Things have changed.
I ended up in A&E last Friday evening. I was parked up on a trolley outside someone’s cubicle clutching my left arm. Sometimes I let go of it, just to keep myself occupied. Here’s the proof. At least my nails look nice:
Over the past year or so, I’ve had shooting pains in both arms. My rheumatologist dismissed them in a letter to my GP as ‘a few aches and pains’, whereas I saw them as a bit more than that. I didn’t think new pain was something to be sniffed at, not when it first started, and not a year later when the pain in my neck was so bad it would make me cry.
In October, the shooting pain in both arms turned into a dull, cramp-like ache in my left arm. My elbow and wrist felt as though I had burnt them with cigarettes, my fingers felt numb and were freezing cold, and it was as though I had been punched in the upper arm and underneath simultaneously. Having read everything there is to read about fibromyalgia, I thought it must be due to that. Still, nerve pain and an inability to use my arm by the afternoon due to the pain and numbness warranted more of an explanation. I can’t just not use my arm. That’s not normal. I can’t just say, ‘Oh well, I’ve got another one’. I’ve been unable to make dinner, clean the house, drive Bumblebee, type (I’m writing this over two days, sometimes with one hand) or hold a cup of tea. That won’t do.
I ended up in hospital because the pain was so excruciating that I couldn’t bear it, and I was scared. I spent three hours on a trolley without seeing a nurse, other than to be asked what my pain score was out of 10. ‘9.5’, I told her. I thought she would come back with some pain relief, but she didn’t. I was asked to move to a chair, but told I’d be there for at least two hours. I opted to save my back and stay relatively comfortable, thank you. Bored, frightened, hungry and hurting, Gautier went off to find a vending machine. He came back with a photo of said machine on his phone, so that I could choose a snack. He is a bit of a genius. I went for plain Hula Hoops. I love a Hula Hoop.
So I sat on the trolley, eating said Hula Hoops, wondering if I’d not have been better off doing the same at home, but swapping the trolley for the sofa. It seemed a bit pointless being in hospital just to be completely ignored. In the end a consultant popped by, did a few things to my arms (hit them with sticks to see if they were dead, stuff like that) and at one point stroked me with some cotton dressing, which was quite nice. I could feel everything, so my arm wasn’t about to drop off, but I still wanted to know what was going on. ‘I want to know what’s going on,’ I said, through a mouthful of potato snacks.
We were told to come back for an urgent MRI scan in the morning. Probably something to do with a disc in my cervical spine putting pressure on the nerves. Made sense. I climbed off the trolley, and we got a cab home. Spending £15 on the cab hurt even more than my arm did.
On Saturday morning we arrived at A&E at 9.00am, as per our instructions. Of course, there was no record of me having been in hospital the night before, and no booking of an MRI scan. I wasn’t even surprised. We were sent down to X-ray with a bit of paper and after handing it to someone at the reception desk. He said, ‘MRI is that way,’ pointing down the corridor, ‘but it says you need a CT scan as well and that’s done here. I’ll sort it out, take a seat.’ We sat down and waited. An hour passed. I decided to investigate. By this time, someone else was in charge.
‘The computers are down,’ he told me. ‘Where’s your piece of paper?’
‘I gave it to the other bloke an hour ago,’ I said, my blood pressure rising.
‘I don’t know where it is,’ he shrugged. ‘Let me see what’s going on.’
I rolled my eyes at Gautier.
‘Yeah, you need to be in the MRI department,’ I was told. ‘They were waiting for you, but now the appointment’s gone.’
‘Brilliant!’ I exclaimed. ‘And my bit of paper, where’s that?’
‘I dunno,’ he said, ‘That’s gone.’ He genuinely seemed a bit embarrassed.
Gautier picked up my coat and my bag and we walked for about seven hours through the bowels of the old hospital, up stairs, down stairs, outside, back inside and wound up where we started. The hospital is old and creepy; it reminded me of the boiler room where Freddy Krueger takes Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was half expecting Freddy to pop out from behind a clinical waste bin.
