John Walker's Electronic House

A Very Long Hospital Story

by on Sep.24, 2006, under The Rest

It’s the weekth anniversary since I assploded, and now, to celebrate my newfound ability to sit upright, I shall tell the story of my internal combustion. It’s over-long, so I’ve divided it into sections. This makes them easier to skip. It’s a series of anecdotes of varying ludicrous detail. I warned you.

Pain – where I tell the pre-hospital story

It’s odd to try and remember how much pain I was in. I distinctly remember thinking it must be trapped wind and that it would go away soon enough. And I remember crawling around on my bedroom floor in sheer mad agony, and then biting my finger as hard as I could in a wrong-brained attempt to distract myself from the stomach pain. Oddly enough it resulted in my stomach and my finger hurting a great deal. The finger pain was soon swamped and forgotten. But for some reason, at the same time, I remained convinced that it couldn’t be that bad and that I was being a wimp.

By 3am, with no sleep at all (having gone to bed at 5pm in pain) something inside me clearly realised that this was more serious than I was believing, and I called NHS Direct. The way NHSD works is an operator answers your call and triages you, then arranges for a nurse to call you back. But it’s all by the computer in front of them, so they have to ask all the most serious, emergency questions. “Are you impaled upon a rusty length of rebar?” “Is blood pouring forth from your eyes in what you might describe as a ‘torrent’?” “Is there a cloaked figure at the door menacingly brandishing a scythe?” All of which make you feel like you’re making an enormous fuss with your measly tummy ache. Eventually you’re told a nurse will call you back within an hour.

About half an hour later the nurse calls back and asks me the exact same questions all over again, which is a little odd. Then she decided I needed to speak to a doctor, so he would ring me back within two hours. About an hour later and a local GP rings me, and decides I probably have gastritis. I had that once before, about ten years back while at uni, and I remember being in some considerable pain then. The doc at the time told me the best thing to do was to not eat for 24 hours, and let the stomach rage calm. This doc told me I should eat something, as it would “soak up the acidic juices irritating my stomach”. It seemed… strange. But he was a doctor, and so as much as I didn’t want to I made myself a 5.30am sandwich. That made it hurt a whole lot worse. There is no possible circumstance with gastritis that I can find where eating something would be helpful. Silly doctor.

By 7.30am, still no sleep, still crazy pain (for some reason I had taken to walking around my room in circles, clutching at pieces of furniture before moving on with my aimless journey), I decided to do as NHSD are required to tell me, and called back if it got any worse. This time the nurse who eventually rang me back told me to get a heating pad, hot water bottle, etc and put it on my stomach, as well as to take paracetamol. Not owning a hot water bottle, or any form of heating pad, the other suggestion she had was to make a towel hot and wet. It turns out that it’s a good job that our useless letting agents hadn’t bothered to fix our lack of hot water for a month, as it prevented my doing this with any ease, and thus prevented my aiding my appendix along with its forthcoming poisoning, potentially deadly rupture. The other piece of advice was to call my GP surgery, and then the emergency number their machine would proffer.

Now I was stuck again, because, hey, I have stomach ache. How serious can this really be? And I am a massive wimp with pain. So I did the only sensible thing a 29 year old (almost) can do, and phoned my parents. Who told me to just call the doctor. So I did, and was given an 11am appointment, at the emergency surgery at the Bath RUH.

Hospital – where I tell the interesting bit about being in hospital

My incredibly excellent flatmate drove me to the hospital. The GP prodded around a bit, and ummed and ahhed. I’m not a big fan of GPs, generally prefering to cut out the needless middleman and describe any symptoms to the pharmacist, but this guy won me over. He noticed there was complete silence from my bowels, and some “guarding” from the muscles in my stomach, and on a hunch argued with a surgeon to admit me for closer scrutiny. So a quick walk to A&E, then through a secret Staff Only door, and a wait in a corridor. My main concern was still that I was going to get yelled at for wasting everyone’s time with a stomach ache. Poor Jonty was still waiting with me, until I was called through by a nurse, ushered into a curtained area, and told to take off my clothes and put on a hospital gown. Now it was out of control. I have stomach ache, and I’m being made to wear one of those open-at-the-back gowns, patterned with the words “hospital use only” ten thousand times to prevent the fashion conscious from stealing them and flaunting the hospital’s exclusive design in a local night club.

