Part 3: Peaks & Troughs

This blog is Part 3 of my hospital experience during my fight with cellulitis. If you’d like to read Part 2, you can do so here.

Apparently, the most appropriate way to treat the people looking after you is to insult them. I’ve heard that supposedly, women love a bad boy, but I’m not sure medical professionals appreciate racism. Or sexism for that matter. In fact, I’m not sure “isms” of this ilk are particularly welcome anywhere nowadays. But maybe that’s just me?

I was lying in bed trying to time my breathing with the hum of the fan. It was late in the night and for the fourth day running, I couldn’t sleep. Every nurse had their hands full, the alarms were drilling, and there was only the one bed spare. It stayed liked this for hours, but as the ward began to simmer down a new arrival entered the scene.

Introducing Patient X. I couldn’t see him as a blue hospital curtain divided my view, but I could hear him. The yelling made it clear he was in a lot of pain and so a few nurses were needed to get him into bed. He was lowered using a crane like device and a loud breathing apparatus was fitted. I felt sorry for him.

This was a man who had clearly had a rough ride. I will not take that away from him, who am I to judge? But, I can only have so much sympathy for a person that made the collective experience for the entire ward a nightmare.

My sympathy didn’t last long. You see, although Patient X had a lot health issues, he also had a nasty streak. Over the coming hours I would learn just how nasty he could be.

One nurse was not to approach him with her hands on her hips, as he didn’t “need the attitude”. Her hands were only positioned like that because she was exhausted. It was late by this point. No one was in the mood for his attitude, least of all her. Yet she, with albeit a slightly forced smile, rearranged his pillows and poured his water.

Another nurse, he labelled as “that one” wasn’t “capable” of looking after him. This was the same nurse that had moments before wiped him down head to toe. I might add she was of Asian ethnicity.

He requested a fan as he was too hot. They took mine. I overheated. I was already overheated. I did not wish to be overheated. See where I’m going with this?

Each time he didn’t get the attention of the nurses, he repeatedly rang the alarm. This is exactly what you need when you’re trying to sleep. He would flail his arms and on two occasions he barged my table through the curtain and knocked everything over, including my water. What soaking good fun we were having together. He spilt a tiny bit of his own drink on his chest, but of course, this was the nurse’s fault. Why? I have no idea. But somehow it was, apparently.

Quite simply, hospital personnel are resilient, forgiving people made from much hardier stuff than I. Hours I spent watching them reflect insults, complaints and criticism. If they can do this daily, I can do it momentarily I thought to myself. Although, this was easier said than done.

After a few hours of lying next to him I was ready to make a run for it – all I needed was a new leg. Oddly enough, this was a discussion my mother and I ended up having. The infection was so bad and showed no sign of slowing down. At regular intervals I would stare at the red boundaries of the infection, praying that the cellulitis wasn’t spreading pass the pen markings. If it did, the infection might reach my vital organs, which could be fatal.

During one of his finer moments, Patient X told a woman who was on her hands and knees picking up a bag of his spilt crisps, that she looked good on the floor. As she stood up and brushed her knees off, he asked “Who are you?” to which she replied, “I am your doctor”. He fell silent.

This was Dr Sophie. She wasn’t much older than thirty and had intense eyes that seemed to carry the emotion of the whole ward in them. When she spoke, you listened. Daily she would visit me, shut the curtains and perch on the end of my bed, clipboard in hand. There was never good news it seemed, but somehow it was less of a blow when she delivered it.

When I first arrived, I was set to leave the following morning. By the end of day two, I needed three days in total. By the end of day three it was four days, and by the end of day four they gave up on telling me when I would be out. I kept my chin up as best as could. Dr Sophie had the fun job of repeatedly telling me to cancel the next day’s plan.

Mum’s 60th? Nope. Spa day? Nada. Paris? Definitely not. I hadn’t even told her about the planned trip to Wales, but you can guess what her advice was when I did. Each bit of bad news chipped away at me. By the time I had messaged my friends saying Wales was off, I had given up the positive act. I was in tears.

