Tag Archives: Kidney



defib1Hospitals and machines, they go together like six cans of coke a day and diabetes. There are ones that monitor you, ones that diagnose you and ones that dispense chicken soup, although hopefully not for you because it’s nasty and there’s always a clump of undissolved powder stuck to the bottom. Some machines keep you alive and some try to bring you back to alive from dead. If unsuccessful, the next stop could well be the mighty Duotronic 3000 embalming machine, a true King among corpses.

Without machines a patient’s chance of survival would in many cases be greatly reduced and hospitals would be little more than a collection of horribly brightly lit spaces with filthy floors, populated by the shuffling undead. A lot like shopping at Tesco at 2AM. And whilst these machines are currently extremely helpful, last night I dreamt of a terrifyingly dark, robotic future when they won’t be; they were still doing what they were built to do – supplying oxygen, administering drugs, displaying heart rhythms etc. – but they complained a lot about it and were really grumpy. And whilst the dream was not as nerve-shredding as the premise of The Terminator, at one point I did have a particularly challenging run-in with a sandwich toaster, and a Betamax video player I laughed at in the 80’s stamped on my toe.

One glorious Opioid en-robed day, I was awaiting the arrival of my lunch with elevated, if drowsy, anticipation after becoming trapped in the loo earlier and missing out on breakfast. Lunch time is a big deal in hospital, breaking the fascinating routine of ‘Eat Grape, Read May 2004 Grazia, Eat Grape. Repeat’. With the tell-tale sound of lunch getting closer – the Kitchen Porter swearing as the trolley got stuck in the lift – I manoeuvred myself and my table into an optimum bed-dining position, far enough away that I could stretch out my arms a little to eat but near enough so that I wouldn’t drop chicken into my surgical drain. As the door opened, the familiar sight of the plastic tray with the plastic dome over the plate appeared, although the lack of visible condensation on the underside of the cover was worrying; a sign that the food beneath had never been very warm.

Sure enough, my ‘fricassee’ was cold, ‘as cold as death’ I slurred aloud, unnecessarily. This was the fourth day in a row that my lunch had turned up devoid of heat, even though I had repeatedly and incoherently scrawled ‘Cold Cold Cold!’ in the ‘We value your feedback’ section of the menu. As I reluctantly picked up my fork, I thought to myself that the most sensible thing to do would be to reheat the chicken myself, by using the ward Defibrillator located in the corridor.

Andi Reiss


Not usually associated with food preparation, a Defibrillator delivers an electrical counter-shock to the heart, disrupting the abnormal rhythm associated with a cardiac arrest and allowing the heart function to hopefully return to normal. With the clarity of mind that comes from no longer being on IV Tramadol, this would have been a ridiculous and no doubt fatal way to attempt to make my lunch more palatable. At the time I thought it was brilliant. And even if it didn’t work, it would at least be immeasurably more entertaining than watching Heartbeat…the show, not the reassuring muscle contraction.

Struggling out of bed, I was promptly apprehended by a nurse who asked me what I was doing. And with the crystal clarity of a drunk person explaining to a police officer that they’re not drunk, I answered. Carefully helping me back into bed, she kindly suggested that in the case of my cold, dry chicken chunks and 900 volts, successful re-heating would be unlikely and instead, a messy, savory death entirely probable.

The following day, my lunch was hot. Steamy hot. I think the nurse had something to do with that, perhaps suggesting to the kitchen that warm food might limit some patient’s stupid ideas and help keep them alive. So for that I’m grateful, although as it was a Cottage Cheese Salad, in this instance it might have benefited from being cold.



Thanks to Andi Reiss for the sketch.

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Hospitals would be shit without patients and not just because doctors and nurses would be left shuffling along the corridors, bumping into things, bumming (does that still mean what it used to mean?) endless cigarettes off each other and wondering what on earth they could strike about now…’We’re working too many hours!’ Well piss off home, I keep telling you there’s nobody else here.


‘I’m sorry to say, it’s a little worse than we first thought’

On a high dependency ward, other patients offer so much entertainment to distract you from the unspeakable horrors of hospital, like the person in the bed next to you dying in the night and the next morning the person sitting in the chair visiting the corpse – still undiagnosed as dead – also dying. Irish Keith, still tragically alive and well, was in the bed opposite and offered a wide-range of inappropriate comments to anyone close enough to hear them through his never ending rasping death rattle. ‘Ooh, she was dying to get out of here’ and ‘I told you the food was bad’, followed by ‘She bloody deserved it!’ and ‘Makes you think doesn’t it’, the last of which was by far the most offensive.

