Hospital Hiatus

The doctors and nurses of the NHS do some amazing work, but I really don't want to go back any time soon!

A little over two weeks ago, the muscles of my shoulders and neck started to ache quite a bit, which I just put down to the anxiety I was feeling at the time trying to achieve things at work.  Looking back, I guess I wasn't exactly on top form, as I steered clear of people and disappeared for a wander during my brother-in-law's birthday party the following Monday, not something I normally do when visiting family.

By the time Wednesday came around, my temperature had hit 38.2 during the day and the headaches had started to set in, reaching 39.1 overnight, but completely manageable with paracetamol so I felt more than well enough to head to work.

Some of you may be calling me a knob for doing that but, to paraphrase something my parents always used to say when I was a child, if I'm well enough to get out of bed then I'm well enough to go to work.  Bearing in mind I had no cough, no runny nose, no funny vision, no nausea (other than some motion sickness making itself evident), just a few muscular aches, with a temperature and headache that was easily managed by paracetamol, I wasn't about to wuss out of work.

That said, on the Thursday night, the high temperatures were starting to worry me, prompting a call to the NHS Direct service, a call that lasted far longer than I had anticipated and resulted in them being concerned enough to get the out of hours doctor service to contact me.  Unfortunately, the doc was far less concerned and that call lasted less than a minute or two, with him stating it was just flu and to keep taking the paracetamol.

By the weekend, when I was meant to be working on cakes for a friend's company BBQ, I found myself with a temperature of just over 40 degrees, had a horrible taste in my mouth and the headaches refused to budge, even with the pain killers.  Although I did what I could to help Foshie complete the order, I was completely useless and barely managed anything.  I slept a lot that weekend, especially after a wander into town to sort a couple of bits left me a little out of breath and shattered physically.  Finally, after another call to NHS Direct on the Sunday night, I made the decision to see the doctor, something I wasn't overly keen on doing for a number of reasons, least of which is that I no longer trust them.

My doctor surgery has this process whereby if you want to see a doctor that day, then you must call at 8:30am to make an appointment which, of course, means that it is impossible to get through at that time of the morning, so you have to keep hanging up and re-dialling in the hopes you might get through.  If you were feeling brave, you could attend the emergency surgery which is available from 8:30am until around midday, in the hopes that a slot may make itself available to see the doc, though I've tended to find they're less interested in those that do this, keen to get them back out the door with a flea in their ear.

My appointment wasn't until 4:30pm, so I spent the morning slowly sorting things out around the flat since my headache was preventing me moving around too quickly; moving my head too quick sent it into a dizzy spin, so making like a tortoise was the order of the day.  With a head like that, driving to the docs was out of the question, so I left a lot earlier by foot and managed to get in by 4pm, where the doc checked me out and said I had pus on my left tonsil - lovely - so prescribed Penicillin V.

I didn't have a sore throat, but this would explain the bad taste in my mouth.  I guessed I should start to get better now.  Then again...

Tuesday morning, I woke with a numb right leg.  Normally, this isn't a problem as you can rub away the cramps and get the feeling back.  Not this time.  No amount of rubbing, walking or wiggling would rid my leg of the tingling numbness.  Cue panic and another call to NHS Direct!

I think the chap on the other end of the line got a bit frustrated with me because I wasn't giving him answers that fit with his script, so had to say that I couldn't move my leg, which wasn't exactly true, but did result in them connecting me with the emergency services, who turned up about ten minutes later.

I can't help but get the feeling that the ambulance service has started taking a sloping shoulders approach.  When they arrived, they saw that I could move my leg and briefly felt for a pulse in my foot to make sure I had circulation, then said there was nothing they could do.  I could either stay there and sort myself out or they could take me down to the hospital, the choice was mine.  They didn't seem overly impressed that I opted for the latter - my instincts said there was something really not right, but since experienced medical staff weren't offering much in the way of help, I had to make an instinctive decision.

It wasn't until I was sitting in the back of the ambulance with the heart rate monitor on that they discovered that my blood oxygen saturation was far lower than it should be, though they didn't say anything until I had been admitted at the hospital, by which time I was a little out of it and feeling guilty after seeing a poster with the title "Which of these is not a taxi?" with pictures of both a taxi and an ambulance.  Maybe I should have walked instead.

