“The Royal Blog” – Ward 206
Monday 4th March The Studio – ‘South side of the Sky’
I was released last night but had to be back in for an outpatients appointment in the morning for yet more intraveinous anti biotics which I’ll be getting for at least the next 2 days. I’m a lot better but still exhausted and trying to spread the workload that accumulated since last Tuesday when my world flipped sideways. I couldn’t even manage to type a sentence without making enough character mistakes that made it read gobbledygook. My mind was melting, temperature hovering around 40 degrees, body freezing cold, disorientated, dizzy,light headed, shallow fast breathing, in short the full works pointing to a sign that said sepsis but which at the time I couldn’t read. I’d marked it down as cellulitis as on Wednesday morning the familiar red blotches appeared on my leg in exactly the same place as nearly the same time last year. The massive convulsions in the morning were a familiar scary symptom and I could have got a job in a cocktail bar shaking martinis.
A quickly arranged appointment at the local surgery marked it down as cellulitis again and I took my first antibiotic tab at midday. I had little faith in firing a pop gun at a monster I was familiar with.
TBH I have little recollection of Wednesday as I slept all day only getting up to check the Hibs score at Perth on the PC when it was 1-1. The game was on BBC Alba later and I thought I’d watch it then. Thursday morning came around first after a delirious night writhing in sweat.
Woke up feeling like I’d partied with demons and after a short pathetic attempt at trying to work on the PC I headed back to the pit with only the warmth of the news of a 2-1 away win for company. Thursday just became a blur with the only time signatures the 6 hourly anti biotic intake.Around 10 Simone insisted I went to hospital and at first I refused promising I’d drive there next morning. I was not making sense and didn’t quite realise how bad things had become. Thankfully my wife did and phoned the NHS helpline.
Suddenly I was being interogated down the phone by various people in a seemingly endless procession of departments all asking the same questions. I was confused and becoming irritated but Simone kept me calm and prompted the answers I should be giving as I followed my usual ‘it’s just a scratch’ routine that was starting to annoy her. I didn’t realise just how worried she was at the time.
Everything from then on became a disjointed surreal European indy movie. Hunting jogging pants in the drawers of our former bedroom where my mum now lives as she tried to understand what all the disruption was, answering a barrage of questions as Simone tried to get a night bag together and I tried to get myself together. Searching frantically for my meds that I’d placed in a memorable place and forgot where I’d put them just as the paramedics arrived in our kitchen, the ambulance having eventually found the Studio. Another round of questions, temperatures, pressures and probings and I was in the back of an ambulance for the first time in nearly 30 years bouncing down the back road of the farm and bound for the A and E ward at the Royal.
I went down the rabbit hole then. Gurneys running smooth under white tiled ceilings in the centre of Bedlam. Harsh light, whimpers of bandaged stangers under dirty shawls, police officers huddled in empty cubicles waiting on tales from victims and perpetrators hidden behind curtains on the other side of thin walls. The weak and the wounded, the lost and lonely, the drunk and the disorderly gathered in an eternally moving carousel of muted pain as the machines pinged and belled, the phones went unanswered and I fell asleep like Daniel in the Lions den waiting on my next move.
I’d arrived at midnight and was finally wheeled into an emergency ward around 4. On the edge of delirium and a bag of antibiotics already introduced to my bloodstream I eventually fell into the dark hollow of sleep as the ward rang like a circus around me.
I came too in a dense cloud of questions coming from 3 doctors with tablets on mobile stands before me. The green gods judging me and assaulting my memory with yet another barrage of the same questions I’d heard since I’d unlocked the door to the rabbit hole. It was like a court scene from a science fiction film, the Irish accented leader asking me how much I drank and did I have a problem, when was the last time I had a drink? My answer of too much recently, no and 4 days ago was met with “Well you should be over any DT hallucinations by now then”. I was going to tell him where to go but he’d already gone, the three of them sped away, lecterns on wheels before them to hand over the next speedy prognosis at the next booth the curtains of which were drawn with the haste of hiding an execution. I did manage to catch that I had a serious blood infection, blood cultures were to be grown to identify bacteria, intensive anti biotics were to be blasted into me and from my answers I heard the first whispered return of the word ‘sepsis’.
