Too Upbeat for Cancer - Detailing A Rubbish Year And A Bit

Chapter 20 - Hallucinations & Detonations


Very few people believe me when I say I hate being around other humans. Small talk sends me into a cold sweat and the thought of spending a day or evening with a large group makes me want to run away screaming. I’m not very interesting and I feel incredibly uncomfortable in these situations. Heck, I thought Castaway was a romantic comedy.

So imagine my delight upon seeing an empty Critical Care Unit. I had a choice of three bays, and chose the most isolated one. Without a window. Or a working TV. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Instead I had a window in front if me looking into an office. The blinds were always down. I had a view of some beige blinds. Beige blinds. But I felt like crap and had some good old fashioned recovering to do. There were only really 2 highlights of my return to CCU. The first was having my hair washed with a waterless shower cap. They’d microwave a shower cap, stick it on my head, rub vigorously, and hey presto! My noggin was squeaky clean. The second positive was that my bed was a Transformer. At the press of a button (and with me in it) over the course of a few minutes the bed turned into a big squishy chair with me perched atop it. Sadly, I wasn’t well enough to take being sat upright for long, and would flap about like a fish out of water for a few minutes until my comfy throne reverted to its primary function.

If they were my two highlights you can guess the rest of my time wasn’t much of a wheeze. It was boring and bad things kept happening. As a result, boring things were great fun. Because I didn’t bend in the middle, nor sit upright, I’d spend hours trying to lasso and throw my bed sheets to cover my feet. The goal was to not only cover my feet, but to avoid the movement from causing embarrassing billowing of my gown, thereby exposing my meat and two veg to the world. It was a tough game.

On the whole, though, it was a case of lurching from one mishap to the next while I recovered from what turned out to be a rather nasty infection. For several reasons sleep was a challenge on the Critical Care Unit. There were always nurses buzzing around and privacy was minimal because the nature of the ward meant they had to be able to see you. One nurse in particular proclaimed she was allergic to – seemingly – everything on the ward, and spent the entire night sneezing and sniffing. This meant her ears blocked up so she had one volume setting which I named ‘Bellowing’. She liked to bellow about two specific subjects in the middle of the night, a near miss car crash she’d had a few days before and how lovely one of the porters was. If I wasn’t in permanent discomfort and her banal observations hadn’t been delivered via megaphone, her blathering would have been pleasantly soporific.

To combat the bustle of the unit and my discomfort I succumbed and accepted the sleeping tablets they had been repeatedly offering me. In retrospect this was unwise. The tablets battled against my discomfort and the noise but left me in a hazy dream state for the first few hours of the night. They also caused batshit crazy hallucinations which were particularly alarming for a clean living young man who had eschewed drugs all his life. One night, the office window at the foot of my bed became a watercolour painting of two Elizabethan warships on a stormy technicolor ocean. The stormy ocean became increasingly more aggressive until the acrylic waves spilt out of the frame and flooded my bed, toppling me out, covered in paint. This was not a good advert for recreational drugs in my mind. Just say no, kids.

The other negative of sleeping tablets that went hand in hand with the sensation of watching Eurovision after a bad kebab was that I slept through important incidents. Exhibit A – my stoma was going into overdrive and I ended up sleeping through my stoma bag filling at speed, swelling like a whoopie cushion, then bursting over my helpless body. Nothing like snapping awake at 2am covered in green slime and rapid cooling liquid shit to put a dampner on your day first thing. This marked the real beginning of my stoma paranoia – I’ve learned to sleep without moving so not to accidentally disturb it. Gives me back ache.

I had to get my kicks where I could. The intensive care doctor who was with me most of the time was about 8 feet tall but looked 12, and behaved as though his body had shot up overnight. He was skilled in all areas of medicine other than putting on flimsy plastic aprons – his massive banana fingers would tear them to shreds, and once he’d finally wrapped the plastic round his frame it looked like a cheap little crop top on him. I’d also harass him when he was trying to work at his desk. My physio challenge was to stagger to his desk, hit an imaginary bell and shout ‘2 people for one night in your finest penthouse suite, my good man!’ He’d stare blankly as my pallid arse jiggled its way back to the bed and Kerry wiped a tear of pride away at my feat of endurance. I maybe wasn’t taking things seriously.

