Tuesday morning, the phone goes at eight thirty – the Hospital: Mr Boyer you are due in for your hip replacement at 12.30 today, can you come in early?
Um………. Yes, when were you thinking I ask………. Can you come now they say.
Oh bollocks, I’d been psyching myself up for my midday appointment, but what the hell, let’s get this done. Sure I say, but it is going to take me a good hour and a half, ten am is that ok.
Yes, we will see you then.
The calm pre-op hours I had imagined turn to panic as I rush to get to the hospital. I have done none of the things I had intended to do that morning, my room is a tip, clothes are scattered everywhere and the whole place is a mess. I chuck a few things in a carrier bag and call a cab.
By ten thirty a.m. I am sitting on a hospital bed wearing regulation issue underpants that remind me of the string netting that a joint of meat destined for the oven is supplied in.
The nurse hands me two hospital gowns, one to be worn back to front and tied behind, the other worn the opposite way round, I am convinced that I look like my dear old mother back in the day in one of her voluminous flannelette nighties. This is confirmed when the nurse gives me a hairnet to complete the look.
Thinking ahead I had decided to shave off my beard and moustache, it seemed a cleaner way to approach the op. This unfortunately resulted in the overuse of an old and blunt razor blade, several wounds, a fair amount of blood & a red rash covering most of the previous hirsute areas. To complete the ensemble I am toothless, my paid for top notch implants still sitting in a Dentists drawer in India due to Covid travel restrictions. For the op my‘temporary’ denture has to stay out. I am not looking my best.
OK says the nurse we will take you off to surgery now. You need to get under the covers.
I’m really hot I say to the nurse, can’t I just lie on the bed.
No she says, your wherewithalls she gestures towards my middle area, I crank my head and get a glimpse of my gown insecurely tied and the net pants beneath. OK I see what you mean.
The nurse and an orderly begin to wheel my bed out of the ward and along corridors, then into a lift, two floors later as we exit I notice the direction signs on a wall, Chapel, A&E, MORTUARY. We keep heading towards the Mortuary. Is this a sign in more than one sense of the word?
Now when I am stressed I have this tendency to divert my fear/angst/sheer panic by being silly. This can manifest itself in various ways, unecessary flirting with nurses or general stupidity of various types in hospital being but two.
On this occasion I decided it would be really funny as I was on a trolley being wheeled towards the mortuary to pull the bedsheet over my head and remain motionless, then without warning when I heard voices coming the other way sit bolt upright and shout Boo!
The nurse was not amused and for the rest of the trip I decided it was best to remain quiet,
We arrive at the operating theatres and I pass doors marked cardiac- osteo- emergency, it is getting serious. Wheeled into a prep room an elderly-ish gent introduces himself as my anesthetist
I’ve already agreed to an epidural rather than a general anesthetic, but he goes over the options once again. I notice he is quite out of breath, and distinctly overweight, there are little beads of perspiration on his forehead.
He looks I imagine as worthy as me of being a patient in hospital. He holds up a large needle, this is for the epidural he tells me, it will numb any feeling in your spine and legs beneath the injection.
Be Jesus its a fucking monster of a thing, that’s gonna hurt I think.
He speaks to an assistant in an Indian language, Gujarati I think, there’s a bit of an Indian operations team for my procedure, I understand nothing of what he says except for one word Fentanyl. My ears prick up, It’s fentanyl I ask?
He replies affirmatively. Now from what I can remember I believe fentanyl started off as a horse tranquilliser in the States, was then found to be a very strong pain killer and used as a go to in the medical profession. It was eventually taken up by addicts across the USA.
I was being doped up on horse tranquilliser, well there’s a thing.
The anaethestist then explains before the fentanyl I’d have another pain killer, an injection to numb my spine before the big injection. A pain killer before the pain killer, the little absurdity doesn’t escape me…………….
I am asked to sit upright, curve my spine just a little and under no circumstances to move. He needn’t have worried, I want no mishaps with needles going into my spine.
Finally I am given a third drug, which I’m told will mean I am conscious but blissfully unaware of what’s happening. Sounds good to me.
Ten minutes later after prodding and confirmation that I have no feeling below my belly I am wheeled into the operating theatre, moved onto the operating table and manoeuvred onto my side, bolted into some kind of stirrups and clamp apparatus not unlike one I came across in a Frankfurt Club ( but that’s a story for another time ). I hear the Surgeon talking and the clank of surgical instruments and a sound that I am convinced is him making the first incision into my hip.
The next thing I remember is waking up with the podgy face of the anesthetist right next to mine, he’s speaking me in English, but its like he’s on mute, his lips are moving but I can’t hear him speaking. I have no idea that two hours have passed since I went on the table, my first sensation is of having a serious case of the munchies, like I’ve been smoking a lot of weed and now need a sugar hit.
I ask the anesthetist for a cup of chai* and some natas*.
As this is not within his remit my appeal goes unanswered.
Only much later and on reflection did I wonder at the human mind in general and mine in specific, what is the most important thing after fairly major surgery, not the joy at being alive, of making it through? No, nothing like that at all, the most important thing in the world was a cup of tea and a cake.
