I was lying in the hospital bed in the early hours of the morning, maybe 8 hours after my surgery. I was still in a dreamy post anaesthetic haze, half awake and yet still half asleep. Through the gloomy, almost misty lighting I was aware of a figure in front of me it was the night nurse doing her rounds on the late shift.
I blinked and saw a slim uniformed figure at the end of the bed; even in the low light I could tell it was dark blue. I thought it`s OK no rookie – probably a staff nurse. As the events of the morning unfolded this was probably just as well.
The night nurse approached me and woke me up saying `Can you please sit up, I need to check something` I did as requested and turned to look back where her torch was now shining. My blood turned to ice; even in my semi drugged state I knew we had a problem. I simply couldn’t believe that once again I was in some kind of medical danger, but I was.
I followed the beam to the centre of my pillow. It was a typical NHS white cotton pillow, boil washed so many times the texture was now crisp almost coarse. It was also slightly ruffled from its recent use, but there was something else. I was left disbelieving, through the haze of the low light and the recent medications I could still see the blood. There was blood everywhere, the pillow, sheets even on my shoulders. It looked like a scene from the godfather.
I looked down at the huge blood stain splattered across my pillow trying to work out what the implications might be. I heard a voice inside my head saying `OK, now get out of that`. My brain was still in foggy, anaesthetic mode, a bit like a 20 year old car on a frosty morning. It did not want to know. The operation had been on a tumour on the top of my neck but it was also very close to the skull base. It is pretty fair to say that blood or any fluids leaking from these parts of the body are probably not normally regarded as good news.
On my pillow there was about a pint of blood, or more accurately `My Blood`. In many ways it was beyond belief, I must have heard a dozen times that this was a simple, routine operation yet here I was once again lying in a pool of blood. How many times I had been through this loop; normal routine then a bit later, another OP and another crisis. A year back it had happened four times in a single week and I never actually woke up from the one operation to the next. I began to wonder exactly when I might be allowed to take a break and have a few hours off from this relentless nemesis that seemed to want me so badly. There was a fair period at this time when I really didn’t feel that I could switch off from this for more than a minute, lest more harm would follow.
I looked round the room and my bed, convinced that some kind of mafia style hit had been performed. I was in the main neuro ward with easily room for two dozen patients. But at this time I was only aware of the immediate 20 square feet around me. I scanned the walls expecting to see scrawled in blood `Nobody crosses Fat Guiseppe and gets away with it! `But there was nothing there. My brain struggled for answers.
Then I could see the `Lady with the Lamp` at the end of my bed, now on her mobile to the emergency theatre. I could not hear the conversation, but I did not need to. With all my medical travels and interviews I knew exactly what was happening. She was checking if I needed to go back to surgery; quite right too. If it was spinal fluid on the pillow then I was in trouble and it would be in emergency surgery within the hour.
Gradually my brain began to return to reality. It’s funny now but even in that near comatose state I realised quite quickly that actually it was nowhere near as bad as it looked. Basically a pint of blood on a white pillow at 4.00 AM really does look like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it is not so. This time I heard a voice in my head and it said `it’s OK its only blood`
This of course was completely true, if it had been a massive CSF leak (cerebrospinal fluid) not just blood I would now be on the critical list. But you can lose a point of blood without too many ill effects if you are just lying in a hospital bed. The body will replace it and the hospital can transfer more if required. The word came back from theatre; no need to operate just clean the wound up, replace the drain plug and we will check again in the morning. The night nurse duly complied and I was now glad for the chance to sleep.
By the morning my hospital bed looked like some kind of battlefield, the pillowcase plus bedding covered in dried blood but I recovered very quickly and was once again very keen to leave. During my medical travels at the time, I kept repeating to myself `This is my last operation and I don’t want any more`
I think I may have said that twelve times now; sadly, as yet I have not been right once.