At a certain point (read: a certain amount of morphine) I completely forgot about Jonty, who had no idea what was going on. Apparently after reading every scrap of paper in the hospital he gave up and made his way home.

I found morphine horrible. It gave me the sensation that I was at once both lying down, and also not lying down. I’m not sure where I was rather than lying down, but I definitely wasn’t lying down, even though I was. I wanted to stand up because that would feel more definite, but I never quite managed to orchestrate such a move. The pain, which had been concentrated squarely in the middle of my stomach, immediately below my ribcage, had now drifted very definitely over to the right side. Again, this convinced me it was trapped wind, making its way around, and this had become completely ridiculous what with nudity, hospitals, class A drugs and oh my goodness the prettiest doctor ever in the whole world.

As alluded to previously, she had the great misfortune of having to check out all the worst areas, requiring the sitcom-favourite of clutching my poor, scared testicles as I coughed, and then, yes, a finger up my bottom. This all done, my dignity long gone, I awaited the “You have stomach ache. Why are you here?”, but instead heard, “Well, I’m 99% sure it’s your appendix.”

My reply was, “Blimey”. I was properly ill. But oh no – like, operation ill. She said the blood results would confirm what she already knew, and it would have to come out. Then there’s quite a morphine blur as I was shifted from ward to ward, waiting in the pre-op area, and then on the way to the surgery by about 6pm. It was remarkably quick. I did all my best comedy material along the way, and was lucky to have some really funny doctors and nurses too. And a splendidly wry anaethetist. Then the excellent moment of anaesthetic, where you get to fall asleep in the space of five seconds, which is such a great feeling. One minute you’re wide awake, and then all these black swirls blur in front of you and you think, “Oh, I’m of…” and then one second later your appendix is gone and you’re awake in another ward.

A Victorian Ward – where I start mostly moaning about horrid nurses

Talking of wards. I was put into a ward called the Victoria Annex. Named after the era in which it was equipped. The nurses on the first night bitched in front me about how it should not be open, how there was no equipment, how it wasn’t suitable for patients. Good times! The bed I was on did not feature the fancy remote-controlled bendy magic of the one I had been on pre-op. I also didn’t feature the ability to bend at all. In fact, the way to prop yourself up was to lean the cold metal bars at an angle at the head of the bed, and then smother it in pillows until they no longer pressed cruelly into your head. There were also no stands for the IV bags. At one point I began to bleed back into my antibiotic drip because it was hung so low. The miserable bitch of a nurse eventually found time to stop serving dinner to other patients and reply to my calls for “help”. “WAIT A MINUTE!” she barked, before forgetting about me and moving onto the next bed, and then later, when I tried again, angrily snapping,”WHAT?!” The bag was gradually filling with blood I had been planning to keep inside my arm, which I found to be enough of a concern to seek some attention. She was forced to climb on the side of my bed and hang my IV bag from the curtain rail. I am not lying.

That delightful, caring nurse was the same who, at 4am, refused to free me from my drip so I could walk to the toilet, and instead blanked me and grumpily put a pisspot out of my reach, and then walked off without pulling the curtains around my bed. Thanks nurse! I then had to stand up and pee in front of the entire ward, who also had not had their curtains pulled for nighttime privacy.

The shift change brough new surprises. The lovely Jo came in to visit me that morning, and as I got up to go to the toilet we noticed that my sheet was stained with a horrible brown mess (no, not poo, but the operation goo they smear all over you). Jo asked a nurse if she could change the sheet, and she gladly removed it. I made my slow, shuffling way to the toilet down the corridor, dragging my new-found IV stand alongside me like every mental patient in every 1970s movie. I returned to find the bed still stripped, and so sat in the chair, which was very painful to do. After ten minutes Jo asked the nurse if she could replace the sheet, and had “THERE ARE PRIORITIES” shouted at her. These were to move some pieces of paper on a table, I’m told. She eventually returned, and then performed the most incredibly bizarre routine of putting the bedsheets she’d just removed onto the bed, the new ones in a pile at the side, then swapping them over, and then, for some very odd reason, swapping them back. Then swapped them again, and announced, “I don’t know how to do this! I haven’t made a bed in years!”

