Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chapel Allerton Hospital

I was working at Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds, today, on an exam for student doctors.

It's a small hospital, with a cottage-hospital feel to it, and it has only been there a few years. Before that, it was a few hundred yards away and one day, when I wasn't looking, they moved it to a spanking new building, which they seemed to have built without me noticing. I often don't notice things, as I've mentioned before.

The old Chapel Allerton Hospital is still there in my head, though, in great detail. This is because in 1984, it saved my life.

Much of the old hospital dated from the time of the First World War and in fact it had a specialist unit making false legs for soldiers who had carelessly left one of theirs on a battlefield somewhere.

There was a big old mansion house - still there, though falling down - and some prefabricated, ancient wards of the kind known as Nightingale wards, after the famous Florence.

They were very long wards, with long rows of beds on either side. Faded, washed-out curtains round the bed. That strange colour of hospital pale green on the walls. A brick tunnel from the ward to the rest of the hospital.

I was there because - - and I'll tell you this really quickly, I promise - my first baby, born prematurely, had died, and because of lots of neglect at his birth I had lost a lot of blood, and wasn't able to regain the iron, and became more and more and more anaemic - - I was told that the haemoglobin level should be thirteen. Mine was four. If you're that anaemic you just can't eat, and I couldn't. And I became very thin - - only time ever! - - and turned green.

Lots of doctors were called to our house, looked at me in puzzlement and said things like "oh dear, she's turned green" but didn't really do much about it, except give me iron tablets, which just made me sick.

Finally my family realised that if something wasn't done I was about to turn DEAD. So they took me to a specialist, privately, who looked at my greenness and thinness and unable-to-walkness and told me to go straight to hospital without calling anywhere else first, or collecting anything - - just GO. (I went home first and washed my hair, obviously).

And this specialist specialised in chronic things, and I ended up on his ward, Ward 9, a long old Nightingale ward.

I was twenty-eight. The nearest person in age to me on the ward was seventy-four. A few weeks earlier I had been in a maternity ward, and hence this ward took a bit of getting used to.

They gave me a massive blood transfusion, and I came back to life, but rather slowly.

Kath, the seventy-four-year-old, was lovely - I visited her regularly for several years, until she died - and in the next bed to me. We spent quite a bit of time marvelling at Brenda, who spent all her time putting on rather garish make-up and then removing it. And across the ward was Elsie, who thought everyone else was stealing her stuff, all the time. And there was Ethel, in the next bed to her, who knew she was dying but wasn't going to do it until after her grand-daughter's birthday the following weekend.

"So I'm planning my death for Monday," she said, "because I've had enough." We were all rather admiring of her when, just before the morning ward round, the curtains went round the bed, and she had succeeded.

Once they had pumped several pints of blood into me, suddenly I was hungry. Ravenous. Starving. Because, indeed, having not really eaten anything since mid-October - and it was now mid-December - I really was starving.

The hospital kitchen got wind of this. They were lovely too.

"What would you like?" they asked. "Roast chicken, please," I said.

It came with roast potatoes and peas and it was perhaps the nicest meal I've ever eaten.

I started to look forward to Christmas. Not to presents and such, oh no. It had been a terrible few months, the worst of my life. I didn't care about presents.

What I was looking forward to was Christmas dinner. I knew that, when I ate that, I would enjoy it, and I would get better. And the getting-better bit took a while, but, eventually, I did.


Anonymous Milo said...

Awful that the initial doctors were so incompetent to not properly diagnose.

Whilst it didn't have a 'happy ending' as such - as it came about through tragic circumstances which you have lived with ever since then - I'm glad you made it through and recovered (and also that you got your appetite back!).

11:02 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thanks. Another humble, humane story told with disarming tenderness.

11:46 pm  
Blogger AnotherQ said...

You almost sounded removed from the experience, almost like it was a must be that you have moved on and healed from this event and now just see it as a life experience. Well done! An enjoyable read and a treasure for others to read and relate to. Thanks for sharing this. I found it interesting.

2:28 am  
Blogger Debby said...

I'm so glad you did eventually get better.

1:07 am  

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