You Keep Me Hanging On The Telephone

Remember what Roberto said? “I will see you in clinic on Thursday to take your stitches out.” It was Wednesday. I had heard nothing, zip, de nada. No phone call. No letter. No text.   With a heavy heart I clicked on Google to look for a number of someone who might know something.

First number was making or changing appointments.  There were two numbers.  One for newbies and one for follow ups.  Seemed a good place to start.  I got through quite quickly.  The bored sounding woman told me that there was no eye appointment booked, but I had an appointment with ENT in December.  This I already knew.  Try eye outpatients came the obvious response.

Fortunately, I had a number for eye outpatients. It rang and rang and rang.  Nothing.  I gave it some time and called again. It rang and rang and rang and rang and rang. Then an answer.  The receptionist sounded stressed.  I explained my stitches story.  She wasn’t really listening.  She put me through to the ward where I had the operation.  I said the stitches story to the receptionist there.  She said I should speak to a staff nurse about it.  After ten minutes on hold, I told a staff nurse my stitches story.  She said I needed to speak to eye outpatients.  Deep breathe.  The staff nurse was sympathetic and gave me the number for Mrs T’s secretary.  Maybe she might be better than eye outpatients.

I tried the secretary. Voicemail.  I left a long voicemail explaining the stitches story.  I hung up.  This needed to be sorted. I called eye outpatients again. It rang and rang. Bingo! The same stressed receptionist as before.  I repeated the stitches story.

“It’s just that Mrs T doesn’t have her clinic on Thursday…”

“I don’t think I need to see Mrs T. I need to see… urm… Roberto? Sorry. I don’t know his surname.”

It felt weird saying Roberto.  It felt like I was asking for a masseur or a hairdresser.  I wonder if Spaniards have the same feeling when they ask to speak to someone called Robert?

After a slight pause, the receptionist found him.

“Ah yes… come at ten tomorrow.”

I hung up.  The phone rang.  It was Mrs T’s secretary.

“Yes. You have an appointment at ten o’clock in eye out patients tomorrow morning.”

You don’t say!

So, there I was at ten.  The clinic was heaving.  I got called through quite quickly and was informed that there were three patients before me.  I sat outside Roberto’s door and waited.  God, he took his time.  Once the three before me had been seen and gone, it was my turn.  Then I realised.  The reason why it took so long was because he was a bloody good doctor.  He asked how I was getting on and checked my eye thoroughly.  He took the stitches out quickly, with minimal fuss.  He double checked that I knew what I was doing eye ointment and eye drop wise post-surgery.  He finally made an appointment to see me in two months’ time and that was it, job done.

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Eye, Eye Part 3

Then bright light.

“Anna, Anna. You’ve just had an operation, Anna.”

I opened my eyes.  There was a nurse leaning over me.

“Do you need anything, Anna?”

She was maybe Thai or Filipino. She said Anna in a sing songy way. An-NA…

“Water.”

Within seconds a plastic cup of water complete with straw appeared.  I shuffled up and had a sip.  Then I noticed it.  Out of the corner of my left eye I saw the time.  It was half twelve.  Hang on.  I noticed that out of the corner of my left eye!  I had peripheral vision!

The nurse took the water away from me and I lay back down.  I started to shiver.

“Anything else An-NA?”

“I’m a bit cold…”

She quickly came back with a warm blanket and wrapped me up tightly.  I closed my eyes.  Then we were moving.  My trolley was moving to a lift.  We went up. PING! Doors opened, and we were back with the recliner chairs.  Curtain drawn I was slowly eased off the trolley and into the chair.  The chair reclined back, and I dozed away.

It was a weird state of consciousness.  I had my eyes closed yet I was aware what was happening on the ward.  From behind my curtains I could tell that the woman opposite me, who had come at the same time as me, had yet to go into surgery.  As a result, she was feeling light headed and faint as she had had nothing to eat or drink.  She was beginning to kick up a bit of a fuss.  I moved the chair into a more upright position and began earwigging.

