Strap yourselves in, this is a long one.
It’s the day after the night before; the projectile vomiting has ceased but everything now is a bit of a blur. There seems to be a never-ending line of consultants, usually accompanied by a bevy of medical students, queueing up outside my room, each of whom comes in, pokes, prods and questions me, before telling me they’ll be putting in a request for a CT scan, or an X-ray, or some other procedure, to be done. I am too muggy to seek clarification for the most part.
There are two things which I do know by now; firstly, one of the consultants tells me that one of my test results has shown that my kidneys are “bone-dry”. As such, I am placed on a liquid only diet (by which they sadly mean water), and a rehydrating drip is inserted into my left hand. Shortly afterward, my hand has swollen up, and I am reminded of Alan Partridge in the ‘difficult years’ (before he “Bounced Back” ™, when he had a breakdown, put on loads of weight, drove to Dundee in his bare feet, chomping on numerous Toblerones:
…whilst also finding gainful employment hosting “Police! Stop!” sell-through type videos:
But I digress: the other thing I know is that I am going to be here for a while. The day before, when I was still on the first ward, I was informed that they wanted to do skin biopsies, three in total: one on my inner leg, one on my stomach, one on my back.
I have only ever heard the term “biopsy” being mentioned in relation to cancer, and I am suddenly terrified. The nursing staff put my mind at rest; there is presently no thought that I have skin (or any other type of) cancer (Yes, I noticed the inclusion of the clause “presently” into their assurances too); rather there are many different variations of psoriasis, and my skin is showing at least three different types, so they just want to clarify precisely what it is they are dealing with here.
The biopsies are done on the ward, under local anaesthetic, a small scalpel incision to each site, duly sutured up. I ask the chap performing the task whether the stitches will dissolve or not; they won’t, and will need to be removed in 14 days.
“So, do I just go to my GP to have that done,” I ask, “or do I need to come back here?”
He looks at me a little oddly.
“You’ll probably still be here when they need to come out.”
Two weeks! I really need to source a phone charger, I decide.
Now, in what seems a rare moment of undisturbed bliss, I decide to check my phone. As I have forgotten to bring a charger, I have elected to keep it turned off to conserve the battery, until a charger has been sourced. I have asked every nurse, consultant, and student who comes anywhere near me if they can find one I can borrow, but one is as yet to materialise.
I have a few text messages, some from friends but mostly from my mother, enquiring, with gradually increasing alarm, as to my well-being; a few missed calls, all from my mother; and one voicemail, also from my mother. The message is just this: “Where are you?”, and I deduce from her anguished tone contacting her should be pretty high on my list of priorities.
Up until now, bar the phone call to tell them I had been summoned back to hospital, and a text to tell them I’d arrived, pretty much all that my folks know is based on a text exchange on the night I was admitted, which reads:
Me: “Not as concerned as they were, but being kept in overnight. Catheter fitted.”
Mother: “Do you mean a cannula?”
Me: “No, A catheter.”
Trust me, by then I knew the difference. (A cannula is a drip inserted into your arm. A catheter most definitely is not.)
But what to say? I genuinely have very little idea what is going on, and as it stands all I can say is that I’ve moved wards, now have my own room, and will have for the foreseeable future.
I ask one of the nurses, Jess, if she would mind speaking to my mother, and fill her in on my situation. Not a problem, says Jess. And so I call home, but instead of speaking to my mother first and explaining what is about to happen, I hand the phone to Jess, who introduces herself and explains that all is going as well as can be expected.
It doesn’t occur to me until she hands me the phone back that I have not played this well.
What I think I have done is this: rather than provide a rather rambling, befuddled account of the past 24 hours or so, I have responsibly provided a degree of clarity from one of my carers.
What I’ve actually done is this: after hours of no contact at all, and where all my parents know is that I have been instructed to get to hospital as a matter of urgency, for reasons unknown, I have forced my mother into an unintroduced conversation with a hospital representative, who is calling her from my phone. They must have thought the worst had happened. (Sorry!)
My folks tell me they will be down to visit as soon as possible, within the next day or so. They ask if there’s anything I want them to bring; I suggest a phone charger might be an idea, a dressing gown would be nice, but not to bother with any food as I am on liquids only. I dutifully promise to stay in touch as much as I can.
And so, for the next day or so, a daily routine entrenches itself in my life. I am woken at around 6am, when blood pressure and blood tests are done and I am administered with my medication. At some point, twice a day, ointment is applied to my skin. Occasionally, a porter is summoned and I am wheeled off to be scanned or X-rayed for something or other, generally I know not what.
I spend a lot of time sleeping, but it’s the kind of sleep where I’m just sort of bubbling under the surface. Often I will drift off when there is a nurse in the room, and as he or she busies themselves with their checks and tasks, I mutter garbled nonsense at them. Occasionally, one will reply loud enough to wake me with a start, and I feel a little embarrased, enquiring what it was that I’d said.
It’s about time we had a tune:
The Romantics – Talking In Your Sleep
I think we need to back up a little bit there. Yes, you did spot it, and no, I’m not going to let it slide: I did just mention that ointment has to be applied to my skin twice a day. All of it. Little Jez included.
And every day, when it happens, for reasons which will become obvious, I am reminded of a scene from Dennis Potter’s 1980s BBC drama series The Singing Detective.
Sadly, I am unable to locate any clips of the (infinitely superior) original BBC production online to post, but there was a (nowhere near as good) Hollywood remake, and so here’s the relevant scene. Please substitute Robert Downey Jr. for Michael Gambon as the bed-ridden (due to a much more extreme case of psoriasis then I had) Philip E. Marlow, and Katie Holmes with Joanna Whalley-Kilmer as the foxy nurse. You’ll get the gist, I think:
Much as the nurse tried to make the whole procedure seem as normal and unembarrasing as possible, occasionally the application is punctuated by her saying “And now I’m just going to touch your testicles”, which frankly didn’t help one little bit.
And so to some songs which, once again, will now be ruined by association, ranging from the very obvious:
Frankie Valli – Grease
…to the less so:
Motorhead & Girlschool – Please Don’t Touch
All of this would have been fine, had the rubber-gloved nurse, as I tried to avoid eye-contact, not been singing this*, whilst rubbing the oozing goo into into my every crevice:
Morrissey – The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
(*I’m kidding, of course she didn’t.)
Sunday afternoon. It’s lube-time in my room. I am laid on my back, stripped naked, legs akimbo, as the nurse applies the ointment.
She engages in some non-testicular conversation:
“Did you say you parents were coming to visit? When do you think they’ll be here?”
“Literally any moment now.”
At which point, right on cue, the door opens and my parents walk in.
I turn my head (Stop it!) towards them and say: “Can you give us a minute please?”
They hurriedly exit and close the door.
Moments later, my lubrication ablutions completed, they return.
As they sit and get comfortable, before even a hello is uttered, my father says: “Do you remember The Singing Detective?”