Irish Keith (there was another Keith but he was just ‘Keith’) was desperately unwell and his prognosis was poor; the doctors had implied he would be ‘leaving’ any day now. But sadly, that day kept not coming. One ward round, I’m pretty sure I heard the exasperated consultant quietly ask the nurse ‘when’s he going to die?’ but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he actually asked ‘when’s he growing two pies?’, a common question in hospital after all.

In my more-accepting, less-disgusted-by-everybody-else moments (occasionally  experienced after 30 mg of Temazepam, when I momentarily forget where and who I am) I felt sorry for Irish Keith. Thanks to his offensive opinions, nobody ever came to see him and nobody stopped to chat as they shuffled quickly past, heading towards the thoroughly appalling Day Room, tugging their wheeled posts of dangling, bulging bags of piss behind them; lots of urine at least meant their kidney was making the stuff, it’s the patients slumped in the corner, with split, brittle bags now home to a family of lovable Dormice that you need to worry about, although those patients are long dead so you may as well find something else to worry about. Worry about the Dormice for Christ’s sake, that’s no kind of place to raise children.

For the week I was on that ward, Irish Keith remained jolly in his obnoxious trying to engage with people way; calling out, waving, beckoning, gesticulating, he seemed oblivious to the fact that nobody wanted anything to do with him and he happily carried on insulting everybody. My turn came following a worryingly elevated potassium result and an erratic heart-rate, which resulted in my bed and me being wheeled rapidly away in case I needed a spin on the defibrillator – I didn’t mind, there wasn’t much on TV.  Upon my return, Irish Keith piped up.
‘You’re still alive then? Shame. I wanted your bed by the window. Bastard’.
‘Ah, thanks Keith, that’s makes all the difference’
‘Fuck off, you’ll die before me, even if I have to put a pillow over your face in the night. You bastard”.

It was an idle threat, he was too sick to get out of bed unaided and I was pretty sure that even the grumpy nurse wouldn’t have helped him asphyxiate me in my sleep but I did wonder whether with his last dying breath he’d give it a go.

As it happens, he did nothing as energetic as getting out of bed with his final inhalation. Two days later, with a rattling coughing fit that sounded a lot like ‘you wanker’, he was dead.

Irish Keith died as he lived; offensively.

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Hospitals can be confusing places for patients, especially if you’re a bit stupid. To alleviate one of the often sited reasons for SPC (stupid-person-confusion) the NHS produced a poster to identify the different members of staff you may encounter whilst on the ward. Alternatively, the bins behind the staff car park are a great place to play eye spy, as you may spot a group of oncology nurses smoking Woodbine or a lone surgeon looking for body parts in the bags marked ‘FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, INCINERATE THIS STUFF NOW’.

So who are those shuffling women in Tabards, who deliver your rapidly congealing lunch, before taking away your cardboard poo potty? And even more revolting than that, what is a Tabard? Well, because I asked my iPhone I can tell you; a Tabard is a wild duck that is common in Europe, although Siri may have misheard me. And regarding the women in Tabards, I have no idea who they are. They didn’t make it onto the poster.

Anyway you can trust me, I’m a doctor. I’m not of course but it’s amazing how many people thought I was just because I was wearing a white coat. And a stethoscope. Thankfully, these days you don’t even need the white coat to pretend you’re a doctor; just a shirt from Hackett, a mismatched tie, cold fingers and handwriting that suggests you’ve had a Stroke. Surgeons can be identified by their Pringle Polo shirts or Theatre Scrubs with bloody hand prints on the front, depending on whether they’re on their way to a golf tournament or lunch, also at the golf club. If you’re a sick person and you don’t play golf, I suggest you start playing immediately; there’s a good chance that when you have a coronary on the 3rd tee, you’ll be within 20 feet of a cardiologist, although I can’t promise he’ll have a defibrillator with him. Let me know if he does will you? If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume he didn’t.  There are of course many other people who keep hospitals running, from cleaners to nurses to specialists but let’s ignore most of them and their boring jobs and instead applaud the role of the Porter, the undisputed kings of hospital glamour. These everyday heroes of pushing patients around in beds and wheelchairs, perform a wide range of tasks, although specifically, they push patients around in beds and wheelchairs.

