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On Death Row in a UK hospital

RECOVERY DIARY (No I’m not an alcoholic!)
Roxy Williams
under the knife

Op of Doom minus 20 hours
OK, the day before an op you should be taking it easy, not eating too much, a bit of light exercise, all that jazz. Sat on a freezing platform in Southampton, burning my tongue on an overprized latte I realise that hours sat on a packed train is not ideal, even further from ideal is spending hours on a platform, in the rain, because once again the trains are late- very late.

Now I realise that people go under the knife every day, and that chances are I will come out just fine, but after too much time to think and a total lack of distractions (that will teach me to assume the trains will be on time and take only one book!) I send out the inevitable ‘just in case…’ message. And no, I don’t stop at the few close friends that would just laugh at my tendency to overreact, and for some reason texting the ex makes sense. In my warped girl logic, if I die tomorrow, at least he knows how I feel, right?

Op of Doom minus 12 hours:

OK, so I actually made it home- albeit 5 hours later than I should have done. Now, I hate the tendency of the stupid trains to run on some mysterious timetable of their own, but I hate it even more when it means I miss a home cooked roast. Especially when I have been eating the staple diet of pasta and toast that we students get to live off, and even more so when I am not allowed to eat anything at all after 12am. I will be starving by the time I get into surgery and crisps and a Snickers bar from a train station snack shack is not a substitute for roast! With ten minutes to go until 12, after raiding and consuming the majority of my family’s cupboards and checking my hospital bag for the millionth time, I settle down for a late night with a big stack of films, I figure I’ll be doing plenty of sleeping in the next few days, so who needs to sleep right? Although I’m pretty grouchy that I can’t attack the tub of ice cream that is a necessary accompaniment for a film fest as I sip the glass of water that is all I am allowed.

Op of Doom minus 3 hours:
I am officially the strangest looking person walking into this hospital reception. Everyone is wearing joggers and big hoodies, and here I am with my freshly styled hair (normally I’m not so much with the hair styling, but Mum is a hairdresser and our house just has so many products to play with!) and a tiny little minidress. I officially look like a diva. This would be fine if it weren’t so far from the truth- the fact is that the hair is mainly due to Mum and little sis Jade attacking my hair to distract me, and the dress is because I have to wear something that won’t rub on my tummy. Apparently completely inappropriate minidresses are the solution. I challenge you to find 5 items of clothing in your wardrobe that don’t rest on your tummy, you won’t be able to! At least the odd looks I am getting from people in their comfy joggers is distracting me from the nerves that the horrid fake lighting and that distinct sterile smell normally kick off.

Op of Doom minus 2 hours:
So I have been asked my name, date of birth and address about fifty times now, and I still have to loiter around in this little waiting room, in the obligatory dodgy gown, for another two hours. I guess the constant questioning is better than waking up with a kidney removed or something- there are two Michelle’s with similar sounding surnames and one of them had a panic when the surgeon explained the procedure on her leg when she was expecting an eye op. Note to self: state name VERY clearly.

Op of Doom minus 30 minutes:
Having lied to all the doctors when asked if I am still wearing any jewelry, I realise as they prepare me for anesthetic in a distinctly scary looking room, that I should probably be honest. This time when they ask I stick out my tongue and smile, the nurse says that it could not only get in the way of the tube they have to shove down my throat (hmm, nice how they hadn’t mentioned that before now) or worse, I could swallow it and it could end up in my lungs. Fair enough, that is a risk I don’t fancy taking. Although I really hope it doesn’t heal up- anyone who has had their tongue pierced would understand that I am not willing to go through that pain again! I remember accosting the Irish anesthetist who had the lovely blue eyes that are my weakness, as I started to go under, and I am slightly concerned there may have been inappropriate comments related to the tongue stud. I would love to hear the things those poor anesthetists hear from the half drugged people they spend their days with.

Op of Doom plus 4 hours:
Now I have never been one for drugs, I don’t even drink much aside from the odd glass of Merlot, but within ten minutes of waking up in the bright beeping room I realised that DRUGS ARE GOOD. Normally I don’t even like taking paracetamol. But today, after waking up convinced my stomach had been hacked by Sulla’s sword (never read a historical novel based on Roman warfare before an operation!) I was happy to take whatever they offered me. I also learnt, after hours of staring numbly at the ceiling, that in the right situation, tea and toast is akin to a piece of heaven and that a tongue piercing doesn’t heal up after a few hours- yey!

