A Journal of the Plague Months Chapter 5
Friday May 1st
A new patient arrived today, a lady called Edith. She has dementia, and she has an alarm attached to her that goes off when she tries to get out of bed. She tried at first, and it went off constantly, and then she just gave up and lay back and closed her eyes. She seems in a bad way.
There was a new nurse today, a Portuguese lady called Rosa, in her thirties, and very cheerful.
“Where’s Izabella?” I asked Susan.
She looked around.
“She’s in intensive care,” she whispered. “She began to feel really ill at home and had to go to bed. She had terrible breathing problems. Her husband took her to A & E to get tested - it’s not routine - and she was positive.”
They must live with it all the time.
Chatted a little bit with the lady next to me, Jean. She hopes to go home soon. She told me she worked as a carer in a care home.
“Most of us here, from the care homes. It’s rampant, and we get no testing,” she said bluntly.
She has been in the Intensive Care Unit, because she too had breathing problems.
Visits from Kay, Claire and Matt and Bev, who were ecstatic when I wobbled halfway up the ward on my stick.
I told Claire the TV and radio experiments had been unsuccessful, and she gave me a book of word searches, produced by the hospital. We can’t have books, she explained, because of the quarantine, but I don’t want to read anyway. I can’t concentrate. I feel sort of drained all the time.
Saturday May 2nd
Was awoken in the night several times by Edith trying to get up and her alarm going off. The nurses come straight away.
Rosa and Susan were on today, and I heard them whispering.
“They always try and get up at the end …”
Yesterday, Edith’s husband, son and daughter phoned several times, and the nurses put it on speaker, but she was incapable of having a conversation, and I could hear her daughter crying.
Today, Susan bought in an i pad.
“It’s for a Zoom meeting,” she explained to me. “It’s so Edith’s family can see her and say - “ and she stopped.
During the daytime, either Rosa or Susan sat with Edith. She managed to wake up enough to look at the iPad - I’m not sure she understood what it was. But when her family came on, the most beautiful smile came over her face, and she chattered away.
It reminded me of when Dad was in the hospice. He was in a coma for the last two weeks, nothing there at all. One afternoon I sat very quietly with him, and when it was time to go, I bent over and kissed him and told him that I loved him. And at that moment, he opened his blue eyes wide and smiled at me. He knew me, just for a second. And then he was gone.
He died that night, and Liz and I went to the hospice to sit quietly with his body for a time.
At least we were able to visit. Nobody visits me. Nobody can visit Edith.
Qasim looked at her when he came in with the food. Qasim has tried to sit with her and feed her, patiently, spoon by spoon. Today, he shook his head and whispered something to Susan, and shortly afterwards she brought in a drip for Edith.
Sunday May 3rd
Full turn out of staff today. Yasmin, Natalie, Maria and Fatima. Usually, they are bustling around all the time and never sit down. I remembered what Susan had said when Boris Johnson made his sentimental speech about the two nurses who sat at his bedside.
“Luxury to have a nurse at your bedside 24 hours! We’ve got 120 to look after!”
But today the four were around most of the time. They took it in turns to sit next to Edith, holding her hand. She was mumbling, but a few words were coherent.
No visitors on Sunday, so Fatima took me to the bathroom and then helped me with my walking exercises. Using my stick, I got as far as the window. It was a beautiful day, and Qasim had opened the window to let in the fresh air. Leaning on Fatima, I looked out. Below, in the hospital grounds, a small group of people were standing under our window, looking up.
“It’s Edith’s family,” said Fatima bluntly.
They stood there all day. I don’t know what they did for food and drink.
Edith was rambling now. She seemed to be talking to her mum and dad, and other long gone people. I remember, when I choked, hearing Mom’s and Dad’s voices. We are all children here.
And then some time in the afternoon, all her machines stopped making a noise.
There was total silence on the ward. We all looked. It was Fatima sitting there, holding her hand, and staring at her.
Yasmin came over and whispered something. She drew the curtains.
Natalie was writing something on a large piece of paper. She took it over to the window, looked down, held it up, and stood there for some minutes. She raised her hand in salute.
When she turned round, I had a glimpse of what it said.
SHE IS AT PEACE NOW. WE ARE ALL SO SORRY.
Monday May 4th
Very quiet on the ward today, after they took Edith away.
Women come and go all the time, and I’ve stopped trying to strike up relationships with them. But the ward staff stay the same. Dr Mohammed, Natalie, Susan, Yasmin, Rosa, Izabella, Fatima, Maria, Tom, Qasim, Jan, Matt, Beverley, Claire, Kay. They are my family now. I feel safe with them.
Dr Mohammed made his rounds. He looked at Edith’s empty bed but said nothing. There will always be another patient for them. He looked at my notes and asked me how I’d enjoyed the experiment with Occupational Therapy and radio. I said Radio Kiss Kiss FM had been appalling, and he
laughed and said he was a Radio Two and Five Live man himself.
He said I could have the breathing equipment moved, that my sat levels were normal.
“You can think about going home now!” he said.
Perhaps, after Edith’s death, it is time to go home.
Tuesday May 5th
A new visitor today, Karen, who drew the curtains, and introduced herself as a Mental Health worker.
“I’ve heard that you may be going home, and we can arrange follow up services, by phone of course,” she said. “Can we have a chat? How are you?”
I stared at her, and thought of everything that had happened. And it all came out. That I didn’t see why I should be the only person I knew who had had Coronavirus. That I had always been the person who cared for others, that I’d spent years running back and forth from hospitals, visiting people, sitting by their sides after operations, taking them to their appointments. And that when it came to my turn, there was nobody at my bedside, ever. That I didn’t feel that the people who phoned and emailed me understood how I felt. That I dreaded going home as I knew the house and garden would be in a dreadful state, and that I couldn’t cope with any problems John and Catrin had, or their conditions, or their medication. That I couldn’t cope with anything. That I loved my bed, my chair and the ward and the staff, but I didn’t feel that I showed this enough, that I didn’t appreciate the staff enough, that I didn’t do everything that they wanted. That I was ungrateful. That I was not a better person because of illness. That I had not done anything to help.
Karen took all this very calmly. I expect she is used to it. We talked for a bit and she said she would arrange for me to have a follow up service by telephone when I left, and it would probably be with MIND.
Felt a bit sniffly after she went, but that might be the beginnings of a slight cold. A young man in PPE came in and took a swab from the back of my throat.
“You have to test negative before you can go home,” he explained.