Dr Sophie decided the best thing for me was to up my antibiotics. I now took them orally as well as intravenously (directly into the blood via a drip). I was one big sack of antibiotics. I took the oral form four times a day and had about three different painkillers every hour or so.

Night time arrived again and just like the nights that came before it, I did not sleep. That was it. I’d had enough. The next day I was going to complain (I am typically awkward and don’t like doing this). The next morning I told Dr Sophie that a certain neighbour of mine was going to give me an emotional breakdown, that the ward was too hot, and that I was fed up of being surrounded by veterans. After a while, the charm of their twinkly eyes and grey hair vanished, and the constant groans one can only associate with an old person began to age me. I was becoming one of them.

She nodded, smiled sympathetically and said, “I’ll see what I can do”. She soon returned with the first bit of good news I had heard all week. I was moving up stairs to the new wards. Goodbye Patient X. Farewell old timers.

I felt better already.

Part 2: Death’s Corridor

This blog is Part 2 of my hospital experience during my fight with cellulitis. If you’d like to read Part 1, you can do so here.

June of 2017 was unbelievably hot, or so I was told. I didn’t get to experience the Mediterranean weather, but I did get to experience the mugginess that came with it.

As I was wheeled into the new ward, I couldn’t help but notice it looked more tired than I was. The lights were blinding, the walls peeling and where the curtain didn’t quite cover the window, a small blade of light stretched across the room. This was to be home for the next few days, and although it was somewhat lacking, it was infinitely more equipped than the last ward.

 

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The headphones were a real #treat

 

My new bed had a TV. It didn’t really work properly, but it was a familiar sight and comfort. This bed had a remote that enabled me to move the backrest up and down, a fresh pillow and a light blue blanket. What a treat. I was wheeled across the ward and helped onto the bed by the porter. Once I had settled a nurse headed in my direction and introduced herself.

Nurses are some of the toughest people alive. They are the workhorses of the ward. They help you to eat and wash, they take blood and attach drips as well as humouring your poor conversational skills post morphine. My nurse was a Spanish woman, maybe sixty or so. She had a sort of motherly kindness that was counterbalanced with a dogged professionalism. She would tuck you in at night but if you didn’t drink your water before bed she’d stand there until you did.

My temperature and blood pressure were sky high. The skin on my leg was stretched, shiny and red. It hurt to touch, even in my pyjamas, so I lay in my underwear most of the time which, let’s just say, had a habit of revealing a bit too much (Charlotte had to buy me a size up as my leg didn’t fit!). I lay in bed, my eyes dotting around the room and before long drifted to sleep.

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We named my leg ‘Ole’ Red’

I was awoken up by the arrival of a new roommate. He seemed a friendly soul, grey haired and in his late seventies I would say. His tenure didn’t last long at all however as he was there for the night and gone the next morning. This happened repeatedly: elderly folk in for the short-haul. There wasn’t much point in getting to know them as each time I fell asleep they had disappeared by the time I had awoken. So it was just Charlotte, my Spanish companion and me.

It took me a while to clock that I had been put in the ward designated for the elderly. I thought it was our aging population and incredible health care that increased the odds of these old timers being my roomies, but it wasn’t. I later learnt that I wasn’t expected to be in the ward for much longer than a couple of days, so I didn’t quite qualify for the shiny new wards upstairs. Instead I had to make do with my current company. “Can you help me pee, nurse?” I was asked numerous times. I was half naked and also in a bed, but I guess because my skin wasn’t prune-like they must have thought I was a scantily clad nurse.

I kept my head clear of negativity for as long as I could. When you feel like death the last thing you want to do is a crossword, or watch a film. The glare was too much on the screen and I could barely string a sentence together, never mind find the answer to 4 down: “a putty like substance”. Nevertheless that’s what I did, and the answer is MASTIC by the way.

Charlotte kept me engaged. She also bought me food from the M&S downstairs so I could avoid the hospital food. The rumours are true – it’s disgusting. I had one cold curry and decided if I wanted to live it would be best to stop eating it. Sometimes I would even go with Charlotte (it was quite the adventure).