Op of Doom plus 8 hours:
Waiting. That is what recovery seems to involve, lots and lots of darn waiting! I had been prepared for pain, for sleeping a lot, but I hadn’t pre-empted so much time wasting. Admittedly I was shifted from one room to another, occasionally distracted with the giving of more drugs and the joy that is tea and toast, but other than that, I have been waiting. Now the chance to sit in a quiet room, with no deadlines and no-one to bother me, with a good book- that sounds like a welcome escape. But the bit they don’t tell you is that you can’t actually read because you develop the attention span of a flea, and while the people in the beds around me seem lovely, they are also all asleep. Clearly they’re getting something I’m not, because I am wide awake and already pretty eager to get home. With only my brain to entertain me, I resort to developing theories about my companions; the stunning Chinese girl opposite clearly broke her leg in some glamorous getaway, and the old Welsh man next to me had the kidney op as an excuse to escape his nagging wife (when he later woke up he did say that a day or two away from the nagging was a pleasant side effect of the op!)

Op of Doom plus 11 hours:
So I got to see my parents and reassure my Mum that I am fine (honestly, I have spent more time reassuring her than worrying for myself!). There is nothing like having an op to feel appreciated and loved by your parents- hugs and balloons galore! Apparently if you’re over 18 the parents don’t really factor into the whole hospital thing, much to Mum’s annoyance- she refused to leave and her and Dad spent the whole time in the waiting room with a receptionist tutting at them! Whatever wages these nurses are being paid is simply not enough. The nurse seeing to me has been here since 8am and is meant to leave at 8pm. She spends all day running around like a headless chicken because there simply isn’t the money to have enough nurses, so they do all the dirty work, while they have to skip their breaks and grab lunch while they make our tea and toast. And today, she doesn’t even get to go home on time; she will be here until at least 10, because once again there is too much work and not enough staff. Despite this she has kept a beaming smile on her face and put up with the incessant questioning that resulted from me being strangely awake and too inquisitive. And there is a whole team of these angels being paid rubbish wages, given no respect and to make it worse, they are charged the extortionate parking fees too! Forget football players and actresses, even politicians- these people deserve all the wages and respect we can give. On that note, it is time for more tea and toast.

Op of Doom plus 26 hours:
I am onto my third book, I have raced my way through at least six magazines (although they really are mostly adverts and who needs to read another sex advice column!), so now I have turned to pestering the only person in this ward who is actually awake. Six year old Jake is an intelligent little nightmare who has realised that if you pull up my gown, I am naked and he gets a reaction from the nurses. I am suddenly struggling to remember why I was so glad to discover that I can still have kids! Once we established that my gown was to stay put, his interest switched to the book I was clutching- the nurse told him he needed to go lie down, but he cheered up when I said he could take the book with him. Hours later, he got to go home, but not before taunting the poor old lady with chest problems that she most definitely had bird flu, and informing everyone on the ward that they were all going to die. At least this shows that Sam’s Another Place to Die has an effect on its audience, although I don’t think Jake’s Mother or the people in the ward are going to forgive me anytime soon! One of the nurses asked me whether there is any truth in the bird flu story, I told her to start reading- in a few years time she will be grateful she did!

Op of Doom plus 45 hours:
I officially take back all the times that I wished I didn’t have lectures/work/whatever occupation was taking up my time. I will never again be grumpy that I have so much to do and so little time to do it- sitting around, having a wonderful team of people running around after you sounds great, but after days of melting between sleep and a numb state of wakefulness I am bored bored, bored and ready to go home! On the upside, the doctor spoke to me and the op went well and I am fixable (apparently we have already spoken twice- they really shouldn’t try and talk to you in a drug induced state!) I have managed to hold a conversation with the parents that mostly made sense, I managed to eat, pee and just about sit up- if I can keep conning the nurses I just might be able to escape!

Op of Doom plus 3 days:
I am free! Well, I am now stranded in a bed, but it is my bed, in my house, with all my junk around me! I no longer have that horrid needle stuck in my hand (yes I know it is for my own good, but it really is gross!) The nurse signed me off, changing me into real clothes (yes I am back in the mindress!) and letting me into the real world- although after days of being desperate to escape, actually standing and moving proved much harder than I expected and the act of escape to a good few hours! Of course there was a tirade of advice on medicines and how to treat scars, but the only advice I remember is that I am not to have sex for two weeks. The one bit of advice I remember and it’s the one bit that is totally irrelevant, unfortunately the only people who will see me naked are Mum and Jade when they help me change! I discovered that eating a big meal is very bad when you have stitches in your tummy, and that even though I am now an 8 stone 21 year old, my Dad can still support my whole weight with one hand- impressive!

