The third and final part in another three-part series about what happens to a nurse when they are the other side of the sheets.
During the first two days I progressed well; but then the pain returned. Further scans revealed paralytic ileus, probably due to a wound absess. The doctors opened the affected area, warning me that my whole wound may open up. Thankfully, it didn’t.
Lack of bowel sounds or any sign of activity led to a CT scan and later that evening two doctors appeared to insert a naso-gastric tube which the radiologist had requested. This was probably the most unpleasant experience of my stay. After half-an-hour the doctors gave up, reappearing a while later with a glass of water; regular sipping and swallowing helped and the tube was inserted. I did not find - as I had been told I would - that I became unaware of the tube - and whilst serving an invaluable function, it felt huge and uncomfortable and continued to do so until it was removed.
Each day blood samples were taken. I became used to this but dreaded the weekends when the phlebotomists - master blood-letters - were off and the junior doctors came instead. One Saturday, a friendly and pleasant FY1 made four attempts to get blood before I refused to let him try again; when I saw him approaching the next morning I advised him not to even think about it and he quickly found some other urgent task.
The other patients, all with a diagnosis of cancer, were remarkably cheerful on the whole - possibly all pleased to be alive. Those of us without a stoma could only be thankful as we watched the others struggling with their management - though in the early days we often experienced explosive and unpredictable bowel movements which left us feeling soiled, undignified and anxious, we were confident that this would settle down.
Meanwhile, I learnt independence: I was the one who found the spare blankets, towels, bedpans and straws, and on more than one occasion I helped another patient change (on the colo-rectal unit, we spent a lot of time changing). Believing that it would help with pain control and the aid the return of the longed-for bowel sounds, I walked endlessly from one end of the ward to the other and back again. I wondered why others did not adopt the same attitude to mobilisation, instead lying for hours on their beds; in reality, the ward was so crowded that had we all been active - as directed by the ever-enthusiastic physios - movement would have been impossible. It was quite an art negotiating a route with drip stand around the staff, wheelchairs and many trolleys that filled the ward.
Kate Lloyd is a qualified RGN and Health Visitor, currently employed as a Senior Public Health Nurse.