I hadn’t realised that I was actually on the ground floor until I looked through a window on the other side of the room and saw the stems of silver birches bedded in amber gravel. My time clock was completly thrown. I’d been roused at an unholy hour and had turned down breakfast as I had no appetite whatsoever despite not having eaten since Wednesday. I hadn’t been able to call Simone and there were no bars on my phone. It was 8 o’clock and I knew she would just be getting up for the school run with Liam and preparing my mum’s breakfast. I felt so bad at not being there as she was under so much pressure at home and I had just added a huge weight on her already heavily burdened shoulders.I had to find a signal somewhere and pulled on my jogging pants and jacket, draped from my bed which was probably more comfortable for an opiated hobbit and set off on my adventure.
I was 5 metres down the corridor when I realised I didn’t know where i was. This was not good. My disorientation and mental confusion from the infection had to be taken into account so I retraced my steps and clocked all the numbers and obvious visuals before starting off again. I felt like I should be laying a trail of breadcrumbs in the labyrinth. I walked methodically and slowly taking in the ‘signposts’ I’d need to find my way back. I started to get my bearings and recognised I was in a ward that was the furthest away from the main hospital entrance and the only exit along a never ending corridor that was taking on mythical proportions.
The beautiful hit of cold fresh air as the automatic doors opened was heralded by my phone going crazy as I finally beamed in a signal. I sat down on a chair at the small hut belonging to the parking marshalls and sucked greedily on my vape welcoming the blueberry instant high as the nicotine kicked in. My wife was overjoyed to hear my voice as I was hers and I shed a few tears as we both knew how much of a near miss I had just had. If it hadn’t been for her I could have been in a far more serious condition and coming back from behind the heavenly 8 ball. I sat on my own for a short while and took in the world watching the human traffic and taking snapshots in my head.Strangely I was finding myself inspired to write and I could feel the cogs freeing up.
The return journey was less problematic but I could feel my strength failing as the corridor reached out before me. I was glad to crawl back into my bed proud of what I’d acheived. Despite feeling cold I wasn’t allowed to cover myself up further with my jacket over the 2 thin pieces of material that were my bedding. My temperature was still high and I was lightly reprimanded. The hours were crawling by like pythons.
I passed out for chunks of that afternoon and lay mostly ignored apart from blood samples, pressure readings, heart rate readings, temperature readings and yet another bag of magic fluid held over my bed like a plastic cloud and fed into my arm with a clear tube where I could watch the bubbles rise and fall until the machine beeped announcing that I could be released..
Now realising where my ward was I knew there was another escape route a lot closer and sure enough less than 40 metres the opposite way I’d travelled that morning a door allowed me out into the area behind the main A and E entrance. I could sit in the Lothian sunshine for a few minutes and field messages and calls and partake of the blueberry delight for a few stolen moments before heading back to the land of slow snakes.
I rejected lunch. Grey reconstituted fish in dubious breadcrumbs, a scattering of small tasteless fries and a dump of lumimous mushy peas couldn’t entice an appetitie if I had one. I’d been late and discovered ithe offering when I got back from visit to my sanctuary. I was aware depression was creeping in and I’d been told i could be in for days.
The news late afternoon I was being sent to another ward which was more quiet was exactly what I wanted to hear. A wheelchair arived and I set off on my next adventure buoyed to be out of bedlam. I asked the porter where we were headed and he told me the ‘renal unit’. I was immediately smacked by a sense of dread. I asked him what the diagnosis was on my paperwork on the back of the chair.
He said ‘Sepsis’.
I felt my world start to come apart around me. This was serious. This was really fucking serious.
I was now on the second floor, a bed by a window that faced South towards an imposing block of dark shiny modern architecture that could have been a command centre out of ‘Logan’s Run'. I was in a renal ward with 3 other guys. It was early Friday evening.