The curtain was thrown open and in walked Roberto.

“How are you doing, Anna?”

I told him I felt OK.  He said that he was going to give me two eye ointments.  One was antibiotics that I had to put on my eye four times a day.  The second I had to put on the edge of my eye just before I went to bed.

“I must see you in clinic on Thursday to take your stitches out.”

The urgency in which he said this made me think that he must be of maybe Italian or Spanish descent.  There’s no way a British doctor could have made such a request sound so passionate.  We bid our adieus. The woman opposite me was now in a wheelchair in preparation for theatre.  She wasn’t happy.  Oh well she’d be asleep soon.

I was beginning to like the state I was in.  What was good about it was that time seemed to be fluid.  Usually in hospital time plods by.  The hands of the clock seem to have weights on them.  Now time seemed to be like the clocks in Salvador Dali paintings.  It was melting away.  The seconds blending into minutes, into hours.  Nurses came and took their obs.  I had some tomato soup.  Then I was told I could go.  Rather forlornly, I left and called my husband.

I was about half four, so it would take him a good hour to get there.  I drifted downstairs to get a coffee.  Costa was packed.  I went to the in-house café.  There was me and a rather harassed looking man waiting for service.  All the staff seemed absorbed in a cabinet of sausage rolls.  Apparently, they had the wrong labels on them.  This was obviously far more important than paying customers. Something that they harassed looking man pointed out.  Scowling at him, two women made their way back to their positions and gave us both our much-needed lattes.

I drifted to where I had arranged to meet my husband.  He wouldn’t be there for a while, but I felt like people watching.  The people seemed to fall into three categories.  You had the nurses and the admin staff.  They seemed the happiest and were laughing.  They had finished their shift and could leave their work right slap bang in that hospital.  The next were the doctors, consultants and surgeons.  Nearly all of them were tall, slim and in a hurry.  They looked pensive and uncertain.  It was like they had left something unfinished behind.  Finally, there were the patients and their families.  They were going into rather than out of the hospital.  Their expressions were blank.  They clearly had no idea what lay behind those automatic doors.

“Mum! SHE’S got a coffee!”

I was being accused of my offence by a teenage lad in his hoodie.  His mum gave me a withering smile.  I was quite pleased that it was my coffee he spotted, not the huge black eye that I was now sporting.  He began kicking the door of the café in ENT that had long closed.

“Leave it out! You’ll set off the alarm!”

The teenager sulked and started walking in and out of the automatic doors.  His mum began fiddling with her phone.  After a tense ten minutes, a red Range Rover pulled up.

“Finally!”

Out ran the teenager, his mum switching off her phone to join him.

I decided to wait outside.  It was quite warm, and it felt good to get some fresh air.  As time melted away, my husband pulled up.  We hugged, and he put my bag in the boot.  He looked at my eye.

“Not bad.  I bet the other guy came out the worse”

I gave him a thump and got in the car.  Off we went to join an expletive laden ring road.

 

Eye, eye! Part 1

It was Goose Fair time yet again.  That could only mean one thing.  The Park and Ride was out of action.  I had an appointment at the QMC for 8:30am for my pre- op chat.  Now because of Goose Fair, my usual route in was blocked. Normally I park at the Park and Ride and glide in by tram. In my usual parking space was a tall tower with capsules at either end.  The tower would spin vertically while the capsules would rotate to much screaming inside.  I don’t think my eye appointment would be quite so adrenaline pumping.  But you never know…

So how to get to the QMC?  Driving, like for most of hospitals up and down the land, was out of the question.  My husband mentioned I could always park in the special, secret parking space.  Everyone who regularly goes to a hospital has one of these.  My husband’s one was about a fifteen-minute walk from the hospital.  Plus, I don’t think it was that secret anymore. So, what to do?

