Hospital Food

In hospital, I was fed 4 times a day. The food was brought to each patient in a big grey rectangular tray made of thick plastic. On top of the tray, was a lid that fitted extra snugly, always proving difficult to remove. Taped to the lid was a small rectangle of paper with the patient’s name and the type of diet they were eating; vegetarian, bland etc. Underneath the name, was listed the contents of the tray. It became a ritual that before every meal time, I’d first read the label and imagine what the meal would look like, and then I’d unwedge the lid, moving it in small movements from side to side and lifting at the same time, until the contents were revealed. First there was breakfast, which was always bread, little packets of jam and butter, and a luke warm milky coffee that was served in a blue plastic cup with a lid which resembled a toddlers sippy cup. Next was lunch: usually something cooked such as a starter of Spanish vegetable puree, which is a thick green soup consisting of blended vegetables and stock, and often a generous amount of salt – this kind of soup was aptly renamed ‘Shrek soup’ by some of the children I used to teach a few years ago. This would be followed by a main course of something such as a deep fried portion of chicken with a small piece of salad. For dessert: something like be a prepacked plastic pot of flan – a wobbly and very yellow vanilla egg custard with a sickly caramel sauce. Around 5 pm the merienda would come. Merienda is the Spanish afternoon snack, and in hospital was usually identical to breakfast. On every meal tray was a small clear plastic packet with a bread roll inside. This bread looked like a tasty homemade treat, but was in fact the toughest bread I’d ever had the task of biting through. My first ever meal was the evening meal consisting of an omelette, a plate of square slices of sandwich ham with a ‘garnish’ of half a tomato, the ever-present bread roll and a desert of fruit puree that came in a small metallic foil pot with a peel off lid, and resembled baby food; that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Whilst in hospital I had a steady stream of messages from friends, colleagues and family, asking me how I was doing, and sending me their get well wishes. My best friend came to visit me on my first day. She appeared by my bedside, looking slightly alarmed at the environment she had walked into, but she hugged me, and made me smile with stories and her gifts of chocolates, magazines and a colouring book. I felt so lucky to have such a lovely friend. The head teacher from the school I work at, visited the next day, bringing another collection of stories and bag of treats; this time blueberries, raspberries and chocolates. Before my time in hospital, I had been somewhat unaware of the support I had in this country that I had called home for just over two years.  It was only when I found myself in this vulnerable position that I realized that there are people in my life here in Spain who are keen to offer their help, and I was inexpressibly comforted to know I was in their thoughts.

In the first few days of my time in hospital there had been no change in my hearing. I couldn’t hear anything in my left ear and there was still a lot of pressure in my ear and in my head. Loud noises were uncomfortable for my ‘good’ ear, and tinnitus sounds were incessantly swishing around my deaf ear, accompanied by the occasional screeching noise. In addition to all of this I was now exhausted from lack of sleep and the intensive drug treatment I was receiving, and I had begun to feel like things weren’t going to get any better.

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72 hours in A&E part 3 – Mission Impossible?

Later that morning I was told that the medication they had been giving me was causing me to have low blood pressure, which had caused me to collapse. Whilst I was on this ward I was given a combination of anti-viral medication and anti-inflammatories, and also a mysterious pill that came in a little white envelope that I was told to take with meals – this was the pill I would no longer be taking, due to my low blood pressure. Then came the corticosteroids. These types of steroids are different to the type that you hear about athletes abusing, and are used to help reduce inflammation in the body. I think the reason that people who have experienced sudden hearing loss are given this drug, is because many of the possible reasons for the hearing loss could have caused inflammation, e.g. infection or trauma. Hence, reducing the inflammation could increase the potential to hear again. Whilst on the A&E ward, the corticosteroids came in the form of a white liquid in a syringe. Every few hours, a nurse would come by and squeeze the syringe through the line, into my arm. This liquid stung like warm acid as it entered my body.