I always try and maintain a low profile in these situations and am always ‘Derek'. My bed wasn’t made up yet and the nurse on duty explained it would take a few minutes to prepare. She was Polish, I immediately recognised the accent. Her name was Anna and she was a well-built wee blonde lady with that short back and sides crop and long hair bobbed on top, Viking style. She didn’t look like she would take any crap and the straight eyed look and firm smile marked her out as someone you wanted on your side.
I discovered she came from Wroclaw and she proudly showed me the most marvellous intricately inked tattoo that made up most of her left upper arm and shoulder only just hidden by the sleeve of her uniform. It was a view across the famous main bridges of the city in all manner of shades of grey that made it look like a haven of ghosts wreathed in fog. On the bridge in the foreground an array of characters from the history of Wroclaw including a hanged man from a lamp post populated the eerie scene. She explained them all to me and the pride she had in her hometown was obvious. I’d told her I’d been there a few times and she mentioned a few places that I recognised such as the Tumski bridge and the Hala Ludowa. I told her I’d played there years before and mentioned the infamous swastika carved in the massive centre crown of the dome that couldn’t be removed as it held the entire structure together and that last time, I was there it was covered by ominous drapes. She was impressed at my knowledge and asked me why I was there. As soon as I said 'musician' I heard the voice from the bed behind me shout out “Fish”.
I felt like Donald Sutherland in the end scene of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', the pointed accusatory finger blowing my cover. The magician's reveal, I stood there self-consciously for a minute as the rest of the room did the 'I thought it was you' routine and Anna in her own grounded fashion said she didn't recognise me and didn't know my former band which everyone else was now unleashing anecdotes about in a flurry of verbal. I just said "I'm not 'fish' here, I'm Derek" and as I took my place in my newly furbished bed everything started to calm down as I turned the tables and started asking my own questions.
Eddie was 72 a watchmaker, metal working specialist and man of many talents who had collapsed soon after returning home from a pool game in the 'Laird and Dog' in Lasswade. He had major organ collapse and had been put in an induced coma for a month to undergo kidney dialysis and a general clean up involving sack loads of intra venous anti biotics. January had gone missing for Eddie. He was now fully functioning, and everything was working 'tickety boo' again although his muscles had wasted away and his legs looked like they belonged to a prisoner of war who had walked out the Burmese jungle after slaving on a rail road for years. He was small statured and reminded me of the toymaker in 'Blade Runner', sharp as the proverbial tack despite all and with a philosophy to life I found quite captivating. Unassuming and bristling with an imaginative intelligence he would keep me fed on tales that my mind was scribbling down for future reference as he was a deep mine of information and experience. Eddie came from Bonnyrigg but now he was my 'stage left'.
Dennis, opposite me, was around my age, an ex-Royal Scot, an ex-bus driver and currently under observation for a mystery condition that had came about after a successful knee operation. He'd erupt in hot flushes and leak sweat like a bucket for no understandable reason. A heavy-set man carrying more weight then he should be and which he was fighting successfully he turned out to be a fellow Hibby supporter and from just down the road from me in the 'Pans'. A highly likeable guy and with a big circle of caring family who were all themselves Hibby's he would open up his story box and captivate us with army memoirs from his tours of Aden, Cyprus and Northern Ireland in the late 60's and 70's. Looking at Dennis you would never have believed that such a gentle man had experienced so much horror and brutality in his life. He didn't speak with particular pride or regret more of a matter of fact, this happened, I dealt with it, I'm now here attitude. He was a man with a conscience and a strong moral compass and family was his life.
Davie was at first hard to fathom. Less expressive than the other 2 he kept his hand hidden and although I had glimpses of his history it was veiled. I suspected Davie had a darker side as although his body was weakened, I could tell from the frame that this had been someone to reckon with in the past. I was surprised he knew some creatures from the murky pond of the local music scene and he mentioned acquaintances ever so briefly that suggested he was not a man to be trifled with back in his day He came from Gorebridge, an old mining village where I once had relatives on my mother's side.
It was those histories that started to bond us as we went through names and places we all mutually knew and walked down old roads in areas I thought I had forgotten about. It was a testing exercise of memory and we took turns jostling each other as we waded through Lothian folklore and the characters and incidents that populated our joint and individual experiences. I was in fine company.
