Monday, March 16, 2009


“Has anyone spoken to you?” asks one of the gastro doctors. “No,” I reply, my curiosity mildly aroused. “Ah, typical, always the last to know, eh,” he says wearily, “well the powers that be don’t want your operation to go ahead today because of the diarrhoea outbreak. They don’t want anyone who may have come into contact with the virus spreading it around the hospital.” This isn’t good news. It’s midday on the day of my operation and I’ve been waiting to go down to theatre since 9am. I’ve also been on nil by mouth for over 12 hours. I am so thirsty I wouldn’t hesitate to lick dog piss off a nettle. “When will you know if it’s on or off?” I croak. “We’re waiting to hear, it’s still our intention to operate today.” It turns out that if the hospital bureaucrats do scupper my op the next available slot won’t be until the following Wednesday. That would mean another 5 nights in hospital. 5 nights will the operation hanging over my head. The doctor tells me to sit tight and not to eat or drink anything. “Cop hov tay? Cop hov coffay?” cries the African tea lady right on cue. Typical. I hear her long before she lopes into view. The tea lady is a tall, upright woman with strong features, topped off with a mass of red tinged hair that could pass for a cheerleader’s pom-pom. “Cop hov tay?” she barks at me. Forlornly I point at the letters scrawled on the wipeboard above my bed: NBM. No ‘cop hov tay’ for me. No bloody operation either.

A nurse is expertly tying up the back of my gown. Suddenly it’s action stations. This is it, it’s 2.30pm and two porters are ready to take me to theatre. There’s a sense of urgency in the air. As my bed is wheeled out of Chestnut Ward the nurses all wish me luck. I rest my head on my pillow and watch the ceiling pass by above me. We descend in a lift before making our way onto the main corridor. The air is cooler here. Before long we turn left into a waiting area near the theatre. Some people in blue surgical suits introduce themselves. They speak softly, calmly. I don’t remember their exact jobs. Anaesthetists, maybe? I’m looking forward to being put to sleep. Now I’m being wheeled into a small room, which is packed with more blue people. A male blue person explains they’re going to give me an epidural. This will make things a lot less painful post-op apparently. I’m told to sit on the edge of my bed, my feet are placed together on a stool and I relax my shoulders letting my arms hang loosely beside my legs. I feel a prick as a local anaesthetic goes into my lower back. Fingers then begin kneading and pushing at my vertebrae. I think something is inserted into my spine. It’s uncomfortable more than painful. There’s a lot of wiggling about. And some sighs. I get the impression all is not going to plan. I try to take slow regular breaths. “Okay, we’re having trouble finding the right spot, so I’m going to have another go,” explains a voice from behind me, “just try to relax.” Sharp prick as another local anaesthetic goes in, followed by more spine wiggling. The huffing and puffing behind me grows louder. “Right, I think we’ll just let my colleague see if she can get it in the right place, and if not we’ll use something else.” Boy, am I glad I can’t see what’s going on behind my back. A smaller pair of hands begin to prod my back. Something is pushed into my spine, a needle, a tube, a stick of liquorice, I don’t know. Ah, ignorance is indeed bliss. After 10 extremely uncomfortable minutes the anaesthetists throw the towel in and admit defeat. I won’t be having an epidural after all. Personally I don’t give a damn. I just want to be unconscious. Fast. And a moment later that’s precisely what happens.