100 steps each day…

Graduation Day

You can see that in this picture, on the day I received my undergraduate degree, I was on my feet; walking, standing, hopping, running, dancing (on occasion). The important statement is “I was on my feet”; now I roll, occasionally I slide (like in the snow) and I have been known to do doughnuts; Ive also been known to allow my kids to take a joy-ride down the drive which is half-a-mile long. The important statement is “now I roll…”

Beach Day

This is the part of my story that noone knows; this is the part that has never been spoken. Why should I share now? Well, because according to Government data, across the 4 nations, as of 2nd February 2021 at 4pm, there were 32, 466 patients in hospitals with Covid-19.

Im sharing because I want you to understand what it is like for those 32,466 people as they spend weeks and months in hospital. Im telling this part of my story because Captain Tom Moore passed away today having Covid-19 in a hospital.

I love the NHS; Im grateful to have access to it; I know that the employees of the NHS work harder than any other profession I know. However, this is my story…

When I could sit crossed-legged on the floor

In February 2013 I was booked into a Premier Inn somewhere in Leeds. I was surrounded by my parents, my then husband, my uncle and my aunt. I was preparing for one of the most gruelling, somewhat experimental surgerys; one that only my surgeon performed across the entire UK.

I arrived at 7am to be prepped for surgery; a full pelvic reconstruction, screws, a metal plate and a bone graft. The surgery had only a 50/50 chance of success. I was desperate to get off my pain medication and to play on the park with my children (9yrs; 6yrs; 5yrs; 3yrs) without having to find a bench to sit down every 5 minutes. I wanted to walk without my stick and I wanted to be a normal wife and mother where I wouldnt be asked “are you okay; what is your paid score?” every single day.

I had agreed to try the surgery. I saw it as a magic cure. There were women in the waiting rooms during consultations who were bouncing and recounted stories of climbing the 3 peaks; I fully anticipated being like them. Running, jumping, hopping, skipping and most importantly, dancing.

Dancing, when dancing was all I wanted to do

I was given a gown, it was freezing on my skin as I tried to tie the back; I gave up and just wore a second one back to front. Those gowns are washed so many times, the pattern was fading and it was stiff as though no fabric conditioner was used. I was cold. No socks. The floor was freezing like a ice rink without skates. I was directed to a hospital bed as the nurse explained what would happen; I tried to take it all in but really I was distracted by the ice blocks that had replaced my feet. My then husband nodded a few times; it was okay, he would know what was happening.

My blood pressure was taken and the nurse began to try and take a blood test. You should know that during my last hospital stay I was told that I had veins smaller than a child’s and so deep they couldnt be found on unltrasound. Of course I only found that out in 2018 and my major surgery was 2013. After around 10 attempts the nurse called in a consultant to try and find a vein – no luck. I was wheeled into the surgery prep room and another consultant had a few goes at pricking my body and leaving me bruised and battered. Finally they gave me a line directly into my artery. I was already seeing bruise after bruise appear; attempt followed by attempt; Im a stone, because there is certainly no blood coming out of me.

Slowly, I was counting back from ten. I cannot recall where I got to. The team who surrounded me drifted away from me, as I was enveloped in the darkness brought about by general anaesthetic. Take a moment to consider how many people are currently being kept alive by machines. They would have counted backwards, they are currently in that world of blackness where no light creeps in, no voices, no noises – just silent blackness. The Nothing.

14 hours later, I woke screaming. I didnt even realise it was coming from me. The male nurses voice was the first to break though The Nothing as he told the female nurse “let me get this ladys pain controlled; it is one of the worst surgeries and the worst levels of pain I have ever seen; I need 5 minutes” then, The Nothing, so I assume he got me out of pain, and that screaming I heard on the opposite side of the room must have stopped.

When I awoke a few hours later, nurses could not control my blood pressure and oxygen levels. I woke to my then husband in ICU. The pain shooting down the back of my left leg was worse than the pain surrounding my pelvis and lower back. Imagine a white hot poker being driven from your hip to your toes, over and over and over.