I was settling in as the evening began to trawl into dark night. My 6 o'clock bag of goodies was slowly feeding into my arm and I, like my fellow ward members, drifted in and out of woozy sleep. Every now and again someone would come to and a sparkle of conversation would light up the air. Dinner came and the banter flowed. The friendly jibes at the food were slightly unwarranted as the fare was a lot better than two floors down, or so it seemed. Having a decent phone signal made a huge difference and I felt slightly more connected with the world than I did in the 'dungeons' below. Visiting hour was however a real downer. I hadn't seen Simone since Thursday night and although we were now able to call each other the physical gulf was immense. She couldn't drive in to the hospital as she had to look after Liam and my Mum and in all honesty her driving skills made a journey negotiating the vehicular whirlpool of the 4 lane Sherrifhall roundabout about as impossible as heading down the Grand Canyon on a lilo. Watching everyone's families gather after dinner during 'visitor's hour' made me very homesick despite the boys introducing their kith and kin and bringing me a wee bit into their circles. Tara phoned to ask me how I was and admit struggling as we got to the end of our conversation. I wasn't able to hold back the tears which didn't help either of us. I'd done the same with my wife earlier. I'd realised I was actually scared and although in denial, talking to my own family allowed the cork on my feelings to loosen and the emotions briefly escape. I knew I had to hold it together.
The ward darkened, the nurses drifted off, the machines beeped less and went into hibernation and I was left with my thoughts that the diazepam was doing it's best to put to rest. The days were too long and I had no fast recollection of the last few all of which were punctured by memories that I couldn't quite fit into a sensible running order.
Midnight and a light shake of my shoulder to wake me up for my next infusion. Another hour of goodies in my arm. The machine beeped annoyance every time I snuggled up and blocked the feed and the canula in my arm made me wince when it bit a reminder of its presence in my vein. I tried to find a rhythm to the electronic pulse of the dispenser I could work with and a little catch phrase to go with the signal that the sequence had ended. The fresh cold flush of clean water from the syringe after the last bubble in the tube had disappeared, I'd come to welcome. To be unhooked and allowed to turn my aching body was ecstasy. The darkness enveloped me, and I allowed the lucid dreams to take over. It was 6 hours till the next fill.
I'd gotten used to the early morning reveille, the hour of goodie bag, the Weetabix and wedges of toast that the butter never really managed to penetrate. It was a running joke with my fellow inmates and the dawn banter was always on the ball, so much so that the nurses kept coming in to catch the humour that was being batted around the room. We may all have been ill but the vibe was very healthy indeed.
Saturday was a big day particularly for myself and Dennis. Hibs were playing Celtic in the quarter finals of the Scottish cup and mission for the day was trying to find somehow to watch it. We only had 3G in the ward and the pay per view on the hospital bedside TV's had Sky sports but not the channel the game was live on. There was no wi fi in the hospital apart from staff access and an attempt at bribery was meaningless as their phones were individually linked to the system. I asked at reception when I went out for a draught of blueberry haze and fresh air and was told there was no 4G or any wi fi anywhere in the Royal. Reasons given were 'security' but I heard theories that the reason there was no internet access was that patients would use laptops and phones for Netflix and other entertainment sources rather than pay the £10 or whatever for the 'in house' services. I didn't watch TV the entire time I was there despite the 'free access' to basic channels between 8 and 12. The game however was different and I was willing to shell out for a signal from anywhere. I was told there was a pub down the road by the high-rise flats that had the game on but the angel on my shoulder was in command and any thoughts along that line were immediately banished. I headed back to the ward with my cappuccino from the coffee shop and a head full of disappointment that was still searching in vain for solutions. Calls to knowledgeable friends left me none the wiser and the nurses tried in vain to help us out as the kick off approached from the farthest point of an interminably long afternoon.
