Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Poo Collapse

Painting 'Henry Ford Hospital' by Frida Kahlo

A Turkish friend was incarcerated in the Homerton Hospital for over a week once. He would grab hold of your sleeve when you visited him and beg you to get him out. ‘Dey vill keel me’, he’d plead. I too came to know that terror. I do not need too much inducement to believe that people who do not seem to know which end of a speculum is up, may very well be capable of involuntary manslaughter.
Homerton Hospital does seem to operate in a kind of vacuum where ‘competency’ is not really a concept that pierces the reality bubble terribly often. In fact, the hospital functions rather like the Warhammer 40,000 Omnissiah with hospital staff as Adeptus Mechanicus. Every process is designed to serve the function of the hospital itself. The arrival of ‘patients’ anywhere in the hospital at any time is treated initially with shock, then a prolonged consternation which is maintained until you, the patient, muster the decency to go away and leave the entity to its mysterious business. The task of the Adeptus Mechanicus is to make hospital life as unattractive as possible to facilitate this end.

You will recall that I was admitted to the Homerton with a bizarre case of constipation, something I have never had before in my life. Within the space of twenty-four delirium-filled hours, my faecal fur-ball which I named Eraserhead reached the size of a grapefruit and no laxative conceived by medical science was going to shift it. It was into the house of horrors for me and onto the conveyor belt for a place in the operating theatre to have it all scraped out. My lower-half seemed to take on a life of its own, crumpling up in regular convulsions, much to the amusement and wonder of the medical staff who had apparently never experienced such a thing before.
Eraserhead was growling away inside me and these convulsions were more or less constant and I was hooked up to a cannula and a catheter and a thisiter and a thatiter, so I found it difficult to, shall we say, groom. This did not go down at all well with nursing staff who left me lying in my own shit for hours and hours only occasionally passing by to sniff in disgust. This was a huge shock as I thought they only did that to old people. If I was a dog in an animal hospital and the RSPCA came and found me in that state, the vet would be hauled off to court for cruelty.

At first, when they told me I was going onto a ‘gastro’ ward, I was quite pleased but it doesn’t mean the same thing in a hospital. In any case, they would not allow me to eat. I also found it very difficult to get into the whole question-and answer routine. Questions to you are really just an interrogation in a rich mix of Medieval and broken English.

‘When did you last pass a stool?’
‘I can’t recall exactly but I do remember several plastic chairs about an hour ago.’

Questions from you are ignored, in any and all languages.

My Turkish friend was asked in hospital if he’d ‘passed water’ and he promptly handed the nurse his plastic drinking cup. Our old friends the Plain English Campaign might like to wield their red pens over some of the archaic terms in the medical canon.

The Homerton is a ‘teaching’ hospital which means every couple of hours a large group of people stand over you and talk to each other as if you were a living cadaver. Invariably one of them will want to poke you in the stomach, (although they will call it ‘tummy’), and listen to the noise your back makes with their stethoscope, presumably because they have seen real doctors do it on ER. I’ve always had a very quiet back – no one’s ever complained it kept them awake – so I don’t know what they hoped to gain from listening to it. In idle moments I flipped through my patient notes to see if I could get some insight into what was going on with my ‘case’ as no one seemed to want to talk to me about it. In lovely curlicue writing was the following
‘Goals – for Noosa to be able to evacuate bowels satisfactorily and to be pain free’ – how sweet!

After three very long days with no food, an alarmingly dishevelled anaesthetist came to visit me to inform me that I had finally been scheduled for theatre but one thing was puzzling him,
'Why have they scheduled you for six o’clock?’ he enquired.
‘It was the only time I could do’, I replied.

Even in Warhammer 40,000 that would have been an odd question and, ultimately superfluous as that slot came and went and I was finally wheeled into theatre just before two in the morning where I gave birth to Eraserhead who is now for sale on eBay. One thing that is a relief – you may recall my fears about the NHS’s insidious database. Well, I was asked for my personal details at least five times and, on not one occasion did anyone who came looking for me ever find me without extreme difficulty. The NHS may be collecting vast screeds of data on us all, but rest assured, it has not the tiniest capacity for making any use of it whatever. So relax.

Next time – I’m not going to promise tomorrow because I might not feel up to it – hi-jinks in the next bed!


Reading the Signs said...

Painfully funny because it's so spot-on accurate. The state of affairs in NHS hospitals, and the appalling care suffered by old people in this country, is a crying shame.

Glad to hear eraserhead (at least it wasn't the alien) was delivered. Good wishes for the healing process and I look forward to the high jinks.

That's so pants said...

Hi signs - Yes. It's one thing to know about this in abstract but quite another to experience it. You wonder what medical staff are taught. Is it something like -'these may look just like humans but in fact are merely commodities in our business. You must treat them as you would a can of soup.'

kris said...

Christ save us!!

and now Ms B is going through a similar experience.

That's so pants said...

Yes - The Homerton's tentacles of death reach far.

Meredith said...

You poor thing. Putting such a brave and funny face on a horrible experience. I wonder how much you'll get for Eraserhead? It might make a nice pet.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Pants, it sounds like a bloody nightmare. Reminds me of a stint spent in hospital in Manchester where I was suffering my third miscarriage and was treated like a malfunctioning brood mare by some very overworked student nurses. Bloody awful. Patients do get in the way of systems. They want to talk to the nurse who is fiddling around in their pants and they want to ask questions about their treatment. It inconveniences the system. You have my full sympathy, as do the stressed, overworked and undervalued nurses who are expected to run wards without any slack in the system at all. I'm glad you are back in the land of the living. I miss you when you have a rest from us all.

swimmer6foot4 said...

The hospital admissions unit informed me that I "had to" inform them of my ethnic origin. When I told them I didn't "have to" do anything of the sort, my medical notes got splattered with references to me refusing to co-operate and answer their questions. Let's hope they lose your medical records very soon.

Have you thought about donating Eraserhead to the remnants of the Labour Party?

China Blue said...

Hi, I found you via Dave Hill. Great post, very funny.

Sorry to hear you had such a, er, shit time. Hospitals really are the last place you want to go when sick.