After a few days I am noticing that I am definitely feeling a little better. The intravenous morphine and fluids have all been discontinued and the very keen newly qualified nurse decides that I no longer even need the cannula in my hand. It is also decided that I am to be “T.W.O.K ed” This acronym stands for “Trial Without Catheter.” Not an investigation to determine if I am guilty of peeing on the floor but rather to check that if after a catheter is removed, no urine is retained in the bladder. It is the same young pretty nurse who pulls my curtains shut and puts on the rubber gloves whilst in an attempt to diffuse my awkward feelings, she chats about the weather. A catheter is held in the bladder with a balloon end filled with water, I am thankful she attaches a syringe and draws this fluid off first. I have heard of someone who forgot to do that once and only realised their mistake when the patient screamed in agony! Once the balloon is empty the tube is slowly pulled from the bladder and out through the penis. This is an organ which responds to this intrusion by wrinkling up into itself as if trying to hide and pretend it’s not there. I don’t need to worry that I may have had an inappropriate response to someone I have only known for a few days holding on to me in this intimate manner as any pleasure involved is solely derived from the pure relief that the catheter has been removed. Later, after a stinging pee in an actual toilet, a quick ultrasound scan of my bladder proves I have passed the trial.
The ward is a great leveller. We are a cast of mismatched strangers, united in our role as patients. It is also a place where the private world is made public. When the curtains are pulled around a bed no sounds are excluded. A group of doctors come to see Vic in the bed next to me and give him the news that his prognosis is very poor and nothing more can be done, we all hear his muted reaction. When Bob in the bed opposite sits on a commode behind his less than soundproof screen he has no need to be at all embarrassed by the rumbling echo from inside the pot and neither by the insidious aroma. It is a shared experience, a commonality we all have in one way or another. When I’m heaving that last bit of stomach acid into a receiver, holding on to my wound to limit the pain, I can feel the sympathy from everyone else. We eat together, or at least have the meals brought to our bedsides, I am not yet able to tolerate food. We sleep in the same room listening to the communal snoring and are all awakened at the same time. We all watch the same comings and goings, new patients arriving and the well returned to the world.
Arthur’s bed is in the corner. He has been admitted by the urology consultant as he has blood in his pee. Arthur is not a happy patient, in his early 90’s he is feeling weary. Even in the excessive heat of a hospital ward, he still feels cold, his urinary urgency means he can’t reach the toilet and his poor mobility leaves him frustrated. His regular refrain to anyone who will listen is “don’t get old”. Vic is very patient and does not respond because he of course would dearly like the chance to get old. Tim is wheeled into the ward on his bed from ITU, he’s still attached to every conceivable wire and tube but seems remarkably perky for someone who is as ill as he is. His demeanour changes when he realises that the one to one nursing he received on ITU isn’t the same here and it’s a while before anyone is able to come in answer to his call bell.
It is a busy place, cleaners who wipe every surface clean every day, the consultant with his entourage in tow flitting from bed to bed, phlebotomists like vampires on a quest for blood, physiotherapists assessing mobility and breathing and the kitchen staff collecting the filled in menu cards. It is a constant drama of activity and yet I find that falling asleep at any time during all the hustle and bustle is remarkably easy.