Sunday, 11 September 2011

Out of kilter

The world continues to turn, day becomes night, summer slips inexorably into autumn; all is as it should be. Except it's not, quite. I still recognise the world around me, but it's as though everything has shifted,the world has tilted, my perspective has slipped.

It started in the taxi. I'm used to driving myself everywhere, deciding when to leave, how fast to go; but this time, instead of steering my own course, I sat in the back of the car, watching the scenery pass and the minutes tick by, worrying I'd be late as we tiptoed slowly down quiet country lanes.

Eventually the car turned through a set of gates and drove serenely along a tree-lined drive, finally pulling up outside what looked like a grand country house. As I waited for the driver to retrieve my suitcase from the boot, I felt like I'd stepped onto the set of a Sunday evening period drama; I half expected to see a stiffly-starched nurse pass by, wheeling a wounded soldier across the manicured lawns of a war-time convalescent home

I knew they were expecting me, but I was still surprised by the smiles of welcome when I gave my name at the reception desk, and I was somewhat taken aback when the clerk proffered a hand in greeting before showing me to my room.

I hadn't eaten all day and I was feeling a little light-headed, so I unpacked quickly. I was only staying for one night and it didn't take long to hang my clothes in the wardrobe and put my wash-things in the en-suite bathroom, then I sat in the high-backed chair by the window to wait.

The branches of an elderberry tree grew across the window, behind them I could see an old stable-yard set out in a square behind a high brick wall. As I sat watching the berries sway in the breeze, I wondered when there had last been horses in the stables, I pictured coaches coming and going, proud grooms in immaculate livery, horse-brasses glinting in the sun. I began to think about the others who'd sat in this chair, watching and waiting.

It wasn't long before there was a knock on the door, and, as if stepping straight from my earlier daydream, a neatly uniformed nurse came in. After that, there was a procession of visitors, the consultant, an anaesthetist, a catering officer, another nurse. I got undressed, removed my contact lenses and jewellery, and struggled into the open-backed gown they'd left on the bed. An hour or two slipped away with knocks at the door, polite questions, stilted answers; each of them explained carefully why they were there, what would happen next. I tried to concentrate on what they said, but it was almost as though, without my lenses, my thoughts were as unfocussed as my eyesight.

Then it was time to walk along the corridor, with its pale blue carpet, and take the lift down to the theatre. I know that the anaesthetist told me my birthday was the same day as his daughter's and I remember him telling me to think of sunshine and blue skies, of pine trees fringing a warm Greek beach, as he pushed the needle into the back of my hand.  I think I remember him telling me, just before the world tipped away, that the next thing I'd hear would be someone saying

"Leave your nose alone"


My nose. My much-wiped, much-abused, senseless nose. When I wrote about it here many months ago, a number of people suggested that perhaps my long-lost sense of smell wasn't gone forever, simply missing in action. After much reflection and persuasion, I decided to make use of the health insurance provided by my employers and see if there was a medical solution. Last week for the first time ever, I checked into a private hospital and had an operation to clear my nasal passages.

I've always been strongly in favour of our national health service, staunchly against the very idea of anyone getting a better, faster service just because they can afford to pay for it. I want to know that anyone, whoever they are, can access medical support at the right time to keep them safe and well.  But I swallowed the line that my employers funded this because it meant I would be back at work and productive again much sooner, that there was a rational argument for jumping the queue, seeking a better service.

I hadn't realised how easily I would be seduced by the feeling of being taken care of, how much I would appreciate the gentle paid-for solicitousness of the nursing staff, the regularity with which they came to check on my well-being and stayed to make sure I was comfortable. This was a world I partly recognised and wholly liked, one I could get used to, but one that felt, and continues to feel, inherently wrong.

I'm home again now, and trying to make sense of the last few days. The painkillers have left me a little other-worldly, I've got a glorious black eye and a bloody nose. Though I can't yet breath any more easily, and my nostrils haven't yet been tantalized by the aroma of bacon frying or the scent of flowers in bloom, I remain optimistic that things will get better soon.

In the meantime, I'm not allowed out for a while in case I inhale an infection, so I'm sitting here surrounded by tissues and tea-cups. I'm not used to enforced stillness, it leaves too much time for reflection, it leads far too easily to the world feeling distinctly out of kilter.


Anonymous said...

Lovely writing as always. I like your thoughts on the NHS - I agree.

Sandy said...

Wow, that was so beautifully written. Hope you're feeling better soon...

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

This is a wonderful combination of your experiences and your opinion on health care. Here in the US, health care ranges from the luxurious to the horrendous. I've sat in an emergency room when they took my husband in at once (because they thought he was having a heart attack) while a dozen others sat and waited. Those others were poor, uninsured, and not incidentally darker skinned, and some had been there for hours. It makes me both sad and angry. But like you, when I need an operation, I want to be where it's done well. Hope you are feeling better soon!

Bea said...

-thinking of you and your nose. May you soon be smelling rosemary on your fingers and roast chicken in the oven!
Thank you for your post,

Liz said...

I wish I could write as well as you when you're loopy from painkillers, let alone any other time! Hope you're feeling better soon.

Bth said...

I hope you feel yourself again soon, anaesthetics are never nice. I loved how you led us into this. Beautiful description. Got me all worried half way through, as I thought it was a hotel you were visiting! Although I agree with you re. the NHS, I think if the private healthcare is there for free, you should absolutely use it.

Pat said...

"but it was almost as though, without my lenses, my thoughts were as unfocussed as my eyesight."

Well said! I feel this every day until I put on my glasses.
I don't think you should worry about using private medicine. Without it the National Health would be in a very sorry state. My husband's firm, for decades paid for his health insurance- and mine, and we decided to continue after retirement. Some people choose to spend their money on expensive holidays and flash cars. I'm grateful we spent it on health insurance.
I'm hoping any pain and discomfort is finished by now and you will be back to normal with a sense of smell.

The Idiot Gardener said...

Private health care? Next thing you'll be tipping the police for letting you drive too fast.

Look at this way; you've freed up a bad in the NHS, so one of the orderlies can have a crafty nap now.

Mrs IG had health insurance. I was visiting her when he dinner arrived. She turned down the wine. We had words after that. Technically, she'd paid for that, and as I pay all the bloody bills I'd sort of paid for it, but instead an orderly probably drank it (before having a nap in the bed you freed up).

Happy Frog and I said...

I have only recently been given access to private health care at work and if I had to use it I certainly would. Having said that I've always been very lucky when I've had to use the NHS. I really hope the operation works and that you do regain your sense of smell again.

Nicole said...

As an American, of course I can't comment on the NHS vs. private care.

As a lover of the smell of bacon, I hope you recover quickly and that you regain your sense of smell. The world's just too interesting not to be able to smell it.

Olga said...

I wish you a speedy recovery. It's not easy to move past any surgery. Especially the sort you had. If you have the opportunity, it's wise to choose the best thing for your health. Believe me, to live in the world of smells is interesting, but not always easy :)