Nurse Madman – where I go on in such detail about one person that you really should skip ahead

All of the nurses were as nothing when compared to Nurse Madman. He was, and remains, a mystery. Perhaps the most immediately confusing factor was his lifestyle choice to not pronounce the “n’t” on the end of words. “You did want this, did you?” is a tricky question to answer. Because, you know, it could be either way. Then there was his peculiar form of communication where he announces what you’ve said, despite anything you might have said, in such a way that can never be changed. Monday afternoon he brought me my collection of painkillers. I wasn’t feeling any pain, and so asked him, “Should I take these even though I’m not in pain?” He said, “You don’t want them?” I said, “No, I’m just not in any pain, and so don’t know if I need to keep taking them to stay that way, or if they’re only for when I’m hurting.” “You don’t want them.” And so on. I didn’t take them in the end, because, like I say, there was no pain.

He came back later, while Ross was visiting, and told me that I don’t like painkillers. I called him back over because I wanted it to be clear. I told him that if I’m in pain, I’ll gladly take painkillers, and that I have no problem with them. He smiled at me as if I were an 90 year old telling him that my late grandfather would be back from the funfair soon.

Later that day I was in some pain above where the appendix would have been, and I was super-paranoid as seems fair. Nurse Madman was cross with me for this, and told me I should take painkillers and not worry about it (hours later than the previous attempt). I explained that I would rather know the cause of this new pain, before covering it up. Again, I agree this was an over-reaction, but it felt like the start of the pain that had got me here, and that was enough really. He arranged for a doctor to pop by, and again I felt guilty for making a fuss. I said so, and he said, “Oh no, every pain must be checked out. Which was, er, the opposite of what he’d said ten minutes before. A doctor came to check on me, who before she could speak to me was told, “He does(n’t) like painkillers.”

At the shift change, handing over to the next set of nurses, they were informed, “He does(n’t) like painkillers.” Now bemused I said, “I have no problem with painkillers” to all present. He turned to them and repeated, shaking his head, “He doesn’t like painkillers”.

The inability to communicate with him was so odd, and I’m quite certain ensured he really didn’t like me. I was as painstakingly polite to everyone as I could be, and seemed to get on well with most of the staff. But not Nurse Madman, as hard as I tried. I went to such lengths to show him how much I appreciated everything he did. But there was some sort of barrier that meant we could never understand each other.

When the docs said I could go Tuesday morning, he was most perturbed. He, apparently, had already told my mum (who had phoned the ward that morning) that it would be very unlikely that I’d be able to leave before Wednesday. He’d also muttered at me that there was no chance of my being released. The docs said of course I could go straight away, no problems – I was all done, no reason to stay. As a punishment he refused to free me from my IV drip lodged in the back of my hand for over an hour. It was now plugged through a machine plugged into the wall because I needed potassium or something. This remains a mystery, as the really incredibly pretty doctor told me I was only meant to be on the drip while I couldn’t drink water, which I’d been doing from the first morning, and shouldn’t have needed it. It was all a bit Coma-esque freaky. I packed my bags while rotating on a central point, until I had to really firmly ask him to pull the needle out my hand. He kindly arranged for my meds to be brought to the ward in my absense, so I could collect them that afternoon rather than needlessly wait around. I thanked him for everything he’d done for me, shook him by the hand, and wished him goodbye.

Nurse Madman Part 2 – where I unbelievably carry on, and again, really, skip it

That afternoon for various reasons I had to go to the GP, who noticed that my operation wounds (it was done laproscopically, so there’s no major scar, but three holes in my belly. The surgeon so delicately told me, “When there’s… more of someone in this area, it’s easier to do the keyhole surgery.”) would need redressing soon, and then told me I should have received all these instructions before leaving, along with a discharge slip. When I called about the meds I asked about this, and Nurse Madman said the very strangest thing I could imagine.

“You have very high expectations of people.”

Thrown I asked him what he meant. He repeated it a couple of times. I asked, perhaps pointedly, if it was a high expectation to be told what to do with operation wounds after surgery. He said, “No. But you have very high expectations of people.” I said I found that a very strange thing to be told, and that I would be in either today or in the morning to collect the medication.

Stu kindly drove me in that evening to collect the pills. Nurse Madman laughed in surprise when he saw me. “I was just thinking about you!” he exclaimed, before laughing again. “Thinking what about me?” I asked, a bit afraid. “Oh, nothing. I was just preparing your medication. AND HERE YOU ARE! That’s SO funny!” More afraid. I began to realise where I’d be going wrong throughout my two days with this man. He simply doesn’t make sense at any time.

