Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Boy In The Bubble

On Wednesday I was finally admitted to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for them to try and address the problems I've been having with my blood gasses and with the BiPap alarm going off umpteen times a night. I was poked and prodded by a doctor who also (on the second attempt) took blood and analysed it. My CO2 levels are too high and as a result my blood is turning acidic, which is not as cool as it sounds. Time to take action before I turn into a blood-burning super-villain.

I was given a room on Foulis ward with an en suite bathroom. Unfortunately the en suite bathroom was not wheelchair accessible. Not a problem I was assured, and a commode was wheeled in. Deep deep joy. The room came with a fully working TV and, to my relief, wi-fi internet connectivity. It was also alarmingly chilly. Polly closed the open window.

The Brompton is a great hospital but no hospital is ideally suited to my needs. Three nurses spent nearly an hour getting me into bed that night. It was then that it was realised that the radiator wasn't working. Nurses piled blankets on me until I could no longer move at all. It was a very long, very cold night.

When at last the morning came I was sleep deprived and shivering and not in the mood for what was to come. Four nurses took another hour to get me up, hoisted to the commode, discovered (I already knew this but it was a revelation to the nurses) that I cannot balance on a commode, and finally transferred to my wheelchair. I'll spare you the details of the indignity of the saga of getting my trousers on. Suffice to say that in the end we did it my way.

Later we got to the heart of the reason I was there. Steve, the ventilator man, came to experiment on me. The problem, it appeared, was that the pressurised air was leaking, thus I was not getting the full benefit of the BiPap and also that the alarm was going off to alert me to this fact. The solution was a new mask. Steve was very excited, he had a radical new product to try. “It's a bit unusual,” he warned me. It was. Imagine a diving helmet crossed with a bin-liner held on to your head by padded straps that pass under your armpits to stop it blowing off. When I tried it, sitting in my wheelchair, it was an interesting experience, rather like being in your own person bubble (albeit a noisy one). Polly said I looked like Sandy the squirrel from Sponge Bob Squarepants. The problem started when they wanted me to try it lying down. When Steve came to fit it, with me balancing on the bed, I freaked out. The bubble became that plastic bag your mother told you not to put over your head when you were a child. I couldn't breathe, which considering its purpose was pretty ironic.

Next we tried a mask which fitted into my mouth like a scuba divers breathing apparatus. This time the problem was that if you tried to speak or swallow the air was blasted under pressure into your stomach which blew up like a balloon. I lasted about 15 seconds.

Finally Steve produced a variation of the nasal mask I already use. Bingo. I agreed to give this one a go that night. I was told a sleep study had been arranged for Saturday night to assess how effective the mask was going to be. The thought of another 3 nights of mobile hoists and commodes was too much. I begged Steve to bump me up the list and he surveyed my room and took mercy on me. He said he would slip me onto the end of the list for that nights tests.

Getting to bed that night was a debacle.. The nurses were brilliant but I was exhausted and nothing went quite right. It seemed to take hours and I was at the point of taking out a contract on the life of whoever designed the mobile hoist I was being swung around on like a human conker. When, eventually, I was lying in approximately the right position, a technician came in and attached a probe to my earlobe. At least someone had come and mended the radiator and I only needed four blankets. The new mask worked beautifully though and the BiPap alarm didn't go off once.

In the morning two nurses came to get me up. Half an hour later they went to get two more. Much much later the consultant came in with the results of the sleep test. (You know you are getting old when even the senior consultants look like they are fresh out of school.) I held my breath (so to speak) as he held up a print out and pointed to various lines tracing across the page. O2 saturation was at 100% all night. More significantly my CO2 levels remained consistently low throughout. “This,“ said the consultant, “is about as good as it gets. Excellent. You should begin to feel the effects over the next few days.” And with that I was released back into the wild.

When Polly had come to visit me the previous day she had stopped in the corridor to stare briefly at one of the other patients. When she came into my room she said, “Isn't that. . . You know. . . Oh, thingumajig from that show. 1970s. . . American. Very famous.” I peeked out of my room and, do you know what, she was right. It was thingamy from that cop show. He was in a private room and got to drink coffee from a cafetiere rather than the instant muck I was served. From then on I couldn't get that gooey song he sang out of my head.

I'm home now and have just had a good nights sleep. The BiPap alarm didn't go off once. Result.

Until next time. . .


  1. Indignity and absurdity are ever present with you. It seemed the hospital staff were determined not to give up you. Baby.

  2. That first mask sounds as if it were actually some sort of prank rather than a medical device. Do ventilator specialists perhaps get together after work to cobble up gags and share the results on YouTube? The one that pumped up your gut with air must also be quite the streaming media darling. But congrats on finally having a good fitting mask and good sleep through the night for you and Polly.

    I am so curious now as to who you were sharing the hospital with. Someone who merits real coffee, even. Ah, the privileges of celebrity!

  3. Congratulations on oxygenation. Inquiring minds do want to know who thingamy is.

  4. Keith Willmott7 March 2010 at 02:47

    Mmmm, I remember blood gases being tested when I was in the Royal Free in Hampstead. Bloody painful, especially if the person taking the blood was not that experienced. Didn't have any American TV cops in there either. No big cardigans, no flashy red cars in the car park.....

  5. That's great news!

    Gonna have a hard time not picturing you as Sandy the squirrel now though.

  6. Last seen eyeball to eye ball with Owen Wilson in what was probably one of the worst remakes ever made.

    "Don't give up on us baby", I think quite clearly somebody did.

    Glad you're getting a good nights sleep buddy (by that I mean Polly).


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