It all started one afternoon with excruciating pain in my abdomen accompanied by vomiting. This continued for about 7 hours before a 111 phone consultation determined they would send medics and an ambulance. I was fearful and panicked as I had not ventured out of the house for 8 weeks; the thought of going to a hospital where all local Covid 19 patients are taken terrified me. The medics confirmed that I was going into hospital and the worried look on my partner’s face (as he could not accompany me) was hard to bear. I arrived at the Surgical Assessment Unit at Royal Derby Hospital and was monitored until admitted to a ward at 6am – some 7 or so hours later.
Having never been to a hospital during lockdown I noticed all the staff/team wearing PPE and decided to take a closer look: handmade woollen/material spacers for masks, buttoned flowery headbands in vibrant colours, some various strange shaped visors (personally designed by 3d printers), masks, aprons and gloves. This seemed so alien to me – a world that we only imagined and I was in it!
One thing I did find strange was that all the staff were happy and giggly whilst getting on with their work. I found this to be very uplifting. You would think that in these strange times of a pandemic that they would be serious and scared¸ but they weren’t. I have seen hospital staff before who carry out their duties in a way that suggests professional competence despite an air of feeling undervalued and unappreciated. This was more akin to a team working together to fight back against the odds.
Week one was vague; morphine up to my eyes, nightmares¸ pain and trying to communicate with the outside world. It was a haze for the most part. I was in a room of 4 women – one elderly lady we called ‘Michael Flatley’ because she always clippity clopped with her shoes even whilst sitting down, morning, noon and in the middle of the night. Most annoying! Now morphine does strange things to the head. I remember dragging my tail – the pole on wheels holding my ‘drip’ – alongside me whilst walking. I then felt it rotate in my hand and watched the 5 feet spin round in a clockwise direction. I was mesmerised. On another occasion I took 5 mins to actually get out of bed to go to the loo – a feat made more difficult without the bed controls which had fallen on the floor. To then find that my drip had tangled with the power lead of the blood pressure monitor was somewhat frustrating as I had to reverse the process and get back into bed again to reach the button caller for a nurse. It wasn’t easy!
After the first CT scan they eventually diagnosed me having acute cholecystitis which is infection within the gallbladder caused by a gallstone blockage. I needed a lot of antibiotics and morphine!
Four days in – I really tried to help my partner with the Thursday night quiz. As soon as the questions arrived via email exhaustion took over so I wasn’t much help after the first 20 questions. I think he deserves an extra two points for doing most of it by himself.
On the following evening – Friday – whilst my head was in a sick bucket I get a phone call from my younger son – “Mum you have another grandson”. The joy of that perfectly timed phone call ensured I shed a tear or two. I determined that the new addition was going to be my strength to get me through this difficult time and also my hope for the future as a grandparent.
With my temperature now reaching 39 and constantly high I woke up to find 6 nurses all in full PPE surrounding my bed. They said they were taking me to a side room as they grabbed all my personal belongings and whisked me a bed in a room alone with no explanation or comfort. I cried! No words can express how I felt at that time. I was left with four walls, Whatsapp, Facebook and Netflix.
It was later explained that it was a precautionary measure due to my high temperature. I was now a suspected Covid 19 patient and needed testing so I had the swab test. It was with much relief that 48 hours later I was given the all clear as I had tested negative.
I was aware of having a table outside my door with full PPE equipment on it and this led me to investigate and ask questions about the routines at the hospital. This is what I discovered:
· There are two entrances to Royal Derby A&E; one normal and one for suspected Covid 19 patients,
· The X-ray and MRI suites are also similarly separated,
· The lifts servicing all levels were not separated – however only two people were allowed in a lift at one time,
· The majority of Covid 19 patients are in respiratory wards on level four. This is also where the majority of ventilators are. ICU is on level 2.
· Covid 19 patients are not totally isolated on one level but could be distributed to all wards if hospitalised for another reason and not initially showing symptoms,
· I was told that there had been many cases on my ward but luckily none during the time I was a patient,
· Every ward is accountable for its own PPE provisions. I was told there was no shortage on our ward and from what I could see there was plenty,
· From 4th May anyone coming into A&E has been Covid 19 tested.
· No visitors are allowed.
Many staff were frightened and scared at the beginning because of the uncertainty but they are now more confident. They just get on and do what they have to. A night nurse thought the government were doing all they could and that the hospital had expected far more Covid-19 patients. There have been a lot of empty beds here. You know where the Covid-19 patients, or those showing symptoms, are, by a table by the door with PPE on.
I was told by a staff member that it was a terrible experience to watch someone “drown” to this virus with no friends or relatives at their side and only the staff to comfort them.
My partner brought me some fresh clothes, sweets and other essentials but could only wait by the ward entrance as nurses exchanged bags with him. We could see each other but no contact or hugs. During his fleeting visit he noticed that not many people were wearing masks in a high risk environment.
Masks were worn at all times in wards and around the hospital during working hours although one nurse let on that she was told she couldn’t wear masks on her way to and from shifts in hospital as it “frightens people”. She was concerned for the welfare of her family and feared transmitting the virus to them.
It is strange that it is more scary thinking about being in a high risk environment than actually being in it. With the right precautions it is not that bad, spirits are high and people are cheerful.
Day seven – My second CT scan revealed I also had Cholangitis this is where the infection leaks out from the gall bladder into the intestines. As my antibiotics were not having much impact it was decided that I needed a minor operation to insert a tube to drain the infection away. I was then taken down to theatre.
Day 12 – As I walked the corridors of the ward another patient had been located to a side room and had a table outside with full PPE equipment on. He sat on the bed looking fearfully at me through the window in the door. I felt for him. My consultant decided to discharge me and it was ok to go home. I will be back to hospital at a later date to have the drainage tubes and gall bladder removed.
Apparently I am a lucky woman as 1 in 4 people die from Cholangitis! I am now finally home and thankful for the wonders of social media that have kept me in touch with family and friends who have been so positive and supporting throughout this ordeal. And for Netflix for keeping me entertained – when not in pain or sleeping.
I cannot praise all the wonderful staff enough. I will always remember and honour them for their compassion, determination and courage throughout this terrible pandemic. Everyone from the loo cleaners to the tea lady and the admin all the way up to the consultants deserve recognition, thanks and our support. They also deserve the right to protect themselves and their families. They should be honoured for their bravery and respected for the all their work saving lives and helping people recover.