hospital is the only A&E covering a large area and accepting casualties from bits of M3 M4 M40 & M25, as well as the usual Friday Night town centre drinking detritus. In the event is passes off pretty quietly on our ward and I get my first night of (almost) full sleep.

Saturday Morning and NBM again. On the ward round a Dr and his junior arrive with a pair of scissors and start cutting into the cast, there is a special soft section down the middle for this purpose. The Junior fumbles while the Senior wanders off. He is struggling somewhat and only manages a couple of inches, before wandering away himself. The senior guy returns and completes the job, and looks somewhat doubtfully at my ankle. “It’s pretty swollen”. Soon the surgeon arrives for a look and he explains that it is not good practice to operate on a swollen limb as it is difficult to get the flesh and skin knitted back again properly (later someone tells me that “you can’t put a squashed tomato back together” which encapsulates it very neatly). They could do it if pushed but would prefer to wait. I’m in no hurry. A brief discussion ensues about the possibility of sending me home for a few days, but they decide they’d like to keep me under observation. The cast is left open down the middle, and ice is packed. At least I know I’m not going to be operated on for a couple of days, so I can eat (fairly) normally. Afternoon visiting brings a pair of female friends bearing much chocolate, a magazine to read, but especially thankfully, some fruit juice to put in the water.

Staring to get to know the other guys on the ward. The elderly man who broke his hip falling down the stairs, the chap who fell from a ladder and shattered his ankle so badly had has a framework of scaffolding around it and the new boy who fell off his mountain bike. I have ridden that same trail many time before. I consider buying some body armour for next time. He is especially ‘lucky’ as he wasn’t even wearing a helmet. It turns out that Biker Boy is a teacher at the school that I attended 30 years ago, and that ladder man knows the Village (and some of the people and history) where my father was born. We all do a bit of male bonding. Saturday night seem reasonably quiet too.

Sunday is a restful day, knowing that I won’t be going in for Surgery, so I get my first breakfast, there’s no ward round, I have a bed bath and a clean gown. My eye is much better and for the first time I’m able to take a good look around and read for a while. For Lunch I choose ‘Pizza’ which turns out to be more of a Pizza Pie, and Roast Beef for dinner. John drops in again at afternoon visiting time, bringing more reading material. In the evening TC (whom I was having dinner with on Wednesday) comes into visit, driven by The Furnster. He has videoed the Grand Prix from Abu Dhabi and brings the DVD.

Monday and back to NBM. During ward round they express satisfaction at the state of the descended swelling. Another anesthetist runs through the procedures with me again and checks that I have signed all the paperwork. Then a porter arrives and I’m ready for the off. The nurse takes away the stand that has been keeping my leg raised “they are terrible down there, we’ll never see it again” and we are off, lots off “Good Lucks” from the rest of my Bone Buddies and we weave our way around the hospital, before descending a slope to the theatre. Down? Am I going to Hell already? Some insanely cheerful anaesthetists fuss round and plug another dip into my arm and someone puts an oxygen mask over my mouth at which point I wake up in recovery. Well that took about 3 ½ seconds. Actually it’s closer to 3 hours. My foot hurts like buggery and I’m still quite woozy as I get wheeled back to the ward. I’m sure you could fry eggs on my toes and there’s a tribe of ants who spend their time tunneling round. I have a new cast on, and no matter how I try to adjust my position, it hurts. Despite the warnings, I don’t seem to have many after effects from the anesthetic, I can keep drink down, and enjoy Chicken Korma for dinner (Top tip: If you are ever in Wexham Park Hospital that’s the best dish, followed by the Pizza Pie and the Enchiladas). Turns out that Bone Buddy Biker Boy is a bit of a gadget freak, he’s tweeting from his iPhone, has a Mac and is into photography, so we have a lot to chat about.

