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The Corridor of the Living Dead

by In Wales Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:17:05 PM EST

I have my annual kidney check up this time of year. Usually it is awful, totally distressing and I dread it.  This year, the improvement was remarkable.  I thought it was time for an insight into the ups and down of being a service user. It all depends on how it is delivered.

Sobering — diary rescue by Migeru


I have a personal blog and following my experience of the NHS last year I wrote this:

Well, it all sounds so simple on paper. Turn up to the hospital, see the consultant, get my bloods done, leave.

They make it as fucking difficult as possible. Is it really a year since I last went through this? Such an ordeal. They forgot to tell me to do a urine sample this time so at least I escaped the humiliation of wandering up and down the corridor, trying to find a nurse, with a pot of warm piss in my hands.

All my life, I'm the youngest. Every audiology clinic, batty old deaf people with their squeaking hearing aids, fussing with their hair to cover up their defect while their middle aged children shout loudly, "cup of TEA?" and stick a Reader's Digest from the previous decade on their lap.

Nephrology, Corridor of the Living Dead. Not nymphology, like the secretarial typo promised. It terrifies me that maybe I'm looking at my own future. The posters on the toilet doors warn against filling the urine sample pots too full since they have been overflowing of late. On that note, do you know how hard it is to stop yourself once you've started a wee? Especially if you are old and doddery. The average person produces 1-2L of urine per day. Do you know what a mess it makes if you try to pull the sample quickly out of the stream of wee before it reaches overflow point? To feel hot stink run over your fingers, drenching the outside of the pot and you fumble with the screw cap and tissue to wipe it up, but the label is already soaked and wrinkled with a slight tinge of yellow. The yellow colour comes from a pigment called urochrome. Then you have to go and give this to the nurse. Your little mess of kidney dysfunction. She doesn't care, she has to deal with this everyday. She says "leave it there" so you stick it on a random worktop, traces of your own waste on the surface, to be picked up by fingers which then go and touch other things, other people. Passing on molecules of urea, creatine, uric acid. Your mucky water. Piss, spread it around.

So, Corridor of the Living Dead, lined with grey skinned, grey haired, empty souls. In your scalp the melanocyte stem cells die and your hair goes grey. Parallels the death of your soul. There's no melanin pigment to colour the hair anymore. Colour fades out. And you end up lining corridors, with NeverFade solid purple bruises on the backs of your hands and up your arms from dialysis. The colour that left your hair has been replaced by the haemoglobin under the surface of your skin and it clashes with your pastel nylon clothes, and the gold 'elegance' embroidered on the shirt pocket. The shirt that you tuck in under your elastic waist band that digs into the bulges of your life of excess, turgid with water retention that stops you flexing your ankles or your wrists. Doddery little steps. Skin stretched tight and mottled over waterlogged tissue, no matter how hot the weather is. Am I looking at my future?

The staff explain nothing and turn their backs and talk to each other and look right through you and those bruises and pin pricked skin that makes a cold shiver run through their insides. The same shiver you get if you see a dog with it's back legs trapped, tangled and bleeding in a barbed wire fence, whimpering for release. The same grimace.

I look at the wall. Me, with my youth and attitude, I do what the nurses do. I pretend I can't see you. I pretend I can't see what could be me. Apple green with smudges and scuffs. I stare at the wall. The porter in his jeans comes along and scoops up all the biohaz samples in their plastic bags with green and red labels and takes the blood of 50 patients off to the lab where some younger grey souled technician will look at their albumin levels, iron, ions, metabolites and so on. And the numbers will come out and be stored in a computer, a statistical analysis of your kidney dysfunction. A numerical journey to your death.

A consultant talks at me with an accent I can't work out and I have to tell him how I've been this year. I was ill at Easter. I've not put the weight back on. He looks at his numbers. Half a stone. He'll check my bloods. And next year he'll look at the numbers again. Everything is stable. I'm not fit for long term lining of corridors yet.