Not long enough ago I was waiting for porter ‘Dave’ (just Dave, porters don’t have surnames) to come and roll me to X-Ray. I could have walked on my own but that would have left a porter without a patient to push and instead he would have just gone up and down in the lift, over and over again, until his shift ended. I heard Dave’s operatic, chirping whistle about 3 minutes before he appeared in the door way, pushing a small-family sized wheelchair ahead of him that he’d liberated from the Obesity Unit or the Small Family Ward.
‘Did they not have one of the big ones?’ I asked. Dave briefly stopped whistling.
‘They do do bigger’. I wanted to laugh because he’d said ‘do do’ but then I remembered I was 41.
‘I’ll just have to try and squeeze in then. Phew, made it!’ I exaggerated, although without the visual clue of just how small I looked in the enormous chair, the absurdity is somewhat lost.
Dave said ‘Off we go’ and I said ‘Wheeeeeee…’


It was bigger than this.

With every corner navigated, I slid from one side of the chair to the other, accompanied by Dave’s excruciatingly lighthearted whistling. He said nothing, until about corner 5, when he spoke.
‘So, you like fishing?’
‘No, I’ve never been’
‘Yeah, it’s great. Sea or river?
‘Err, neither?’
‘Yeah, it just gets in your veins doesn’t it?’
‘Not yet, no. I don’t think it would be my thing’
‘What rod do you use?’ At this point I was thinking Dave is either deaf or insane but it’s a long series of corridors, sliding lefts & sliding rights and a couple of lifts that smell of embalming fluid before we get to X-Ray, I’d better join in.
‘A long one’ I said and hoped it sounded like something a fishing man might say.
‘Yeah, Greys Prowler Platinum’s my weapon of choice. And it is a weapon…deadly’
‘If you’re a trout’
‘I hear that!?’ he barked but I wondered if he did.

fatter chair

But not this big.

What seemed like months later and a life’s worth of fishing anecdotes, we arrived at X-Ray.
‘Here we go’ Dave sort of whistled and then shuffled away up the corridor before looking back and barking ‘Keep casting!’. He reinforced this sign-off with a rapid movement of his hands that I assume was intended to resemble winding in a fishing reel, although it was so uncoordinated that he could also have been having some sort of seizure. As he waited for the lift, he punctuated his trill whistle with wet, meaty coughs that sounded like they came from a part of his lung that had died sometime ago.

The following day I was scheduled for an ultrasound, to check that I still actually had a kidney. Waiting for a porter with a wheelchair again, for some reason I excitedly hoped I’d get Dave. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before the whistle that drove dogs crazy within half a mile radius, floated menacingly down the ward in my direction.
‘Hey! Catch anything since yesterday?’ I asked with far too much enthusiasm.
‘You know, fishing?
‘Oh, yeah. OK. I’m not Dave’
‘What? Yes you are!’
‘No, not me’ he said, helpfully adding ‘you’re thinking of Dave’
‘Really? But you look…’
‘Yeah, I know. We look similar. People say that. Often’
‘No not similar, you look identical. Seriously, how are you not Dave?’. If we’d been down the pub, he would have punched me at this point.
‘Look, I’m not alright? I’m Paul, not Dave. And I don’t fish. C’mon, geezer, can we go…’
I was perplexed and just kept staring at Not Dave, or Paul as he apparently liked to be called. This guy was Dave but somehow was not Dave. On the way to the lift, I did detect a slightly different shuffling amble to Dave’s and although Paul’s whistle was similar, it had a lighthearted wheeziness to it and none of Dave’s accompanying phlegm rattle. I was intrigued as to how two people could look so alike, shuffle almost identically and whistle in a similarly awful fashion and yet not both fish. How could that be? Really, how? They must both fish?! Surely!

On the way to the lift, Not Dave took a deep breath, stopped his high-pitched wheeze for a moment and asked ‘Do you play darts then?’.

And I thought, ‘close enough’.

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Gown and Out (Part 1)

Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell

For reasons unknown, I have never been asked why this lighthearted, damning expose of the NHS is called Disposable Pyjamas. Never, not once. So, for those of you who couldn’t care less and have never shown any interest whatsoever, here’s the explanation you’ve all been eagerly waiting for. After all, it’s only fair that you, the disinterested masses, finally get to put your nonexistent curiosity to rest.

