Rose continues to improve, much more gradually than expected with fun mini breathing and pain crises that trigger a flurry of reassessments and new tests and visits from ICU. Back on the ward and into the chaos of constant plan changes; one morning they are suddenly told they are fasting again for the next knee surgery, then taken off fasting and told they don’t need one, rinse, wash, repeat. The surgery is simultaneously urgent, not urgent, and unnecessary. The rollercoaster of emotions runs the gamut from terror to profound relief, frustration, exhaustion, rage. New tests find no new horror, just very injured lungs taking a slow path to recovery.
Doctors loom in the doorway telling us nothing is wrong, something new is wrong, the lungs are permanently damaged, the lungs are healing well. Veins collapse, tests intrude, a machine positioned behind the right ear screams persistently. A stranger comes into the room looking for green containers. A disgruntled nurse dismisses breathing stress as panic, until someone more senior applies the machines that show it’s not. But the most devaluing ideas have the greatest hold so for hours afterwards, Rose insists it’s only panic and won’t apply oxygen. They’re told to never get pneumonia, as if getting pneumonia is a poor personal life choice or a moral capacity they have control over. The future is rosy. The future is bleak and full of chronic illness. The future is unknown. The doctor that was coming can’t be found. They are always around the corner but never quite here. You’re not allowed off the ward, off the bed. You must get up, must exercise the knee, mustn’t let more deconditioning occur. Panting, breathless, sleepless. There were donuts in the cafeteria, but no one else can find them. Life is freefall in limbo. Morphine eases the pain so sweetly it brings it’s own terror of addiction, something within fights the peace.
Stop crying, says a technician entirely without feeling, I can’t get clear images when you’re crying. Sobbing is no longer considered withdrawal of consent. I’m sorry today is hard, is there anything else we can do for you? asks the soliticous nurse standing carefully two feet away from the trauma zone of a body that is no longer covered by the dignity norms of regular life outside of a hospital. The only nurse on the ward to use Rose’s real name and pronouns.
The shampoo smells like hospital. The hand wash smells like blood. The moisturiser smells like pain. The deodorant smells like unwashed hair. The food smells like dying. The massage oils smell like shitting the bed.
The hours folds into days, tesselate into years. Life continues out of reach beyond the boundaries of the hospital walls, weather is a private joke shared among the guests. The mind becomes primal, some collapse into despair, others like Rose spin into caged animals desperate to fight or flee. Friends and loved ones reach out hands to soothe, but where we see safety Rose sees the covid patient parked next to them in the overcrowded corridor, the stressed and frightened nurse, the medication drip poisoning them.
We have all walked into a dark place, but not the same place. We don’t share the same views or yearn for the same paths. For me, hospital is becoming a normal part of life, we weave it in as best we can. Picnics, lego, Poppy, card games. We come and go and learn the paths and flows and what days the parking is easiest and which wards are most peaceful and start to know the staff by name, share updates in line at the cafe. It’s horrifying but banal compared with the morgue.
For Rose the hospital is punishment for failing health, they must earn their way out through a gauntlet of requirements: less oxygen, better bloods, less pain relief. They rush the process and trip. Life goes on without them. Someone feeds the cats. They bleed out of patience and gratitude. There’s no place to take terror or rage. Peace is unstitched by confusion, the stuffing comes out, floats free, dissolves. Within the quicksand of unknown outcomes, unstable condition, multiple teams, and constantly changing plans, they cannot help but struggle, try to find the surface where they have some kind of power and plans can be made. So here we are.