So the nurse takes my bloods, I stare at the wall. The trick is to relax your arm and you feel it less. I don't look. I stare at another wall, and feel the sharp slide out of the needle, pressure of the cotton wool ball and the pull on my skin of the tape. She turns her back on me again. I'm young, younger than her. Reminders of how fragile your health can be aren't nice. She pretends I'm not there and in one long stride I leave the chair, turqouise plastic coated with foam padding, grab my bag with one hand and smoothly exit the door. I pretend I'm not there either. Without looking at anything but the grey tiled floor, I push the swing doors open and walk out. Down another corridor, down the stairs full of slow walking old people with sticks. Am I looking at my future? Out into the sun. Solar powered skin. Brown, not grey. I rip off the tape. Bright red blood of mine on the cotton wool and a pin prick of red in the middle of a small blue bruise in the crook of my arm. Feel the sun and wait for the bus.

I don't know my future, but right now, I'm so alive.

Well, that was a bit bitter wasn't it? It was the same experience the year before too. I turn up feeling fine and leave feeling as though the lifeforce has drained right out of me.  As though I'm contaminated, iller than before.  Nothing reassures.  Staff attitudes were appalling, they just ignored or were borderline hostile to the patients.

I don't know what process has occurred to create this change in attitude but the difference was very noticeable.

The clinic is still cramped, with patients seated along the edge of a corridor and not in a proper waiting area.  Confusion reigns, once you've signed in at reception.  Up to 3 people can be in the same room having bloods done at one time with a queue waiting directly outside, looking in. There's not enough room to queue in busy times, and not enough chairs for everyone. I've been in far better organised and more relaxing clinics. A recent report and subsequent news headlines on Wales' kidney service described it as 'third world'.  That may have had something to do with the change...

But this time, the staff were all friendly and helpful. They talked to me, I was a real person. I didn't see my drawn out death playing in front of me. It was much more efficient and organised than ever before.  And I said thank you and smiled at the nurse as I left.

This year I didn't cry.  The difference that the delivery makes.

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In your scalp the melanocyte stem cells die and your hair goes grey. Parallels the death of your soul.

Hmm, that explains a lot for me.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 12th, 2007 at 04:14:20 AM EST
lol. Chuck Palahniuk moment. meh!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 12th, 2007 at 04:16:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yikes!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 12th, 2007 at 05:39:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a great piece of writing, IW! At moments it reminded me...

Philip Larkin was not an attractive figure, but a colossally powerful poet:

The Building

Higher than the handsomest hotel    
The lucent comb shows up for miles, but see,    
All round it close-ribbed streets rise and fall    
Like a great sigh out of the last century.    
The porters are scruffy; what keep drawing up    
At the entrance are not taxis; and in the hall    
As well as creepers hangs a frightening smell.    

There are paperbacks, and tea at so much a cup,    
Like an airport lounge, but those who tamely sit    
On rows of steel chairs turning the ripped mags    
Haven't come far. More like a local bus.    
These outdoor clothes and half-filled shopping-bags    
And faces restless and resigned, although    
Every few minutes comes a kind of nurse    

To fetch someone away: the rest refit    
Cups back to saucers, cough, or glance below    
Seats for dropped gloves or cards. Humans, caught    
On ground curiously neutral, homes and names    
Suddenly in abeyance; some are young,    
Some old, but most at that vague age that claims    
The end of choice, the last of hope; and all    

Here to confess that something has gone wrong.    
It must be error of a serious sort,    
For see how many floors it needs, how tall    
It's grown by now, and how much money goes    
In trying to correct it. See the time,    
Half-past eleven on a working day,    
And these picked out of it; see, as they climb    

To their appointed levels, how their eyes    
Go to each other, guessing; on the way   
Someone's wheeled past, in washed-to-rags ward clothes:   
They see him, too. They're quiet. To realise    
This new thing held in common makes them quiet,    
For past these doors are rooms, and rooms past those,   
And more rooms yet, each one further off    

And harder to return from; and who knows    
Which he will see, and when? For the moment, wait,    
Look down at the yard. Outside seems old enough:   
Red brick, lagged pipes, and someone walking by it   
Out to the car park, free. Then, past the gate,    
Traffic; a locked church; short terraced streets     
Where kids chalk games, and girls with hair-dos fetch   

Their separates from the cleaners - O world,
Your loves, your chances, are beyond the stretch
Of any hand from here! And so, unreal
A touching dream to which we all are lulled
But wake from separately. In it, conceits   
And self-protecting ignorance congeal
To carry life, collapsing only when

