Letter for Fr. David Sherwood
Home thoughts from hospital
Although I am writing this at home after discharge from hospital these are the thoughts that I formed in hospital. I take my title from Browning’s “Home thoughts from abroad,” the poem that begins “Oh to be in England now that April’s there.” Browning was longing for England when he was not there but in Italy and was longing for home. My thoughts are not particularly theological but I have included some things which you might find of interest and to reassure you if the same thing happens to you or to a loved one.
On 14th January 2021 I had a car accident. I was on my way to church to take the 6 o’clock mass and was turning right from Bohemia Road into Tower Road. There were temporary traffic lights shortly behind me to the right. As I turned right a police car hit me, trying to overtake. The car driver claimed to have lights flashing and its siren sounding but I never saw nor heard anything. I think what actually happened was that the car had been held at the temporary traffic lights and when they turned green sped away, turning on its lights and siren then, but that was insufficient time to allow me to react to it. I felt very shaken up but had apparently suffered no injuries. The car went into the garage to be mended and I was taken home by a passing police car. This accident may well have been the cause of my heart attack. That was the view of the doctor who examined me in hospital who thought it could well have been a contributing factor.
I had been felling unwell for a couple of days with severe pain in my upper abdomen which turned out to have been cause by an infected gall bladder with stones which will need to be removed in about three months time. Everything came to a head on 22nd January when my symptoms were extreme shivering followed by excessive sweating and a terrible feeling of weakness so that I could not get out of a chair without assistance and I needed help to walk. These are not the usual symptoms I associate with a heart attack. Carole called the ambulance which came promptly. That is reassuring, given that we have all heard stories on the television of ambulances taking hours to arrive. I was then taken off to the Conquest hospital into which I was admitted within a matter of minutes, again countering all that we have heard of queues of ambulances at hospitals.
I started in A and E which seemed to have a huge number of staff. I felt I was being properly cared for and I placed my trust in the staff. From that time on I was conscious that the hospital was rather like the United Nations in that there were so many nationalities. When we had the referendum on Brexit much was made about immigration. This showed me how we just could not run our National Health Service without the help of many immigrants from all over the world. We should be grateful to have them and their dedication to the job. After A and E I was transferred to the acute assessment unit which resembled Dante’s inferno with many patients arriving and departing and a lot of staff. At some stage, either there or in A and E, I was questioned about my symptoms and realised later that my mind was not fully functioning and so may have given inadequate information to those who were trying to help me. It was difficult to sleep because of the noise of staff and patients, including loud phone conversations in what turned out to be Romanian and my fellow patient had speaker on on her mobile phone which made it all the louder. In the next bed was a delightful old man who was 97 and told me much of his life story. There was a frequent turn round of bed occupancy. A patient opposite was obviously a drug addict who came in and out. She eventually left, clearly having had her fix. I wish I knew the answer to the national drug problem, whether to make softer drugs legal or to get a greater number of police and customs officers to fight the trade. I doubt the girl opposite, then about 30, will see her 40th birthday. I had a long chat with one of the chaplaincy team with whom I found a good deal in common. It took my mind off my problems and I was very grateful for her.
I was eventually transferred to the cardiac care unit. I cannot fault the treatment I received in the wards where I was. The staff were unfailingly kind, considerate and efficient. Even the food was quite nice. You get a wide choice and the what is meant to be hot is hot. Even the coffee is drinkable. I am an expert on cheap coffee, having suffered it in several parishes where I have been or visited. I managed to keep saying the daily offices of morning and evening prayer, but found it difficult to pray. There are a number of sick people for whom I normally pray daily, but instead I simply asked God to accept my prayer for all those for whom I usually pray. The prayer I particularly found of help was the Jesus prayer, breathing in to the words “Jesus Christ, son of the living God” and breathing out to the words “have mercy on me, a sinner.”
At first I thought I was going to die, but realised after a relatively short time that I was going to survive. It was not at all dramatic but quite mundane. My great disappointment would have been not to see my grandchildren grow up. There is a wide range in ages of the five of them, my eldest grandson being 17 and the youngest not yet three. Although much is made these days on departed people “looking down” on what is happening here I do not know whether it works like that. I was also concerned about history repeating itself, as both my father and his father died of heart attacks, my father within a month of his 76th birthday and I passed my 76th birthday on 17th January.
I read a lot and had books with me, but found that sometimes I did not feel well enough to read and was therefore content just to look around me and to doze. I now better understand those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia who simply stare into the distance. As I was they are not well enough to read or do anything else. I was pumped full of drugs and had sufficient blood taken from me to start my own blood bank! You are allowed to take your mobile phone into hospital so that I was able to keep in touch with a number of people. You also need to remember your charger as you are also allowed to recharge your phone. During Covid restrictions you are not allowed visitors so the phone was a real lifeline for me. One thing that surprised me is that it was quite cold in hospital, being used to the stifling heat in hospitals in the past. You need to take extra clothing to counter this. Thankfully you are not besieged by bad background music. I was conscious of various tunes going round my head, many of which were by Schubert who has been my most recent discovery. Classical music has been my abiding passion over the years and I have discovered music new to me or new musical genres, so that, for example, I do like modern jazz. I am amazed by the quality of Schubert’s music as he wrote so much of high quality during the last year of his life, dying of syphilis at the age of 31.
On my tenth day in hospital I had an angiogram and angioplasty followed by a procedure in which two stents were inserted into one of the arteries of my heart. I did not have an anaesthetic and I wondered at the progress in medical science which enables such a procedure. Having had the procedure I knew that I must soon be released from hospital and I longed to go home. Once I got home it was so good to be there.
We normally try not to drink alcohol Mon-Thurs but this was a celebration so I had a gin and tonic, the best I had had in at least 20 years! Then to be able to sleep in my own bed was wonderful. The hospital beds are perfectly comfortable but this was my bed in my home. Breakfasts in hospital are quite good but I was able to have my all-time favourite of bacon and scrambled eggs-excellent.
I now start the slow road to recovery. I am beginning to get my appetite back and have amazingly lost a stone in weight. I shall need to eat carefully and must take regular exercise. This has started and I realise how weak I am. We take so many good things in life for granted. I am definitely one with Dorothy in “The wizard of Oz” - “There’s no place like home!” I have to take what are a number of big steps for me: to get back to church; to start taking services again: to drive and to get on a plane. Please remember me in your prayers and give thanks for our wonderful National Health Service.