42 West Street, (Re-visited).
Again not the intended post but, as this all occurred very recently, true to the moment; and I’m trying to follow my instincts here.
In 2020 Elaine posted a blog entitled 42 West Street in which she gave a well-observed if somewhat condensed version of an overnight stay we had in the emergency department at Poole hospital a year or so previously.
Recently lightning struck again and I found myself back on familiar ground albeit only for half the original 12 hours plus that Elaine and I endured.
My friend Marilyn had not been feeling too well for a while. She’d had the latest Covid jab, shortly followed by one for the flu but began to feel unwell a few days later. To start with its flu-like stuff, headache, blocked nose, cough etc, but then she noticed her heart was starting to beat erratically and fast.
Her home blood pressure monitor was giving some very strange readings plus showing heart rate often topping 100 bpm. This situation continued for a couple of weeks and the hope was that all would settle down, but though the fluey symptoms did, the heart rate didn’t.
One Thursday morning it’s up to 137 bpm, “It feels like my hearts trying to bounce out of my chest Mark and my breathings getting tight”. I assumed that this wasn’t all down to my close proximity to her and all joking aside I was now becoming concerned, my own senses telling me she’s got a problem.
She has a doctor’s appointment but its two weeks away yet so I suggest a visit to the small A&E unit at our local hospital, but I can tell she is reluctant so don’t push too hard. Still not feeling right the next morning she calls 111 to ask for advice and they question her thoroughly then book her into Poole A&E for that afternoon telling her not to delay.
The first I know of this is when my phone rings as I’m shopping in town about 1pm. “I know it’s short notice Mark but can you run me into Poole they want me there in 45 minutes time”.
I know her well enough that I can distil the worry from in between her words.
“Of course I will, I’ll come in with you too if you want.”
“Thanks I’d like that”.
I’m a bit of an old hand to say the least when it comes to hospitals, including emergency departments, but Marilyn isn’t; I know she will be anxious and once more the supporting role is mine, but I’m pleased enough to do it.
We arrive pretty much on time, but A&E has changed a bit since my last time here. Mar’ gives her details to a nurse sitting behind a secure screen at the entrance. We are then admitted through to the inner sanctum and give details again to a receptionist behind another screen, we are expected and asked to sit and wait.
There are a couple of seats free together but one has a handbag beneath so I speak to the woman perched close by it, “Anyone sitting here love?”
The mini-skirted figure in long white socks with a shock of blond hair glances up at me and I realise my mistake as he mutters something, grabs up the bag and moves away to a single seat.
Genuine mistake; but Marilyn doesn’t notice, she is a fish out of water here and looks very uncomfortable.
Minutes later we are called to a tiny side room hardly bigger than a large closet. A cheery young nurse takes details as she attaches a pressure cuff to Mars’ arm. Then she sits down at a keyboard with screen in front.
She’s asking Marilyn what has happened but stops mid-sentence as the read- out hits 150 bpm.
“Oh, this is rather high. How are you feeling now?”
“A bit dizzy”, comes the reply.
“Right I think there’s room for you in re-sus’ I’ll just check”.
Re-sus! I almost say it out loud.
Another short wait then we are ushered through to a large curtain fronted room packed with electronic equipment; a large bed/couch takes centre stage. Mar’ is soon installed here and another nurse begins to wire her up to God knows what. I take up position in the only chair close by.
A doctor introduces himself as Josh. He sports a wedding ring but could easily pass as a schoolboy on his lunch break but, he is very re-assuring and explains clearly all that they are doing.
Mar’s bpm reaches almost 160 and they decide that she is suffering Atrial Fibrillation where the heart can race then slow then race again but for what reason they cannot say.
Contributing factors are the usual suspects, smoking, drinking, eating the wrong stuff or just getting older but it’s not all relevant here. Marilyn asks if her recent jabs could be the cause, but this idea is quickly dismissed (though a little too quickly we think). The plan is now to administer drugs to gradually stabilise her, but it’s not a quick fix, we are going to be here for a good while yet. If it’s not sorted a stroke can be the result.