Lunch came and went as did my midday top up. More blood tests and readings and I was pleased to be scoring zero on the charts. This meant I had stabilised and now in recovery from the bacterial assault. Spirits were high and taken higher when I was visited by Simone and her son Liam who'd been driven in by my sister Laura up from York to visit and help out with my mum. It was great to see them all and I admit to getting a bit teary when I saw my wife. If it hadn't been for her insistence on an ambulance the other night I could have been in serious trouble It was sad to see them all leave after too short a time but I was glad they got a chance to meet up with my buddies in the ward who all appreciated the new faces.
I was in and out of sleep the rest of the afternoon with the occasional banter session lightening my mood. I was resigned to listening to the game on BBC Scotland on the i phone. All the guys were up for listening but all I had was my tiny phone speakers. It was time to bring back an old trick.
Every day we were furnished aplenty with 750 ml plastic jugs of water of which I was drinking about 3-4 every 24 hrs. My last one was now empty. I dried it out and stuck the i phone in it and lo and behold we had decent enough volume for us all to hear. The coffee trolley rolled into the ward and the nurse was suitably impressed as if it were a modern miracle. The game was starting and the mood especially with Dennis and I was tense.
Tbh we were realistic. This was pretty much David against Goliath and sling shot stones were few on the ground. Goliath was going to have to have a pretty off day and we were going to have to be top of our game to win. Half time and nil nil was a result so far.
The nurses were still trying to help us out and someone who 'had a friend who had a friend' had a code that could get us somewhere. It didn't work. Another code appeared. It didn't work. Finally, the most surreal suggestion of the day came to bear. Someone in the 'infectious diseases' ward had a link to the game. We all looked at each other and I had the vision of the 4 of us clad in biological hazard suits crouched around a tiny I phone screen in the middle of a plague ward watching a football match. I actually laughed out loud. This wasn't even worth considering but I did ask if it was possible. The answer was an emphatic no.
It was now 6 o'clock and time to be plugged in again to my juice machine. I lay back and listened to the inevitable unfold. There was to be no heroic romantic victory against the giant. Two nil and another year of potential silverware whisped away to end up as a scrunched up back page of the Evening news thrown away in disgust to dance in the shore breeze by the Water of Leith. I sank back into my bed in disappointment as the machine beeped 'it's over' just as the final whistle went at Easter Road. I longed for my diazepam and an escape to a warm woolly sleep. The disappointment after all the build-up even amongst the 2 non-footy guys was tangible. I slipped into the funk and waited on the midnight caller and my next hour of machine serenade.
6am, tube time, Weetabix, limp toast and marmalade, weak coffee, escape to the main entrance, blueberry buzz, fresh air, cappuccino back to the ward and an entire day faced me like a windless flat ocean. I'd been told I wouldn't be released until at least Monday and possibly Tuesday and maybe I might be here for weeks. I'd resigned to whatever was necessary as I just wanted to be 'clean' again. I'd had a genuine shock, touched by the Fear and woken up to a very harsh reality. I wasn't complaining and I'd grown to enjoy the company immensely.
Davie by this time had shown himself to be a really funny guy with a dark wicked wacky sense of humour that bordered on the delightfully surreal at times. It turned out his daughter was called 'Kayleigh' and I ended up talking to her on the phone from his bedside. He wasn't doing that great but kept a very brave face to the world. He'd had a kidney transplant and a bacterial infection that followed was putting him in enormous pain with ugly open wounds on his legs that were refusing to heal. He insisted on getting up on his walking frame a few times every day and forcing himself around the ward. The man was a fighter. I couldn't help but admire his tenacity to life.
We'd all been cajoling Eddie who was eating like an anorexic sparrow to get up and use his own legs as he sat for way too long in his bed. Our urgings had got him on his feet and he too pushed his frame around the room to a round of applause from us all. He was starting to eat more and proudly proclaimed what he had managed to get down every meal time despite struggling with an obviously shrunken stomach after so long in the 'deep freeze'. I think he was getting to enjoy the friendly ribbing and was starting to feel more confident about himself. We were all supporting each other in different ways.
