It wasn’t the end of my experience of hospitals. In my early seventies it was discovered that I had gall stones. I needed an operation to remove them, it was set for January.
Just before Christmas I met my friend Peter, he was tucking into a piece of Christmas cake, he had had the same operation the week before. ‘No problem’ he said ‘Easy peasy with this new keyhole surgery, you’re in one day and practically out the next day’ The specialist that I had see was a lovely man, full of humanity, Mr. Heddle. He also assured me that the operation was an easy one. I had every trust in him as I thought he would be doing the operation himself.
I went in with no fears, but it was six weeks before I came out again and even then I had to convalesce. People told me what had happened because I was ‘out of it’ for a lot of the time.
The surgery was performed and I was put in the recovery ward but I was not recovering I was getting worse, no one could understand why. It was a student doctor who solved the problem. The surgeon wasn’t Mr. Heddle but was a new man, he had cut into my duodenum by mistake. It was rumoured (though I am not sure of the truth) that it was the first time this surgeon had done a keyhole operation. It is difficult because you are operating looking into a screen, I believe it is a little like a mirror,
I was seriously ill, they thought I might die. I had sores all over my face and my mouth and throat felt completely dry all the time. My lips had to have water dripped on them, they were all cracked and white. I was in a lot of pain therefore on morphine. My breathing was difficult and I had to use a nebuliser. The nebuliser was like heaven, suddenly you could breathe clean air and it made a comforting bubbling sound like a hookah. I felt disgusting because my blood soaked bandages were dirty. Why didn’t they change them? I learned later that disturbing the wound and exposing it to the air by continually putting on new bandages, is often more harmful. I had the dreadful agony of bedsores.
I was hallucinating in a completely surreal parallel world. Even when I came out of hospital the alternative world that I had lived in seemed more real than the actual one. The hallucinations were very archetypal. I was on a lonely beach, behind me were sand dunes and a large grassy hillock. Two women with shawls over their heads came to me offering two keys for a wooden door in the hill. They seemed to be offering two choices, one that I would live but have a dreary life or two, that I might die but that if I lived my life would be fulfilling. I felt emotional and terror but I chose number two. It took me ages to differentiate between the reality and the hallucination.I couldn’t find the drawings I did for this one, if I find them I will add them later. I’ve done so many drawings in my life that it is difficult to keep track of them all.
In another dream I thought I was in charge of a storm that could overwhelm the Hebridean Islands. I kept hearing the words of the weather forecast. I knew I was on a bed but behind me I thought there was a glass case containing ancient tools and knives with leather thongs attached to them. I somehow knew I was on a bed and that people were looking at me.
The Hebridean hallucination was all tied up with Celt imagery too. When you think of my travel history to the crosses and the islands I suppose they all came together in a mish mash in my mind.
When I left hospital I was haunted by thoughts of what might be going on in the other world that I had inhabited. This went on for months and was disturbing, in the end I got rid of the hallucinations and ghosts by drawing the main incidents. I found that I could deal with them then. I think I am still affected by them.
I had some terrifying ones too. I thought I was being attacked by birds and having to swallow the feathers. Possibly the strangest one was Oriental (where did that come from?) I was in a room with Buddhist looking men, one of them was praying. They were breeding some kind of insect/worm in glass cages and I was sure they wanted to put me in one.
On another occasion I was in a maze of boxes and I couldn’t get out.
They then had to cut my stomach again and this time I lost my belly button! Finally I was allowed to go to a convalescent home. I chose a rather luxurious one, the Old Rectory in Ickham , the rooms were comfortable with fine furniture. I thought I deserved nice food and a lot of comfort after my ordeal. Sadly it wasn’t to end there. I had to go back to the hospital for a routine check after a few days. I was taken in the hospital transport and brought back afterwards to my beautiful room, so calm and quiet after the hubbub of the hospital ward. The next day the home received a phone call it had been discovered that I had a bad infection. Only people dressed in protective clothing were to come near me and some of the sheets had to be burned. I had to go back to hospital for further surgery. I felt like a leper, unclean and apologetic. It was awful.
Afterword………. The husband of the owner of the convalescent home was a lawyer. For some reason or other I was reluctant but he persuaded me that I had a case and that I should sue. He knew that I wouldn’t be able to look after myself for a while. I needed paid help for the cleaning and the gardening for nearly a year. The case took about a year and in the end I got £15.000. The rather funny thing is you get nothing for the suffering and pain and the lawyers have to find a precedent case. The precedent was a case where a woman successfully sued because she could no longer wear a bikini, they also cited the fact that I had no belly button.!!! How ridiculous. Plus of course the expenses that it had incurred.