Op of Doom plus 5 days:
Bring back the drugs! I was feeling oh so smug when I called up the grandparents and my friends- only a few days and I was feeling pretty good. I couldn’t move much and I was pretty sore, but I was already looking out at the sunshine and thinking of taking Troy, my crazy black lab, for a walk. And then the drugs wore off. Now I can’t sleep, and I can’t move. I can’t eat and I can’t concentrate long enough to get past this same darn paragraph of my book. Poor Gaius Julius Caesar has been reliving having his wrist broken all day! It is amazing how many simple actions involve your tummy muscles, and my Dad has been banned from coming near me because he has a tendency to make me laugh and laughing is like having my stomach ripped out! I have worked my way through a whole series of Desperate Housewives, but I couldn’t tell you what has happened, except that Gabrielle took her clothes off a lot, maybe their secret is that if there is enough nudity, the plot doesn’t matter. I am also severely running out of clothing that doesn’t hurt my stomach- I packed pjs and jogging bottoms and have ended up in tiny dresses and nighties that were not meant for sick people! On the upside, I have got to spend lots of quality bonding time with little sis Jade (a tall blond who is far too hot and glam to be a blood relation) watching trash in my double bed, on the downside, if I keep eating this much I am going to gain 5 dress sizes! Apparently when you’re sore, Galaxy chocolate and ice cream is the answer- Dad keeps having to run out for emergency supplies and yes Jade, I always need another cup of tea!

Op of Doom plus 6 days:
I am not sure if it is the hormone treatments I am taking, the lack of sleep, or the post op panic- but today I am feeling far too reflective. I am not sure that someone deprived of sleep should be allowed to make life decisions, but today I decided I want to be a writer before I am a soldier, that the only man who means it when he says he will love you forever is your Dad and therefore that men suck and that I want to live in either Canada, New Zealand or Cape Town within the next year. I decided this while stranded in the sunshine in my garden- the key flaw in not being able to move on your own is that when you get moved outside, you don’t get to move in again until people get home. Don’t get me wrong, a sunchair in my garden is an improvement on another freaking bed, but I am beginning to obsess over sitting outside a cafe with a latte, or walking through the woods with Troy! I have also realised how easy it is to waste away time- nearly a week has gone by and I haven’t done anything worth noting. The highlights of my day have been chatting on the phone to a few good friends, dinner time and starting the Band of Brothers boxset. Recovery is time consuming and pretty boring, if it wasn’t for Mum’s assistance, Dad’s jokes, Jade’s late night chats and text messages from friends, I think I may have lost my mind!

Op of Doom plus 7 days:
Today was the day of taking off the bandages that have been hiding my scars- eek! Mum somehow managed to get me into a bath (pretty sure she was thinking about how much easier it was when I was the size of her arm instead of bigger than her!) It is amazing how simple things like taking a bath become luxuries when you can’t do them easily- I now understand why the elderly people I used to work with were so grateful for a bath and why the shower and bath services offered by Rethink’s day centre for the homeless in Fratten is so valuable. After soaping up and gritting my teeth it was the moment of truth and I ripped off the bandages. Now, these cuts feel like a shark’s bite across my stomach, or a sword tear right across my waist. However, due to the miracle of keyhole surgery, I have an interesting looking but tiny cross over my tummy button, and an inch long cut that will hide just under my knickers. I have a sudden respect for the surgeon. To dig around inside, cut stuff out and look around a human body is skill enough, but to do it through these tiny cuts is unbelievable. I also discovered that Jade is incredibly strong for a skinny girl who avoids exercise like fake designer labels, and that when getting up for a pee during the night means daring to wake her from sleep you will soon learn to drink less before bed!

Op of Doom plus 7 days and 12 hours:
I walked! I actually managed to move my lazy ass out of bed, down the stairs and make a cup of tea, all by myself! Ok, so now just sitting still is stupidly painful, but hey, I did it! It may be a little early to be thinking about going for a jog, but I am most definitely on the mend, and the stitches are starting to look somewhat less gross and my stomach is beginning to look like one that belongs to someone who ate too many pies instead of all the pies! From now on I officially pledge to appreciate simple things like being able to move and bathe and read, to appreciate those people who work long hard hours for no reward other than the satisfaction of helping people, and if I actually get to be a fit, healthy person again, to make the bloody most of it this time around!
© Roxy Williams March 29th 2007
gemmaroxannewilliams at

Roxy is in her final months of the Creative Writing Degree at the University of Portsmouth

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