Freezing Winds, Changing Living Arrangements and Speaking In
Moving out of intensive care was more that just being taken to a different part of the hospital, it was a wordless statement that despite the trauma I had gone through during the surgery, my general condition was improving.
This did mean however that from now on I would be dealt with by a whole new team and given how much time I had spent with the intensive care staff and how well they had taken care of me, I was a tad nervous about moving.
A Breath Of Fresh Air
My sense of time during the stay in intensive care was not quite as reliable as I would have liked and given the years that have passed since then, my memories of what happened during that period have a continuity similar to the X-Men movies (all over the place).
So, while I believe that what I’m about to talk about happened the evening before I was moved from intensive care, it is entirely possible that it was a week earlier.
I remember the new snow I saw falling outside my hospital room window, it was actually the first thing I posted about on Facebook after the amputation, much to the surprise and amusement of some of my friends.
However, beautiful as those glittering flakes were to my tired eyes, they also served to highlight the fact that on my side of the glass I was trapped in a tiny, stuffy room which was about at comfortable as a sauna in the Mediterranean . I had asked for an open window but my nurses insisted that letting icy winds into the ICU was not a good idea.
Slowly but surely I became almost unreasonably upset that I hadn’t been outside for over two weeks.
Now, building up a strong, positive relationship with your nurses can come in very handy. A couple of them had realised that I was suffering very badly from cabin fever and, unknown to me, hatched A PLAN.
One evening (possibly the one before I was moved to a new ward) these two nurses came into my room with grins that did very little to hide the fact they were about to act out their plot.
During my time in ICU my parents had refused to leave me alone, with one or the other of them constantly being at my bedside. Seeing as they were staying even through the nights the nurses decided to get them a rather fancy chair that converted into a bed (a full bed, not just a slightly reclined chair).
They asked me to move across to this chair and wrapped me up in all of the free blankets they could find.
Then they wheeled me out out of my room, one pushing and the other moving the trolley holding all the machines that were attached to my neck and arms.
Down the corridor I flew, past surprised and slightly suspicious medical staff. We took the lift down to the ground floor and then through the foyer of the hotel to which the hospital is attached.
Some of the hotel staff came along to help open a pair of fire doors (the regular entrance was a revolving door which would have made for a sketch that could have been written by the Monty Python team).
We made it outside and I got my first ever breath of fresh air as an amputee.
It was icy and sharp and quite possibly the most extraordinary respiratory experience of my life.
Never before, nor since, has oxygen filling my lungs felt that good.
(This feels like a good time to mention that there are very few photos from these first few weeks. I don’t know why, I mean it’s not like my parents had anything else to think about at the time, did they?)
Where there is not a photo available, I shall be providing hyper realistic sketches to represent specific moments from my time in hospital.
Of course, as a patient recovering from heart surgery, minus fifteen degrees wasn’t the ideal temperature to be subjected to for any considerable period of time but just a few minutes was enough to remind me that there was life outside the world of stale, filtered, room temperature hospital air.
You have to remember, I was raised in the bracing Scottish Highlands.
I have noticed and been absolutely thrilled that I’ve been receiving views from many countries around the world.
So, not wanting to patronise anybody but rather simply being aware that some reading this may not know the slang I’ll give you a definition.
Digs – Slang for home/lodgings/place of residence. Short form of the word “diggings”, referring to the land where a farmer works (digs) and by extension, lives.
So, early one morning two very serious looking men came into the ICU and after a brief discussion with my nurses, I was handed over.
They slowly and carefully navigated my bed, along with me and the bits and pieces attached to me, along the hallway and into a lift to the floor below.
I recall only one exchange of words during that trip between the wards and that was me querying if my parents would be able to stay in the room with me overnight. A very doubtful answer from one of them made me wish that I was staying in ICU.
Eventually we entered a large ward where I was expecting to take up residence but instead they turned and took me through a side door, one which required someone to open it from the inside.
We passed through and it was like I was suddenly in a whole different building.
In this area there were only eight rooms, entered by their own private airlocks and far posher than any I had occupied previously.
Once in my new accommodations I waited for one of my new nurses to come in and have a chat.
I didn’t have to wait too long and soon one of the men who had brought me along to the ward entered my room, looking far more cheerful than previously..
He asked how I was doing and introduced himself (I’m going to use names now to avoid confusion but they aren’t their real names) as “Kevin”.
We discussed all that had gone on with me and when I again asked about my parents being allowed to stay in the room he was far more positive about the idea but stressed that it was important for me to get proper sleep so that if they did stay over, they must let me rest.
Over that evening and the next couple of days the rest of the staff came in to introduce themselves and talk about how I was doing and what had happened over the last few weeks.
Expanding My Vocabulary
This little ward which was set aside from pretty much everything else in the hospital was know as The Heart Transplant Pod (or just “The Pod” for short). As the name suggests, it was generally reserved for people waiting for or recovering from a heart transplant and at the stage where they needed constant medical care.
I was here because the complexity of my situation dictated extra attention (some things never change) to that required by most post heart surgery patients but not so much that I should be kept in intensive care.
There was a very small and tight team working this unit, twelve hour shifts on rotation of eight per shift, one nurse to each room. Plus visiting doctors and auxiliaries.
This meant that very quickly I met and became friendly with all of the people working there.
One of the members of staff, an auxiliary nurse called, let’s say “Mary”, made herself memorable from the very first meeting.
I actually didn’t see her first but instead heard her from the next room, hurling a torrent of the most colourful and explicit language at the poor lad staying there.
Once she was finished up next door I heard the squeak of a trolley leaving that room and slowly making its way towards my own door. It did cross my mind to press the emergency button and fake having chest pains just to avoid her but it was too late.
Into my room she shuffled, a five foot three, hard as nails, pure bread Glaswegian collection of swear words and insults in the shape of an elderly human woman.
She pulled her trolley alongside my bed and with her eyes burning deep into my soul uttered the phrase that would light the spark of my ever growing respect…
“Get a wash and I’ll change yer sheets, ya smelly fellow”.
Except she didn’t call me “fellow” and to keep this blog PC I’ve had to miss out about half of the actual sentence.
After a first couple of encounters with Mary, during which I kept my mouth shut and if possible pretended to be asleep, I started to improve my sparring skills and although I could never ever hope to mimic her vocabulary and phrase weaving abilities (not that I’m sure I’d want to), I like to think that the respect became a mutual one.
- Enjoy the fresh air as much as you can.
I am trying to be symbolic with the term “fresh air” but also take it literally if it applies to you, it did to me after all.
I think it’s easy to look at what we have around us and even if we do appreciate it, we can still find it hard to understand just how much it means to us.
Without having something taken away it’s almost impossible to know how much you’ll miss it and consequently, how much joy you’ll get from having it back again.
I’ve been brought up in a place where the air is very fresh and cool and in the winter time I often open the back door and take a lung full of the icy winds blowing down from the hills.
Not having it in that hospital room made me miss it but getting it back, even just for a moment outside, made me realise how much I love it.
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I know there is a box for name and email but you don’t actually have to fill these out to leave a comment.
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Thanks, as always, for all the support.
Stay safe and be excellent to each other.