Another reason why I was also feeling anxious was also due to my appointment letter.  I had a purge of burning my hospital appointment letters after the barrage of MRI scans that I had in September.  In the purge, I had foolishly burnt the appointment letter for my eye op.  Not to worry.  The hospital sent me a text reminding me of the appointment.  However, the text said I had an appointment at the QMC at 8:30am.  Where in the QMC, the text couldn’t tell me.

“Go and ask at reception.” Said my husband.

“But what about data protection?”

“It’s YOUR data for Christ’s sake!”

Good point.

So, I arrived by magic carpet at the QMC and ventured to the reception by the Main Entrance.  They were perfectly happy telling me where my appointment was. We did the usual pre-flight checks.

“Ooooo… summer of ’76 eh? That were a hot one…” said the receptionist who then preceded to tell me her memories of it.  The only thing I contributed to the conversation was, “I think I spent most of it in my nappy.” which wasn’t great.

Anyway, my appointment was in eye outpatients so off I trotted.  When I got there, I was met by a queue of five people and a harassed looking receptionist, searching files.  All of the five people in front of me had appointment letters.  Not good.  The man in front of me in the queue was smartly dressed, wearing a blazer with and RAF pin on the lapel.  I’m not too sure what he was expecting from the eye clinic, but I had the feeling that he might be disappointed.

My turn came and I was shooed around the corner to the pre- assessment part of the clinic.  I went around the corner and was greeted by a huge, empty waiting area.  On the far wall was a huge TV showing Heartbeat.  Strange choice for half eight in the morning.  After about five minutes, a professional woman in a business suit appeared.

“I’m afraid the clinic doesn’t open until nine.”

“Well, my appointment is for half eight.”

“That can’t be possible.”

“Well… it is.”

I was dreading the obvious next question regarding a letter.  But I was saved by a jolly looking nurse.

“Oh! You must be my first appointment.  Please take a seat and I’ll just get my bits together.”

I smiled smugly and the woman bustled off.

Soon I was shown into a small windowless room.  My height and weight was measured as was my blood pressure and temperature.  She asked me a lot of questions as to whether I had any illnesses that I had never heard of.  The life-threatening illness I did have wasn’t mentioned at all.  It soon raised its ugly head when the topic of regular medication came up.  She believed Herceptin wouldn’t affect the sedative.  Phew.

She described what would happen on the day.  I would check in, have the op and then recover on the ward.  Once I had eaten and passed urine after the op, I was then free to go.  As I would be wearing a gown, she strongly recommended that I bring in a dressing gown and a pair of slippers.  The way she described it, it sounded like a visit to the day spa in Centre Parcs, rather than an operation.  Here’s hoping….

The discussion took a strange turn when she outlined what happened after the op.  For twenty-four hours after the op I couldn’t drive, use heavy machinery, use electrical items like kettles or microwaves or sign any legal documentation.  Urm OK…

“Do you have a responsible adult at home to look after you after your op?”

I snorted.

“Well there is my husband…”

You could tell she had heard this joke many times before.  I didn’t need to finish the punchline.  I signed something to say that I had understood what was going on and off I went.  Spa day at Centre Parcs.  That’s all it was…

Adventures in the Eye Clinic

The allotted day and the allotted hour had arrived.  I stood in the queue awaiting to be checked in.  A lost looking ambulance driver was wandering round and round the eye clinic, trying to find his stricken patient.  A nurse finally escorted him to one of the clinics. I didn’t see him again.

I reached the head of the queue and readied myself for the pre-flight checks.  Apart from stating your date of birth and the first line of your address, the eye clinic also throws in your GP’s name and the last four digits of your contact number.  This can throw people sometimes, but I was prepared.