Called to these corridors (for now once more
The nurse beckons -). Each gets up and goes
At last. Some will be out by lunch, or four;
Others, not knowing it, have come to join   
The unseen congregations whose white rows
Lie set apart above - women, men;
Old, young; crude facets of the only coin

This place accepts. All know they are going to die.
Not yet, perhaps not here, but in the end,
And somewhere like this. That is what it means,
This clean-sliced cliff; a struggle to transcend
The thought of dying, for unless its powers
Outbuild cathedrals nothing contravenes
The coming dark, though crowds each evening try

With wasteful, weak, propitiatory flowers.

1972

I expect everyone's feeling better now?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 12th, 2007 at 05:58:39 AM EST
Extremely cheering, yes. Thansk for that. We love the NHS, and yet, it's much better than so many get.

Also, finding that diary entry reminds me that I haven't written properly for at least a year.  

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 12th, 2007 at 06:24:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh well. Looks like I coshed your thread out of existence with that poem.

Bunch of scaredy-cats.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 13th, 2007 at 11:40:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it was making me a FPer that has coshed my (non photo) diaries out of existence of late!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 13th, 2007 at 01:03:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It´s a relief to got tests over with and a good attitude really helps.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Sun Oct 14th, 2007 at 03:42:26 PM EST
it's the waiting for results to come back  that gets to me. I'm in the middle of a month long session of waiting for a set of liver function test results. first set of blood tests show two of the five results to be way out of line, so two weeks to clear the anxiety pills out of my system before they can give me another set of blood tests. These being rather more intense tests, the results take two weeks to come back.  So apart from the basic level of anxiety, theres increased anxiety from the drug comedown, plus added what's up with my liver anxiety.

so things that should happen just aren't getting done at the moment.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 09:21:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's an unpleasant experience to go through. I hope that your girlfriend and friends are giving you lots of support (although without constant badgering!). Nothing worse than feeling really alone with these things.  

When my kidney problems were first picked up on the initial diagnosis was cancer which was awful at 14 years old waiting for test results to come back.  It was 'just' renal failure but I recovered after a while.

These days I just go for my check ups and they will only get in touch if my results come back with something wrong.  They are calling me back for more scans because my kidney has been more painful this year but as usual they probably won't find out why.  It just likes to grumble at me randomly.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 03:49:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't even begin to imagine how bad being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 14 is, even if it is later discovered to be something else, just being 14 is difficult enough to cope with, without the added feelings of mortality. (You say you have no idea what you would write,if you wrote a novel. it's an oft repeated truism that peoples first novel is autobiographical, well theres an experience that would be outside the normal range of human experience to start you off)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 07:14:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I just remember thinking, anything but cancer, please. I was fortunate but from then on I was very aware of my own mortality. I used to think I'd live forever but now I don't expect to grow old.  

That experience is largely why I find it hard to summon up great sympathy for people who quite knowingly do things that are very bad for their health and then expect the NHS to just sort them out when they finally start falling apart. This thing just happened to me, it's there through no fault of my own and I have to always be conscious of keeping myself healthy because I know what my end will be if I don't.

Some lessons you learn too late and sometimes choice to take control of your life doesn't appear to be there but many people do what the fuck they like because they somehow think they will pull off a Dorian Gray.

Even with an autobiography, I wouldn't know where to start or what my focus would be. Most of my life has been fairly out of the norm.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 08:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
IW, you really should write a novel if you've not done so already.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 09:01:26 PM EST
That's a lovely thing to say. I can write well but haven't for some time - I spend too much time writing breifings and and papers and my thesis to be in a creative enough frame of mind. Ever since I was a kid I have wanted to write a novel but I have no idea what it would be about!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 03:44:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that with the way you write (creatively and with style) you could write a novel about almost anything and it would be interesting. Seriously, you should try to find some time to at least start a book. Who knows you could be the next Le Carre (in terms of success - I enjoy his books due to their depth but his style is tedious).

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 10:06:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you are being very generous there! When my thesis is finished (December ish) I'll think again about where I'm going and what to do with my spare time!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 10:49:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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