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PART 9 of My PC Adventure (click HERE to see the full story so far)

OF COURSE, there was no party in Ward 29 of Wellington public hospital on my first day of post-radical prostatectomy recovery.

But it was a circus, and it stayed that way for the two nights and three days I was there.

What sounded like a party was in fact the ward admin office, which – I discovered when I finally ventured out of bed to go to the loo – was just over the corridor from my part of the ward, a four-bed room partitioned by curtains and thin walls.

The noise was staff. I’m not sure if they were loud or not; it’s just they sounded that way while I was still spaced out and needing peace and quiet. Why did they let the phone ring so long…and who the hell would keep ringing so long when it was obvious nobody was going to answer? Wrong number?

It was a circus because a constant stream of performers passed before our eyes and within earshot, each with his or her own act – doctors, nurses, aids, cleaners, caterers, visitors, patients, surgeons, the paper man (selling DomPos, bless him), administrators, technicians, managers, students, even a librarian, who popped in to see if anyone wanted something to read.

The worst performers were the patients. We were impatient patients, some of us, demanding, rude, loud, irrascible, unreasonable…and forever needing to pee (if we didn’t have hooked-up plumbing).

The nurses, by and large, were beautiful human beings, serenely immune to the grumpiness of their charges.

When you’re sick and helpless, anyone who is prepared to pass you the drink of water that’s just out of reach so you can dampen what feels like fatal thirst will be regarded with awe and limitless gratitude.

Well, maybe. The guy next door, whose ugly-sounding face I never saw, grouched endlessly at anyone who came near him, and spent long periods on his cellphone complaining about the service, especially “that silly little doctor”.

Listening to him (there was little choice), I felt ashamed to be a middle-aged man. Perhaps he’d been caught by the recession and hadn’t kept up his medical insurance, because he obviously believed he shouldn’t be in such an awful place among such people. He was someone used to being in charge; here he simply wasn’t.

The oddest performers in the circus were the lightning one-act players, people (not necessarily in white coats) who would sweep in, look blankly at my room-mate, Caroline, and me, say nothing, then turn and walk out. Who were they? What did they want?

In the end, we took to saying: “Yep, we’re all here.”

operation41Now, let me take stock.

I’m lying on my back on a very comfortable adjustable bed (I’ve found the controls); I’m retained in the bed by sides, like a cot; as you can see from the picture, I’m wearing a nice little off-the-shoulder number (the classic “arse-flap” hospital gown); I have oxygen going up my nozzer; I have saline pumping into the back of my left hand (I beep when the drip dispenser behind me nears empty, which seems to be every few hours); I have a bedside cabinet on my left, but it’s too far back to reach (and I daren’t move); I have a tray-table on my right, also too far back to reach; I have the buzzer in the bed beside me, but I’m reluctant to try it, given the amount of buzzer-abuse that seems to be going on.

tubesWhen I lift the bed cover I see a tube coming out of my lower right side, siphoning bloody liquid towards a container at the foot of the bed, and alongside it another tube which emerges from the end of my penis, this one taking bloodied urine in what looks like a constant flow (note to self: better drink more water).

I’ve had a breakfast of cold, leathery, white toast and marmite, and a cup of strong tea, and I’ve kept it down.

There is no pain.  But my right knee feels numb, and my backside and lower back are getting sore (I never sleep on my back, usually).

However, there are plenty of distractions from such minor discomfort.

For instance, the arrival of the top-line act, a phalanx of doctors, fully-fledged and student, who appear suddenly, pull the curtains around, and peer at me with urgent interest.

“Hello, how are we today.” Never better.

The rest of the dialogue is the top man (who may or may not have introduced himself) talking to his throng. We take a look at the wound and pronounce ourselves happy.

Then we’re gone. Well, they go, I stay, none the wiser. Did I miss something? Apparently not. Right. Get on with the recovery.

One of the angels tells me I’ll be getting up today. Yeah, right. “Yes, miss, later.” Much bloody later.

Another one comes to fit my catheter bag. This takes some pondering, especially to cut the tubing to the right length. We agree the bag will be strapped to my outer right calf, just below the knee. A strap goes round my thigh to make sure there is no tugging on my willy.

At this point I realise the willy appears to have taken fright and retracted inside my body. Seinfeld loser George Costanza’s “I’ve-been-swimming” excuse for hyper-shrinkage has nothing on this. This…this is disappear-age.

What they say about leaving your dignity at the door of the ward seems all too true. Oh well. I’m sure they’ve seen it all before, even if they are young enough still to be at school.

Lunch arrives. Smells good, says Caroline, whose sole sustenance comes down a tube. It’s soup with industrial-strength taste of old shoes, a brick of potato-dominated frittata (inedible), and the ubiquitous jelly and ice cream. Mmmm. I get to fill out a menu for tomorrow; reads delicious. I order a drip, like Caroline’s.

Next, we lose the oxygen. And the saline drip. Finally, a nurse arrives to remove the drain. This becomes something of an ordeal for me and her because it enters my body at the most ticklish and sensitive spot I have. I can’t help but tense up as she withdraws tubing that measures 20 metres minimum. But it gets done, without fatality.

I amuse myself sending texts, especially to the class who will be graduating today. Miss you, guys.

A man arrives to offer a shower, advising that I need to wash the mess between my legs. What mess? There is no mess that I’m aware of. Later, buddy.

The hours slip away in pleasant conversation with Lin and Caroline, and her daughter, a constant visitor.

Then I muster the courage to get up. Am I boring you with this? Sorry, but it’s such a big deal when you’ve been lying there thinking of blood clots forming in your legs unless you go for a walk.

Caroline gives a thumbs up as I totter out and down the corridor – to find there are only two loos and they’re both occupied. I wait, enormously relieved that nothing has split or spilled, and I haven’t passed out.

Finally, I’m in…then, of course, pause to ask myself what I’m doing here in this spacious bathroom and toilet: I don’t need a leak (that’s taken care of).

So I have a wash and sneak a look in the full-length mirror, and see for the first time that below my conveniently swollen stomach I’ve been vertically stitched from just above the boys to just below the belly button, and I’m bald as a coot. They shaved me (of course), even taking a patch of hair off the top of one thigh.

Right. That’s enough looking. You’ll just make yourself faint. Back to bed, boyo, as fast as the legs and the stomach will go.

My rest from exhaustion is broken by a visit from the anaesthetist who did my pre-op assessment. I mention the numb knee; it’s a temporary after effect of the spinal anaesthetic, he says. Let him know if it persists. It doesn’t.

The afternoon ends with my submitting to a neurological exam on my head. The Asian doc who assisted with the operation has appeared with an admiring student, who needs a practice run doing the exam: “Are you bored, Mr Tucker?” Yeah, a bit. “Do you mind if we…” No problem. It passes some time. She does well, and I learn useful stuff.

NEXT: A night to remember, then home at last.

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