Friday, 28 May 2010

Home Alone

I woke up at midnight with nagging pain and felt cold, but was too tired to get up and do anything about it, and I wasn’t sure if I should take the pills without food, in the night.

I felt lonely and vulnerable: what if someone broke in while I was this weak, what about my tulips which needed staking up, the romanesco seedlings which had to be watered, worse still what about the rubbish piled up outside my flat?

Three weeks before going into hospital I had paid a local workman, who advertised himself by card in a shop window, to get rid of my old shed and debris from my back garden. He’d carried it all through the flat without bags and told me he’d return the next day with “me mate,” to take it away. Instead he’d stuffed it down the space between the front of my flat and the front garden wall. It was still there and he obviously wasn’t coming back with or without mate. What was I going to do about that, before the wall rotted away? Worries crowded in and for the first time for years, I felt truly helpless, as if there as no one out there to help me.

I drifted off and saw the face of Paul Dacre the editor of the Daily Mail smiling enigmatically as if he wished me well, but more likely his smile was saying, “I’m glad you are going to die soon. I’ll out live the lot of you; despite my triple-heart bypass.” Several people at the Mail had opened a book on his death, and no doubt, all seeing, he knew about it.

I heard a soft but decided knock on my bedroom door, then the sound of skirts rustling as whoever it was moved away. After that I was afraid to go to sleep again as scared as a young child abandoned in a strange dark house.

In the morning I dragged myself up at six. I didn’t want to stay in bed as it seemed like a dark, haunted pit. I stared at a bunch of flowers which I couldn’t hope to sort out as the vase was too heavy for me to get down from its shelf. Maisie had not eaten anything and plaited herself around my legs, restless, pestering and resentful.

I injected myself and tried to work out the pills. They all had to be taken with food, hours apart. I took some of the thick, chalky laxative to feel as if I was doing something positive.

A few hours later friends began texting and ringing, including the vicar from Ealing who had turned up at Victor Bonney to visit me and found no one on reception, and no patients in the ward. Another friend who had struggled there from North London had eventually found a nurse who told her, “She felt much better, so she discharged herself.”

I felt outraged hearing this, but she pointed out that the girl spoke very poor English and obviously had no idea what she was talking about.

Apparently many hospital wards close down at weekends, booting people out suddenly, no matter what age they are, or whether they live alone. Of course it’s about government targets and the constant turnover of hospital beds, but another reason given is that it, “discourages dependency, particularly among the old.”

This is part of the new culture of unkindness which combines political correctness with miserable cheese-paring; children must “own their own learning,” sick people must "own" their own condition, even the criminally insane and the demented must live in “the community” and take responsibility for getting well.
This of course is all conveniently cheap. Old Florrie would recognise it as a re-run from the days of the Work House and the Poor Law; never give the buggers enough, or they’ll want more.

If the new government decides to cut costs further by sending people home even earlier, they will meet themselves going home before they’ve gone in. It will be a false economy too as already 500,000 people are readmitted as emergency cases within thirty days of hospital treatment.

Reluctantly I began to take the stronger painkillers and found that I had diarrhoea rather than the other thing, bad dreams and constant nausea. My GP suggested that I should stop taking the painkillers as they were causing it. He obviously had no idea what having an hysterectomy or perhaps any abdominal surgery was like.

The pain seemed worst in the afternoon, but as I had to take the pills with food I couldn’t take any between lunch and dinner. The only thing to do was to go to bed and stay there, keeping as still as possible, hang Maisie, and the nurses who insisted that you had to walk about to avoid wind. It also meant ignoring my work ethic which has stopped me wasting time all my adult life. Now I could be a teenager again, just lying about, happily half conscious. “tripping” as we used to say.

Rather than soft drugs, I entered the strange, balmy world of BBC 7, the newish drama and comedy network, which is mostly composed of superannuated detectives.

Dozing away I hear that Sherlock Holmes knows exactly who did it, I didn’t catch what it was, but that doesn’t matter, as his serpentine deductions at the end are what it’s really all about. He has caught the beautiful heiress with the missing letter. He demands it from her and she is so taken aback that he knows she has got it, that she immediately hands it over.

Miss the next bit and when I surface again Holmes is involved with another woman, and a different letter. He can’t use his extraordinary talents so easily this time because just as she is about to sign it, her wrist is seized by a blackguard who takes the letter, and kills her. She dies rather quietly, with a slight cough.

