Journal of the Plague Months Chapter 4

Chapter Four

Sunday April 26th

It is very quiet at the weekends, as the doctors don’t come round.    I lay in bed, looking out the window.   I wondered if there was a chapel in the hospital, as there used to be.    My physiotherapy appointments for arthritis are at Rhyl.   One time I was walking along the corridor, and I saw a door labelled Chapel.    I looked inside and it was beautiful - all polished wood and stained glass.   There was even an organ, with a pile of leaflets for a Carol Service in 1996 on it - probably the last time it was used for a service, as the hospital is not now a bedded one.

After that, I always used to sit quietly in there for a bit whenever I went for physio.   

Sunday breakfast was brought by a nice young man called Qasim.    He was from Syria, he said, and had come here feeling the war.  

“This was the only job I could get but I love working for the NHS!”

If only our politicians shared such sentiments.

At Qasim’s urging, I actually tried some toast and tea.    The tea tasted awful, which might be my mouth, but I haven’t had tea in nearly two weeks.    Qasim was beaming when he came up for the rubbish.    It struck me that the catering staff act almost as dieticians.    I suppose they are what the Government call low skilled workers.    

Word had obviously got around, as Maria, my health care assistant, also came up beaming.

“No bed bath today!   We will take you to the bathroom!”

“Oh Maria, I don’t fancy that at all.”

She looked disappointed, and I felt suddenly really guilty.    Why does their good opinion mean so much?    Because they care.    Because I’m not trying.   Because they’re the grown ups and I’m the child.

Maria fetched me a wheelchair.   I sat on the edge of the bed, and leaned forward to get into it.    I felt very weak.   And as I moved, I was suddenly sick.

Maria was distressed, I could see.   She wears a transparent ski mask so you can see her face.

“Don’t worry, I will get you a clean gown.   It was too much!”

She drew the curtains.   Yasmin and Susan came and changed all my bedclothes, and never said a word about it.    Maria came back beaming, with an armful of nightwear, all colours, and brand new.

“Look!  This will cheer you up!    We have a donation from Marks and Spencer!” 

Turns out M & S have donated dressing gowns, nighties and pyjamas to the hospital; I suppose they can’t sell it.    I had a blue nightie and dressing gown, and they’re nicer than anything I have ever had.    You have so little in hospital that everything means something.    You are stripped down to the bare essentials.   I have a nightie and dressing gown in a plastic bag marked Patient Property, a pair of slippers and a handbag with a purse, hairbrush and phone in.    I have nothing else.

After the sickness, I lay quietly till lunch time.   Maria brought me a cup of tea, which was horrible, and some ginger biscuits in a little packet.   

“Donated by a local supermarket,” she explained.   I thought how kind some people were.

Thanks to Qasim’s encouragement, managed to eat cheese sandwiches for lunch and soup for tea.   Yasmin made a face when she saw it.

“I’m sorry for the food,” she said bluntly.

“Oh Yasmin, I quite like it, after not eating for so long.    And to be honest, I’m just relieved I don’t have to pay for it!   I’ll go out of here without owing anyone a penny!”

I do like it - in Jamie Oliver style, there is curry and pasta on offer, but I like the traditional foods  which remind me in a comforting way of Mom’s cooking in the 1960s (which was very good) and school dinners in the 1970s (not so good).

Monday April 27th

Big day today!   Dr Mohammed made his rounds and said I could have the drip and the anti sickness medication removed!

Yasmin and Sue took the needles out.    I have had so many inserted in my arms that they are a mass of tiny scars.    But it was wonderful to be able to move my arms again, even if they are sore.

Susan also took away the big oxygen mask, and gave me a cylinder with two plastic tubes attached, which I had to put up my nose.

“Your Sat levels are still a bit low,” she explained.

The tubes reminded me of how only a few days ago, they were trying to insert tubes into my nose and into my stomach, and how I kicked and screamed.   Realised humbly I would not have been able to be a suffragette undergoing force feeding.    It was the turning point in many ways - I forced myself to eat to avoid the tubes.    Now everyone is very pleased with me.    It is like being a good child at school, and  very comforting in a way.    Because I don’t know what I need to do to recover from CV.    I’m not actually on any medicine for it and there is no vaccine.   

Tom back, and found out that I actually now look forward to meal times.    It’s odd how it is served - in cardboard containers, and with plastic cutlery.    I don’t know if this is because of CV or the norm now.    Years ago, when I was a student, I had a holiday job in a hospital and part of my job was loading huge dishwashers with crockery and cutlery.

