Out of hospital again and to Paul’s to convalesce. It was natural that there should be some blood loss after the surgery, but by the Sunday it was running from me and at 10pm I became rather worried and phoned good old Dot, in her capacity as a nurse. Her first question was, ‘Is it dark or fresh?’ ‘Bright red’, I said. Very calmly she told me to get to A & E without delay.
Paul raced me up to Blackburn Royal Infirmary where they examined me and then sent me by ambulance to Queens Park Hospital, which dealt with gyneacological problems. Paul followed in the car and it was he who told me later that the crew was using the blue light. I had gravely underestimated the seriousness of the situation.
Queens Park Hospital filled me with foreboding as it had once been the workhouse and it hadn’t lost any of the characteristics. It was dark and dingy and the brown curtains around my bed were hanging with far fewer hooks than were meant to be, leaving me exposed to anyone who passed by. The nurses were super so no complaints there and they called a doctor. Having lived 17 years in Africa I was pleased to see the flashing smile of the young Nigerian who came to examine me – until he told me it was his first day! At that point I got a little panicky and not least when he produced the cold metal of a speculum and proceeded in his attempts to examine me – even though only a few days earlier I had undergone surgery and been stitched up rather tightly (too tightly it would seem)!
It was not a happy scenario and even now I wince at the thought. He tried several times to insert the speculum, completely oblivious to my screams of anguish. By now it was well into the night and the doctor eventually abandoned his attempt and called another young doctor who went through the ritual all over again! The pain was indescribable and I heaved a sigh of relief when they decided to wait till the morning when the consultant would be there. It was all so horrendous that I didn’t care if I bled to death – and it gave me a hint of how barbaric FGM is. Paul was with me the whole time, holding my hand, frightened to leave me there, as the episode filled neither of us with confidence, but at least he knew I wasn’t imaging it.
The next morning brought nothing to put me at ease as the phlebotomists swooped into the ward like vampires to collect their bloods, syringes in hands or stuck in their pockets! My previous experience had been of calm young ladies walking into a ward with a trolley in which they kept their paraphernalia and then labelled and deposited the phials of blood in allocated slots, never once using their pockets!
The ward sister didn’t fit with my overall impression of the hospital, as she was immaculate in starched hat, apron and white-cuffed sleeves. From out of her breast pocket poked a selection of pens, gadgets and keys on chains – and she wore a fancy fob watch that she checked regularly and she looked quite incongruous on the dingy ward.
The newer part of the hospital was joined to my ward in the ‘workhouse’ side and the floor didn’t have a clean connection. There was a ridge where the two floors joined, which meant that everything wheeled over it would make a loud clumping and screeching sound – and patients on trolleys received a violent bump as each of the four wheels traversed it.
Worst of all I discovered that women who had lost their babies were on my ward within earshot of the nursery or other babies with their mums. It was so hard on them – so very cruel.
The consultant gyneacologist duly came to see me and upon hearing of my surgery just a few days earlier, she didn’t even attempt an examination, she just prodded my abdomen and checked on the bleeding. The results of blood tests showed I was anaemic and bearing in mind I was to start chemo in three weeks, she decided to transfuse me with three units of blood. During the second unit I had a pyrexial reaction, my temperature soared and I started to feel sick. In the absence of any nurse, Paul, who just happened to be visiting, dashed to the sluice and brought me a bedpan. He arrived back at my bed in the nick of time as I started to vomit. By this time a young nurse had appeared and she just walked past my bed, screwing her face up and exclaiming her disgust (Paul and I thought perhaps she wasn’t in the right profession!). My temperature rose, the curtains were pulled around me and the nurses started stripping me off and bathing me with tepid water. A fan was directed towards me, the transfusion was terminated and I was started on the antibiotics, Cefotaxime and Flagyl.
Next morning the consultant said I’d obviously had a reaction to the blood, but they would need to give me more due to the anaemia. They decided to try again with the transfusions, but first spinning out the plasma. A different Nigerian doctor was on duty and asked the sister to bring the cannula. She returned with whatever size is normal for transfusions and the doctor said that was no good as the blood was so concentrated he would need a grey needle. ‘NOT A GREY NEEDLE!’ she exclaimed, ‘I hate using a grey needle’, she said, turning to me. I could feel the colour draining from my face as she went off to find the dreaded needle. The doctor duly inserted it in the back of my hand and then bandaged around it. From the start it was quite painful and I thought this must be why the sister didn’t like using that particular implement.
It was late at night when they moved on to the second unit of blood and I complained to the nurse about the pain in my hand, but she just thought I was being a wimp! As the night wore on the pain increased till I was in agony and I began to developed rigors, even my teeth were chattering. When the nurse checked my vital signs everyone jumped into action and brought in an ECG machine. By then I was shivering uncontrollably, had developed a rash and was freezing cold. They covered me with an emergency foil blanket (second time in my life) and warmed saline bottles in the microwave to use as hot water bottles and shoved them in the bed beside me. Still to no avail and then one of the nurses climbed in bed with me and as I began to feel warmer I was able to whisper, ‘my hand, the pain is killing me.’ She instructed another nurse to remove the bandage and then they discovered how swollen and discoloured my hand was. The doctor had inserted the cannula incorrectly and it was immediately removed, much to my relief.
Next morning the sister came to see how I was, ‘I believe you had a few problems in the night?’
‘Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to make it’
‘Neither did my staff!’ She walked off.
The consultant came to see me – she decided against any more transfusions as the haematology department couldn’t discover what was wrong. She wrote to my GP (with a cc to Christies) to explain the events, but no mention of the curious incident of the hand in the nighttime, but I suppose that was considered irrelevant.