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Josh’s fun day (ft.Char) out of bed to M&S

In hospital you eat where you urinate. You also sleep there, drink there and well, live there. Naps were short which was largely due to the shrill of the ward alarm that would always go off just as you began to sleep; it was unforgiving and rarely gave you a moments rest.

I had never seen so many needles in my life. The nurses would just smile, pull out a needle and tap you on the arm. I would usually sit up, smile and ask the nurses how their days were going. In a bizarre sort of way I took comfort from them taking my blood, as I knew where ever it was going, it was going to contribute to my recovery. Take it! Take all of the blood!

The days were going very slowly and my bed was becoming somewhat of an island. When I stood up my leg would turn a reddish-blue where the cellulitis had disrupted my circulation. Over time blisters began to appear down the back of my leg, the ones behind the knee were particularly painful. Walking five metres felt like a marathon (not that I’ve ever ran one) so shower time took me a while. For the first time in my life I enjoyed a cold wash, which felt unbelievably soothing on my swollen, sensitive leg.

Amongst all of the trauma, there were two people that made my experience of it all infinitely better, and infinitely worse. One was a doctor and the other a fellow patient. One was kind, sweet and caring. The other was racist, sexist and nasty.

In my next blog I’ll tell you all about Dr Sophie and what a difference a good doctor can make to your whole outlook. But I’ll also talk about Patient X (I never caught his name) and the damage a negative person can do too.

Part 1: Two Weeks Annual Leave

That was the deal. Five days of overtime for two weeks annual leave. I had it all planned out. A spa day, a weekend in Paris, mum’s 60th and a trip to Wales with my closest friends. Great.

It had all started off so promisingly. I was visiting my girlfriend Charlotte in Bristol where she had just finished her degree. Joining in the celebrations we made our way to a pub, The Hobgoblin, where a crude drawing of Nigel Farage granted us a worthy second place in the weekly pub quiz. We never do well in pub quizzes I remember thinking. This was certain to be a great two weeks and for our hard work we were rewarded with a round of drinks.

We moved on to the next location where outside I found a ten-pound note on the floor. Anyone would have thought I’d just discovered I was royalty, and for the brief hour it lasted, I was. Ten pounds quickly became fried chicken and chips and a satisfying conclusion to a much-deserved night. Well, on Charlotte’s behalf at least.

The next morning arrived and Charlotte and I were making our way to a board games café for some brunch and a detox. No sooner than five minutes after our arrival my toes felt a little sore and a bit hot. I went to the toilet to inspect my foot, assuming I might have put my Lymphoedema through a bit too much the night before.

I couldn’t get my shoe off. It hurt too much. This was not normal. Eventually, after loosening every lace I managed to free my foot and upon touching it I felt a considerable amount of pain. I hopped to the exit of the café and made a call to 111.

After a brief discussion surrounding my symptoms it was clear I needed to visit a doctor quickly.

We made our way to the Walk In Clinic, which was situated in a Boots ten minutes away from where we were. By this point I couldn’t walk. The pain had moved up to my shin and that’s when I started to panic. There was no doctor in but the nurse prescribed me some antibiotics. Charlotte made her way down to the pharmacy. I sat down in the Marie Claire section of the make-up department next to two ladies.

“Are you alright?” one asked. I was not all right. In fact it’s safe to say I’ve never been so not all right in my life. I was all wrong and in a lot of pain, which had now reached my groin. It felt like lightening bolts pulsating from toe to thigh. I began to shake, my heart racing and my eyes tearing.

With that we headed to A&E, which was characteristically overflowing with every type of ailment known to man. I was put to the front of the queue and was soon seen by a doctor. I was later told had there been any delay it could have been fatal. That’s always good. Charlotte rang my parents and told them I was going to be okay. We didn’t want to scare them as they were preparing for mum’s 60th.

“Don’t worry, cellulitis can be cleared in a day or so with some antibiotics” I was informed by the doctor. Mum had always warned me about cellulitis, but until you experience it you don’t take notice, much like receiving your first speeding ticket. The infection was already pretty heavy, so I was asked to stay in overnight just in case.