But we’re not to stay just here. Marilyn is de-wired and we are taken further into the hospital, it’s now that the Déjà vu hits me. We are led to the small six bay ‘ward’ that is the exact location of the night of 42 West Street. Ours is bay 4, that night three years ago Elaine and I occupied bay 6.
Again Marilyn lies on the trolley/bed and again she is wired-up, the monitor is overhead, she can see it if she turns, I can watch it easily from my solitary chair.
She looks very pale.
They inform us she is to have an x-ray soon to check heart and lungs. This does not improve her mood so I start to tell her of my previous visit here which does help to keep her mind off the present situation. It doesn’t bother me to talk of it, though it does feel strange to be here without Elaine.
Just as before our fellow inmates are a mixed and ever changing crew.
The old girl in bay 2 is yelling into a mobile phone, “They’re getting me a taxi, YES…I’ll be an hour or more. NO,NO I’ve got to get out of here…NO Right Nowww.”
Her voice trails off into a tearful wail, I wonder at her history here; she defiantly sits in a chair at the end of the bed until ‘they’ come for her.
Next to us in bay 5 a middle aged man lies in the bed, I never hear him say a word; a young woman is with him. We see her frequently as she dumps Costa coffee cups and other debris in the bin at our end of the room on a regular basis.
Bay 3 opposite us is empty on our arrival but it’s shortly taken by a woman late 30’s / early 40’s.
There are curtains at the end of the bays, ours are almost constantly open but even when closed none can blot out the sound.
Our new neighbour was having a consultation concerning a lump on her neck when she began to feel unwell and her heart rate skyrocketed.
When questioned about the lump she has been told that it’s not believed to be cancer but they want to remove it anyway. Mar’ and I look at each other at the mention of cancer, our joint sympathies pass across to bay 3 to hold silent solidarity.
She isn’t with us too long though as a gap in the curtain reveals to me her heart rate is over 180 and she is whisked off into the hospital for specialised treatment to slow part of her heart down.
“It’s not pleasant, for a while, but it works”…. I hope it did.
Marilyn was started on some tablets before we left re-sus’ now she is given more; her heart rate is trending down but not very quickly.
Shortly she announces a need for the loo. A new nurse suggests a bed pan, Mar’ looks at me quizzically and I explain.
“No thanks I’ll wait.”
But the wait gets longer so she asks again. This time its nurse Maria who saw us in here; she suggests a wheelchair to the toilet as they are concerned about Marilyn walking, so the patient agrees.
15minutes pass and Mar’ thinks Maria has forgotten, but I know the pace of things here. Then ‘IT’ arrives but it aint no wheelchair. Maria is pushing a portable commode minus the container.
It’s just a metal frame with a loo seat and cover on four wildly spinning castors; cream coloured tubular metal straight out of the 1940’s it belongs in a museum.
Maria apologises whilst trying not to laugh. We do laugh together and out loud. Marilyn has a sense of humour akin to Elaine’s and, she can laugh at herself.
“I’ll keep my foot behind as you get on because there is no brake” says the nurse/chauffer.
I’m almost crying, it’s the first good laugh since we got here. I can just imagine her skating across the ward and being ejected through the window.
“Death by commode” – what a blog that’d make – eat your heart out Elaine.
They return shortly both grinning broadly. This tableau reminds me of a cheap Carry-On film, maybe “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”… budget version, just wish I’d thought to take a picture, but ‘the queen’ is soon wired-up again and the wait continues.
Another nurse, Oshin, arrives to take Mar’ for her X-ray; they soon return. More waiting, more checks, heart rate still too high; no release until it’s under 100 and staying there. Their concern brings home the seriousness of the situation.
Dr Josh arrives and tells Marilyn she will have to be on medication and blood thinners indefinitely, also he’s going to book her an appointment with the out patients heart clinic.