I was convinced I was going to die; right there. Id had 4 natural births of huge babies, with only gas and air, but this pain, this pain now replaced childbirth on that awful scale of 1-10 that you’re always asked by Doctors.

My pain scale 10 (2013 surgery) 9 (Nerve Damage Pain in left leg) 8 (lower back) 7 (calcific shoulders) etc etc

The worst was yet to come…

2013 Pelvic Fusion & Bone Graft

There were so many people being admitted to the hospital they had opened up a new, temporary ward and staffed it with agency staff. The handover of shifts failed to share adequate information about the patients, many of whom were elderly, dementia patients who had falled and broken bones. Patients would be crying out because they needed to use the comodes, or they’d be crying because they couldnt reach water. I couldnt get out of bed to help them; it was tortuous. My surgery included a bone graft under a metal plate. I couldnt move.

I was not allowed to put my feet on the ground, or stand for 6 months. Your muscles begin to waste after 24hrs of no use; just consider that for a moment because the people on ventilators right now will have to teach their bodies to work again. There is no getting out of bed without help to nip to the loo or grab some water; thousands will be unable to walk after a week on a ventilaor. Now, I can walk 100 steps a day; that is 100 more than I would have been able to,if I hadnt chosen this surgery. Fair enough, but the long term impact of not using my legs for 6 months has left me with far more problems than I had before the surgery.

I was surrounded on the ward by dozens of these elderly patients not being able to eat, because they would normally be fed; not being able to drink water because the orderlies had poured the water and left it on a side table out of reach. Elderly people, confused and upset who would forget where they were, and why they were in a strange place.

There is nothing more soul destroying than listening to an elderly person cry out because their basic needs were not being met. I was traumatised. This was the beginning of my hospital anxiety, my phobia of hospitals which is ironic when you think I have to go around once every month.

I might be lucky enough to move from chair to chair in my home; I will never get rid of the mental anguish and psychological trauma caused by being in hospital for 1 month.

As you read this, you might believe I am criticising the NHS, you would be correct but also so very wrong. The agency nurses told me that they were working flat out with 4-5 rooms over night but with only 2 members of nursing staff. Each room contained 6 of us. The shifts were disorganised and mistakes, serious mistakes were being made; not because the nursing staff couldnt do their job, or that they were not working hard, but because management were keeping costs low and it is cheapet to have 2 nurses on a 12hr night shift looking after 30+ patients than to staff it more appropriately and having 2 staff per room.

Thank You NHS

My morphine drip would run out constantly; my medications were 4hours late regularly. At one point my morphine drip was set incorrectly giving me essentially an overdose before my husband arrived 3hrs later and switched it off. I missed meals because I was in a corner bed and liked my curtains closed.

The nights were the worst; literally no staff. My pain would be so bad I struggled to breath. I dont even think I have the words or a real-life example to help you understand how I would sit for hours in pain. Ever had cramp in your calf? Imagine that but consistent; ongoing, unable to stop it and unable to get any medication for it; that is the closest example I can find. From my hip to my toes all night every night. Nerve pain caused from nerve damage cannot be fixed. I now have visual and hearing impairment directly related to that Nerve Damage; my eyes see in the same way yours do, under the water at a swimming pool. I see in shadows and cannot cope with the glare of a screen or the sun. My lip-reading got better over time; til one day I realised I could see people speaking better than I could hear them.

My hearing comes and goes much like sitting in a plane that is constantly taking off or landing; one minute I cannot hear anything but silence then without warning I dont understand why everyone is yelling around me. My eyes come and go like having chlorine in your eyes then it clearing momentarily; or those 30 seconds when you wake in the morning and you cannot see a thing until you rub your eyes straight.

Im typing with numb hands; other times I will be dictating to a machine hoping my words are accurate on a screen I cannot see. I stand and dish out dinner hoping I have given equal amounts and actually added meat and veg to every plate instead of veg on one and meat on another. As I try and turn to leave, my foot feels as though it has gone right through the concrete floor; I hobble to my next chair just in time for the numbness to reach my knee – trust me, if your leg is numb that high you cannot walk for love nor money.