I was called in for an eye test.  This is the eye clinic equivalent to weighing you, which happens at other clinics.  It’s done.  It’s noted and never referred to again.  The nurse sat me down and began reading a letter.  It was a very long letter.  It looked like it had been written by Mr Q.  I had done some dyslexia training at work where the tutor gave us something to read, and then spoke instructions at the same time.  It was impossible to read and listen and the same time, which was the point they were trying to prove.  Aware of this I sat silently… for five whole long minutes.

She looked concerned.  I was not what she was used to.  We did the eye test and I did quite well.  She took me to a set of chairs where I sat and waited.  I was called through quite quickly and Mr Q was sat there, looking chirpy as ever.  I wondered how he managed to get into the clinic without any detection.  Maybe he tunnelled in or transported his way in as on Star Trek.  Mrs P, the eye consultant, was also there and looked a bit flustered.

I gave my history and got the impression that Mr Q was taking a back seat in things.  It wasn’t his clinic after all.  After listening we went through the options.  It involved two operations.  The first one involved tightening the lower eyelid.  I won’t describe the gruesome details but it would be done in day surgery and involve heavy sedation.  The second op would involve gold implants being inserted in my upper eyelid.  Once that had been done, Mr Q would rush in and sort my mouth out.  I would be knocked out for that one.  Phew.

So that was it sorted.  Mr Q rushed off saying that he would confirm dates with Mrs P and that was that.  As she started completing the consent form, Mrs P stopped.

“You know, I think the damage is so severe, we may be wasting our time with the eye op…”

What?  There was a pause.  It was like she was prompting me to decide about it.  I stayed quiet.  She looked at my notes.

“You are seeing Mrs T… what does she feel about it?”

I said that she hadn’t really given an opinion on any kind about it.

“She’s in clinic today.  Do you mind if I discuss this with her?”

I nodded and five minutes later a smiley Mrs T appeared.  She seemed the happiest I’ve seen her.  I guess she prefers being around other doctors rather than awkward patients.  They started speaking medical gobblegook to one another.  Then a decision was made that could be explained to me in English.

They would do the first op on my lower lid but not the one on the upper lid.  Mrs P seemed quite happy with that.  Mrs T left the room and the drafting of the consent form recommenced.  The op would take place in November or early December.  I would get a letter confirming it all.  She would let Mr Q know of the change of plan.  How he would take it? Lord knows.  Thankfully I had booked another appointment to see him in September just in case he hadn’t been able to make the appointment today.  We could discuss it all then.

I left, consent form signed to have before photos taken to be scrutinised by eager medical students.  It’s the pics after that I felt slightly apprehensive about…

Wanted Down Under

Wanted Down Under is a daytime staple.  For the uninitiated, a family from the UK go “down under” to either Australia or New Zealand for a week.  During the week, they weigh up the pros and cons of emigrating.

Over time it has become rather formulaic.  The family compromises of a husband, wife and three kids.  Normally it’s the husband who is the driving force behind the move.  He’s had a gap year down under and yearns to relive that experience.  The wife is not that keen.  As for the kids, the youngest is up for it, the middle one is won over during the week but the older teenage one, refuses point blank to shift.  The mum won’t go anywhere without all the kids in tow, so there is a stale mate.

Wanted Down Under flies the family over and puts them up in a lovely house.  They spend the week perusing houses, jobs, schools, way of life and the difference in costs.  All the while the oldest teenager pouts their way through.  When it comes to the climax at the end, most of the family votes for life down under, while the teenager remains undecided.  And then it ends.  We are left dangling wondering if they ever went.

There have been episodes where we do find out what happens next.  In those episodes, we find out that life down under isn’t all sun, sea and surf.  It’s bloody hard work, living so far away.  That’s the thing with these types of programmes.  They are selling a dream.  Work is work no matter where you live, even if it’s sunny.

