Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sicko (Day Three)

In many ways hospitals are a lot like airports. They’re big, bland buildings in which half-hearted attempts have been made to make you comfortable. Nobody wants to be there, but they realise they have to be. There’s nothing to amuse you, it’s impossible to get any sleep, there’s a lot of emotional stress in the air, speakers in the ceiling make a lot of irrelevant announcements, and the food is, at best, serviceable.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. The food isn’t so much “serviceable” as “terrible”. True, it’s probably nutritious, and I imagine it’s cheap to produce, but it’s aimed at a very particular demographic, of which you and I are not members. Put simply, every meal in hospital is like dinner with your grandma. It’s bland, it’s squishy, it promotes good regular bowel movements, and it hasn’t been seen in the dining rooms of anyone under sixty in twenty years. I had spinach and ricotta ravioli, and it was served with cauliflower and brussel sprouts. When I elected to have cornflakes for breakfast rather than porridge or semolina, it came with stewed prunes on the side. The fish mornay came with instant mashed potatoes. And just when I thought I was safe, when I saw a little bowl marked “mixed berry cheesecake”… it was just a powdered biscuit base covered in blancmange! Every meal I kept expecting a nurse to sneak up behind me and shove a spoonful of cod liver oil down my throat.

Things are probably different in private hospitals, just as they’re different in the first class lounges at the airport. They probably get cheesecake that contains actual cheese. And cake.

By mid-morning on this, my third day in hospital, I was starting to go a little stir-crazy. Fortunately I’d been informed that there was just one test left that they wanted to run on me: a cardiac exercise stress test. Once the consultant cardiologist had swung by to glare at me, as if I were something revolting that his cat had sicked up onto an expensive rug, a new nurse was sent in to prepare me for the test.

“Have you had one of these before?” she asked.


“Well, we just need to attach some sensors to your chest, and to prepare the skin I’ll be doing a little light sandpapering.”


“And then an alcohol swab.”


“Oh, it’s not that bad. Certainly not as bad as a needle.”

“But I have very sensitive skin!”

“Don’t be such a baby. There are only ten of them to attach.”

And off to work she went. Having the skin on your chest sandpapered then swabbed with alcohol feels much like you’d expect – like being stung by a bee the size of a Pomeranian.

“The redness will vanish in a moment,” she said, confidently. Then a few seconds later she frowned. “My, you do have sensitive skin, don’t you? I’ve never seen a rash like that come up.”

“I’m a regular medical marvel,” I muttered through clenched teeth.

Soon afterwards I was lead down the corridor by a technician and introduced to another middle-aged lady, who took one look at the sensors on my chest and pursed her lips disapprovingly. “No, no, what does she think she’s doing? This one’s in the wrong place. And so is this one. And these two. And that one down there. Take them off.”

“Well, five out of ten isn’t bad,” joked her assistant.

“We’ll just have to do them again. Get the sandpaper.”


“Sorry,” she said, without any appreciable trace of sorrow whatsoever.

After another attack of the Pomeranian-sized bees, I was put onto a treadmill and instructed to walk at the pace necessary to keep up. Every few minutes they bumped up the speed and the incline, and I watched as my pulse rate slowly rose up from the low 50s to the high 170s. They said that they’d keep going until I was unable to continue, but I have pretty good stamina, and it was they who eventually stopped the test.

“So, I guess I passed that one?” I said, once I’d cooled down a bit.

“The exertion aspect of it, yes,” the attending doctor replied, in a tone that suggested that this was the equivalent of spelling my name right on the top of an algebra exam.


“I don’t like this incline on the T axis and the span of the QRS here,” he said to the operator.

“And the X line on the QTc with the purple monkey dishwasher is flapjacked,” she replied. Or words to that effect.

“So what does this mean?” I asked.

“Hmmm… we’re not sure. We may need to keep you in another night.”

As you might imagine, I was not very receptive to this. Having had a lot of time to observe and practice, I gave him my own version of The Glare. It seemed to work; he quailed before its chill flintiness and promised to consult with the senior cardiologists before making a decision.

I was taken back to my room and reconnected to my ECG machine. A little while later the doctor came in and told me that I was being released, on the understanding that I’d be coming back as an outpatient in a few weeks for an EEG scan, a Holter monitor and an appointment with the cardiologist.

Do not underestimate the awesome power of The Glare.

It's interesting to note that after all of these tests, they still couldn't state with any conviction that there was actually anything wrong with me. There were a few tiny abnormalities, but they didn't seem to mean much. It seems that I got sick with a nasty gastric bug, which upset my entire physiology, which triggered my fairly easily triggerable fainting response. It doesn't seem that I'm in any immediate peril of dropping dead.

An hour later I was back in the public corridors of the hospital, the same ones that I walk down every day to get my newspaper or go to meetings. It gave me a sudden sense of disconnect, especially as I was in a T-shirt and sneakers rather than my usual suit. An hour after that I was home again, back to a proper bed, proper clothes, proper food and the sweet twin embraces of the internet and television.

While it’s nice to back in normality, there is one other thing worth noting about my little stay in the hospital. Despite the fact that I was attended by dozens of medical staff at six different professional levels, hooked up to four ECG machines, two ultrasound scanners and four saline drips, underwent three blood tests, six doses of drugs, a chest X-ray, and so many blood pressure readings that both of my upper arms are lightly bruised, the whole affair didn’t cost me a cent. People may bitch and moan about it, but we have one hell of a public health system.


Blogger an9ie said...

Whew, Blanders! You had me worried there for a minute. So, the mystery illness stays a mystery, eh?

I've just been watching Grey's Anatomy so somehow had mentally superimposed you in there, being attended to by hot surgeons and ER staff :) Well, see, at least you learnt two things: 1) go for the free medical care and 2) The Glare, courtesy of our jaded medical profession. Whee!

Look after yourself, mate.

1:00 PM  
Blogger phaedrus said...

Mon Dieu! Frankly, nothing scares me as much as hospitals and mysterious medical problems. The scenes of the diagnostic tests from "The Exorcist" scared me much more than Linda Blair spinning her head around while projectile vomiting.

Take care.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Laziest Girl said...

Wowsers Blandy - sounds like you've had an exciting few days - glad to hear you are (mostly) ok and only slightly traumatised. Look after yourself little buddy and don't skip the follow up tests!

3:31 PM  

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