“It's so important that people know there was a time before the NHS. It makes them appreciate it more.”
The pre-op lounge at the hospital is not dissimilar to an airport check-in. Although there is alas no free bar and peanuts for those who undergo frequent surgery. I show my appointment letter to the nice lady behind the reception desk and I’m checked-in on the computer system. Tori and I are directed to the waiting area. The room is filled with pairs of anxious looking faces and overnight bags stuffed full with dressing gowns and slippers. After a relatively short wait I’m summoned behind the curtain into the examination area for a few quick pre-op checks, a cannula installation and a quick change into a rather fetching little arseless number that I’m reliably informed is all the rage down in theatre.
My surgeon it turns out is none other than Mr. Campbell himself. Jolly good of him to come in to work between Christmas and New Year, I always like to take a bit of a holiday myself, but perhaps he’s got his in-laws staying for the week and needs a bit of a break from them. “Right kidney isn’t it?” confirms Mr. Campbell as he makes his way around the curtain. “Yes, indeed”, I corroborate. Mr. Campbell promptly produces a black felt tip marker pen, lifts up my gown and scribes a large friendly “X” on my right-hand side. “Just to make sure we get the right right kidney”, he reassures me. “Oh, why, do you sometimes get the wrong one?” I enquire. “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time”, he says with a wry smile on his face. I’m unable to determine if he is joking or being serious so I opt not to question him further on the subject.
“Where are your slippers?” demands the tetchy old nurse as I’m ready to head off to theatre. “Erm?”, I start. “Your appointment letter should have clearly stated that you need to bring your own slippers”. I explain that I didn’t realise I would require slippers. “You’re not allowed to walk into theatre in your socks in case you slip”, the nurse clarifies, “You’ll have to slip your shoes back on until you get in there”. Feeling like I had turned up to a school PE lesson without the proper kit I slip my feet back into my muddy boots and walk into the sterile operating theatre following Mr. Campbell and tugging at the ties of my gown behind me to avoid baring too much arse to the slipper obsessed nurse as I leave.
Once in the theatre I kick off my boots and mount the operating table. I say table, it is more a sort of large trolley with a cushioned base full of warm water. Very comfy. The anaesthetist inserts his syringe into my cannula and instructs me to count backwards from ten. “Ten”, I think to myself “…Nine”, actually is ten enough? It doesn’t take long to count down from ten and I’m still feeling wide awake, “… Eight…”.
There is no seven.
I appear to be on the seafront at Southend-on-Sea talking to a large penguin. There is no pain, only a slight receding confusion. The infinite improbability drive gradually fades to normality and Southend-on-Sea turns out to be a new ward in Salisbury General and on closer inspection, the penguin is actually my wife. As lucidity returns I am able to question what has happened.
It turns out that the operation lasted five and a half hours, longer than anticipated. All went well except that a bit of the tumour had outgrown the kidney and had become resolutely attached to my liver. A certain amount of scraping was required to persuade that bit of the tumour to part company with my liver and a hepatologist was called for to cast his eye over that part of the proceedings. I’m all trussed up now though like a Sunday roast and feeling fine. I’m feeling extremely fine come to think of it since I’ve had several holes gouged into my tummy and had my entrails fiddled about with for over five hours. I do however notice when I glance down that I have been refitted with my old friend the catheter. A much comfier model than the last one I sported, in fact I didn’t even realise that it had been installed until I spotted the tell-tale external plumbing pipes dangling over the side of the bed. Tori has been hanging around the hospital all day and it’s getting late now, so after being plied with fresh painkillers and reassured all is well I’m left for the night where I fall into another long and perplexed slumber.
I’m awoken the next morning by a very cheery nurse who instructs me to get out of my bed and sit in the nice comfy chair beside my bed. No one else in the ward has been evicted from their beds so I’m not sure why she is quite so insistent that I should have a go into the comfy chair. Besides, Tori will probably be back soon and she’ll want the chair. My nurse is however quite adamant that I need to vacate my bed. I start to sit upright and am hit by an incredible wave of pain in my stomach muscles. “Actually, I might just stay here”, I suggest to the nurse “No, you need to get up so I can change your bed”, the nurse continues to contend in a friendly but strict manner. With slow deliberate moves each accompanied by fits of utter agony I gradually sit up, slide my legs tentatively out of the bed, cautiously hoist myself upright and eventually lower myself down into the waiting chair. The pain is excruciating as I sit motionless in the chair waiting for the torture to subside. “Well done”, says the nurse, “I know it hurts a bit the first time, but its worse if you don’t do it.” It was quite worse enough for me. The pain does eventually recede and after an hour or so I’m allowed back into my bed, vacating my chair just in time for Tori’s arrival.
The pain is constant, but quite tolerable, today it seems is all about taking it easy, hopefully getting my catheter removed and, all being well, getting ready to go home tomorrow.
I haven’t really got to know my new inmates in this ward. I don’t suppose there’s much point now, I’ll be going home tomorrow. However, as I’m still here for now I’ll attempt to introduce you, but I’m afraid I don’t know their names. The chap in the bed directly opposite me has certainly not lost his appetite whilst being in hospital. My operation has pretty much drained my hunger and the best I can do is to push my food about the plate in a pathetic attempt to show some interest in what the kitchen have rustled up before they come and take it away again. The chap opposite however has wolfed down every meal (and there have been a lot), placed in front of him. I wonder if he would like mine too or if he would consider it rude if I offered. On reflection I best just leave him to scrape the last few morsels of jam roly-poly and custard out of his bowl and keep quiet.
The chap in bed next to me appears to be allergic to pyjamas. He just lies atop his bedsheets in his skimpy shreddies, proud as you like. Fortunately for Tori’s sake he tends to keep the curtains drawn around his bed most of the time so we don’t have to endure his bounteous exposed flesh too often. His wife has been in there with him pretty much the whole time too, presumably she is now impervious to the disagreeable sight of her partner. A sudden thought strikes me, I hope they don’t allow conjugal visits in this ward. I think the wife must have also worked at the hospital at some point as all of the nurses seem to know her and spend some time gossiping behind the curtain with her, she never seems to get kicked out either.
When the nurse eventually finishes nattering to my new neigbours wife she makes her way around the curtain and mercifully informs me that my discharge is on course for tomorrow morning. They plan to remove my catheter first thing in the morning and send me on my merry way. Even though I wont get out until New Years Eve Tori can do all the party preparations so there’s no need to cancel. Tori rings our party guests and lets them know that I’m doing OK and the New Years Eve party is still on for tomorrow night.