Tag Archives: patients

Boredom in hospital

In case you haven’t realised it yet, your time in hospital will be split as follows.   1% Treatment.   99% Waiting for Treatment.

If you are very seriously ill then the 99% will pass in a blur and it won’t matter.  But for most of us, while being in hospital can be depressing, painful, stressful, and so on,  the worst thing about it is the tedium.  If your ailments don’t get you, then there is a real possibility you could actually end up being bored to death.

You might think ‘Ah well.  I can use the time to do something worthwhile.  Write a book.  Learn how to crochet.  Become fluent in Mandarin.’  Forget it.  You simply don’t have the brainpower because of all the depression, pain and stress in the last paragraph.    Even reading something really simple can just feel like too much effort.

You know you’re in the grips of tediumitis when you start taking an unhealthy interest in the slightest movement in the ward.  When you find yourself putting down Take a Break magazine to watch someone empty the bin,  you need help.

So in the fine tradition of blogging lists,  here is my list of  five ways to keep yourself occupied on the ward without putting too much effort into it.

  1. Listen in to other people’s conversations. It’s unavoidable, so for the only time in your life , completely guilt-free.  Be as nosey as you like.   People have really  in-depth, interesting discussions in hospital, ranging from   ‘What’s wrong with my bowels?’ to whispered ‘ What ARE we going to do with Grandma when she gets out?’   If the curtains are drawn around the bed,  strain your ears as much as you like.  If they are open,  try to show a little discretion. I once had a family of six who were visiting the next bed, actually turn their chairs round so they could hear better what my doctor was saying.
  2. Hospital Bingo. You can make up your own list of phrases to tick off of course but here are a few to start you off. Have you got good veins? (Normally said by a nervous nurse with a needle.) Are my pills ready to take home? (Normally said at 7pm by a patient who was told he could go home at 10am.). Here’s your toast and it’s warm.  (Never comes up).
  3. Read your hospital notes. If they’ll let you. If  you manage to get past the ridiculous hospital procedures about whether you can or not, (another blog post pending), then reading your notes is extremely interesting.  Not only do you find out what you’ve got (which is often difficult to get out of the doctors themselves), you also sometimes find out what they actually think of you in their letters to each other.  I once read one which started ‘Thank you for referring this extremely pleasant lady to me.’ Really?  Of course if you’re a cantankous old moaner then you might not like what you read.  But then you could always write a few complaint letters.  That would use up a bit of time.
  4. Work out who is the most irritating patient on the ward. Points for snoring, whinging, not using their headphones for the TV, telling you over and over again about the intricacies of their illness, being unfortunate enough to be hooked up to a constantly beeping machine ( not their fault but hey), taking an hour in the shower,  having more pillows than you, and generally just staring at you across the ward alot.  Playing the game won’t make them less irritating ..but at least in conducting a scientific study, you can tell your visitors emphatically ‘The most irritating person on here is that woman over there.’
  5. Finally if all those fail, there’s one more thing to try to avoid boredom in hospital. Next time the nurse comes round, try playing dead.  That should liven things up.

Thoughts of mortality at the kitchen sink

I always thought the hardest thing about getting older would be having to confront your own mortality. Turns out I was wrong. It’s confronting the mortality of those around you that causes the dagger to your heart.

You’re forced to confront death in hospital. Sometimes it’s a conversation you overhear about making the woman in the next bed ‘comfortable’. Sometimes you’re still there, in the next bed, when she dies and the nurse suggests ‘You might want to go to the day room for a bit while we sort things out.’

It’s upsetting when these things happen..but strangely it’s mostly because you feel you know her family. You’ve never really spoken to them of course, just the occasional ‘Are you using that chair?’ conversation. But you’ve seen them, every day for three or four weeks, coming in, straightening mums’ bedclothes or changing her nightie, hushed conversations as she sleeps, disappearing from the ward for a half hour and returning with red eyes. They don’t notice you but you know them. And you grieve quietly for them – and her – when she goes.