I asked about the wounds and one of the bandages was loose, so he offered to put a big sticky thing over it, which I gratefully accepted. He then said, “Here, have a few more of these to take home with you,” fishing a collection out the drawer for me like a grandfather slipping his grandkids a tenner while their parents weren’t looking. I said, “Oh, thank you so much. That’s really kind of you,” genuinely appreciative. He looked at me, stunned, and then finally said, “You’re VERY polite.”

I told him I was merely grateful for his generosity, and he added, “Most people aren’t polite.” Then, “Most people want to slap me ’round the face!” I smiled as politely as I could. Turning to leave I added, “Well, thank you. See you again… Well, I hope I don’t see your here again!” He looked down at the floor like a scolded puppy. I quickly added, “Here, in hospital. I hope I don’t have to come to hospital again!”

“You did like it here, did you?”


“You did like it here, did you?”

Ah yes, the silent n’ts. “No,” I said honestly. “The ward wasn’t properly equipped and it was very uncomfortable.”

“Why do you say that?!”

“Well, many nurses said so. They frequently complained in front of me about how awful it was.”

“They should have done that.” Much sorrowful head shaking. “That’s very unprofesh-nol. They should have done that.”

“Well, no, it was fine. It was fairly obvious when they were climbing on things and hanging drips from curtain rails,” I said brightly, you know, joking about how silly it all was. There was a pause.

“You do have very high expectations of people, don’t you?”

And then it got really weird. Nothing he said after that point made a moment of sense, and then as a finale he covered his face with a folder that pressed against his mouth as he carried on talking unintelligibly into it. I performed that sitcom move of backing away slowly while making panicky excuses for having to go, smiling.

The End – where I finally shut up

And so that’s me. I can sit up without hurting now, so that’s excellent. And I’m feeling up for walking around outside too, so that’s next week’s new adventure. Thanks to everyone who visited me, in hospital and in the flat this week. And thanks to my parents and sister who were excellently sensible and caring at the end of a phone throughout. It was hugely appreciated. And especially big thanks to Jonty, Stu and my mum, who ferried me about, and to Jo who came over and moved heavy things for me.

14 Comments for this entry

  • Walker's Appendix

    I’ll miss you, John…

    (Get well soon)

  • Kieron Gillen

    You have very high expectations of people.


  • Enki

    You’re VERY polite.

  • Nurse madman

    You did know I read your blog, did you?

  • Nick Mailer

    “There is no possible circumstance with gastritis that I can find where eating something would be helpful. Silly doctor”.

    He wasn’t a doctor. He was a GP. Thanks, once again, for validating my thesis.

  • MHW


    I believe I’ve met Nurse Madmen in the acute psychiatric ward at Leigh Infirmary. He is not a human being in the ordinary sense. He is, in fact, the personification of an abstraction; of what, I just don’t know. But we are not meant to understand his ways, his wonders to perform.

  • Steve W


    You have very high expecta…oh wait, someone already did that one. But rest assured it will be employed at some as-yet-unspecified date in the future when John is ranting about someone stupid he met on a train.

  • admin

    Nick, you know how I am inclined to agree with you about GPs, but I find it sad that your selective filter is so Mailish in this instance, to entirely ignore the second GP who saved me a lot of pain, and maybe even a ruptured appendix.

  • bob_arctor

    Hmm. Well written. Did you not do that thing where you poke your belly, and if it hurts as the finger comes out, not when it goes in, then you have appendicitus?

    Or is that an urban myth?

    What nationality was Nurse Madman?

  • Maddy

    sounds like you had fun.

  • Mrs Trellis

    A hot water bottle is good for period pains. Unless there’s something you’re not telling me, I don’t think it would ever be necessary for you. NHS Direct are rubbish – a colleague was having an allergic reaction to something and they muttered vague things about popping down to the doctor’s when she had a chance. The office First Aider took the girl, in a cab, to the MediCentre at Liverpool Street Station, where she was unceremoniously injected with adrenaline and scolded for leaving it so long.

  • admin

    I should prefer it if hospitals would ceremoniously inject people. With trumpets.

  • Iscah

    I’m very glad you’re better. Now can we have new Brian comics, please?