Maria was off today, and I had a healthcare assistant called Fatima.    She is very brisk.

“We are going to the bathroom today,” she announced firmly via her ski mask.

She brought a wheelchair to the bedside and helped me into it.    This time I wasn’t sick.   She wheeled me to the bathroom, which is just at the end of our room.   We cannot of course go outside.   It is a large and very light room, with a loo and an overhead shower.

“You can just sit under the shower, and I’ll wash your hair,” Fatima urged.   

to my bed, which Fatima drew up closer to the bed for me.    I have my handbag, toothbrush and hairbrush.   My own clothes are in a plastic bag in the cupboard bit.   

Izabella came up after lunch.

“Now your husband and sister phone every day, and always we tell them how you are, but it takes time to answer the phone.    So I think today we tell them to phone you on your mobile,” she said firmly.

“It’s in my bag, Izabella, and must be as flat as a pancake.”  

Izabella found it for me, and plugged it in at my table, where it is next to all sorts of important looking plugs.    I hope I don’t pull the wrong plug out by mistake.

Izabella also suggested that I sit in my chair for a bit.   I didn’t fancy this.   I just like to lie on my bed and look out the window.   But Izabella insisted.

“You can breathe better sitting up,” she said firmly.    

So she helped me into the chair, and put a pillow behind me.   Then she brushed my hair, which was a terrible mess, and has grown so much that she went and found a ribbon to tie it back for me.

“Much better!” she beamed.

I felt like a doll, but I rather liked it - or like a child, being looked after, except really, they are so young that they are the children.

I have nothing to read, but I don’t want to.    I don’t have the mental application.    I would never have thought that.   I remember years ago when I worked for the public library service, we used to loan books to hospitals in partnership with the WRVS.    And when Mom and Dad were in, a trolley used to come round with newspapers and magazines.    But we are isolated.

I tried not to look at the three other women on the ward.    The lady opposite, Mary, seems in a bad way, asleep all the time.    Jenny next to me suffers from depression, and sits and looks at the floor all the time.    I remember when I used to visit Mom in hospital, I used to think how all the old ladies looked sad and depressed, and I wondered why.   And now I know.

At mealtimes, Tom tried to wake Mary and feed her patiently spoon by spoon.   It was obviously hopeless, and they drew her curtains and brought a drip.

My phone rang twice in the afternoon.   It was John and then Liz.  It was odd to speak to them.    I don’t know if I was pleased or not.    It’s as though they came from another world.   I couldn’t tell them the things that had happened

But I didn’t feel ready for that, although my hair is indeed dreadful.    So I just had a wash at the sink.   Fatima brought me a new toothbrush, because it was one of the things I forgot to bring in with me.    I felt quite pleased to have a brand new toothbrush.   I arranged it carefully on the little table next

to me.  They wouldn’t understand.

Tuesday April 28th

Something odd happened in the night.

Lights go out at nine o’ clock, and now all the needles have been removed from my arms, I can actually doze off.   

About three o’clock, I woke up to the sound of a machine bleeping very fast.   The room was full of people in gowns and masks, and they drew the curtains around Mary’s bed.   Then, after some time, they all went away and there was silence

One of the night nurses stood by the bed.    The night staff come on at eight thirty pm, and have a changeover meeting, and we first see them at nine o’ clock when they turn out the lights.    They are covered in masks and gowns, so we never really see their faces.

Two men came in with a trolley. They lifted Mary onto it.    The night nurse covered her with a white sheet.   Then they wheeled her away.

The night nurse turned around and saw me staring.

“We don’t even have enough body bags,” she said.   

Her eyes seemed bright; I think she was crying.    She seemed like the Angel of Death.

Nobody mentioned Mary in the morning, not the other women, who stared at the empty bed or the day staff.    I was especially conscientious about wearing my breathing equipment.   

Wednesday April 29th

A nice young woman called Kay came to see me today.    She introduced herself as a dietician.   She gave me a diet booklet, which is rather lovely; it is full of things like milk shakes and cakes.   I showed it to Tom, and he laughed and said he’d make sure I got everything in it.  Fattening me for the kill, I suppose, or leaving hospital.

Leaving hospital.

