Being stuck in a room for so long it becomes your home. And my home, it was the high dependency room on Ward 5 West. This was the specialist respiratory unit, and my room, well it housed the most complex of cases. The chronically ill, with quite a few on the verge of death.
Also, because of the complexities going on in this room, it was always highly staffed. By that I mean, for a four bed room there was always two permanent nurses, doctors floating in and out, and other nurses always dropping by to lend a hand. This room was and is no doubt the priority on the ward.
Weirdly, mostly during the day but not at night.
Quite often ICU patients would drop by, this was like the lounge room before the sky.
I’d stayed here several times over a 12 year period and each time was a scary rollercoaster in its own way. But of all my vacations here, this was becoming by far the easiest. I guess it was all the outside support and that I knew what to expect.
Seeing all my old nurses, and making friends with new ones, it was just another level of complexity that was added to my circumstance. In fact, I knew some of the nurses very, very well. One in particular, I’d worked with her at my residence for about 8 years. Then, I also knew most of the tracheostomy team very well.
They all knew me as the stubborn prick who’d do absolutely anything to stay out of hospital.
For me, this again emphasised my feelings of failure.
But no matter about the shock or gossip, I just kept to myself. This is mostly what I do in hospitals anyway. And this time, well fuck I could barely talk, so this made it all pretty easy.
Much like most other times, I played the observer.
Particularly in this high dependency room, there’s always so much going on. It was like watching television. No, it’s better than television
From when I arrived, I remember watching this young girl (maybe 19) who was completely paralysed from Guillian Barre Syndrome. She’d been in the room and basically bed-ridden for 6 months, however she was starting to recover. Movement was returning to her fingers and limbs. For me anyway, it was such an exciting process to see. This is what I’d dreamt about for myself for the past 15 years. To me, this was the most inspiring thing I’d ever seen.
I watched her like a hawk, mainly to get physio tips. And, it was so lovely to see her loyal mother come in and visit her every single night. Willow became good friends with her. But, 7 days later she headed off to a rehab facility in rural Victoria which was closer to her home.
I’d never say that it was sad to see her go. For her, this was super positive.
Then in the bed next to me was another young bloke, though he was 18 years old. I’m not exactly sure of his condition, but he was 3 foot tall, he had tubes coming everywhere, and the most full-on anxiety I’d ever seen. And he would never ever sleep. I assume he had some sort of genetic disorder.
He’d been in the room for 14 months. But OMG what I will say is that he had the most supportive family ever, who literally had a round-the-clock rotation to spend time with him. And for the record, I became really good mates with his father.
This really was a world within a world. One filled with empathy, compassion and understanding. Watching the humanness flourish it had created the most beautiful garden.
One other character I will always remember is, someone who always referred to himself in the 3rd person, was ‘Big Bob’. He was a nightclub bouncer, absolutely covered in tattoo’s, and he weighed about 230kg’s. No shit, without meaning to be too crude, he was like the fattest bloke I’d ever seen.
I’m pretty sure his admission was to do with the stress his weight was putting on his heart and breathing. But regardless of that, his personality was larger than life. He’d talk to anyone and always be laughing. Oddly though, despite his predicament, he didn’t really give a fuck about his health. In a way this amazed me. He’d rather put up with his afflictions (and trademarks) rather than try to fix them.
One night, and trust me I had no idea about this sort of thing, Bob fell over while walking to the toilet. So, it was 3.00am, this 230kg man was lying flat on his back in the middle of the room, and trust me there was no lifting that dead weight. Nor could Bob lift himself.
A nurse closed all the cubicle curtains as they usually do when there’s a disaster going on, but because she was in such a hurry, mine were left a little bit open. Just enough so I could see.
Now I’ve got no idea where they came from but about 15 nurses filled the room. Intense discussions began about how to get this body vertical. I could also hear Bob straining, using all his energy to try and move. Nothing was working.
The nurses couldn’t even use a hoist because he was too heavy. This dude was a total beached whale.
It was so interesting to watch, in a sadist sort of way.
Then, with the nurses assisting, there was this ‘rolling’ idea to roll Bob over near a wall so that he could brace himself and sort of climb up. Again this failed. Even after trying about five times. I began to wonder what I would do?
After about an hour and a half, no kidding, still nothing was working. This is when the nurses grabbed this giant yellow inflatable balloon thing, then they rolled Bob over on this thing, then blew it up beneath him. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It was like raising the Titanic.
Seeing this fat starfish arise, truly it brought the biggest smile to my face. It felt like my team had just won the grand final; or, seeing the total exhaustion pulsating through Bob’s body, as he finally tilted his way to his feet, it was like he’d just won the marathon.
It was these type of obscure wins about this room that I loved. At times seeing pure and raw determination, and the human spirit prevail. But on the other hand, in this exact same room, I watch pure and unrivalled disaster unfold as well. For instance, Bob passed away two months later.
I also watched a ‘grandfather’ live out his final 3 days right in front of my eyes. To see the optimism in his family’s faces drain away, pretty much in conjunction with the colour in this old man’s face. It was horrific. To see his wife, always in pure silence, sit for hours upon hours right by his bedside in deep contemplation, again it was horrific.
Then watching this complete loud-mouth bogan woman being told she was dying from a rare lung disease and only having months to live and completely losing her shit. And I really do mean completely losing her shit. Plus, this happened at about 7.00am.
The whole room full with expletives.
At 8.000am her daughter and partner arrived, both missing teeth and sporting neck tattoos. Well, can I just say that I’ve never seen two people literally collapse from shock. Man, and I mean it, these guys lost it. Again, this was something totally horrific to see.
A family totally unequipped to deal with such tragedy.
I saw a lot of these similar type tragedies on this stay in the rooms, but obviously I can’t list them all. The ones that I have listed though, these are the ones that affected me deeply. These were some of the main characters in my real life television program. Some built my resolve, others broke my heart.
But finally, and someone I haven’t mentioned as yet touched me in a totally different way, and a way that still inspires me to this day.
I never even heard his name. He was quiet and unassuming. All I knew was that by his presentation was that he had Muscular Dystrophy. Oh okay, and being so close, I eves-dropped just a tad.
Clearly I could hear that old mate and his Carer had just spent the whole night in ED, and it was now 8.00am and they were finally being admitted to the ward. Like me, it was for some chest infection thing. But this isn’t what spiked my attention at all.
The conversation had swayed to his university studies and how he couldn’t afford to spend too much time in hospital because of classes. I was like WTF!
This was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.
Here was this dude in a similar health predicament to my own chasing down this massive. And as we all know how powerful the heart is, well mine completely lit up upon hearing this. That love, that knowing, that meaning, that purpose.
Yep, I’d stumbled across my light in the darkest of places.