Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Drama in the (operating) theatre.

Luckily, I have only ever needed to have one operation in hospital. It began with a routine medical at work.
“What’s this?” asked the doctor, feeling a hard mass in my abdominal area.
“IBS? I suggested helpfully, having already been advised that I did indeed suffer from the condition by my own GP.
“That’s not IBS!“ came back the emphatic reply and she advised me to get it scanned.
“What is this?” repeated my GP, feeling my stomach back at her surgery.
“You told me it was IBS,” I said silently to myself.

I had the mass scanned. They turned out to be fibroids, benign tumours inside the uterus wall. When I went along to the consultant to discuss my treatment, I came armed with the bane of a modern medic’s life: sheaves of material downloaded from off the internet. I had heard of a relatively new treatment called Uterine Artery Embolism (UAE), a procedure which involved cutting off the blood supply to the fibroids causing them to wither away. Such treatment was available in America but I had no idea whether it was also available in the UK on the NHS.

Far from being put off by my research, the consultant welcomed it. He told me he knew a local NHS surgeon, who was always keen to recruit more patients for the procedure so she could perfect her skills in it. By its very nature, her patients tended to be self selecting. It also meant I would not be faced with a long waiting list.

Thus I found myself in the women’s block of the local hospital a number of months later. The original Freeholder (OF) drove me to the hospital and insisted he would fetch me home again afterwards, even though I had planned to ask a friend. The following morning, the needle in my arm was hooked up to an intravenous drip containing morphine, which I could administer myself with the aid of a button. Then the porter wheeled me on my bed to the operating theatre. A nurse walked alongside and held my hand, a rather sweet gesture. As I passed along the corridor looking up at the lights I felt like the heroine of a soap opera, it seemed such a familiar television camera angle from countless hospital dramas. Inside the theatre I was lifted up on to the operating table. The surgeon then began the procedure which was to be performed under a local anaesthetic.

After a while, I asked the surgeon how the operation was proceeding. She explained that she had not even started as she had been unable to find a vein to inject me with the anaesthetic. I was aghast. Without the anaesthetic, the operation could not take place. I resorted to mind over matter. Keep still! I commanded the recalcitrant vein. It seemed to work and the operation began. The first step was to inject a radio-active dye into the femoral artery so that the arterial pathways to the fibroids could be monitored on an overhead screen. A catheter was them moved along the arteries to inject particles into them and so cut off the blood supply to the fibroids.

I heard the surgeon sigh. I asked her what wad troubling her now. "This is proving more complicated than I anticipated,“ she explained. I looked up at the overhead screen. My arteries resembled a plate of spaghetti. No wonder the surgeon had difficulty negotiating the delicate labyrinth of my arteries. Nevertheless, despite taking twice as long as planned, the operation passed without further incident and I was wheeled out of the theatre. That same afternoon my surgeon carried out an organ transplant, using the same procedure to remove the failing organ and replace it with a healthy one.   

Back on the ward, the Catwoman came to visit me. She was the only friend I had invited as she lived near by. Readings for my blood pressure and temperature were taken at regular intervals throughout the day and night. The nurses were concerned about how low my body temperature seemed to have fallen, but I reassured them that it was perfectly normal for me. At least they did not have a problem obtaining a reading in the first place. I am rarely perturbed by medics having difficulties finding my pulse, a suitable vein to insert a needle into or getting a blood pressure reading, but even if I was alarmed when a technician at another hospital, whilst carrying out a routine echocardiogram (ECG), had to leave the room after ten minutes or so to fetch a senior member of staff to help him continue, as he had been unable to find my heart.

I was kept in hospital for longer than anticipated but was eventually allowed to go home. I rang the OF the evening before to remind him when to pick me up. The next day I said my farewells and waited for his arrival. After two hours I rang the OF on my mobile phone.“Where are you?” I demanded. It seemed he was on his way to Heathrow to pick up a family member from the airport. Incredibly, despite his prior insistence on taking me home, he had completely forgotten all about me. He had effectively left me stranded at the hospital, with no way of getting a lift back from my friends at such short notice. I attempted ringing for a mini cab but there was none available. I had no choice but to try and get back home on public transport: a prospect which filled me with dread as there were no direct routes and I was in no real shape to carry my luggage any distance after so recent an operation. Having finally hailed a bus, I had to struggle to get my luggage on and off it. At the bus station, to my great relief I spotted a taxi rank across the way. When I explained what had happened the taxi driver was all for waiving aside the fare, but I insisted on paying and he carried my luggage up the flights of stairs to my flat.

A week later an image of my hospital flashed up on the national news. A recent report revealed that it had the worst mortality rates in the country and appallingly levels of cleanliness."I am so sorry for sending you there,” my doctor apologised when next I saw her. "Not at all,“  I reasoned. ”The mortality rates related to Accident & Emergency not the women’s department. As for the standard of hygiene, it seemed perfectly fine where I was. I did notice though that the ceiling in the operating theatre was rather dusty, which in retrospect was probably not such a good sign.

I made a full recovery but it was some time before my friendship with the OF did the same.