Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Booted off the Bus


The little wind up dolls called nurses began to appear with one strong message – no one goes home until they have "moved their bowels."

I have always thought of that expression as Victorian, something from a sininster nursery where children were persecuted with terrible rules. Like old fashioned nannies talking to small children, the nurses warned us that it was vital for us to “go,” or we would not be going home.

The word "bowel" comes from the Latin, "botellus," or "little sausage." It is one area of the human body that doesn't interest me, although there are those stories that if you took them out they would stretch to the moon and back or something, but now I joined in as it became our main preoccupation.

“I’ve done a poo,” shouted Gail on the third day after our surgery. This kind of nursery language has been widely taken up by adults, it is now common everywhere, particularly in Radio 4 humour, but it makes me cringe.

Gail was cock-a-hoop but Rebecca, Jan and I, felt we were miles away from this goal. With all the painkillers our bowels had bunged up.

Rebecca remained languid, reading her magazines, but I felt glad that I wasn’t going home till Sunday, five days after my op.I felt stupified and exhausted, apart from the pain from the abdominal rip.

On Saturday morning a young South American doctor appeared. He did not examine any of us, but told us with a charming smile that we were all fit to go home straight away. Bowels and the moving of were suddenly forgotten. He told us we all had to be out by lunch time.

A nurse issued us all with an enormous pack of medication, including enough syringes, so we could inject ourselves at home for twenty eight days, a yellow box for the discarded sharps, 100 Paracetamol, 24 Tinzaparin, 56 Diclofenac, a big bottle of Milpar laxative and 30 Tramadol, strong painkillers which cause bad constipation and hallucinations. Suddenly it was goodbye, you are on your own, we don't work weekends.

I quickly cancelled the people due to visit me. Gail’s friends from work arrived, she'd arranged to stay with a friend for a few days. Rebecca’s man, with grey bouffant hair and Pringle sweater appeared and she emerged from the shower room looking dressed in shades, white linen with white espadrilles and Mulberry bag, a bit like Joan Collins getting off a plane. My friend Sally came to get me, bringing some yogurts and fruit, but I felt distinctly unwell and abandoned.

At the desk on the way out I told a nurse I hadn’t seen before that I felt feverish and my mouth was horribly dry. In a Yorkshire accent she said, “Well, you better ask him.” She meant the young Latin doctor who was sitting on the work station a few inches from her. I repeated the information to him, feeling rather like a passenger on an EasyJet ticket, who has turned up to find her flight has been cancelled without warning. He did not move his eyes from the computer screen.
“You feel ill because you have big operation,” he said as if I was an idiot.
“One of the pills I’m taking is making me very dry. I wonder if I can stop taking it, or take something else?” I asked.
“What pills you taking?” He said,looking straight at me. I realised that I didn’t know their names.
“I don’t know,” I said, sounding like a fool.
“You better ask the nurse,” he said, smiling cruelly. I looked at her. She looked at him and said, in her enjoyable accent:
“Aren’t you supposed to be the doctor?”

There was no point in going on with this strange game, no point in arguing, anymore than there is in a busy airport. Sally ushered me off. I felt upset all the way home by the unpleasantness of this exchange.

Sally had kindly brought me some food, my freezer was full but my flat seemed cold and dismal. I laid out all the pills and syringes in the kitchen. When I'd left it, it had seemed like a very comfortable garden flat, but now it felt as welcoming and as safe as a gothic castle, and it had its own monster.
My cat Maisie, who had been looked after by a neighbour, didn't greet me at all, and I gave her some food she wouldn’t eat it. I tried another type, but she wouldn’t eat that either. I just didn’t have the energy to keep going, opening packets and putting down bowls. She seemed to be furious with me and when I tried to stroke her she bit me, something she never usually did.
I know Freud's dog rejected him when he had cancer, but that was because of the smell of his rotting jaw, and that's dogs for you, easily dismayed, but my cat was different. I couldnt understand her sudden cold eyed rejection. Perhaps she thought I'd been off hunting and had come back empty handed. I certainly couldnt focus on her as intently as I had done before.
I slunk off to bed, without putting the heating on as I'd been too hot in hospital, and without taking the strong pain killers, as I still had in mind all those warnings about constipation.
Alone in my cold bedroom, facing the long night, with Maisie sitting bolt upright beside me, staring at me in the dark, forming a green silhouette in the light from the digital radio, I wondered for the first time how I was going to get through all this?

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