As I walked across the road to the hospital entrance it was now 7 days since the first symptoms had shown themselves and who knows how long since the infection first took hold. Unusually for me I had not just done as the GP said but had insisted on greater help. I wasn't shuffling but my pace had slowed from it's normal speed. There was the normal groups of people in and around the doors and foyer but I didn't take in their details, I was just trying to carve a course around and through the slow but ever moving obstacles that they presented. I followed the basic instruction the GP had given me to find the Acute Assessment Unit, which was basic and fairly straight forward, until I found the door. This was not an Intensive Care unit but another area with side wards, away from A+E, in which certain medical conditions would have restricted access.
Pushing through the swing doors I saw a large desk on the right, it looked big, like an old police station counter. I retrieved the letter from my pocket and approached the lady standing behind the desk. I identified myself and she confirmed that they were expecting me and indicating that I need to go further along the ward to another desk. I looked down the corridor and my mind registered another desk that seemed a long way off, nodding in understanding I gently pushed away from the desk like an oarsman launching from a mooring and made my way forward. At the second desk they acknowledged me, took my letter and told me to sit on the end bed, indicating the eight bed side ward behind me. The ward was empty of patients but I taking this at it's basic meaning I made my way to the far bed in the room and just sat on the edge facing the window, not really taking anything in.
A young doctor appeared and started to question me and I related the tail of the first symptoms and the headache. He said something and I waited as he disappeared back up the ward to re appear a few minutes later with a senior. Again we went through the questions and symptoms, and again they both left but this time I overheard a part sentence. No one had made any mention of Swine Flu until I had told them, not in the phone calls or the letter. They returned after a few minutes wearing protective facial masks. And at that point I recognised the junior doctor, it was 'Lewis Hamilton in a face mask'. Whether I was stunned by this revelation or, more likely my brain succumbing to the infection, I wasn't really taking in the detail of what was being said but just the general message. They were going to have to perform some tests, requiring Lumber punctures.
|Lumbar spinal kit|
I was laying on the bed, the top half of my torso naked, with no recollection of undressing or laying down on my side. 'Lewis' began wiping my back with an extremely cold wet liquid. I recall asking if it was the orange stuff one see's on medical programs, he corrected the colour and told me it's name. A few minutes later the senior came round the bed to face me, and got me to adopt a semi foetal position as aesthetic was injected. Something was happening behind me as the senior told 'lewis' not to worry as the Lignocaine takes a little time to work. I felt the senior place his hand at the base of my skull and neck with a gentle but firm pressure, his other hand reached into the crook of my knees. And then it started. I felt something touch my back which, in my mind, rapidly turned into a ¼ inch square steel pastry cutter being forced through the skin and spine. It hurt, it hurt like hell, but the over-riding thought going through my mind was "don't move, don't move!". There was a brief discussion between the two doctors and then knowing they had to do it again. I felt the hands behind my head and knees again and then the pastry cutter was inserted in a new position. Again and again and again, each time needing a fresh location in the spine, until they seemed satisfied. Yet without me knowing, they had failed to achieve their aim, they had not got the fluid, or sufficient quantities, that they needed.
My wife got permission to leave work shortly after the news reached her, in fact over the next few days all the family visited although I am only aware of a few visits, and then not all that was discussed. Arrangements were made to buy some PJ's and other sundry goods after work and get them to me that evening. The next thing I was aware of was a slight bump as the trolley bed passed through a door.
|Spinal tap fluid.|
In my mind it was Tuesday, but this. according to everyone, happened the same Monday afternoon. I had an awareness of a very sterile room, one that was longer than it's width by far, like a galley kitchen would be. Although I was on my side I was aware of three people in the room. A senior anaesthetist and what sounded like a young male and female. An alarm bell, shrill yet flat sounding, rang for a short time. This must have brought my mind back closer to events. I could hear the senior tell them to wait, to make sure it wasn't a real alarm, while I just waited in the calm. I heard the young girl asked what would happen if it were real alarm, the senior told them the patients would be put to sleep before evacuating the building. I recognised the policy, it was the same for an aeromed flight, when a crash was imminent. There would be no time to help the stretcher cases so they would be put out of their misery first. I wanted to say "I know, it was OK, I understood, but you just get out and I would make my own way out", but I couldn't so I just lay quietly. When they were certain things were normal they continued. There were more lumbar punctures to be done. I felt very little pain as I started to drift again while I felt, yet again, hands behind my head and knees. They were guided through their work, I could hear talk of the liquid in the syringe, and after two attempts they seemed satisfied.
I could hear a sound, or rather numerous sounds with a slight echo, it was voices. The slight rocking of my body suggested I was on another trolley moving through a public area. I couldn't distinguish individual words, it was like a cage full of muted chickens. I wondered what they were talking about, Were they talking about me, were they judging me, what were they thinking as I was being swept past them, and despite the sheet and bed throw beloved of hospitals I felt a naked vulnerability seep through me. I was parked next to a window in what sounded like a cathedral of a room. Footsteps moved away till I could hear quiet voices talking. The window appeared large, and arched at the top befitting a huge room. Other sounds now came, vehicles and footsteps outside the window, I could hear them talking and thought they need only turn their heads to see me and that cold feeling of naked vulnerability seeped through me again. In the room was a machine. My mind viewed it as a monolithic piece of engineering that would have taken pride of place in any heavy industrial workshop. I was to have an scan of some sort. Moving me into position I was told to lie as still as possible as a steel mask, with two slits for eyes, gave a dull metallic clang as it shut over my face. Then the noises started, banging and thumping in strange rhythmic pulses, until I was no longer aware.
Each day my wife would visit two or three times, and each day although we talked I was to have no recollection of them. My wife would be briefed before or after as to my progress or not. Until one night the care staff informed her that if I was to continue on the downward path I would not be taken to the intensive care unit,as they could do no more than the critical care staff were already doing where I was, she was to go home and get some rest but be ready to be called back in that night. Totally unknown to me I was about to enter battle.