I’m usually inspired to write my blog by something I can share that might be useful to others. The past few weeks have been rather sombre in tone so this blog reflects that. In life there are usually some positives to cheer us along and this month that still held true; a walk in the local woods was a particular highlight.
However, news of friends who are unwell, and worse, have filtered to my ears at the rate of several per week, or at least it feels like that. One Friday morning, my husband returned unexpectedly from his early morning walk to the station. On hearing his key in the lock, I immediately rose from my warm bed. Leaning over the stair case I saw he was ashen faced and breathless, doubled over and clearly in considerable pain, my first thought was It’s a heart attack.
A trip to to A & E ensued (emergency room for those not familiar). The day had begun began at 5:30 am and transpired to be a strange ‘Ground Hog’ of a day. Waiting, waiting, waiting and waiting, punctuated by snippets of diagnostic information, my husband was told he should be transferred to another hospital with a more suitable unit. The seamless hours slipped by reminding me of a long haul flight, with the in-flight entertainment replaced by a backdrop of anxiety.
Husband, it turned out, had a kidney stone. Apparently it’s common in middle aged men, who have probably been dehydrated through the summer months, to shed “a stone” – like an Autumn conker falling from a Chestnut tree. The pain of his body contracting to expel the 4mm stone was unbearable; in the end he gulped down a phial of liquid morphine and promptly fell into a merciful sleep.
Perched on a grey moulded plastic chair, shifting to find a nonexistent comfortable position, my adrenalin eventually subsided and in flowed my awareness. I was exhausted from the shock at husband’s sudden onset of doom laden symptoms and the previous night’s full bodied reunion with some old colleagues in London.
In a vacuous bubble, away from daily life, I pondered how fortunate we are to live in a country where all we have to do is wait a few hours, fearful and pensive yes, and yet safe in the knowledge that a specialist or a surgeon will come to our rescue. The NHS (National Health Service) is not perfect; we couldn’t help but notice inefficiencies whilst we were marooned in the CDU Bay, and yet as the proverbial s**t had hit the fan we were thankful for the postwar brainwave that provides free healthcare for UK residents.
With nothing to read and my phone battery ebbing down to 8% I was forced to sit and simply listen … As nine more hours passed four elderly people were treated separately, all had various texts and x-rays, each of them sounded frail, confused and in need of time and attention. Nothing could be found physically wrong with them, despite their best efforts to insist they had broken their hip, leg or whatever. I was struck by the nursing staff’s attitude; they were SO patient, reassuring and kind as the elderly people waited for transport home.
A woman in her fifties who’d been squished inside her car for two hours following a road traffic accident, cheerily rang friends and family, “I’ve no roof to my car anymore” having been cut from under it by the fire brigade, she explained. Her conversational tone would have been more suited a casual chat about the weather. Clearly each person at the other end of the line was struggling to adjust to the news, as she continued on, “Oh yes, I think I’m okay, I’m hobbling a bit … got lots of stitches up my leg.” Shock, the great protector.
At 7:30 pm it was announced that a bed was free at Maidstone Hospital and as no ambulance was available it was proposed I drive my husband as he was now comfortable enough to move.
Delighted to be leaving a last, we exited the hospital to find it dark outside and a storm in progress. I ran ahead through the driving rain, my elation immediately dampened as I discovered my car blocked in by an illegally parked vehicle.
After twenty minutes nudging backwards and forwards yelling directions at each other (and praying we wouldn’t be electrocuted by a lightning strike) we prepared to set off. It was not to be; slewed across the exit to the car park was a Ford Escort that clearly wasn’t going anywhere. Once again I got out and feeling hysteria rising within me, tapped on the driver’s side glass. A woman’s face appeared through the gap in the glass, she wailed through the thunder and rain, “My husband’s in the hospital and my car’s broken down, I can’t move, I don’t know what to do!”.
After a bit of encouragement we worked out her power steering had chosen this moment to break and somehow between us we managed to shove the car a little using both sets of arms to turn the steering as far as it would go. Just enough gap was eventually eked out for us to slip our car past and make our getaway under the exit barrier.
Thank heavens for SatNav, about an hour later despite having no idea whether we were going the right way, we pulled in at Maidstone Hospital and found our way to a ward. Events are something of a blur after that, I was so tired and my husband was starting to protest about staying in overnight. Eventually having enlisted the voice of reason from his father on the phone from South Wales, he was persuaded the best way to get treated quickly was to stay put until the morning and stay safe, given the possible complications eluded to earlier in the day …
I got home around midnight and flopped into bed. As I tried to make sense of my longest ever day, attempting to drift off, images and memories of my own kidney stone experience, a few years back floated in. Clearly not a middle aged man, I think it was undergoing a pregnancy and subsequently breast feeding in the equatorial heat of Singapore that upset my hydration. The experience left such an impression on me I wrote it about it in my memoir An Inconvenient Posting, an Expat Wife’s Memoir of Lost Identity. I remember vividly pleading for something to take away the pain, but for some reason I never understood, none had been forthcoming. My husband was abroad at the time making it all the more difficult to endure.
Certainly it had been a day I did not want to repeat, but I was thankful that it hadn’t been anything more serious and he was at home when it happened, plus he now understood a little of what it was like to give birth (the pain of contractions is not dissimilar) … As for the stone, its current location has not been established at the time of writing – hopefully its gone for good.