I Am Mrs Smith!

 Thursday, 21 January 2010: (15 Jan 2010) 3 years 4 months on …

I had some 60cm of stainless steel wire in my elbow that had to be removed in January. If you have read “Upside down and Inside Out”, you will recall that I had fallen in October and broken my right elbow. I still think that the fall was due to wet steps (ironically, the last good rains that we have had in PE!) and slippery Crocs; however, in reading up on CBD it is evident that falling becomes one of the symptoms and hazards of the disease.

And so my next trip was to Greenacres Hospital. Pera dropped me there at 6h45 on Friday morning but to get to that point had been another whole daytrip in itself!

On the previous Wednesday, I had to see the orthopaedic surgeon (R300) and then the radiologists for the fourth set of x-rays since the fall (R350 each). That took up Wednesday morning. Then home to phone (at my expense) the Discovery Call Centre in Johannesburg (maybe Bombay?) for permission to go to hospital (price yet unknown!), phone the surgeon to supply him with the authorisation number and then fill in the 10 page contract document between me and Netcare (just to make sure everyone knows who is the patient, the medical aid member, the carrier, the next of kin and the person who will ultimately pay – I seem to think that the payer may be more important than the patient if I see how much space is devoted to those details in the form!) Then a visit to the hospital pre-admission centre to hand in the form, present the medical aid card and the identity document and be given the run down on paying the account. That took up the afternoon, and all this was part of the express self-service pre-op check-in lane to avoid the queues on admission day! Somehow, it seemed far easier to have been admitted as an emergency trauma case after the fall on that Sunday evening way back in October!

According to the rules given, I had “nil per mouth” as from 10pm on the previous evening. After being dropped off, a half hour at the admissions office and just another form to sign, I found myself in the ward changing into those awful back to front blue gowns and designer green all-size XXXXL Jiffy dishcloth-like underpants. Then the observations (oh no, that definitely CAN’T be your temperature; oh yes, this thermometer is not working!), the million questions about my health, just a few more signatures, the consigning of my cell phone to the hospital safe (another form and another signature) and then the menu selection (no signature this time – I guess they haven’t faced a law suit on the wrong delivery of a meal yet!). Well, if the hospital boarding procedure is somewhat worse than the airlines, then their menu selection is far better than the “chicken or beef” selection of SAA. For lunch, steak or fish or spaghetti bolognaise or .. or .. and for stutch (I deducted that was South African English for starch), baby potatoes or mash or .. or and for dessert cheese cake or ice cream or chocolate brownies or .. or ..

“And then for suppa?” I protested that I was only here to have wires removed and was hoping to be home way before suppertime. “Just in case” she said, and in this case, luckily she had insisted! She rattled off a similar menu to the lunch one, and shook her head when I asked to see the red wine menu.

I had asked when I was due for theatre and, after investigation, the nurse informed me that I was third on the list, so it would all be relatively quickly and early. May even be home before the fish I had ordered for lunch. And then came the long, silent wait …

It reminded me of the story I had told a few times when acting as an MC:

An elderly lady phoned the hospital to enquire about the health of Mrs Smith in Ward 2C. The receptionist put her through to the appropriate ward, and once again, she enquired about Mrs Smith’s condition. The nurse went away and returned to advise her that Mrs Smith was doing very well. Her BP was good, her temperature was normal and, in fact, she was doing so well that her doctor was considering sending her home in the morning. “Are you family of Mrs Smith?” the nurse enquired, to which the caller replied indignantly, “I AM Mrs Smith! NO ONE gives me any information about anything, so that’s why I’ve called in to find out what’s going on! Thank you very much.”

At noon, lunch arrived but still no one to collect me for theatre. I was famished and asked them to keep my lunch for after the op. At twelve thirty, I was pushed on my bed from my ward on the second floor down to the theatre on the ground floor.

I was the first of five people to be “parked” in the holding area – a strangely silent hive of activity parking area. Many people entering and leaving doors, all quietly in their green paper caps, green masks, green gowns and green paper slippers. A muted TV set on the wall, beamed South Africa’s annihilation of the England cricket team to anyone who passed by and was interested to look.

The few words I heard were people’s names spoken in confirmation as one patient was handed over from one orderly to another. And then a brief glance from the orderly handing over the patient to the patient themself, and the words “Good Luck!” Is good luck all it comes down to when you are down here in the machine room of the hospital? I certainly hoped that the personnel here were better qualified than having to depend on luck only. My thoughts went from the busyness of the eight operating theatres here at one of the “first world” three private hospitals in the City to the chaotic scenes that one reads and sees occurring at what has become our “third world” Livingstone and Provincial, the two government hospitals. Thank God I’m fortunate to be here and don’t have to rely on the luck provided by the government!

It was shortly after 1pm that the moment arrived that I had been waiting for – I was lying on the operating table. The needle was in my left arm with that pipe that brings in that magic stuff that brings you the sleep you never experience on any other bed. With all the Good Luck down here, I knew I would wake up back in my bed in ward 2B. The oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth, and the words of the anaesthetist and the world I could see above me faded away rapidly . . .but before I went I caught myself thinking if this is the feeling of euphoria you have when you eventually cross the Great Divide never to come back?

Much later, I came to in my ward bed into that time when you think you are fine but, later, really don’t remember too much. I devoured the fish they had kept for me, the biltong and snacks that Mrs Gouws, the wife of the patient next to me who was ironically from Graff-Reinet, had bought for me and the steak they had brought for supper! The doctor saw me and gave me instructions that later I did not remember, and authorised my discharge. Pera fetched me, we collected the Myprodol at the pharmacy and I went home, back into bed and to sleep until the next morning.

When I woke up, there were two plastic bags next to my bed. One was filled with Myprodol, the other was filled with 60cm of stainless steel wire. For the last four months my existence had literally been hanging on a thread of wire!

The myprodol capsules are for pain. They really work and I wondered if the obama who invented myprodol also won a Nobel Peace prize? The wire is for? Well, a souvenir … or possibly I can sell it to the scrap merchants and recoup some of the costs.

As I lay in bed and watched the news, the story was told of a man in Johannesburg who was burned to ashes trying to steal copper wire from an electrical substation. Please no one tell the baddies out there that there are people walking around with stainless steel inside them – the next thing they’ll be attacking us, not only for our cell phones, but also for the steel they can salvage! Thank God, and all the Good Luck, mine is now out!

[Please give a thought, a prayer, and possibly a donation, to all those who receive and give medical care, especially in Haiti and all over the crumbling medical infrastructure of Africa.]

Simon Whittaker
There was absolutely no reason for you to still be in bed the next day…it was only a small arm op!! lol Great story as always, Ed! Good to see you’re on the mend again.
21 January at 13:20 ·
Sean C Lucas
Oh shit buddy! Only you can see the dark funny side of this! X
21 January at 13:49 ·
Jackie Anderson Whitley
Are your crocs real or knock offs ?
21 January at 20:57 ·
Cheryl Billings
that is crazy. i broke both my elbows in October.
22 January at 02:56 ·
Christopher Ayerst
People are so petty. I would have helped with Red Wine!!
22 January at 08:12 ·
Ed Lunnon
The real McCoys Jackie!
22 January at 08:33 ·
Ed Lunnon
Now you offer Chris!
22 January at 08:34 ·
Jackie Anderson Whitley
Most people here wear the Wal Mart kind instead of investing in the real thing which will last longer.
22 January at 17:37 ·
Cheryl Billings
No really. Both elbows in October. Glad to hear you got your metal out.
23 January at 21:02 ·
Alexa Bowker Beckley
Thanks Ed, look forward to more.xxx
26 January at 16:37 ·