Unlike some independent hospitals, the NHS doesn’t in fact offer patients disposable bed-wear, although I really do wish it would. Instead, we get to wear a range of misshapen, one-size-fits-nobody reusable pyjamas. Luckily they’re brilliant, by which I mean awful and they come in a wide range of green; let’s be generous and call it spearmint. Thanks to washing temperatures greater than those at the center-of-the earth, the once uniformly bile-tinged bed-wear is now offered in a selection of varying fades, with some extra special pairs even exhibiting the tell-tale signs of the previous occupant’s ailments. Sometimes though, depending on whether or not a doctor, nurse or another patient wants to look at your genitals, you’ll be given a backless gown instead. These simple pieces of fraying patterned fabric are just dressing gowns that you put on backwards, with cords that are impossible to tie unless you have an assistant standing uncomfortably close to your naked bottom.  But simple as they seem, they still cause enormous confusion as to how to actually wear.

Around six weeks after the transplant, I had arrived at Day Case to have my Stent removed. The stent – basically a plastic tube – is placed in the ureter during the transplant, holding it open to maintain drainage of urine until the surgical connection between the transplanted ureter and the bladder heals. And there’s only one way for it to come out.

There were five of us waiting for the uncomfortable procedure, each getting undressed behind individual curtains before sitting on our beds. One of these patients had the sort of cough that wasn’t really a cough, just a sort of persistent throat cleaning, second only in annoyance to the persistent sniff, frequently heard in cinemas and usually from the person in the seat next to you.

Eventually, the coughing man appeared from behind his curtain, having dutifully undressed and put on the gown. Standing in the middle of the ward, with his hands on his hips, he looked around. His initial confidence turned to a look of confusion as he noticed the other patients on the ward, all similarly gowned but wearing their garments the right way around. Looking down at his gaping front, he nervously fiddled with the untied cords, hanging at the side and said ‘This can’t be right? Why does yours look like that?’

‘I don’t know, why does YOURS look like that?’ I replied, not specifically referring to his gown.

Looking at his very clearly visible genitals, the distressing thought of a Cadbury’s mini egg, nestled on an orange scourer came to mind. Lifting up the cords with a look of foolish realisation, he shook his head and tied the two loose ends together, which frankly did little to improve the view. I offered him the internationally recognisable ‘turn around’ symbol by rotating my index finger in the air. He looked at my gown, then the other patient’s gowns and then nodded, knowingly. As he turned around to go back into his cubicle, he said ‘you’d think they’d make them more obvious’.  And I wondered just how much more obvious they could be.

As he complained to the nurse at the desk, about the unnecessary complications of putting on a clearly one-way only garment, she picked up a pen and wrote ‘THIS IS NOT THE BACK’ in capital letters on the gown, although ‘Front’ may have also sufficed.

I look forward to some years down the line, putting on a gown and noticing those faded, boil-wash instructional words are still there.

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So, first things first; how are you? I know, I’m sorry, I never write. But we’re all busy, we’ve all got stuff going on. For example, only yesterday I thought I’d make a cup of tea but then at the last minute, I decided to have a coffee instead; see, ‘stuff going on’. Basically though, we’re all just shuffling forwards, waiting to die. Some may be shuffling a little livelier; perhaps they’re in nicer shoes or maybe Aunt Chlamydia has just died and left them the abattoir. Some however, will be barely shuffling at all. Their lingering mope suggests all is not well and it may not be long before their forward motion ceases all together. And some are shuffling backwards; I have no idea what they’re doing.
Not entirely relevant to this in any way is that I had the transplant. Things seem to be going OK, although I’m always reluctant to get overly optimistic because I’m a miserable bastard. However, at this point in time my previous amble, a Creatinine soused march of the sick, has been replaced with a regular persons shuffle towards death. High Five. ‘Thankfully’ I still have to go to hospital for clinic check-ups, blood tests, drugs and to steal disposable blue gloves, so I can continue to report back on the many reasons why you should be trying really hard not to get sick and doing your best to avoid spending any time in a decaying, sprawling building with flickering lights, that smells of cabbage and an odd sweet aroma I could never put my finger on.
Over the last 12 months, I continued to observe and note my experiences in the form of a miss-pelt, rambling diary, peppered with gibberish that seemed clever at the time thanks to the high doses of IV Morphine. But instead of boring anyone who might still be here (hello?) with the operation details now, I’ll go back to the time prior to the work-up and post on the preparation, the procedure and the recovery in an entirely artificial real-time sort of way. If it helps, it still feels like only yesterday for me and my sister Victoria. Tragically, Victoria isn’t here any more; she went back home to Bath and is doing really well. Thanks Sis.

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