They marked around the red patches with a pen so they could tell whether the infection was spreading. I was put on a drip to keep hydrated. At this point I felt a little better as I was in safe hands and it was only a night’s stay so nothing too tragic. We passed the time with card games and smartphones before I knocked back some painkillers and tried to get some sleep.

 

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Please do not cross the line

 

Absolutely no sleep was gained that night. I had neither pillow nor blanket and the sounds of the emergency department bounced around my head like a pinball. I tossed and turned using my hoodie as a makeshift pillow, eavesdropping on the quarrels of neighbouring patients. The codeine I was given made my stomach twist, making me squirm. Eventually morning arrived and yesterday’s doctor pulled back my gown for the big reveal. I could see by the look on his face there was not too much to smile about. It had spread and my whole leg was inflamed with a dark red. They took some blood and sent me up to another ward where a specialist saw me.

 

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This was life now

 

There’s something oddly unsettling about a doctor staring inquisitively at your body. He admitted right then and there that he wasn’t sure why the antibiotics hadn’t worked and why it was the infection was so aggressive. I sat there just as clueless as he was. “It will all be fine”, I was told, and on that note he left the ward. I wasn’t scared at this point, more uncertain than anything.

I stayed in that ward for about five hours and amongst all the commotion something stood out for me. A nurse said I didn’t need my leg raised as I was on a bed. As you might know “Lymphoedema 101” would state otherwise. It’s nothing major, it just highlights how little is known about the condition.

Eventually my time came to leave my temporary bed. I got out of it with the help of the nurse and sat down in a wheelchair. Walking was not an option. From here I was transported across the hospital to a new ward, one that I now refer to as Death’s Corridor, and yes, it is as fun as it sounds.

If you want to know anymore about my hospital experience please get in contact. Cellulitis can be life threatening, if you don’t know what signs to look for, you can find some tips here.

I Don’t Want to Go Travelling

Okay, I do want to travel, really badly, but the UK is quite literally a giant fluffy pillow compared to the rest of the world.

Lymphoedema makes it incredibly hard for the affected part of your body to fight infection. That’s why it is essential to keep healthy through nutrition and exercise in particular, so that if one day you do get a cut you stand a better chance of saying “no infection, not today”, or any other day for that matter.

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How to Spot Cellulitis

Okay. I’m no doctor, but I’ve had Cellulitis and it really, really hurt. That’s not meant to scare you (as it can be really quite minor) but the infection is no joke. If you are unfortunate enough to catch it, look out for these signs:

  1. The most obvious sign of Cellulitis is blotchy red skin which becomes sensitive to touch (try not to, you’ll aggravate it).
  2. Travelling pain. Mine started at the base of my toes, moved to my foot, shin, calf, knee and up to my groin. It’s essential that you stop it ASAP as the infection can further damage your lymphatics the further around your body it spreads.
  3. You might get hot, cold, sweaty and shiver i.e. a fever. Not fun.
  4. Heat. For Lymphoedema this is a sign of any aggravation in general, never mind Cellulitis. Where there is heat, often there is something going on, but in the case of Cellulitis the heat will be noticeably more apparent.
  5. Another key sign of Cellulitis is glossy, shiny skin. Almost like someone had layered your skin with a coating of plastic, your infected body part will feel tight and sore.

 

Life is for Living

It took me a while to come to terms with my Lymphoedema. For about six years I simply ignored the symptoms, as that seemed the easiest way to deal with it. As far as I was concerned, if I acted normal, I was normal. It was just one leg after all. There was no wheelchair or crutches and I could wear my jeans to hide my “fat leg”. Simple. Condition cured. Job done!

Except Lymphoedema doesn’t work like that. It requires constant attention, care and treatment, so ignoring it is just about the worst thing you can do. My stint in hospital taught me to accept the disease. It was as much a part of me as my extraordinarily long thumbs, or say, my enchanting brown eyes (don’t deny them).

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