Having just got back from hospital as an outpatient to get my ‘gammy leg’ dressed, I thought I’d describe what has taken place during the earlier part of this week – mostly so that I remember it myself. If I had to sum it up in a single picture, this would probably represent most of the action this week:
Note the sexy orange PJs and anti-embolism stockings. Hot, yes?
On Monday morning, I went to see my GP as I had a red swelling on my leg. This was a return visit as I had been there the preceding Tuesday for the same reason but at that point, the swelling was much smaller and less angry looking. At the first visit, it was suggested that a course of antibiotics was likely to resolve the problem. However, after taking them for nearly a week, it had not improved and on returning to my GP, I was sent straight to my local hospital. After the usual hanging around and being seen by several triage nurses and doctors, I was shown into A+E and seen by the registrar, who to my surprise, recommended that I be admitted as an in-patient as the swelling had become an abscess and would have to be removed surgically and under general anaesthetic.
After several hours of waiting for a bed, a nurse put a cannula in the crook of my arm and I was taken to the surgical admissions ward.
Being in the schedule for surgery means that your bed bay is marked with a nil by mouth sign and you are not to eat or drink anything. You are allowed to moisten your mouth with this apparatus. A small amount of water though this is, it is surprisingly good when you’ve had nothing else.
As it turned out, they couldn’t fit me into the surgery schedule in the evening so I was allowed a cheese sandwich, an apple and some water before I went to sleep. This was not before someone else was put in the same room as me who seemed reasonably uncomfortable and unfortunately, this presence caused a pretty big spike in the activity in my olfactory system – and not in a good way!
I woke up the following morning having slept a little but mostly just dozed, kind of the way I do on a plane. Rest – but not proper sleep. A lot of groaning and getting up and down from next door didn’t help but it could have been worse I suppose.
There was no breakfast for me when I woke up – just more IV fluids and water-soaked sponge lollies. One of the clinical surgeons came to see me and got me to sign consent forms – he suggested that the operation might well take place that morning. However, after several hours with little update and some confusion apparent as to whether I was a patient of general surgery or orthopaedic surgery (orthopaedics normally deal with bones but because of the position of the swelling on my leg, it was decided that I should be considered an orthopaedics patient). As a result, I started complaining to my nurse. Eventually, at about 4.30pm, the orthopaedic registrar came to apologise for the confusion and for me having been nil by mouth all day when I wasn’t going to be seen. He admitted that I wouldn’t be scheduled in until tomorrow. However, on the plus side, that did at least mean that I was allowed food, so by the evening I was feeling a bit better. Of note was that what on any other day may have tasted fairly ordinary took on a heightened deliciousness since I had not eaten any significant meals for almost forty-eight hours. I spent most of the day dressed in my Guantanamo Bay trousers and anti-DVT socks not to mention the surgery gown.
The poor guy in the bed next to me didn’t look to be in the best of health. I overheard the barrage of questions that everyone gets asked on admission. His prescription drugs included temazipam and methadone amongst other things and he also admitted to smoking about 2oz of tobacco per day (about 40-60 cigarettes). Thankfully they gave him a shower later in the morning, which reduced the slightly distracting olfactory stimulus but only a little.
The background to the swelling on my leg starts about ten years ago. I developed a sebaceous cyst on the thigh, which I saw my GP about at the time. I was advised that it was not really a concern and that unless it got sore, itchy or red, I should just leave it alone. It remained almost unchanged for a decade or thereabouts but around a week ago, it started to go red and went on to get particularly swollen two or three days before I went back to the doctor. I do wonder if a visit to a swimming pool during the week that this started had anything to do with it.
The nursing staff on the ward have been pretty good and I certainly feel that they have done the best they can to look after me. I owe a huge thank you to all of the day and night staff and the doctors who looked after me while I was there. I certainly was a relatively comfortable stay. I also owe a huge thank you to my wife for coming to visit me at all hours.
The following morning, I was seen by the anaesthetist, which is usually the precursor to being taken to theatre. The mechanics of the anaesthetic were explained to me along with the likely after-effects. Later on, the consultant and his team arrived to see me, which I thought was going to be the preparation for an operation to remove it. However, upon examining my leg and poking around with a scalpel, he said that he’d rather avoid operating on it if at all possible as it did appear to have started healing itself. I was prescribed intravenous antibiotics with the intention of reviewing the situation the next day to see if the operation is still really necessary. At this point, it was certainly frustrating to have to stay in for another night but the possibility of a non-surgical solution did appeal to me a great deal.
One thing worthy of a mention is the ‘high-tech’ but effective method of ensuring that any surgery is performed on the correct leg:
The guy in the bed next to me discharged himself from hospital the following morning, which was a relief as he had a visitor who was asking if he had any ‘used patches’. The optimist in me had wanted to believe that his methadone was for prescription drug withdrawal but after this, that seems to be less likely.
I have definitely learned a few things during this hospital stay. Any kind of personal hygiene task is far more complicated than usual as you need to avoid getting dressings and cannulas wet – or having to drag an IV trolley with you. Certainly in the particular hospital that I was in, the food was pretty good too.
My new roommate was a nice chap and I am pleased to say far more normal than the previous occupant of the adjacent bed. He looked and smelled like he actually washes, which the last guy clearly didn’t. He has a blood clot which is being treated with anti-coagulants. Like me, he also just has to rest and wait for the doctors to come around and check his progress.
The rest of the day consisted of some playing with my phone, chatting with my new neighbour and generally doing very little. Thank goodness for my phone as I’d have been very bored without it. It felt like a real luxury to be able to take all of my meals too. Porridge for breakfast, salmon and vegetables for lunch then pasta bolognaise for dinner. The desserts were usually sponge-like and almost always served with custard. Lots of tea was available too.
I managed to get a fair approximation to a proper shower too, which made me feel a little more human. Towards the end of the day, I was starting to tire of being poked and prodded. My cannula was replaced with the advanced double-headed version and I had another blood test to ensure that my white-cell counts were still low. The day ended with more intravenous antibiotics and then back to nil by mouth again from 2am, just in case an operation was going to be necessary
The following morning, I was seen by the orthopaedic registrar, who examined my leg and indicated that it would not need surgery after all as it should heal nicely on its own – even if it does take some time. For me, this was the best-case scenario – a non-surgical outcome. Firstly, I was given some breakfast and then I was sent for a leg x-ray later in the morning. Contingent on the x-ray results being clear, I would be discharged in the evening.
After my leg had been examined, the doctor suggested that I shave the area around the sore to make dressing it less difficult and less painful to redo. Shaving my legs is not something that I’ve ever done before and it was certainly more challenging than I thought, which was surprising given that I shave my face most days. Kudos to any girls reading this as I certainly found it far more challenging than I thought I would.
A very quiet afternoon followed, where the nursing staff seemed to be very thin on the ground – as it turned out, I think this was because one of the other patients was in theatre. Later on, I was visited by the registrar again who indicated that my X-ray results were clear and that the consultant would like to see me again in six weeks to check things over. This meant that I would definitely be allowed home later in the day. Hooray.
For now, I do have to return daily to get my dressing changed and this will probably continue for a few weeks. Hopefully it should become more infrequent as time goes on.