Some weeks ago, St Thomas’ Hospital kindly invited me to attend for a cataract operation.  However, events conspired to get me there 48 hours early.  Quite unexpectedly, on Saturday 15 February, I woke up with a dreadful tummy ache.  I rang 111 and was given an appointment at a GP Hub in Vauxhall.  A solemn doctor, working over the weekend, told me I probably had appendicitis and should go to A&E immediately.

By lunchtime I was in Urgent Care, submitting myself to the inevitable slow moving assembly line.  Every now and again my name was called and a test was administered.  Bloods were taken, my tummy pushed and prodded by various people. A registrar described my tummy as ‘soft’, apparently a good sign. I asked her how she could possibly have missed my six-pack and she assured me in was in there somewhere. A CT scan followed rendering inside information that apparently, confirmed the diagnosis: a bed would be found and I’d be operated on in the morning (a Sunday). 

I was admitted to an Orthopaedic ward where my colleagues were recovering from complex operations on broken bones.  One man had been blown over a sudden gust of wind and fractured his arm just above the elbow.  Another, with heavily bandaged legs, insisted on having his curtains drawn and kept calling ‘nurse’ when no one was within earshot.  I resisted the temptation to leap out of bed and find a nurse for him. 

I was nil-by-mouth, with various drips going into my arm.  From time to time people, like apparitions, suddenly appeared at my bedside: an anaesthetist who gently explained how I’d be put to sleep, at 3am a black nurse with a shiny face who did an ECG, at 6am another nurse who insisted I should go for a wash and afterwards rewarded me by deftly putting on white surgical stockings using the plastic bag they had arrived in (a welcome example of double-use plastic!). I dressed in one of those gowns that tend to gape open at the back, watched everyone eating their breakfast and waited.  The consultant, Mr Ivan Tomasi, cheerful and charming, looked at my tummy and explained what he’d do using keyhole surgery.  It sounded miraculous. 

Then back to waiting. 

At about lunchtime (a hypothetical concept for me) a nurse told me I was ‘second on the list’. I assumed this probably meant an hour or so.  But the waiting went on.  My wife, expecting that I’d be comatose for most of the afternoon, changed her plans and arrived at 4pm, clutching the Sunday paper. 

Then, at last, at 6.30, they came for me.  ‘They’ were a skinny little porter who was to wheel me in my bed to Theatre 11 (he was so slight that I felt our roles should be reversed and I should be the one pushing the bed!) and an overweight nurse.  I bid farewell to my wife and off we went, through double doors, along corridors, down in a lift labelled ‘For Theatre Use Only’, along more corridors and into the theatre anteroom.  I clambered off my bed and got onto a much narrower trolley and was wrapped in a warm blanket. 

The registrar I’d seen the day before arrived with a bevy of nurses.  The registrar said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news.’ It reminded me of the joke where a doctor says to a patient, ‘Which would you like first, the good news or the bad news?’

‘The good news please.’

‘Well, the good news is that you’ve got 24 hours to live and the bad news is that I should have told you yesterday.’  

 My good news was that they were definitely going to do the operation that evening but that there would be a delay because they needed to do two more blood tests and wait for the results from the lab before proceeding.  Instead of taking me all the way back to the ward they kindly arranged to park me in the recovery ward.  I asked how long I might be waiting (I was learning!) and the answer was, ‘An hour, maybe an hour and a half.’

Lying on my trolley in the recovery room was interesting but increasingly uncomfortable.  The trolley was narrow and my feet dangled over the end.  From behind my curtain I could eavesdrop on people being woken up and asking, ‘Has it been done yet?’  The room was large, full of equipment all on wheels (what would hospitals do without wheels?) and very cold.  After an hour and half a nurse came and very apologetically told me they needed to do one more blood test. I asked if I could please be allowed to get up and walk around and could someone phone my wife to explain the delay and assure her I was still alive.   

It was clearly unusual to have a patient in white surgical stockings, disposable see-through pants, a gown open at the back, and a blanket wrapped round his shoulders, wandering around in the recovery area.  I walked briskly along corridors, stopping occasionally to read notice boards with laudable vision statements and forward looking plans.  Sometimes I met astonished members of staff who clearly thought I must have escaped, either from the recovery room or perhaps from the theatre itself.  They found it hard to believe my reassurances that I had been given permission to wander the seemingly endless corridors.

After an hour of blessed walking, I surrendered myself and was finally wheeled into the theatre anteroom and put to sleep.  Oddly, I have no memory of being in the recovery room I knew so well but was back on the ward at half past midnight. Still groggy, I phoned my wife to discover that no one had told her about the delay.  As far as she was concerned I had gone missing for six hours!   She’d phoned a number of times to be told, ‘He isn’t back yet,’  By midnight my wife was seriously contemplating getting dressed and coming to the hospital to find  me – presumably checking the mortuary first. 

And now I must wait for a new invitation to have my cataracts done. 





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