Total Obstruction Part 3: The NHS Weekend

After Wednesday’s surgery, and two torrid days in HDU, by Saturday morning, I was in a standard hospital ward.  Well it wasn’t quite as standard as I was expecting.  For starters, I was in my own room.  No – I hadn’t gone private overnight.  Who knows why: Perhaps because it was the first bed available.  Perhaps because I was recovering from major surgery.  Perhaps because, as I’d later discover, I was the youngest patient there by at least 30 years.  Whatever the reason, I was grateful for the relative peace and proceeded to take advantage by sleeping as much as I could.

As it was the weekend, quite a few visitors started to trickle in – family and friends who seemed to care about me more than I thought I deserved, but once they arrived, I was most grateful to see them.  Everyone wanted to bring food, which I had to refuse, as by that point, I couldn’t stomach much beyond some little fortified protein shakes.  Failing that, entertainment was the focus.  Surely I must be bored!  I was offered books, newspapers, crosswords, headphones and extra long phone cables.  But again, I politely reassured everyone that I wasn’t at all bored.  I just wasn’t well enough.  I remember my mother saying this when in hospital with the same cancer I have now.  I even put the phrase in a song.  But now I really knew what it meant.

Perhaps I’d also had enough ‘entertainment’ in the form of morphine dreams and hallucinations.  Depending on how much of this controlled substance I’d self-administered, I had the dubious pleasure of experiencing a strange, disconcerting alternative reality.  All I had to do was close my eyes, and I found strange moving images and scenes projected onto the inside of my eyelids, accompanied by feelings of motion in all directions.  Literally imagine having your worst nightmares available whenever you forget to keep your eyes fixed on the ceiling of a small hospital side room.

As I gradually recovered from the surgery and pain became more manageable, I began to wean myself off the morphine button.  But there was still one significant problem. My guts weren’t at all recovered and as I proceeded to sip the protein shakes, my distended bowels began to protest with pain just like I’d experienced before surgery.  Eating was such hard, painstaking work and became my main job.  As I consumed more and more throughout the day, the pain increased and the morphine dreams felt like a more attractive option.  So I hit the button and kept complaining to the nurses who dutifully and repeatedly contacted the one junior doctor on duty as this was the weekend.  By late evening, something was prescribed to get my digestive system moving and after midnight, the pain subsided a bit and I slept a deep morphine aided sleep.

This process was repeated on Sunday – pretty much exactly.  Again, the doctor was contacted a number of times but no remedies were forthcoming and I just had to manage the pain as the day wore on.  I would later find out that this issue is common in the first three to four days after bowel surgery.  But no one told me – I can only presume that they didn’t have the time or the knowledge of my specific case to let me know I wasn’t now in the kind of trouble that had provoked emergency surgery.  And that is just one example of an NHS hospital at the weekend.  The focus noticeably shifts from healing the sick to keeping them alive and hopefully comfortable. Then the working week arrives with visits from consultants, pain specialists, physios and nutritionists who have a plan of action and can shed proper light on what’s actually going on.

But over the weekend, there wasn’t even anyone on hand to hold the various tubes attracted to me to help me walk a few steps.  So I couldn’t progress from the dozen steps I’d taken in HDU and the best I could manage was a short period sat in a chair by the hospital bed.

If anyone reading this falls ill, I strongly advise you to choose a Monday, so you have a chance of fixing whatever’s wrong by the Friday.  A few years ago, Jeremy Hunt went to war with junior doctors so they could sacrifice their quality of life to at least provide something.  However, the weekend problem is far from solved.

Once Monday arrived, things started to get better.  More on that next…