Somehow the thought of my own death gets easier the more time I spend in hospital and the older I get. In intensive care this year, under sedation for five days, I slipped in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware that I was close to death. I found in that moment that I was quite at peace with the idea. I remember thinking ‘Well 45 years wasn’t as quite long as I’d have liked….but it’s been a really good 45 years. So be it.’

I certainly didn’t rail against it. I was very happy to go gently into that good night. And yet, when confronted with the idea that someone close to me could die, my heart falters, my stomach turns over, my head tries desperately to think of something else. And the terrible thought of how those closest to me would feel if I did die, is enough to have me fighting with every breath to survive.

In my teens and twenties I used to look at ‘old people’ and wonder how they could bear the idea of death. The nothingness that awaits. I used to imagine them screaming inside, violently struggling internally against the inevitable while placidly doing the washing up. Either that, or they’d filled their lives with so many distractions, a hundred to-do lists, that they’d forgotten the brutal truth of what awaited them. But as I stand here, with my hands in the kitchen sink, when I allow my mind to wander away from life’s distractions, I know the real dagger that awaits is in losing those I love, not in losing life itself.

It would be so much easier if we lived a life alone wouldn’t it? Except with no one else to worry about, I suspect we would indeed be obsessed with our own mortality.

Gods (or hospital consultants)

What you have to realise as a patient is that however important you are outside hospital, however many lackeys jump to your call, inside hospital you are merely the patient in Bed 10. You are no more important than the patient in Bed  11. Or 12.  Yes you’re the reason the whole place exists …but  the man or woman who calls the shots, for whom everything stops on the ward, is the consultant.

Not surprising then that some of them have God-complexes.  The worst one I ever had  used to stride into the ward with his team of junior doctors, medical students and the ward sister scurrying after him.  He’d barely look at me…and would call me Mrs Brown throughout,  much to the consternation of everyone else around him.   But contrary to popular belief,  my experience is those types are few and far between and actually it’s us, the patients who have a tendency  to put consultants up on a pedestal.  The highlight of our hospital day is when they appear at our bedside. We listen intently to their every word, desperately trying to remember what they’ve said so we can repeat it at visiting time.  We assume they are all-knowing and all-powerful in their ability to heal.   Sadly that’s not always the case.

It must be quite hard not to develop a God-complex if you’re a consultant.  They live in a world where the patients are desperate for a word of wisdom from their lips, and in a hospital hierarchy which places them firmly at the top.   They are always surrounded by at least two or three  minions to take notes, hold the stethoscope, or pass them a pen.  They test their minions all the time too.  What does this C4 complement result mean Junior Doctor?  What’s your diagnosis Lowly Medical Student?  Watching from the bed as the Gods torment their minions can be most entertaining …… or agonizing.    And of course consultants have the ultimate God characteristic.  Their decisions can decide if someone lives or dies.   What power ……and responsibility.

In reality even they can’t perform miracles.   Sometimes the superheroes just don’t know why your body is functioning so poorly or what to do to make it better.  The realisation as a patient that your doctor doesn’t know everything, that he or she is actually human, can be pretty depressing.

I now have a  consultant who having decided in an outpatient appointment that I needed to be admitted straight into hospital, zoomed across town on his motorbike to get my medical records from one hospital to another.   As he strode into Accident and Emergency in his leathers with his helmet and my notes under his arm, in my head I gave him superhero status, right up there on a pedestal  where he’s pretty much stayed  ever since.  It helps that he’s super brainy and has saved my life on a fair few occasions.  He also always remembers the names of my kids, and was the only person in a long stream of doctors to ask me how I felt emotionally after five days under sedation.   I used to think I was special, that my complex medical needs (or alternatively my witty personality), was why he remembered me but over the years  I’ve eventually worked out he’s like that with all his patients.  Somehow in that God-like way, he makes us all feel special.

So hospital consultants, if you are reading this, it’s simple.  The best consultants keep their God- like tendencies (and egos) firmly in check, just bringing them out to dazzle us when we really need their  healing powers.  And us patients hang on your every word.  We live for that 3 minutes every other day, or once a week, that we might see you.  We all like to think that we are your most important/medically interesting/favourite patient – so please be nice to us and if nothing else, make an effort to at least remember our name.