This post contains rather more personal detail than I am accustomed to disclose. If you are uncomfortable with this, or if you’re having breakfast, you might want to move on. So why am I writing it? I’ll take the peripheral issue first, to give you a flavour of what follows: I have been diagnosed as having COVID-19.
How did it happen? Good question: was I looking the other way?
This is the story so far, but first, this recommendation to all ye of advancing years. Before you go to bed each night, be sure you have two empty coffee mugs on your bedside table..
Without being too specific, at a very inconvenient 3:30am the other morning. I began losing blood. Not a little blood, you understand – no, not ‘little’ at all. When I had committed an estimated leg-full to the drainage system Family Team (self and wife – you’ll encounter a few ‘teams’ in this post) called for an ambulance.
“How much blood?” The call centre operator was very polite. “Two mugs full?”
“Yes, but would you say two mugs full?”
Now, I’ve had similar conversations before and they don’t end well. “A considerable amount,” I repeat.
“Two mugs full?”
“Shall we say two pints?”
“Is that two mugs full?”
The ambulance guys were great. They whisked me briskly to A & E with lots of salty water filling the vacant leg and left me there, gurneyed but unafraid. I should have been afraid. I should have been very…well, you get the point.
At this juncture I was given a COVID-19 test. There was no subterfuge, I was told the elongated cotton bud that was thrust into the back of my throat was a COVID test. It lasted less than two seconds, during which it induced a gag reflex.
I was examined. It was agreed I should be examined more, so, with that in mind, the Admissions Team transferred me to the Surgical Team, and treatment took its course. A 200ml bargain bag of blood later I was told I had tested ‘positive for COVID’.
I cannot begin to tell you how my day was brightened at that point. When, at 74 years old with a heart condition and in the lea of an abdominal hemorrhage you are informed that you have a serious virus, one that is particularly dangerous to the elderly with underlying medical conditions, your smile becomes somewhat forced. In practical terms it meant I was to be instantly transferred to the COVID Team in their Isolation Pod, where I would languish for a subsequent 18 hours ‘under observation’.
My treatment in the hands of the hospital staff was excellent. They were courteous even when I was being difficult. I did not expect them to understand me. I am (I will be kind to myself) of a somewhat ‘driven’ nature.
It wasn’t their fault. They had to leave me, initially in one of two occupied beds in a six-bed ‘ward’, then later in a very cleanable suite of my own, to have that kind of ‘silent fun’ that goes with being a writer, watching and listening as the stories came pouring around me like flooding metaphors, made all the more glorious by the media hype that surrounds COVID.
So, moving seamlessly (almost) to the present tense…
The atmosphere is, shall we say, convivial? Lengthy social gatherings in the corridors, with conversational meat as diverse as last night’s party, or the junior doctor’s forthcoming birthday, interspersed with visitors from the outside, such as the bagman for Pathology, who complains of his twelve and a half hour working day.
Then there is the Corridor Evangelist, upon whose approach all talk is respectfully muted:
“Hast thou tested for haemoglobin, child?”
“Yeth, Doctor, I have.”
“Then blessed be. And his BP, was it worthy?”
“Blessed be. Go thou, and attend the sluice as it has been instructed to you.”
The ‘Loud Nurse’, of whose qualifications I am unsure, fills in those gaps when other activity drops. She is the information database for her ward and a precious component of the entertainment spectrum.
Echoing through the corridor: “She needs the lavatory. Shall we use a commode?”
“You just go in there, dear. I’ll wait outside.”
“Alice, you’d better not use those. No. Alice? NO, ALICE!!”
“His sister’s in Australia, apparently. That’s his wife, she was married to…”
Any unwelcome cessation of noise is filled by bleeps. Machines are everywhere, and they all bleep. The corridors bristle with them so pilotinging a gurney from room to room is a special skill. The porters are clearly ex stunt-drivers. In the silence of the night shift I’ve heard rumours the machines (which are all mobile) slip quietly away to practice formation dance routines in the car park – I don’t know if that’s true.
What about the food? No, I’m not going to be uncomplimentary about the food! It was very good, with the exception of the ‘mushroom soup’ – a form of plasma with harder bits which spoke to me of a past generation: “Darling, if you’d only tasted me in my glory years!” Then a couple of little whimsies, which might be true of any dining situation: who decreed that soft toast should be accompanied by pre-wrapped pats of butter that have been cooled to -80 degrees, at which temperature they become as spreadable as a house brick. And when does a dessert cease to be a dessert? When it’s served in a stupid little plastic container with a rip-off lid!
I’d like to close with an observation that will be offensive to some – although, let’s face it, if I haven’t offended you yet, I probably never can. Four doctors looked after me: in Admissions, a compact, very precise Asian guy, on the wards a doctor from the Sub-Continent, another from the UK, and a Consultant, who was also British. Each had their own distinctive approach, but they had this in common: they were thorough and professional, and what struck me, overwhelmingly, was the way their national differences and characteristics dovetailed, with distinct unique advantages. A true ‘Team‘. We are really very privileged to have them with us.
So here I am. COVID-19 tested and found to be positive. I remain in self-isolation for another five days, and do I feel different? A little headachey, maybe, and a little sore of throat, but there are other issues, too, aren’t there? I’ll try to keep you posted as the week proceeds.
“Do you believe in the sacred supremacy of the COVID, brother?”
If you have any questions concerning this post, please use the ‘Comments’. I’ll do my best to answer.