As my appointment with the plastic surgeon looms, I can’t help viewing it all with a bit of caution.  Like the people on Wanted Down Under, I feel at times that I’m being sold a dream, that might not necessarily come true.  I have a nagging feeling that it may be harder to recover.  No one seems to know how the radiotherapy will affect the healing. But the drooling is getting worse and worse.  It’s getting so bad that I can’t say more than five sentences without someone handing me a tissue.  It’s not so bad with friends and family, but when you are talking to all those neutral people in your life, shop assistants, delivery men, builders, it’s just plain annoying.  Of course, everyone is far too polite to say anything. But weirdly, I kind of wish they would…

Never Forget

We’ve come so far and we’ve reached so high.  And we’ve looked each day and night in the eye. And we’re still so young and we hope for more.  Yes, it was Take That time again.  Roughly every year since Take That have reformed, my sister and I have seen them in some form or other. At their maximum, there was five.  Now two have jumped ship and they are down to three.  As we’ve seen them so often, I’m now on the pre-order ticket list.  For pre-ordering their album, I get to access the tour tickets a couple of days before the hoy polloi get them.  Sweet.

For some reason, they seem to announce their tour dates for the upcoming year during the October half term.  They know that their main client base must be teachers both practising and retired.  Every year my sister and I have the same argument.  I want to stand and she wants to sit.  Every year my sister always wins out. Oh well maybe next year…

So, there we were last Saturday, in the O2, up in the Gods, sweltering away.

“Hello London! You’re looking fabulous on a Saturday night!” announced Gary Barlow in the way that Gary Barlow only can.  The opening chords for Greatest Day rang out and up we stood.  Half way through a woman whose head were in front of my feet, started shouting at me.

“What?!?”

“You’re spilling your beer on my head!”

“Oppss! Sorry!” I said and put the mouthful of beer I had left in my plastic pint glass into the drinks holder on my seat.  I stopped singing.  I knew it was far worse.  It wasn’t beer that had gone on that woman’s head.  It was drool.

My drooling has reached epic proportions.  I am drooling everywhere.  On student’s work, random women’s’ heads, on the dog, on nurses’ iPads, you name, I’ve probably drooled on it.  The reason for the drooling is my mouth.  As I have no facial nerve on the left side of my face, the left side of my mouth is drooping quite badly.  It’s happened quickly.  Only last year in photos, I’m grinning away celebrating my 40th birthday.  Now it’s all lopsided.

People are noticing.  When I went to the local tip to get rid of some gardening stuff, the old bloke who works there asked if I had had a stroke.  I told him a condensed version and he looked horrified.  You can forget how bonkers it all is to civilians. So, it was a bit of a blessing that after Take That, I had an appointment with the plastic surgeon.

I decided to take some moral support so my husband came with me.  We managed to squeeze in a trip to Costa to discuss tactics beforehand.  I had decided to go with the bog standard hoik up.  I wanted to stop drooling asap and to-ing and fro-ing to Birmingham wasn’t going to help that.  We arrived bang on time and an hour later we were called in.

My husband has a weird theory about medical professions.  He thinks you can tell a lot by looking in their eyes.  They either have sharp, focused eyes or dull, lazy eyes.  Thankfully Mr Q’s eyes are firmly the former.  I told him of my preferred option and the reason why.  He nodded and didn’t try and change my mind.  In fact, I think he agreed with it.  Now came the tricky part.  We arranged for him to come to my appointment at the eye clinic in August.  There both he and the eye surgeon would discuss further what to do.  Then, hopefully, I would have one operation where both my eye and my mouth would be hoiked up.  The stitches would finally come out of my eye and the drooling would stop.  It all sounded good.  We shook hands and arrangements were made to meet at the end of August.  My drooling days were numbered.

Bonkers Part 2

The allotted day had arrived.  Even worse it was Tuesday.  Tuesdays are rubbish for me.  Luckily, we are in exam season.  So, I left my class in the hands of a bemused admin assistant to invigilate yet another mock exam for them.  They took this quite well apart from my manager who still signs off any email I send her about my appointments with, “if you could rearrange this when you are not teaching next time.” Yeah, right.