“Isn’t there any alternative” she pleads.
“Shock treatment maybe, but it doesn’t suit everybody.”
“I’ll go for it if it’s a chance not to have to take bloody pills for the rest of my life” the patient replies.
I can’t help but admire her spirit.
Josh suggests I go to the pharmacy with Marilyn’s prescription which he has brought with him.
“Best to go now, they close at six and they’re short staffed so you’ll have to wait”.
He leaves us and I look at Mar’, “You be ok?”
“Yeah I’m alright.”
Liar I think, but say nothing just squeeze her hand gently and go.
The main hospital has changed somewhat since my last time here but I soon find my destination. I hand over the large paper form and am told there will be a wait of at least 40 minutes.
I guess it’s the nature of the beast, but it is a chance to get some air and check the car as I’m well over time now on the parking.
So I re-trace my steps, stopping to use what must be the smallest toilet on the planet. It’s a squeeze just to turn around. They must have converted a broom cupboard having left the toilet off the original plans. I can’t see how some of the people here would ever fit in, or get out again!
Walking through the new lobby I find myself further down the main road from where we came in. It’s about 5.15 now, virtually dark and it’s been raining. Crossing the road I notice the lights from the traffic and buildings around reflect a constant game of tag across the wet surfaces; new colours flash into life then die in an instant only to be re-born again seconds later.
I walk through the forecourt of the 24hour filling station and into the road behind. Turning right towards the car it’s now that I find myself face to face with the Harbour Hospital; for me it’s like coming home.
Mechanically I walk into the car park and stand looking at this building that I know so intimately. This is where Elaine underwent countless treatments and operations over nearly three decades.
That window above the entrance, her view of the world for two weeks in early ’97 after her second mastectomy and the bi-lateral re-build. She would stand and wave to me as she got better when I left after an evening visit.
To my right the windows of the oncology suites; Studland, Sandbanks etc names never forgotten; we were in them all so many times over and over again.
I have stood for hours watching the cars come and go from those windows. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve spent weeks of my life here yet never once been a patient; I know it all so well I could walk the corridors blindfold.
My cheeks are wet but it’s not raining. Emotion has found me off guard and I am stood here freely crying for all the world to see, but I really don’t give a fuck right now who’s looking. I have known the highest and lowest of emotions within those walls. Felt the hopes and dreams of expectations, had them fulfilled and had them dashed once more on the rocks of returning cancer again and again.
My eyes are drawn back to the entrance and I remember that last time I was here, Saturday 19th December 2020, early evening. Elaine was in 24hours for fluid to be drained from her tummy.
For the bloody life of me I will never forget her words as she came out looking so frail and tired;
“Don’t expect too much Mark, I’m not so good.”
She wanted to go home via the Christmas lights in town. Inside, we both knew it would be for the last time. Even now I can’t remember that journey home without the tears flooding my world.
Less than 48 hours later I brought her to the hospice little more than a good stones’ throw from where I’m stood.
The emotion makes me shiver, my heart feels like it could overtake Marilyn’s.
I wonder what it would be like to go through that entrance again, would it help me or drag me down? To pass through those rooms where we held each other close for strength and support so many times, desperate to keep the dream of ‘us’ alive.
I haven’t heard Elaine’s voice since before she died but as I have stated previously I’ve ‘felt’ it inside of me on several occasions. It’s there now.
“You won’t find me or us here, not today not ever. Go back to Marilyn she’s frightened and alone and she needs you more than I do right now.”
There is a lot of me still in this place I know, but now is not the time for going back to re-claim it. One day maybe, but I know from my experience outside the hospice last Christmas that if I ever do go back into this hospital again I will not find Elaine, just echoes of the past, of what has been; memories really and quite frankly, I’ve enough of those to live on right now.
Turning sharply and wiping away the tears I head towards the car.
To be continued…soon.