Eventually, we found the MRI department. My appointment was re-booked for 11.30am. It was 10.45am. We sat, again. I had brought six magazines with me (our neigbour, Maureen, who works in the corner shop saves the glossy magazines from the Sunday papers for me. Every Monday morning there is a comforting thud at the front door as they are posted through). I picked up one of them and started reading, fancying that I’d not have the time to finish it and we’d soon be home.
At 11.30am I had the scan; in the midst of the fourth scan I experienced a coughing fit. A coughing fit in an enclosed tube does not do wonders for claustrophobia. It is like a wimpy version of being buried alive.
Eventually, I was yanked out.
Gautier and I were sent back to A&E to wait for the results. I thought it might take half an hour, an hour tops. He went to find some food. Egg sandwiches, this time. They were pleasant. I finished the magazine and started another. We talked a bit. I held my arm, because it hurt. After an hour, I asked a nurse how long we’d have to wait.
‘Not long,’ she said, taking my blood pressure even though I wasn’t actually waiting for treatment, just for someone to look at some photos of my neck and point at stuff if it was there. I think she could see that simply by having to wait so long, my blood pressure was going off the scale.
At 5.30pm – all six magazines later – we were called in to see the doctor. Imagine my delight when he pulled the scan images up on to his computer screen and then said, ‘I don’t know how to read these, so I’ll need to find the radiologist.’
I kid you not. It was like sitting in front of Dr Spaceman from 30 Rock.
So we sat. Again. We read the signs on the walls, counted the stains on the floor and Gautier found a way in to the hospital’s WiFi without paying for it. I went outside to text my mum. It was her birthday. I came back in. Eventually the doctor came back. He’d spoken to the radiologist. Apparently everything was ‘normal’. I was sort of glad; I didn’t exactly want to hear that I had a tumour sitting on my spine, nor did I want to find out that I had permanent tissue damage. However, I still didn’t have an explanation. At least Gautier could take photos of stuff, which kept us amused.
Next stop, X-ray! (A CT scan was deemed too fancy).
At 7.30pm, after going back to the X-ray department and then back to A&E, we were given a packed lunch bag thing containing the following items: a Muller toffee yogurt, a little carton of apple juice, a cheese and pickle sandwich, an apple and a Kit-Kat. I thought that was brilliant. I then got some codeine phosphate for the pain, which wasn’t brilliant.
‘I can’t take opiates,’ I’d told the doctor. ‘They make me really sick.’ Seems I had them anyway.
I think we got the food because we had been there for 10 hours and they didn’t want us to die of malnutrition and then get sued by our parents. Here is my cheese and pickle sandwich (it was terrible, like chewing my way through fragrant rubber, but as dad would say, ‘It’s free, eat it!’):
The X-ray was also inconclusive. An appointment would be made with the neurologist in the New Year. I was free to go. Gautier picked up the remains of my packed lunch/tea, my coat and my bag. By this stage I was in so much pain I was wondering how the heck I’d drive home. My head was spinning from the codeine and I feared that the sandwich would reappear at any given moment.
We got to the car. I felt terrible. Not terrible enough to pay another £15 for a cab, though. I started the engine.
‘I’ll do the handbrake and the gears,’ said Gautier, flexing his right hand, ready for action. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘What’s that on the windscreen?’ He got out of the car and retrieved a piece of paper from under the wiper.
‘It’s a parking ticket,’ he said. ‘Brilliant.’
I was hoping he’d confused a flyer for a car wash with a PCN, but no. I’d parked in a pay and display bay opposite the hospital. There was a sign half way down the road that told of work by British Telecom. I had seen it on our way in, and thought it had said, ‘No parking Sunday to Wednesday’. Given that we were on Saturday, I thought that was fine. It actually read ‘No parking Wednesday to Sunday’, which meant that it wasn’t fine at all. Yet nowhere along the road was there any sign of any tarmac being dug up, BT vans attempting to shunt Bumblebee out of the way, nothing. And since when did BT work on a Saturday and Sunday? I don’t think they even turn up on a weekday.
We were instantly £35 lighter. It would have been cheaper to get a taxi both ways.
‘All we need now is to be locked out when we get home,’ I chirped, sarcastically.
I think you know what happens next.