The ENT department is split into two reception areas.  Normally I am in the second reception area around the corner.  I approached the first reception area, feeling nervous.  The receptionist was on the phone speaking loudly.

“Yes, it’s on the FIFTEENTH.” Pause. “Not SIXTEENTH.  ONE FIVE.” Pause “We’ll send you a letter.  A LETTER.”

She hung up and rolled her eyes.

“Yes?”

I said my name and Dr Q’s name.

“Well it looks like you are here today.” She said sounding quite surprised. “Take a seat.”

I obeyed and got my book out.  After about twenty minutes I noticed something.  Patients were being called out two at a time, going through some double doors and not returning.  Bit worrying that.

After about forty-five minutes mine and another patient’s name were called.  We were escorted by a nurse through the double doors into yet another waiting room.

“I’m sorry but it’s another hour wait from this point on.”

I was on my own but the other patient had his wife with him.  We all sighed in unison.  He reached for his phone and both his wife and I resumed our books.  We were lucky.  After about twenty minutes, the couple were called through.  This took the wife by surprise. She spent a good deal of time faffing about much to the amusement of the nurse and her husband.  I smiled and carrying on reading.

After another twenty minutes, I was called through.  Where had the couple gone?  It was my turn for a bit of awkward faffing.  The nurse led me to a room where sat Mr Q looking immaculate as ever.  I sat opposite him. The nurse took a seat in the corner of the room, facing me.  Mr Q and I exchanged pleasantries.  The nurse looked bored.  I was the last patient in the clinic so it must have been a long morning.

“So, can you remind me why you are here?” asked Mr Q.  I gave him a detailed account of the last six years.  It felt quite strange being encouraged in giving such details.  I have become so used to giving quite a watered-down version of events.  He listened and made notes.  After my history, he asked me to do various facial exercises so he could check out how much movement I had in the left side of my face.

“OK.  What for you is the most important thing to be done?”

I was flummocked by the question.  I’ve never been given a choice before.  I remembered our previous appointment.  He had said the he didn’t want to tread on the toes of the eye people.  So, I said I wanted my mouth sorted and then maybe the eye.

He looked puzzled.

“If you want my opinion, you need to get the eye sorted first.  I’ll refer you to Dr S to advise you on that…”

He outlined a possible procedure that involved cuts to my lower eyelid and weights that could be either gold or platinum, inserted in my upper eyelid to ensure my eye closed properly.  Crikey.  But this was merely the beginning.

Once I had had my eye sorted, then work could start on my mouth.  There were three options:

  1. A hoik up. This was the easiest procedure. He would cut along the smile line on the left side of my face. Hoik it up. Cut behind my ear and use a bit of my thigh to replace any facial tissue he had to get rid of.
  2. The thigh nerve. He could take a muscle from my thigh that had a nerve in it. He would attach this to my face and attach the nerve to the nerve endings near my temple. I then could have a faint smile. I think he ruled this one out as he felt that I didn’t have enough nerve endings in my left temple. Lovely.
  3. The nerve graft. The complicated one. A piece of my right facial nerve would be stretched to the left side of my face. Once it had been grafted over, a piece of muscle could be attached to it and over time, I would be able to smile. This would involve two operations. Although he had done the procedure before, he felt I would be better going to a specialist centre for this op. The centres were in Newcastle, Birmingham and…erm… East Grinstead.

It was a hell of a lot to take in.  I was used to no options.  If there was an option there was only one and I had to have that otherwise I would die.  Part of the reason why our house is in a state in disrepair is because my husband and I are rubbish at making choices.  We are both ditherers.  Now I was being asked what choice I wanted to do with my face.

Mr Q picked up on my anxiety.

“Listen.  There is no rush in any of this.  We can take our time.  Come back and see me in a months’ time and we’ll talk about it further.”

I nodded and looked to the nurse for some reassurance.  She looked blankly at me and escorted me out of the building.