After this, things are a little mixed up and hard to remember, but I do remember seeing a few different doctors and having a chest x-ray where it was discovered that one-third of my left lung was in shadow.

My hospital tag and meds :-(
I had pneumonia.  Bad.

That's when the tests and surreal questions started to try and find the cause behind my immune system failing me.  Questions about partners, holidays and contact with sewerage (?!).  Nothing I could tell them could give them any indication as to why this had happened.

Then I was asked the scariest question of them all: would I be willing to have an HIV test?

Even though you know you've been safe, when the question is asked in the context of a failed immune system, it sends a bolt of fear through you, like an electric shock that lingers for far too long, jangling your nerves for endless hours.  Of course, I agreed.  Then I was admitted to the Acute Admissions Unit (AAU) and told by one doctor about the state of my lung and that this was not an issue to be taken lightly.

Then I was left alone, with nothing but successive bags of IV fluids, an oxygen tube and my thoughts for company.

That was when I contacted my parents to let them know I was in hospital, and I don't mind admitting I was on the verge of tears.  I had managed to convince myself that there was a very good chance I would not be leaving hospital alive.  Daft?  Maybe, but at the time it felt like a very real possibility.

Over the next day or so, I was shuffled between different departments of AAU, starting off in Level 1 Purple (thumbs up), shifted to Level 1 Yellow (thumbs down) before finishing up in Level 3 Blue (mixed thumbs).

I think it was around Thursday, after I had been taken off IV fluids and oxygen but still on IV antibiotics, when I was visited by a new doctor.  She was lovely, it was just a bit embarrassing that I had not had the opportunity to shower or shave before she got to me.  However, she did have some very good news; all of my blood tests had so far come back negative, and I do mean ALL my tests were negative.  YAY!!

On the one hand this was awesome news; on the other, it meant that there was still the puzzle as to why my immune system failed me.

More tests followed and not just blood tests.  One of the earlier doctors had been testing my right leg since that is was I had originally called the ambulance for and discovered that it wasn't reacting properly to reaction tests, so she had arranged with another doctor to do some more in-depth tests.  I can't remember what day he arrived, but it involved two types of tests:
  1. Zapping me with an electric current to see if my muscles reacted to stimulation, on both the bad and good leg to compare.  For the most part, it was fine, but some of the charges really hurt.
  2. Sticking an acupuncture-sized needle in me to try and find and listen to my main nerve.  The left leg was fine, with the nerve exactly where he expected to find it.  The right leg, however, seemed to be hiding the main nerve somewhere; it didn't matter where he stuck the needle, he just couldn't find the nerve at all.
Apparently, his later report said that everything was fine since signals were still getting to the muscles and they were reacting properly.  It would be interesting to find out why he couldn't locate that nerve though.

One of the better hospital meals.
At some point, my temperature had dropped to normal temperatures and had stabilised, but it had taken a little longer than expected.  However, come Friday, they were keen to discharge me on the Saturday as I was definitely improving.

I don't know what it is about weekends, but from Friday there seemed to be a distinct lack of staff, especially doctors.  I needed to be cleared on the Saturday morning in order that I could get my medication from the pharmacy before it closed at 1pm.  Unfortunately, the only doctor that seemed to be available appeared to have the whole of the AAU to cover, so didn't manage to get to me until around mid-afternoon, at which point I was discharged with a note to keep me off work until the end of the following week and told that he would write me a normal prescription that I could claim for free from any pharmacy.


After leaving hospital with my parents, we went straight to a pharmacy to get my antibiotics (Clarithromycin and Augmentin), where I was told there were no free prescriptions from hospital and that the doctor should not have told me that.  The only place you can get free prescriptions from a hospital is from the hospital pharmacy itself.

Great, straight out of hospital and into the crap of capitalism.

Thankfully, my parents had insisted on taking me home to Somerset where I could spend time recouperating, so I packed up all my stuff and we set off.  By the time we arrived, it was a beautiful clear night and we were welcomed by a sight that I haven't seen since I was in Sri Lanka for my cousin's wedding; immediately above us, visible to the naked eye, was the faint cloud of the Milky Way galaxy.

Absolutely beautiful.


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