To make matters worse I somewhat upset a student nurse when the ward team came to assess my wound. The staples and incision sites were getting pretty gunky (the dressings slurped as they pulled them off) so there was some debate as to whether to use silver-based or seaweed-based dressings. Exciting stuff. One of the ward team asked if the CCU nurses were taking care of me. ‘Sometimes, they like to beat me at night’, I whispered. The student nurse shuffled nervously. ‘They’re nurses, so they know where I won’t bruise!’ I sobbed. The student took a few steps back. I was told off later on.

I’ve just realised I’ve not described many horrible procedures in this chapter, so let’s rectify things, shall we? To fight my infection and help recovery I had all manner of antibiotics and fluids going into me pretty much 24/7. This was around day 10 – I’d stopped my sleeping tablets following the exploding shit incident in case of rapid response being required. The nurses had given me my drugs and I was trying to drift off. I’m sure this has happened to many of you – my body suddenly jolted, as if responding to falling from a height, my heart rate picked up, I started to drift off again. Except suddenly I was being attacked. Nurses grabbed me, stuff was being stuck to my chest, the doctor was taking blood from my wrist with a tiny needle. It turns out the jerking sensation I had was my heart stopping for 10 seconds or so. LOLCANO. As a reward I had lots of irritating tests for the next 24 hours or so.

The most rewarding test was a CT scan with a special contrast. If you recall, a CT scan is where they put fluid in you that reflects and gives an image of your insides as you slide in and out of a big polo mint. Because an injection is too easy I had a fresh treat in store – a little while before my scan a large plastic jug full of bright pink liquid appeared. I had to ingest it. A litre of it. In an hour. When I had a tube blocking my throat. Medicine is always willing to rain on your parade, though, so the solution was to fill a syringe with 100ml of this stuff every 10 minutes. Then attach it to my nose tube. I was an orange jumpsuit away from Guantanamo Bay. So rather than warm green fluid coming out my nose, I had icy cold pink fluid going up my nose, down my throat and squatting uncomfortably in my stomach. The urge to vomit was strong with this one.

I kept the special sauce in during the procedure even while I was being hefted on and off the scanner bed multiple times – they hadn’t ‘warmed up’ the scanner so I got hauled out a few times. I’m sure my dignity was left intact, and I enjoyed the thought of all the outpatients in reception waiting to have achey shoulders and bunions looked at as I was wheeled past hooked up to life monitors etc. I was tempted to shout ‘it was only an in growing toenail!’….

My parting gift to CCU as I healed up was to let them replace my central line (the one going into a major vein that allowed half a dozen attachments at a time). The giant infant did the job, going, quite literally, for the jugular. The job involved me laying perfectly still, my head craned to the left. He laid one of those big green medical sheets over my head with a hole over my neck and a plastic peep hole for me. Within minutes the plastic fogged up and breathing got difficult. But that’s OK, after the local anaesthetic I could focus on him slicing into my jugular and stuffing a tube in. He sewed me up pretty quickly and I had a nice jangly attachment taped to my neck. It was quite taut so turning left was slow, painful and a challenge. Sadly everyone approached me from the left, which meant I greeted everyone in the manner of a possessed ventriloquists dummy with a painted on rictus grin.

With that, 14 days post-surgery, I was released back to the ward. Average recovery time was around 21 days, but the size of my particular op along with this setback would probably add a week or two to my stay, or so I thought. But this is me, I had 54 more stressful nights in hospital ahead of me….

Coming Soon: Chapter 21 – Mount Vesuvius.

Where Have You Been, Boardman?! »

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