Tuesday and the Physiotherapists turn up (complete with crutches) to get me out of bed. Immediately I’m vertical it all goes a rather wonky as I come over all giddy and unnecessary, so instead of marching me round the hospital (as they had been doing to Ladder Man) they get me into the bedside chair so I can adapt to being a bit more upright. I am given to understand they Will Be Back later. Ladder man is also out of bed and we chat. There’s a change in the air. The Nurses are not as friendly or as helpful as they were. This might simply be due to a different shift of nurses, but these are mainly white English girls and the youngest ones are, frankly, rather dippy and stroppy. Ladder Man needs his dressing changing, so the dippiest nurse removes the old dressing and covers it with a sheet while she goes off and does something else. It is several hours before she returns to re-dress the wound, which turns out to be sufficiently irritated that swabs and samples have to be taken and sent for analysis. The elderly gent opposite is left in be-curtained purdah after he requests a bottle and it takes her almost 3 hours to ‘remember’ to collect it and draw back the curtains. I’m told that I will be sent home the following day, to which I point out that the sum total of my experience on crutches was less than three feet. I also inquire as to whether they are aware of my domestic situation and that I have no-one to run around and do any (serious) care or fetching and carrying. My points are ignored, I’m getting disgruntled. Whilst sitting beside Ladder man I get a visit from a friend who brings some extremely nice chocolate. Later a friend drops by with some clothes just in case I do get sent home (The Police still have my original trousers). My toes are still the temperature of the core of a functioning Nuclear Reactor and the ants are still having a massive party. The Physiotherapists never do return that day.

Wednesday and they seem determined to send me home. I’m quite stroppy by ward round time and remind them about lack of practice on crutches, lack of any information of the after-care of my injury etc etc. At least it provokes one of the Doctors to peel off and spend a few minutes chatting about (a) what was done and (b) what do do next. Wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been loudly stroppy. The Bone Buddies decide that the NHS is brilliant and baffling in about equal measure. I get wheeled down to have a new cast. The nice lady brings up my x-rays on her computer (Operating system is Windows 2000 professional!) and borrows my mobile phone to take pictures of them. A much lighter-weight glass-fibre cast is applied (I’m later told that you usually get a choice of colours, well I didn’t mine is bog-standard white). On the way back to the ward I thumb through my notes, as the porter walks slowly to give me time. All the important bits seem to be in code.

Fractured

Fractured

The chap with the broken hip is transferred to a hospital closer to his home and his bed is quickly taken by Motor Bike Boy who fell off his bike and smashed up his ankle (rather like Ladder Man). The Physios arrive and I slowly hop out of the ward and into an adjacent room with a small set of steps, which I hop up and down twice. I have a rest in a chair and do it again. They declare themselves satisfied and that I can go home now. I’m really not so sure. I hop back to the ward and elect to spend some time sitting in the chair. I am assured of another follow-up practise session later (never happens). Sometime after lunch, Nurse Dippy/Stroppy tells me I am to be discharged.
“How am I going to get home?”,
“Isn’t there someone who can come and pick you up?”
“No”
“Oh, Um, Well, it’s rather late, I’m not sure what we can do”
“Well I can’t go anywhere under my own steam, If you want me out of here, sort it out”

Later Nurse Dippy/Stroppy brings a bag of medication.
“There’s your paracetemol, Codeine and Fragmin, which you inject into your stomach. I’ll get you a sharps bin”
“What’s the Fragmin for?”
“Oh it stops you getting blood clots”
(Now I had heard this being mentioned to other patients on the late night drug round, but was never mentioned or offered to myself”
“Well I had an operation on Monday and I haven’t had any injections of Fragmin”
“Oh”
“And I am really bad with needles and injections”
“Is there anyone who could do it for you?”
“No” Nurse Dippy/Stroppy wanders off. I never see her again. I assume her shift ended.

I’m told transport has been arranged and that I will be transferred to the “Discharge Lounge”. Much time passes. Eventually a cheerful lady in Ambulance driver overalls arrives with a wheelchair.
“Sorry, I was told that you’d be in the discharge lounge”
“That’s what I was told too”
She loads me into the wheelchair and it’s ‘Goodbyes’ all round and I’m away before it gets too emotional. In the ambulance we have a natter about how bad the Inter-departmental communication is. Arriving at my house we have to deal with the fact that the physios have only taught me to manage flat surfaces and stairs. The Ambulance doesn’t have a lift, only a rather steep ramp which the driver helps me down, and we make slow progress as I hop and stutter to my house. Getting inside is difficult as there is (a) a step up, and (b) a raised uPVC threshold to leap over, and I’m home.

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~ by @mmonyte on November 8, 2009.

2 Responses to “Plastering Over the Cracks: Repairing the Ammonytes' carapace”

  1. What an experience! I don’t know what to say, really, except what sounds so hollow (though rest assured is heartfelt): I hope you heal quickly.

  2. Oh my dear, I’m very sorry to hear this dramatic story. I wish I was in the UK to do anything to help. I hope u are much better now.

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