A Journal of the Plague Months Chapter 5

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.


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.

Wednesday May 6th

Woke up sniffly, and Susan said I should have an X ray.    I thought I’d be going in a visit in a wheelchair, but instead, two very young and cheerful girls turned up with a huge piece of equipment and did it at my bedside.   

Maria had decided today that I should have a shower and wash my hair.    She put me into the wheelchair and wheeled me to the bathroom.    I can now make it there with a stick, but she wanted me to sit in the chair under the shower while she washed my hair.    I didn’t feel embarrassed about having no clothes on.    You never feel anything like that here; they have seen you at your worse.   

Maria had brought in her own hairdryer, as there isn’t one in the bathroom.   She took my hairbrush and briskly blow dried my hair; it looks better than it has ever done.   Lots of grey though, and needs a cut.

“No hairdressers open,” said Maria, shaking her head, which reminded me of the outside world and its restrictions, which I have tried to forget.

I thought I had better get in touch again.   I asked Natalie to put the BBC News on the television.    I think she’s bored of her Radio Kiss Kiss FM’s songs and dances, as we are generally so crashingly indifferent, and she gets the usual gamut of “What is that rubbish, Nat?”    However, Edna does enjoy her singing and dancing.   

I lay and watched the news in horror.   So many thousands dead.    So many NHS staff dead, who sacrificed themselves.    So many thousands of jobs gone with everything closed.   So many care home residents dead.    People unable to visit their families.  People who died without visiting their families.   The shortage of proper PPE, and the staff working in hot hospitals smothered in PPE.   The bodies piled up in mortuaries.    The backlog of funerals.   Crematoriums open seven days a week to deal with the backlog.   Bodies stored in shipping containers and the storage where they usually put bodies for dissection.   Funerals limited to six, so you couldn’t even say goodbye, and funeral staff in masks and gloves.  1000 people dying every day.   The bosses, millionaires, and billionaires, who took the opportunity to lay off their staff, and cheat the furlough scheme.    Those selfish people who broke the rules of the lockdown, while the rest of us suffered.   The lack of testing and of test and trace.  And the fact that the UK, one of the richest nations in the world, is heading for one of the highest death rates.

We had years to prepare for this.  Why didn’t we prepare?   Why weren’t we ready?   Why have so many died?   Why didn’t we have the PPE ready?    And what will happen if it happens again?

And then there were the good news stories.   The NHS.   The key workers, the carers, the cleaners, the caretakers, who carried on as usual.    The shop workers, the delivery drivers, the milkmen, the postmen, the public services.   The people who ran food banks.  The volunteers who kept in touch with the elderly and did their shopping for them and just checked that they were OK.    

The Government would call many of these people low skilled workers.   I don’t.   They would call many of the people in this hospital migrant workers.   I don’t.   

Thursday May 7th

Full round of visits today from everyone.   Dr Mohammed first, beaming, as he told me I had tested negative and could go home tomorrow.  I didn’t know what to say to him.    I felt inadequate.    I didn’t feel thank you was enough.  

All followed by Bev and Matt, Physiotherapy, Karen from Mental Health, Kay the dietician, Claire the Occupational Therapist, all with leaflets and booklets for me and promises of follow up phone calls when I got home.   

After they’d all gone, and I’d said thank you, over and over, I called John.

“Get me the biggest box of chocolates you can find - huge - and a huge Thank You card,” I said.   

Lay on my bed and sat in my chair.   Yasmin drew the curtains so I could have a bit of privacy.   I thought how when I came in, I thought I had nothing and nobody, and now I have this little space and all these people.    And now I was about to lose them again.    

And I thought too that I was about to go back into a world where people didn’t know what it was like to have Coronavirus.    That the world was divided into two groups, those who have had it and those who have not.   That I knew what it was like.    That I had seen those who died.   That I was the keeper of the secrets.  

To be continued…

Alys Morgan

Based on a true story.