I am put back on the bed and wheeled into a post op observation area, one bed opposite me has a lady who has also just come out of surgery. She is furiously scratching her fanny area under the bedcovers and grimacing, what the hell is that all about I wonder. My god I dread to think what she’s got.
Then I start scratching, I feel like I’ve got lice or that some joker has tipped a load of itching powder down my undies. I am told the scratching is a symptom associated with the meds, that it will pass.
There I lie for an hour, plugged into monitors scratching myself until I am taken back to the ward, tracing the route in reverse (and not stopping at the mortuary).
Back on the ward I am plugged back into the monitors, my legs are wrapped in rubber bellow things that I am told help to prevent blood clots. I text my son to let him know I’m ok & then I start to think about food. I’ve not eaten or drank anything since yesterday. Oh my God, what if I missed dinner?
I needn’t have worried, dinner comes, it’s amazingly edible, I scoff it all.
This is a new wing to the hospital opened for eight months. Wifi throughout, each bed has a large TV monitor with web and apps. Only thing is that the hospital wifi doesn’t reach this far & the monitors haven’t been connected. Why spend all that money and then at the last stage not connect it all up? Im bored without anything to do, maybe I’m buzzing after the drugs, but I feel wide awake and spend most of the night listening to music on my iPhone.
At three a.m. I decide I need a dump. I either buzz a nurse to come and help me which to be honest I can’t face or I try to make it to the toilet on crutches. I go for the crutches.
I very carefully make my way to the toilet and for a bloke just out of surgery poop with the deftness and skill of an olympic gymnast.
Ablutions completed I return to bed, smug, self satisfied & empty of bowel.
Early morning Rebecca the nurse is doing her rounds, she is a young Norf. London sort of woman & very sweet. She asks how my night was, I rather proudly relate my pooping experience in the night expecting to be congratulated. Instead she rather gravely says that now I have told her this she will have to report it, I was not supposed to leave my bed and the Doctor will have to be informed. She says she is sorry.
At eight a.m. the Surgeon who did my op arrives at my bedside, Mr. Boyer I am told you were walking in the night? Oh shit I’m in trouble, word gets round here quick………..
I explain, he says it’s fine, he’s glad to hear I am doing well. He then starts to prod my foot, ask questions and then pokes me with his pen. Can you feel this, and this and this? To each subsequent prod I reply yes, ah he says that’s good, I was a little concerned yesterday. Your nerve was a bit short I was worried you might lose feeling in the leg.
I am relieved I did not.
After a check up the Doc says well, you seem to be progressing excellently, we will get some X-rays, review them and if he’s happy then I can be released today. After a physio appointment.
The physio team duly arrive after brekkie ( two pieces of toast and a tub of something that claims to be marmalade but I suspect is gelatine with some orange colouring, that and a cup of tea that tastes like gnats piss ). The physios wheel me to another part of the hospital with a staircase and check how I climb, duly satisfied they return me to the ward.
Then I wait six hours for an x-ray. I am wheeled once again along corridors to the xray department. There is a queue and I’m parked up in the corridor. In front of me is an ancient lady all skin and bone motionless on her trolley. It feels like I am glimpsing oblivion, I feel for the old lady lying there and then think of the one true leveller, none of us in the end is getting out of here alive.
Eventually in the X ray suite its a bit of a party atmosphere, its nearing the end of the day and there are half a dozen people behind the glass panelled office, orderlies, nurses, technicians, gossiping, chatting. My radiologist explains that they need a side X ray so I will need to be turned 90 degrees. Also my good leg needs to be lifted out of the way of the camera, can I move it slightly? I lift my good leg up vertically to the requested 90%. There are gasps from behind the glass and the Radiologist remarks that its amazing, he wished all patients were so easy. This mystifies me somewhat, ok so I have one leg that works, but the other let’s be honest is totally bolloxed. It’s a bit like having a bike with one good wheel and one that’s totally screwed, the bike isn’t going anywhere soon.
X rays completed its back to the ward, then the wait for discharge.
A while later Nurse Rebecca comes. Your wife is here to collect you.
Your wife is waiting here to collect you.
I did hear her correctly.
No I say, there’s some sort of mistake, there is no wife coming to collect me.
Oh no says Rebecca, your wife is waiting to collect you, she called before. She’s waiting outside.
My brain ticks over, firstly whilst once married I am certainly not currently so, and anyway its not as if my ex. features at all in my life these days, why would she suddenly turn up?
For a moment I wonder, she did have a habit of doing things I never expected?
I dismiss the idea, no nurse, its defintiely not me. Theres some kind of mistake.
A little later she returns, you were right she says, it wasn’t your wife.
My discharge papers arrive, despite being told my stay was likely to be 3-4 days I am out in one.I pack my carrier bag, my new meds, my elasticated socks, spare wound dressings & say goodbye to my ward mates, I thank the nurses and swing out on my crutches as fast as my new hip will let me into the fresh air of North London.
My veins are still flowing with pain killers and fentanyl & opioids – I get a cab and make it home in twenty minutes. The sheer happiness of freedom and let’s be honest the drugs power me along.
And let’s not even think about tomorrow because then I am going to wake up feeling like I have been in a car crash, but all that is yet to come, and right now I am free and it’s a rather fucking wonderful thing to be free.
- Chai – sweet Indian Tea
- Natas – Portuguese custard tart