“You need to put weight back on,” she explained.    This is the first time anybody has said this to me since I was a skinny child suffering from catarrh and bronchitis in a damp terraced house, and the Health Visitor told my mom I needed cod liver oil and Delrosa.    I remember Liz and I had to drink pasteurised milk and orange juice every day; we didn’t care for it at all.   

In the afternoon I dozed off and woke rather abruptly to find a couple standing at my bedside.    They wore white rather than blue.   One was a young and cheerful man called Matt, and the other a middle aged lady called Bev.

“We’re Physiotherapy.   We’re here to help you get back on your feet!”

My heart sank at this.    I move, with help, from my bed to my chair and into my wheelchair.   I can now be wheeled to the bathroom, which is good because the bedpan was a total flop, and I could never use it without an accident.

“I don’t think I can walk …   I am so weak.”

“Of course you are, your muscles are wasted,” said Matt cheerfully.   

He produced, almost with a flourish, a zimmerframe which they had left at the entrance to the ward.   I looked at it aghast.

“A zimmer!   That’s for old women!”

They laughed, and in that dreadful moment, I realised I was an old woman.

“Just a few steps  ..  just try a little walk ..   just to the bathroom and back ….”

I realised I was behaving like a spoilt child.    And they were behaving like the grown ups.   And so to please them, and to get some peace, I levered myself up, and made some faltering steps down the ward.   I did about six, and said:

“That’s enough.   I’ve had enough.”

They were very pleased though.   They said they would be back tomorrow,

and would bring me a stick. They left me some exercises to do, in bed and in my chair.    I think I’ll stick to the bed exercises.

Thursday April 30th

Today’s visitor was another very nice young woman called Claire, who said she was from Occupational Therapy.    She asked me if there was anything I wanted to do, anything she could bring me.   

“No,” I said.

She looked worried, and once again I felt that I wasn’t trying hard enough.    I cast around a bit and said that I liked reading, and listening to the radio.   She seemed pleased at that.

“We can get you a radio!”

I was pleased at that, thinking that if they brought earphones, I could lie or sit and listen to Woman’s Hour and the afternoon play on Radio Four.    What happened in fact was that Natalie brought in a huge radio, put it on the window, and the four of us listened in absolute indifference to something called something like Kiss Kiss FM.    Natalie seemed to like it though, and sang along to it, and the others seemed to like her singing.    There is a lady called Edna, in a wheelchair, and Natalie did wheelchair dances with her and Edna laughed.

Afternoon brought Matt and Bev, accompanied by my stick, which is made of platinum.    I used it to walk as far as the bathroom and back, and they were thrilled.    I wasn’t, but it will be great not to have to call the nurses for either the bedpan or the wheelchair.   Baby steps.

“When you can walk the length of the ward, you can go home!” promised Bev.

Go home.   Leave hospital.

Natalie turned the radio off when we had our afternoon naps, but obviously inspired by the success of her experiment in media, she turned to TV on.    This inspired a hunt all over the ward to find the remote control, and I can honestly say I wish she didn’t find it.   The first thing that came on was the Government press conference, which was drivel.    I have never seen so many people avoid answering questions in my life.

There was a succession of increasingly awful soap operas and reality programmes, but at 8 pm, Natalie did put on the Clap for the NHS, which we watched in silence.   

“I suppose you’re really pleased at the appreciation,” I ventured to Natalie.

She shrugged her shoulders indifferently.

“Clapping costs nothing, and the politicians stand there and it makes them look good.    What I’d like is a decent pay rise.    And while they’re at it, they could write off our student debt.    I owe thousands in student loans.”

She began to peel off her gloves, ready for the changeover.   Her hands were red and raw, and I looked at them in horror.   She laughed.

“That’s what happens when you wear rubber gloves all day!   And I wear two pairs!   Still, I’m glad to have them, there’s enough here hasn’t got the right equipment!”

I’ve thought for a long time how awful it is for them, in this heat, wearing masks, gloves and aprons that cover them from head to foot.    And then I thought how some of the nurses wear ski masks instead of masks, and wrap scarves round their heads.   And some have plastic aprons, almost like bin bags.   And very few of them have PPE that goes from their necks to the floor, as they should do, but that the Westminster Government had downgraded what PPE was needed to fight Coronavirus.    And what Maria had said about them being an army being sent into battle, and they are an army without the right equipment.    Well, it’s not the first time in this country that innocents have been sent over the top to be slaughtered.

To be continued…

Alys Morgan

Based on a true story.