Inspector G. Lestrade sounds astonished when Holmes reveals all this, whatever it is. All very interesting but it seems like almost the next moment that I hear the jocular voice of Lord Peter Wimsey, who is worried about a blue-stocking gel who may have killed her lover, although he tells Inspector Parker that she seems topping to him. Parker doesn’t agree and things look bleak, but before i can find out, I am with Hercule Poirot. He goes to have his teeth polished, only to find that his dentist is dead.

Not even relieved about this for one second, he comes over all moralistic and accuses a young woman of being “involved with this whole vile racket.” I will never know whether he was right. When I woke again I switched to BBC Radio 4, where the news was on, or it might have been a mad-cap comedy because it seemed that the Tory government was being forced into bed with the Scots Nats, the Welsh and the Ulster Unionists. There had also been an air-crash in Libya. I heard vaguely; “It is feared that three kittens were on board the plane when it crashed.”

Then we are into the Afternoon Play, a modern, edgy adaptation of an Inspector Maigret mystery by George Simenon. A young man with an Estuary accent is planning to poison his wife and has somehow set up a young servant girl to take the rap for it, but she decides to take the poison to expose him. I think he got away in a sports car, but I fell asleep before the end, as I have done with afternoon plays ever since I was student, but that is no judgement on them.

By tea time I was back in the world of BBC 7 listening to a young woman’s lengthy screams as she fell under a steam train. The voice of Sherlock Homes assured us that, “Fortunately she was so relaxed from the effect of all the opium that falling under the train did her no harm.”

I saved up the strongest pain killer and took it with an anti-sickness pill at 11pm, a long wait from my dinner at 6.30pm, but I had my first good night - up to a point. I dreamed I was floating over a table covered with severed hands, feet, limbs and even eyes with thick lashes. All were still alive, flickering and moving slightly. It was either the pills and hallucinations, or the pain.

Friends brought me generous amounts of food, salads, jellies, cakes, sandwiches, from M & S in Birmingham, Kensington, Ealing and Guildford, but I couldn’t eat.The anti-sickness pills didnt seem strong enough against the pain-killers.

On May 10th I had a look at the Court Circular in The Times. The Royals seemed to be tucking in heartily: On the 8th of May the Prince of Wales and his Duchess had been to a reception at Horse Guards, given by the British Legion. I bet that was fancy. On the same day, the Duke of York, special representative for International Trade, had flown to Saudi Arabia, and been received by King Khalid. In the afternoon he called upon Dr Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Rabeeah (Minister of Health) and “remained to lunch.”

The Earl and Countess of Wessex meanwhile were holding a lunch at Ascot, while Princess Alexandra was attending a reception at Holyrood. The following day, the Duke of York, still in Saudi, visited the British and Irish Food Festival at the Al Khozama Hotel, followed by a Business Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel.

We had a bit of a break through on the food front, as my friend Elaine who looks after Maisie when I’m away, arrived with a bag of frozen Coley, and in case that didn’t work, a chemotherapeutic hit of fresh north sea prawns. It worked a treat and infused with these Maisie turned from being a glinting eyed rat bag, into a nice domestic cat again, who snuggled up to me in bed and purred in my ear.

Worries still crowded my mind as I lay in bed without any real life detective to solve my problems. One morning at 6am I was seized by a violent desire for action, to do something. I found the scrap of paper on which I had written the number of the workman who had wrecked the back of my garden and called him. As usual I got a recorded message.
“If you don’t clear that rubbish from the front of my flat I will take you to the small claims court,” I screamed. “And I will go the shop where I first had the misfortune to see your card and tell them what kind of a useless scoundrel you are.”

At 9am he appeared, with two Polish workers in council uniform he was paying privately.

“My wife was very upset by your message,” he said in an Irish brogue he hadn’t used before. “She got up in a bad temper this morning, and hearing that made her worse.”

I had to hand him £20 to take the stuff away. “I’ll be out of pocket with that,” he said staring at the note ruefully. My spirits perked up no end at the sight of his drooping, red drinker’s face.

They slumped again later when I called Queen Charlotte’s hospital to find out the time of my appointment with the consultant.

“There is nothing on screen here about you at all,” said a nurse cheerfully. “They must have forgotten all about it.”

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