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May 26, 2011

Surviving a Hospital Stay

by Val Reynolds
A planted wildflower meadow in Anjou

A planted wildflower meadow in Anjou

When the doctor mentioned the possibility of a pacemaker. I was shocked into silence.

I had made an appointment to see the doctor because the palpitations I usually experienced from the effects of arrythmia had become stronger, my legs ached, my back ached and I was getting concerned.

So I asked the doctor if she could check me out in some way. She said an ECG would be the first step. The results showed I had a two second pause between some heartbeats and she told me to go straight to the A&E for a check up. She wrote a letter to take with me.

To say my husband was startled when I told him we were to go straight to the hospital is an understatement – I thought it wisest not to mention the possible pacemaker.

I was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit and joined three other women with varying heart conditions. Janet was overweight with a family history of heart disease, but that didn’t stop her eating cream cakes and crisps that her friends and family brought her. A subsequent angiogram showed she needed a triple bypass and was duly shipped off to Harefield.

Sheila had an inherited genetic heart condition and was in increasingly greater pain as the days passed. She was still waiting to go to Harefield after three weeks.

Joyce had a dangerous clot and found to have too high a level of cholesterol and was down for a pacemaker but she discharged herself as unable to face the surgery.

Susan was brought in with a suspected heart attack, had a bad night in the ward with an asthma attack and a chronic migraine. She was taken to Harefield that morning.

And me? Well after three days of blood tests – one result showed I had a magnesium deficiency and I had a transfusion which had an immediate positive effect. I had my computer with me and looking up the symptoms of magnesium deficiency saw that the symptoms were very similar to heart disturbance – palpitations, aching muscles … However, as they were still concerned I was transferred to a ward in a holding to wait for an angiogram.

The ward was populated by geriatrics. I’m 68 and I was the youngest patient. I have to say several younger patients were admitted a few days later, but they didn’t stay long. I had a five day wait before an angiogram could be arranged.

For those five days I experienced a different world. Most of our time was organised by hospital routines. My fellow inmates were a forlorn crowd.

Mary, born 1927, in the bed opposite me, was massive, diabetic, constantly eating goodies her son and daughter brought her. Disliked most of the food on the menu, at least she said she disliked them but I discovered she had never eaten pizza, spaghetti bolognaise, or lasagne, but actively disliked them. Used to having carers visiting her twice a day she had become virtually inactive. She could not walk, was doubly incontinent, constantly wanted the commode, and needed, she said, her bottom wiped which one orderly refused to do, saying We don’t do that kind of thing, you must help yourself.

Mary was constantly at war with the staff, dropping much of food on the floor, needing her incontinence pads changing, From what she told me she had had a dispiriting life with no ambition or incentive to strive for much. At 83 she didn’t have much to look forward to I guess.

Referred to as Ethel by the staff, my fellow patient on my left was constantly telling the staff that her name was Mary. On getting to know her, she was a 90 year old with a strong will to live. She had practised hatha yoga most of her adult life although she no longer had sufficient strength to continue. She did however practise tai chi sitting up in bed which kept us amused, she inspired Mary opposite to try it! We must have looked funny sitting up waving our arms about with very serious faces!

Gwendoline in the corner was not at all well and we were all concerned that she was not allowed anything at all to drink or eat for several days. Her pleadings for water were increasingly hard to bear.

Then in the room opposite a woman who was in constant pain called out day and night for her daddy, her lovely George, or her mother. It was hard to bear too and we were relieved when her door was closed when medical care was administered.

Visitors in the general ward fluctuated for each patient, from one a day to about ten twice a day. Some visits were very amusing. When confined to bed for long periods of time there are things you need to be done for you that aren’t expected to be done by nurses or ward assistants. The main one concerns teeth, or at least the replacement, false teeth. These need frequent brushing and it falls to the visitors to sort this out. I noticed it was more frequently performed by sons and husbands. The women were more likely to feed the patients.

Sleeping at night was difficult to achieve. Lights were dimmed by 9 pm after final drugs were administered and blood pressures taken. After a day or so I got used to the earliness. But I had to draw the curtains round the bed to reduce the light level and put in ear plugs to deaden the sound of snoring, calling out, buzzers, and one night a nurse who ignored the footwear requirements and tapped his way round the ward in his hard soled shoes. Another night one patient had a five hour conversation with an imaginary companion.

We were woken at 6.00 am for breakfast. I was surprised the choice was white bread, margarine, jam, high sugar and salt cereal. None of which are generally considered to be good quality food. My husband brought in oatcakes, fresh juice, hardboiled eggs, low fat yogurt and green tea bags to keep me going.

I have to say the bed was fab. Endlessly adjustable using a little control pad, it could support you sitting up at any angle, support your legs at the knees, and could go quite low and quite high. One adventurous lady put hers so high, at least 5 foot off the ground, that she was in danger of falling off in fright! About six nurses came running in to help.

My laptop kept me sane. I managed to do a fair amount of writing and could access the internet on a different floor so at least I kept on top of my emails. I managed to review several dvds and more than a few books.

Many patients were suffering from mental ailments and really didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. I have to admire the patience and understanding of all the staff who were unfailingly kind and supportive.

After nine days of waiting I finally had the angiogram which showed my arteries to be completely clear of obstacles. I was given a clean bill of health.

So was nine days too long to be in hospital? Well I found out that occasionally permission is given to patients to go home for the day and come back at night. This ensures you stay on the inpatient schedule for treatment. If I had gone home and waited for an outpatient appointment I would have had to wait for up to 3 months. In the event I was not given the option and settled in for the duration.

My stay may seem excessive, but the positive outcomes were

  1. A magnesium deficiency was sorted out
  2. I know my cholesterol count needs attention – LDL 1.9 which is good, but HDL at 4 needs to be reduced, preferably through nutritional adjustments, so reduce animal fat intake to begin with and ask for another blood test in say 3 months’ time.
  3. My arteries are clear so no need for stents, or a bypass

I was advised to consider taking Warfarin to reduce the possibility of bloodclots as a result of the worsening arrhythmia. However as I have had a brain haemorrhage Warfarin may trigger another. So there is a dilemma to be resolved, or not.

Kate Campbell, contributing author

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