There was only one shower for everyone in the ward to use. There seemed to be some kind of shower rule about when we were allowed to use it, as it appeared to be out of bounds after around 11am, but nobody had explained these rules to me. The shower room was a tiled cubicle in which there was also a toilet and a sink, and a trolley where two material sacks hung: one was a laundry basket to put your gown in to be washed, and the other had a supply of clean gowns. In the mornings, it seemed impossible to shower as there was a steady flow of elderly patients; each with a nurse by their side, to aid them in cleaning themselves. This meant that anybody who was mobile, it seemed, was forced to the back of the queue. My first two mornings, I had managed to sneak into the shower between the old people’s shower appointments. However, each time a nurse knocked on the door and told me come out, as people were waiting. By the end of day 2 in A&E I was desperate to wash my hair. Enough was enough! I had been monitoring the activity of the nurses. The evening meal started to be brought into the ward around 8pm every evening, and I didn’t usually get my food until around 8.30pm. At this time, the other patients were promptly in their beds, obediently awaiting their food, and so wouldn’t be needing the shower room. My boyfriend and I waited until 8pm. I grabbed my wash bag and towel, and by boyfriend accompanied me. I got to the shower room door, looked both ways to check nobody was watching, and I quickly ran in. My boyfriend waited outside, guarding the door. It was amazing to step under the shower and feel the drops of warm water on my head. After washing my hair, I peeped around the door, and my accomplice told me that the ward was busy with the meal time routines, and nobody had passed by. He walked quickly, yet casually, back across the ward and grabbed my hairdryer. This cubicle was now mine, and I was going to use it to its full potential! I applied face cream, and dried my hair. I emerged from that bathroom refreshed, and feeling quite mischievous, after successfully completing our mission! We arrived back at my bed to find that my meal had just arrived.

72 hours in A&E part 2

There was no natural light in the ward, and the few windows that they did have in the room were frosted, concealing the outside world. The beds were so close together that the patients could probably all hold hands. The first patient, who my boyfriend and I laid eyes on, was a lady who was in the bed to the right of me. Wearing her backless gown with confidence, she would circulate the ward with sociable ease; chatting with the other patients, and helping them by pouring water and getting them tissues. This lady had the biggest pair of knickers on; the skin coloured kind you see hanging up in town markets. From the top of her knickers emerged the line of her bottom which seemed to carry on all the way up to her shoulder blades! My poor boyfriend didn’t know where to look! Then there was the old lady who sat opposite me. Her name was Ana. She was 97 years old – I know this because the nurses kept shouting conversation at her – I think she must’ve been quite deaf. Ana spent her days sitting in her chair with her head moving from side to side in some kind of uncomfortable looking spasm. When her family came to visit though, she appeared to transform into a much more independent and happy woman. Her visitors also never shouted at her, and seemed to converse with her effortlessly, something I found curious. I spent three days on this ward, with patients coming and others replacing them. The sociable lady in the bed next to me, left after one day, in a big floral dress, waving happily goodbye to the short term friends she had made. Her replacement was a very ill looking guy, who was probably in his early thirties. As soon as he was in his bed, he was connected to lots of bottles of fluids and medicines. The whole time he was there, he had someone by his side; his mum who sat on a chair and knitted throughout the night, and a younger girl, who may have been his girlfriend.

My first night was a sleepless one. The nurse’s station was in the ward, so there was always a light left on, and quiet chattering from the staff. A chorus of snoring also filled the room, and at various intervals there was the clinking of glass bottles, as IVs were changed. In the early hours of the morning, I got up to go to the toilet, but found it was being cleaned. I waited, but started to feel unsteady on my feet, so used the men’s toilet instead. When I came out, I proceeded to walk past the nurse’s station, back to my bed. After only a few steps, my legs started to wobble and I was feeling really hot. My heart was beating strongly and breathing became difficult. Everything around me started to blur, like when children mix poster paints together on paper. I started to tell the nurse at the station, that I didn’t feel well. Soon after, I was falling.

72 hours in A&E part 1

Having seen my GP again, after a week of taking the anti-inflammatory tablets with no improvement, I was then referred to a specialist.

I began day 19 of being deaf by going to see an ENT (ears, nose and throat) specialist. I had taken the morning off work – it was a Friday. I was hoping that this would be the end of my ‘journey’ of deafness, and that someone would find the problem, give me some medicine, and all would be well.

I waited a long time at the specialists. I wasn’t even sure if I was in the right area. Everything was labelled in Spanish, and I kept double checking the number on the door that I was waiting outside. I remember noticing how people to my left were all in silent mode. Their lips were moving but they were speaking with no sound, like they were performing a mime.  To my right, things were as normal, I could hear doors opening and closing, and people’s names being called by the doctors.

My name was called, and a friendly woman asked me what the problem was. I told her briefly what had happened, and then I had to do my first audiometry (hearing test) – this was to be the first of many. The woman who explained the test to me was small, thin, and serious looking. After the test, her manner changed to a more motherly figure, and she took me by my arm. She spoke quickly and in Spanish, and I only understood part of what she was saying. She was telling me that I had to go to the A&E department of a nearby hospital immediately. She wrote down the hospital details and explained to me which Metro to take. I thanked her, and she looked me in the eye and told me she hoped I would be better soon.

