Sunday, 22 January 2012
"Just popping to the hospital..."
I woke up on Thursday morning feeling, if not completely ready for work (since I'd returned the previous evening from another trip to MediaCity UK in Salford) generally OK, save for a rather annoying discomfort in my thorax that I put down to bolting my food the previous night. I took some antacid tablets and, in my usual rush, left the house for work.
I was conscious that what I thought was indigestion hadn't cleared when I arrived in the office, but wasn't overly concerned, since - although it affected my chest area, I was still able to walk the two-and-a-half miles of the on-foot part of my commute and felt generally well (when the coffee had taken effect!) Late morning, though, after several mugs of peppermint tea, I thought I might just check the NHS Direct website to see what it suggested I should do about it. All the options said "call 999" so I did the next best thing and went to a meeting. I made the decision (having taken the advice of Beth, Twitter and work colleagues) that I would go to the nearby University College London Hospital for a look over. At about quarter past three, I let my colleagues know I was just popping to the hospital, and then made the fiifteen minute walk to the A&E department there, not really knowing what to expect!
Accident & Emergency
When I entered A&E, I was surprised that there weren't more patients there - I was one of maybe fifteen people; I had heard tales (and seen them for myself) of long queues and three hour waits, but I was called in to the first set of cubicles in under thirty minutes, and had been wired up to an ECG machine within the hour. The doctors and nurses were friendly but extremely organised - this was a highly tuned machine, although there would occasionally be a call out from the tannoy "Has anyone seen the keys for majors..?"
The bays in this A&E were cleverly constructed - in a horse-shoe arc around a central desk area they could accommodate two trolleys at busy times and there must have been something like twenty-five bays, with curtained fronts for privacy and swift access. There were all sorts of folk being admitted - from stretchers being pushed passed bearing injured from ambulances to drunk people being wheeled around, security guards in attendance in case of a fracas. I cannot fault the dedication and the care they took.
Even after futher ECG tests and an X-ray, I was still hoping that, by about half-past six, I might be allowed to escape. My Twitter - and now real life - pal Brennig was waiting in his car for any news of my imminent release, but none came.
In fact, I was taken by trolley - always somewhat frustrating when I'm entirely mobile, but I was wired up to a monitor to be fair - to a hospital ward (T1 in the Acute Medical Unit - bed 25 in the green zone, if you're interested) where I perched for a while - after inviting Brennig up for a chat! He stayed for a while, and it was lovely to have his company - especially given the uncertainty of the situation. Being an optimist, I was hoping that they'd complete the tests (I had another ECG shortly after I arrived which I thought might be my key to freedom) but most of the people I spoke to suggested that things tend to take a lot longer with the NHS...
At half past ten my pal Ann turned up, kindly bringing some emergency things (toothpaste, toothbrush, biscuits) but she wasn't able to stay. In fact, Brennig was asked to leave, too - I had assumed, since the patient opposite had visitors, it would be OK for my companion to stay after the 9pm close of visiting hours, but it wasn't until the next morning that I discovered why my initial assumption was wrong!
Here's the evidence of our brief tweetup - and the reason I couldn't venture further than the reception of the ward.. a wireless cardiac monitoring device that would send an alarm if it lost contact with the central system... they really wanted to keep track of me!
Overnight - and my fellow inmates
By the time I made it to the ward, the dayshift nurses had handed over to the nightshift team - there is, from my observations, a significant difference between the two types of care... much to do with the tasks that need performing, I suppose. My sleep was fitful, not least because my bed was right next to the nurses' station and there was a light above it which shone onto my eyeline. Still, I had podcasts, and I did drift off on occasion (which is frustrating since I missed the end of quite a few shows!) only to be woken at half-past two for my observations to be taken and at 5am for bloods.
It was only when the curtains were drawn back around the bed opposite, shortly before breakfast was served that the mystery of the extra visitor was solved - there was a chain between him and the occupant of the bed, a frail old man in his late 70s, who was clearly a big fan of tea and a regular visitor, since the nursing assistants knew exactly what he liked, bringing it to him long before the breakfast trolley arrived. His companions (for there were, indeed, two people with him - obviously to make it possible for one or other to leave for a brief time, although he clearly wasn't going anywhere!) were guards from Pentonville prison (at a guess - their epaulets had "PV" on them) and he was in for treatment after his lungs and heart developed faults. They changed over during the course of the morning, replaced by some other guards whose sole job was to be there... a pleasant enough pair who were regailed with his stories of a life as a sailor, forger, husband and father in the East End, along with poems and opinions... whatever came to his mind, really. I really enjoyed listening to his words, knowing that he might not have much chance to share them with others (he did seem very unwell!) - as I get older myself, I value the historical perspective offered by those who have seen more of the past than I have. I'm really glad my Dad is writing his autobiography for just that reason.
Anyway, breakfast was served (rice crispies, a slice of toast with butter and jam and some dreadful coffee), and the nurse shift changed - I was assigned to Alex and Helen (a trainee in her third year) who were wonderful - and very tolerant! As Beth pointed out, since this was an acute unit, there is a lot closer ratio of nurses to patients, and I felt quite guilty considering those around me had much more severe ailments. However, it was a good opportunity to listen about life as a nurse, certainly to Helen, who had a little more time to spend with patients. My friend Ann joined me once again, so I had company for the remainder of my stay. I'd also arranged for one of my colleagues to sneak in a decent cup of coffee on his way to the office - I honestly needed it!
Ironically, shortly after I'd finished my coffee, I had another ECG, and was visited by doctors at about half-past eight, who reassured me that all my measurements showed a healthy heart, but there was an abnomality just after the beat (called the ST segment in an ECG) which needed further investigation. This hadn't, however, changed from the previous one taken on my arrival, hence the need for blood tests.
Waiting for the heart doctor
Nothing happened for a while, until I was visited by Doctor Vivienne Ezzat, a cardiac doctor from the Heart Hospital who explained the theory - that I had an inflammation of the sac around my heart (also known as pericarditis); the measurements tallied with this theory, and they just needed to wait until the consultant came over to confirm this.
Doctor Walker arrived shortly before lunchtime and brought up the interesting question of whether I'd done a lot of long-distance travelling recently. I told him that I'd just come back from Salford, so had probably done ten and a half hours travelling in two days... he requested that a further blood test was taken to ensure that I didn't have any blood clots.
Not much else happened until a little before 5pm, when Beth had settled the children with her parents and made her way down to London so she could meet up with me either before I came home or - in the worst possible case - had to stay another night! As it happened, though, Doctor James (I can't remember his surname!) came in with the results that I was hoping for - nothing came back on the final blood test, so all I needed was some anti-inflammatories and I could escape once all the letters were signed!
It was. therefore, lovely to sit in St Pancras station with Brennig, Sophie, Ann and Beth, celebrating my release before we all went our separate ways - during the time I was there, I was kept company both in person and on Twitter, with lots of words of support and kindness. It could so easily have been an unpleasant, challenging experience, but in the event, I learned a lot and got a free heart health-check into the bargain!
Thank you if you sent me a message on Facebook, Twitter or on my phone - it's at times like these when one really knows how much one is cared for. Let's just hope it doesn't happen again any time soon!
Posted by james at January 22, 2012 5:30 PM