Tuesday, 14 October 2014

61. The Resus Room

Within two hours of publishing the last blog post, I had the verdict. The latest chemo is worse than the first lot. By a good margin.

Three hours after publishing that post, my husband had rushed me into A&E and I was wheeled into the resuscitation room.

Never a dull moment: you can say that again.

The good news, as you can see, is that I am back to blogging standard, so things have improved. But if I can help it at all, I'd rather not go through all that again. Three days later, I am still in hospital but waiting for the pharmacist to send up my drugs, so that I can go home. 

We had been warned about the risk of infection. My husband and I both carry the list of symptoms that should prompt us to ring the hospital immediately: a temperature above 38 degrees, or a sore throat, or dodgy bowels, or shivers... With the chemo killing off those all-important white blood cells, an infection can be both sudden and catastrophic.

So when, within the space of an hour, my temperature had crept up from its usual 36.4 to over 38, my husband rang the on-duty oncology doctor.

"Bring her into A&E," she said. "Pack a bag for three days. I'll make sure they are ready for you."

We should have been more prepared. Have the hospital bag ready just in case, like a pregnant woman. By the time I'd crawled along the floor to gather socks and pants, and my husband had sent the youngest off to a friend's house with an overnight bag, it was an hour later. By which time sitting in the car was torture. I crawled onto the back seats so I could lie down. My chest felt so tight I could hardly breathe, I was breaking out in cold sweats and was worried I would pass out.

Sudden infection, I panicked. Could kill you in hours. In the slowing Saturday afternoon traffic, would it be quicker to abandon the car and call for an ambulance? It's not far to the hospital. My husband pushed on.

Don't let them make you wait, we'd been instructed. Explain! Neutropenic patient on chemotherapy!

But my husband was having no luck at the reception desk. Just wait over there, they said, until a triage nurse is free to see your wife. There was someone already waiting in front of us. I was both relieved to have made it to hospital, and in a panic about feeling too ill to sit or stand.

No problem: I collapsed across the row of chairs and took off my hat.

Instantly effective: within seconds, a nurse had rushed me into a cubicle.

See? A bald cancer head gets you places. (With the exception of private woods.) No-one will tut or question the queue jumping. Make way! Oh, the relief of lying down on a trolley, like a feather bed in a five star hotel. My bones were aching and aching.

It's a pretty standard protocol for them. They whip in an intravenous line, take bloods, get ready to set up the fluids. The resus room, they said, would get me treated more quickly, so in we went. Bags of just-in-case antibiotics. Intravenous paracetamol to get the temperature down.

We ended up staying in that resus cubicle for several hours, by which time the trolley had begun to feel more one star than five. The blood results showed, thankfully (and surprisingly), that my white blood cells were plentiful, more than sufficient to fight an infection. There were no other signs of infection anywhere.

The verdict was that these spiking temperatures and other nasty symptoms were simply caused by my body protesting against the foreign invasion.

In protest? On strike, more likely. I don't think I have ever felt so ill in my life.

They gave me the choice. I could go home and sit it out. But if I wanted to, they were happy for me to stay in hospital.

The fact that I chose to stay in hospital was an indication of how ill and miserable I felt. I would never have thought that, given the choice, I would prefer hospital to home. Even the thought of having to give birth in hospital freaked me out (all my three babies were born at home). But now, the thought of being home had me in a serious panic. What if the temperature climbed up further? How would I know whether it was something to worry about or not?

So, we waited and waited for a bed to become available. It took a couple of hours, by which time I longed for a bed with a blanket and a pillow, and for the relative quiet of a ward. I was so exhausted, feverish and achy that even lying down took a Herculean effort.

Beeps and rings and phone calls and discussions about patients and the voice of confused 84 year old Mavis* in the next cubicle. I could now give you Mavis' entire social and medical history. She was lucky to have her son with her. How the NHS would manage without carers, I don't know. Although in possession of my full faculties, I was hugely grateful for my husband's ability to answer repeated questions about allergies and my date of birth.

Finally, we were told that a bed was available on the cancer ward.

I was so relieved. This is the ward with the VIP lounge, which also has beds. The nurses and doctors would know what they are doing.

As the porter wheeled me through the quiet corridors, past the stairs to my office, I was vaguely conscious of how bizarre it was to be here like this. I have walked these corridors for well over a decade, always in a decent outfit and often with recent use of my four items of make-up. Here I was, ill, bald, utterly miserable.

No matter. I felt safe.

Now, three days later, my drugs have just arrived and I am waiting for my sister-in-law to turn up and take me home. I'll tell you the story of the cancer ward tomorrow.

*Not her real name

Owl and I in the Resus Room

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