When I left the building, I walked down the road to a bench that I had noticed earlier that morning. It was a sunny day, and nice to be outside as the city was beginning to warm up. My mind was disorganized with worry. I informed my head teacher that I wasn’t going to be back at work just yet, and contacted my boyfriend to let him know what was happening.

I was called into the ENT’s room at the hospital. I had been sitting outside waiting, thinking of all the things I had to remember to tell her, and exhausting my Spanish language skills to form sentences in my head. I walked through the door, and she immediately asked me if it would be better for me if she spoke in English. Oh my goodness, I was so glad to be able to explain my problem in my home language. She told me that she had lived in York for some time – a city close to where I grew up. After she had listened to my story, and she had looked inside my ears and mouth, she told me that I would have to stay in the hospital over the weekend. They were going to try giving me various medications, and on Monday they would do some tests.

Soon after, I was taken to a narrow room with a row of chairs, where people were being administered intravenous drugs. First I was attached to a giant glass bottle of anti-inflammatory medicine that dripped quickly through the line into my body. I was sat in a chair next to an American woman who was having problems with her gall bladder, and was in Spain traveling. She had recently been awarded her sommelier certificate, and had planned to travel around Spain with her husband, tasting wines from different regions. I helped her, by translating some of what the nurse was saying to her, and asking for water. I also met a guy, whose name I later learned was Alvaro. He was skinny, pale with dark shoulder length hair, and had kind eyes. He came to speak to me, and told me that he could translate if I needed it. Alvaro was there with his grandma, who was also being given the giant bottle of anti inflammatories. I was in this room for over 5 hours. Just as I was being attached to a bottle of antiviral medication, my boyfriend walked through the door and gave me a big hug. Sometime later, I was taken to a bed in an A&E ward, and I was so happy to finally get a hospital bed for the weekend.

The first few days of deafness

The next 4 days were hard. I tried to carry on as usual. The new school year was about to start, and it was important for me to be in the school to prepare my classroom and to meet the new parents. I met the parents in what felt like a whirlwind. They were free to enter and see my classroom, and to have a chat with me and my colleagues. The room was full of voices. The pressure in my ear was building. Every time I turned to my left I was surprised to see another person standing next to me, who I hadn’t sensed was there. I wondered whether they realized that I could hardly hear them. I wondered if they were questioning why I stood so close to them to talk.

I met my new class on a Thursday, and forced my way through the deafness to greet them with a smile, and to help them settle into the school. But when the room was busy, and alive with chatting little voices, I couldn’t hear individuals when they came to speak to me. I couldn’t filter out the background noise. After work, I’d go home and lie on the living room floor exhausted from the day, and watch as the room tirelessly spun. I couldn’t focus on anything. I struggled to get up without falling back down again. I found out later that I was suffering from vertigo.

On day 9 of being deaf, I went to see my GP. She looked in my ear and said that it looked normal, but that maybe there was some inflammation. She gave me a prescription for some anti-inflammatory tablets and nasal sprays.

A week later I was sitting in the same doctor’s surgery.

The beginning of my story

It happened 108 days ago. Whilst sitting in a school auditorium, listening to a guest speaker giving a presentation, I put my head up from writing some notes, and out of nowhere came a loud screeching sound that filled my head with pressure. I was surrounded by colleagues and sitting in the middle of a row of people, so was unable to leave the room. The sound grew quieter into a dull ringing, but the pressure continued, and I was soon feeling lightheaded and disorientated. Whilst trying to act normal, I turned to my colleague to the right of me to discuss the question that the presenter had given us. We talked a little, and then I turned to my friend on my left. I could see she was talking. Her mouth was moving and she was looking at me and was gesturing. But I couldn’t hear anything she was saying. I was supposed to be writing down our answers, so I asked her to write hers on the list I was making.

In the break, I made my way to the toilet with a small group of friends. I was dizzy and things were spinning like when you’ve had too much to drink and can’t focus on a particular thing. In the toilet I desperately tried to pop my ears, closing my mouth, holding my nose and trying to exhale through my nose. This momentarily seemed to ease some of the pressure, but my head was still spinning and I was aware that I couldn’t hear well out of my left ear. I told a few people that my ear had popped – like when you go through a tunnel on the train, or when your ears block from the pressure of going up in an aeroplane. This is what it felt like, and though I was extremely uncomfortable, I wasn’t too worried. I was tired that day, and thought that maybe after a sleep, I would feel normal again.