Thursday, 30 January 2014

Beginning the long journey to recovery 

A CUP of cold vegetable soup so disgusting that you wouldn’t grout tiles with it has snapped up the title of being the worst hospital food I have ever tasted.

Thirteen days in Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, recovering from a major cancer operation to remove my prostate meant little things like food quality became very important, so getting awful gloop like that became an angry chat topic among patients.

Things like a cheese and pickle sandwich and a creamy yoghurt were perfectly acceptable because you can’t do much damage to items like that, but any food where a bit of flair was required proved a challenge too far for those shipping meals in to Wexham.

As a captive patient it is amazing what sticks in your mind, so here are a few snippets.

Nurses who couldn’t do enough for you despite working 15-hour shifts, frightening lapses in documentation where morning doctors might take you off one drug only for you to be offered it again that night as if nothing had happened and the spirit of the blitz which shone through all patients on my ward as we helped look after each other’s needs whenever we could.

There was the keen interest shown when a patient tensely unable to go to the loo finally succeeded, the support we gave to seriously ill new arrivals, the banter about one patient trying to get his bets down for that day’s racing and the exchange of squash between patients to make our lives a little more enjoyable.

Getting fresh sheets every morning was bliss while the first time you could actually get out of bed and sit in the chair next to it felt like you’d conquered the world.

And that outside world became a nebulous, hazily-remembered thing because your world was now telescoped into a bed area and friendship with the other three men on your ward section.

You got to know nurses on first name terms, you learned which ones genuinely cared and which ones would always try and make you that little bit more comfortable.

There was always gallows humour but with people dying within yards of you it wasn’t surprising and the jokes made were often aimed at yourself, a sort of challenge to the Gods to do any worse to you than they already had.

Bandages were viewed warily because, when they came off, so did large amount of hair on stomach, legs and arms. It hurt worse than the wounds!

Rays of sunshine included surprise visits to my bedside by nurses up at Wexham from West Dorset, needles being removed from my body when I’d thought they’d almost taken root and the stimulation of short walks down the corridor past the women’s ward to keep leg muscles in tone. Honestly! It was purely to keep my legs in shape.

Staff rejoiced in your little recovery victories, sympathised when there were setbacks and were always there to answer a question unimportant to anyone but you.

Slowly you start to see light at the end of the tunnel and talk shifts from the next scan to check on your progress to what you’ll need to do to get ready to leave hospital.

Just voicing the possibility of leaving was a thrill while to slowly see departure take focus produced a very strong emotional reaction matched only by the morning you have to make a decision on what shirt to wear because you’re leaving that day.

Then there are the bags. Those you came with containing your clothing and those you are given to go away with containing a bewildering array of documents and medical accessories all needed to aid your recovery at home.

Then finally staff call for a porter with a wheelchair to take you to the exit and your first sight of the outside world for two weeks.

Gone is the constant ward temperature of 73F and in its place is a raw wind with clouds scudding overhead and the rich and heady scent of fresh air.

Even on the short wheel to the car there is fearful hesitancy that somehow someone will call you back, but it doesn’t happen and the car pulls away into the real world leaving behind pain, astringent smells and a very special little community of dependants.

A few hours later and we crest the Ridgeway overlooking Weymouth. Now it truly feels as if I’m coming home, that I’m back with my family and that perhaps there really may be hope for the future.

It is still too early to tell, but I’ll never forget the support I got at Wexham from nurses and the support I got from hundreds of people throughout the Weymouth and Portland area. It meant a lot to me then and it still means a lot to me now.

Keep your diaries free for a party night in a couple of months time!


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