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I’ve Been Institutionalized

Beyond the doors of the A&E, past the corridors of the Surgical Assessment Unit is the Gaylord Ward, a unit for long term visitors who all seem to be well over sixty-five with a range of diagnosis from broken bones to gaping colectomy bags. There are nighttime screamers (“nurse, help me please!!! I’m dying!!!!”), apathetic care providers and junior doctors barking orders from their superiors. When I arrived on the ward last evening I felt I was listening in to the egg laying coup from The movie Chicken Run, five elderly ladies gabbing away and seemingly content with their existence ‘on the farm’. Similar to the institutional chicken farm, there is a pecking order that determines everything from where your bed is to when you get breakfast and linens changed, all determined by length of stay.

It’s New Years Day. I wake up finding myself having missed the green glop known as porridge for breakfast, urine I left for nurses to measure last night still in the toilet uncollected, and nurses on the ward unaware of my case, my proposed discharge or any details of the past days. I’ve been thrown into the feedback loop of the hospital, an institution where one could get lost and disappear indefinitely, especially if unaware of having the choice to refuse medication and ask questions.

When I entered hospital, the first question was “are you in any pain?” And then,”do you want painkillers?” Oral morphine is the go to drug around here, seems to be doled out to anyone and everyone. Keeping people sedated enables the non-nutritive food to be eaten, needles to be stuck in the wrong way, and the constant cries of ‘screamers’ tolerated. This is life at the hospital.

I’m very grateful to know enough not to cosy up to the medicated state (I’ve refused pain medication on all but two occasions). I’m aware of my pain limit have used my voice to refuse anything more being stuck into my arms unnecessarily (which are bruised beyond belief due to four bad cannulas, four missed arteriol blood samples and two missed standard venous blood samples). I’m grateful to my husband who has brought me the healthy food I stocked up on back in London for our holiday. Thanks to him I haven’t starved or needed to eat the gloppy, meat based fatty meals that exacerbate my condition. More than anything, thanks to him I haven’t yet gone mad or delved into depression being here. Day after day, he and my son turn up to bring the sunshine and smiles and hope back that I may get out of here without too many days more.

A side note: The most challenging thing for me has been my limited knowledge of the pancreas and its relation to the liver and inflammatory bowel disease. While they are treating my case as Acute Pancreatitis, I don’t drink alcohol or have gallstones (80% of acute cases stem from these two causes). My history of ulcerative colitis and PSC is causing a lot of head scratching among the doctors here in Kings Lynn, and with my doctors in London untraceable due to the holidays, I’m on my own in clarifying my medical condition.

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