If you have found me difficult to track down in the past couple of weeks, here’s why.
The fact is that I have always had an allergy to hospitals, but the past couple of weeks took that from bad to worse. Some time back, I had a catscan at Roehampton Hospital, and ran a massive allergic reaction to the iodine in the imaging dye they injected into me. But that proved to be the least of my worries.
When I was referred to Kingston Hospital, the idea was that I would have an exploratory procedure to see what was wrong with my kidneys and the like. I was warned that there was an outside chance of an infection, but hadn’t expected to feel quite so bad immediately after the procedure. Allowed to go home, I felt somewhat better on the following day, Tuesday, so I went in to a dinner with Zouk Capital at Hyde Park Corner. Leaving later in the evening, having had no alcohol, I found my legs giving way beneath me, and could hardly climb into a taxi home. My teeth chattered all the way back to Barnes.
A doctor came out in the middle of the night and I was told in no uncertain terms I needed to be in hospital and on an intravenous drip of antibiotics. Both Elaine and the ambulance team found that I was running a high temperature. But after 5-6 hours at the hospital, during which time a paediatric nurse (“I don’t normally take blood from adults”) managed to sluice my blood over the floor, I was released in the early hours of the morning with a box of laxatives.
Elaine was horrified and rang the GP, where I presently headed for an emergency check-up. I virtually collapsed with pain in her office, at which point she also insisted that I needed to be on an intravenous drip. So back to Kingston Hospital. It took ages to be checked in, then they seemed to forget to insert the drip. The entire experience left me loving the NHS more in theory than in practice. A small example of the problem: a doctor told me on the second day that I would be going home later in the day, once they had got me the right drugs. After 3-4 hours, I got dressed and went out of the ward to ask how things were going, to find that they had no record that I was being discharged.
Since then I have been at home, on antibiotics. But the cherry on the icing on the cake was that the day after I got home I woke up to find I had labyrinthitis. I don’t recommend it. It was like having 27 energetically malevolent monkeys all pulling away at me from different directions at the end of elastic tethers. I would turn over on the bed and the room would continue revolving around me for quite a while. A different GP came and a different set of drugs were prescribed. After several days, that problem began to recede, thanks heavens.
Yesterday, finally, I was able to go into the office for the first time, which was wonderful. But I still find that my energy levels really aren’t what they should be. It’s as if someone has poked a stick into the dynamo that keeps me rattling along in normal times. And there is still an operation to have. But I won’t be having it at Kingston, having refused to go back there. On Friday I will be heading across to Charing Cross Hospital to meet a surgeon who has been recommended by my sister Tessa and her husband, himself a surgeon.
On the upside, though, this has been an excellent opportunity to catch up with myself ahead of my 65th birthday next week, and to consider how I best use my energies, assuming that they return. It has also proved to be an extraordinarily timely opportunity to edit and update this website, and to begin to get this blog series back on the rails.
My thanks to all the NHS people who have helped me to date. Almost without exception, they have been wonderful. But aspects of the NHS system, at least at Kingston Hospital, seem to be creaking at the seams. I have written a long letter to the CEO of the Hospital, itemising the different things that went wrong, and getting to eleven mishaps with ease.
But then, as Tessa told me, if I had this particular condition 50 years ago it would have been a death sentence, so once again I’m thrilled to have born when I was and to be alive when I am.