Back in hospital, on day 4 of my recuperation I telephoned my mother who was over 5hrs away (south) and cried down the phone like a child. “Mum, please come. Please come now if I stay here they will kill me. I will get an infection and they will kill me.” I cannot get out of bed for food and more importantly I couldnt get to the shower. To illustrate the importance of having that shower, consider this, for 4 days I had pain that was indescribable. The sweat dripped off me like I had run a marathon in 30 degree heat; fuelled by the pain the sheets were soaked and my pillows freezing cold because of the wetness. My skin was clammy and all I kept seeing was my surgery wound getting more and more infected. I still had blood all over me and iodine from the swabs in surgery. My mum arrived that day accompanied with my 85yr old grandmother so that I could get to the shower and try to reduce the infection.

Lovingly my mother and my grandmother pulled me from my disgusting bed covers and into a wheelchair. They stayed either side of me as I struggled to see clearly and I barely managed the dizziness that threatened to make me pass out. At one point my grandmother left and demanded to know where the sheets were kept so that she could change by hospital bed. Like a child being washed and showered by a parent, I gave in to the fact that I could do very little for myself and that this would last 6 months minimum. My mother submitted a formal complaint to the matron; it was not intended to lay blame, it was intended to illustrate to management that mistakes were happening because of the lack of staff on the ward. Killing someone by mistake was almost inevitable as we all became infected because nurses didnt have time to assist with showers and medications were consistently incorrect.

None of the health professionals wanted a patient to receive substandard care, but on this ‘temporary’ ward filled with temporary agency staff, things were dangerously dire.

From that point onward my mother telephoned the ward every fours hours, day and night to ensure my medications had been provided. She was ferocious. Every fours hours mum did a health check and every day she asked if someone had helped me with the shower.

Can you imagine anyone being able to telephone the wards filled with covid-19 patients, every 4 hours to ensure proper care was being given? Would they even be able to get through?

I would lie there at night hoping I could stay awake because of how terrified I was of a mistake being made and me not waking up ever again. I had to get out of the hospital

I pleaded every day with my consultant to let me recuperate at home; he challenged the nursing staff with every visit for not feeding me or changing my dressing; they were busy, nothing changed.

By week 3 he relented. I convinced him that I could manage on oral pain meds, anit-biotics and a catalogue of other strangely named meds. He started my discharge paperwork. It took another 3 days for me to get discharged. I had survived starving, thirst, wound infections and a potential over dose. I just wanted to get out of there.

I write this not to chastise the nursing teams, or the hospitals or the doctors. I write this to make you all understand the fine line patients in covid-19 wards are walking between life and death. Actions such as boat parties and meeting up with friends are contributing to spreading a virus that is killing people. Everyone. Not just one age range or race; everyone!

Once you are admitted to a hospital that is stretched to capacity, you are gambling with your life a second time. Medications can be wrong, infection can worsen and basic needs are not met. The hospital staff are already admitting they cannot provide the best care possible; they are barely providing the basic needs required.

By filling up the hospitals it isnt just Covid that can be a killer; the entire fact that the hospital is too stretched can also be a killer. This time family cannot visit and plug the gaps – youre on your own. Can they get to the shower? Can they reach their water jug? Have the nurses left a meal? Is the medication accurate in the drip attached to your arm?

Why are people still contracting this disease by the tens of thousands? Why are people still dying in over crowded hospitals? This is the 3rd lockdown. We all know the rules. Trust me, hospital is the last place you want to be right now.

You do not want to be in hospital right now

Thank you to my surgeon who literally saved my life

Thank you to my surgeons team who kept my spirits up, brought me cold dry sandwhiches from the staff fridges and reminded me that 100 steps a day is better than no steps a day

Thank you to my grandmother who has now passed away; that was a very long journey but I cannot be more grateful for that shower

Published by Chelle Oldham

Woman; Mother; Wife; Ex; Researcher; Academic; Lecturer; Teacher; School Teacher; University Teacher; Manager; Planner; Swimmer; Artist; Author; Poet; Reader; Editor; Santa; Nurse; Counselor; Disabled; Single; Cook; Cleaner; Supervisor; Administrator;

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