News that Dennis was leaving us that afternoon was sad in a way. We were all glad, as was he, to be finally getting home but they still hadn't discovered the root of his problem and I think he was still worried at the uncertainties of it all. He'd been great company and a fine story teller. We swapped contacts and made our selfies. I was glad to have been a small part of his life for a few days.and as his family led him away the empty bed he left seemed bigger than he had ever been in it.
Another bag was raised on the pole at midday just as lunch arrived. Simone and Laura were visiting again and bringing in a pan of my wife's amazing home-made chicken soup with them. I'd been extolling her culinary virtues and in particular to Eddie who I thought would benefit greatly from the magic broth that had brought me back from the dead a couple of times. Before they arrived I had a visit from the doctor. A rare occurrence as I'd only been seen twice since I arrived. I'd been confused as to what exactly was wrong with me as I'd been told by the staff nurse that I had sepsis and when I took a quick peek at my paperwork at the end of the bed that was what was proclaimed on the file. I asked the doctor what was wrong and he said it was cellulitis that had bordered on slipping into something more ominous. I still didn't quite get it but he told me they were happy that the bacteria count was low enough for me to be sent home and to continue the IV anti B treatment as an outpatient. I could leave after my 6 o' clock 'feed'. That was the news that greeted my wife when she arrived laden down with a huge pot of soup and bowls and spoons for the rest of the guys and the staff. Laura and Simone couldn't hang around for long as Laura was travelling back to York that afternoon and Simone had to get back to my Mum. I would have liked just to have jumped in the car and gone with them but I had to get my last 'lucky bag 'to get my ticket home. At least I had the all clear and that in itself was a massive relief although I was still very wary and wanted to take no chances.
As luck would have it Eddie and Davie were out for the count when the soup kitchen opened up and the nurses had all just had their coffee and cake break. There were no takers apart from myself and after the girls had gone I slurped away and then some more till I couldn't move from the biggest bowl in the basket. I fell into a coma until the soft touch on the shoulder reminded me it was time for my last bag of goodness. I nattered away with the boys as the bubble hovered in the clear plastic tube and the nurse brought my exit paperwork in to sign me off. My mate Rab was picking me up and he was spot on time just as the machine pinged and I had my last refreshing plunge of fresh cold water from the flushing syringe. There was something quite umbilical about being released from the tube.
I gathered my stuff and Rab took the remains of the soup as it couldn't be kept and reheated for the boys on the 'premises'. Eddie was disappointed but I left my book 'When I Heard the Bell' about the loss of the Iolare on December 31st 1918 when over 200 men were drowned just outside Stornoway Harbour as they returned home to the isles of Lewis and Harris from the Great War. It's a harrowing tale but as a former ships chandler I thought Eddie would appreciate it. We exchanged addresses and Eddie promised me he'd come down and have a look at my mother's 'grandmother' clock that had been in the family since the late 1800's and which had originally belonged to my great grandmother when she lived in Glasgow. My dad had looked after it religiously when he was alive but since he had gone it had suffered from a bit of neglect. I've promised my mum that I'd get it repaired and up and working again for her. It's to be moved up to the studio and as a delicate piece of engineering it needs some tender care to get it nursed back to health and chiming again. It was fortuitous that my 'stage left' is a classic watchmaker and clock specialist and it gives us a good reason to stay in touch. It was sad to leave Eddie and Davie as we had had a great crack in the last few days. Firm handshakes and fond farewells if only for a short while as I'd promised to drop into the ward to see them when I was in as an outpatient for my next treatments.
I couldn't have wished for better company and I knew I was going to remember our experience together or a long time to come. I said a huge thanks to the staff on duty on the way out as they had all been so caring and attentive throughout my stay and take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who looked after me while I was in residence and who I couldn't thank personally because of shifts and rosters.
Rab walked ahead of me with the soup pot and I followed with a basket of crockery and spoons and my holdall. Through the broken automatic doors, past the desperate smokers, wraith like in the gloom next to the thin fingers of birch trees, the amputees in wheelchairs pirouetting in the cold night air, the casualties and the victims, the hopeless and the hopeful, the lonely and the forlorn blessed and bathed under tungsten light. There but for the grace of god.....