By day the ward is a living, jovial, caring, nurturing, happy space.
By night it turns into an unforgiving beast.
By day the nurses are your compatriots, your friends. They sort things out for you, they bring pain relief, they bring smiles, laughs.
By night they feel like overlords, snatching you unceremoniously from precious sleep you only just managed to find.
Somewhere around 11:30pm, I am roused for an infusion. I think I’d managed to grab half an hour of rest, better than nothing. As I lie there, the words of my favourite Yeats poem come into my head and I repeat them like a mantra.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Some time after 1am I wander the corridor for my second trip to the bathroom. Mostly just because I’m awake and my nose is typically blocked, and I’m hopeful getting up for a walk will solve something, anything.
I pass someone else from my bay doing the same thing.
I can’t identify the look that passes between us but it must sit somewhere between an empathetic, understanding smile and a maniacal insomniac desperation. Or maybe that’s just me, maybe I’m projecting. In the morning she will tell me she slept well and I’ll know the truth.
We might be in this together but we are separated in our different cells, living our own experiences/nightmares just a few feet from each other.
Pain sears through my back and neck, hospital beds are not conducive to sleeping, not for me anyway, and I have to sleep upright again for the swelling. I haven’t yet worked out how to place my two pillows on the rubber surface of the bed in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary pain.
My body cries out for a break for some sleep but it is not forthcoming.
I scroll my phone looking for something to help. In this day and age there must be some sort of app for that.
Headspace has a section that plays the noise of rain for 45 minutes. I put it on. It reminds me of home. I talk about London as my home and it absolutely is. I’ve been known to describe London as my life’s one great love story. It is the love I have chosen to spend my life with. It frees me, supports me in becoming who I want to be, while making me feel safe, loved and protected. But that doesn’t mean you don’t find comfort in your childhood best friend, which was and always will be my first love, Sydney. Going to sleep to the dulcet tones of rain pattering on the flat metal roof of my bedroom was a regular enough occurrence. My bedroom was once an outside deck before it got brought in under the rest of the house and became part of a strange long room which eventually reduced down into a smaller sized room that became my bedroom. We found our way to each other through a series of transformations. Some nights I heard possums scuttering back and forth across that flat metal roof. Dancing, chasing, sometimes fighting. Other nights it was the rain. I’ve always loved rain. When some people pull out their umbrellas at the smallest sign of it, cowering away and rushing to get indoors, you will often see me skipping down the pavement or spinning on the spot, my face up to the sky, my arms outstretched. The cool rain falling on my face grounds me and connects me to nature and the world. Falling on my head like a memory, falling on my head like a new emotion. It rains so rarely here that I almost forget the sound. But when it comes through my headphones I’m immediately somewhere else and the noises of the hospital fade away. I am free.
Until 10 minutes later when I get woken by a hand on my arm and a nurse wants to do my obs (regular observations – blood pressure, temperature, pulse, blood oxygen levels).
They didn’t do it at this time last night… What was it about this night that caught their eye?
I wander the corridor for a third time, trying to stretch out my neck which is in some proper pain. Paracetamol isn’t going to fix this. But I take two anyway. I half-heartedly look for a nurse but they’re nowhere to be seen. I go back into my bay and rummage through my own secret stash, quietly popping two out into my hand and washing them down, hoping that no one hears. They’re the uncoated ones and they catch on the back of my tongue, almost making me choke but I force them down.
I look at my bed with despair. Trepidation. It’s like choosing to jump onto a rack for some torture. But I see Clarence there smiling at me and I think ‘he’s right. It’s just gone 3am, only 3 hours until your next wake up call. Put on the sounds of rain, take him in your arms, rearrange your pillows a dozen times, close your eyes and just be still. There are no expectations of you tomorrow except to rest, it’s ok if you haven’t slept. Just take those three hours as an opportunity to exist as calmly as possible.’
Now I think of it, I had more pillows last time I was here. Maybe I’ll ask for them in the morning when the ward has transformed back into a place of love and light, and the long dark night is over. I picked up an extra blanket this morning having spent last night freezing and placing layers of jumper, cardigan and scarf over me. The lovely assistant Jenny brought me even another extra one because she didn’t trust me to ask for one if I got cold during the night. She was right. The night is not for asking. It’s for hiding and trying to keep a low profile so they leave you alone for longer.
My mum used to tell me things seem worse at night time and that is one of the truest lessons I’ve learned. No matter how bad things appear in the night, they will be slightly better when the sun rises and a new day begins. At night time all our fears parade themselves across the insides of our eyelids and sit heavy on our shoulders whispering into our ears.
I want to cry in frustration but I stop myself because I know that will only make me more blocked up. So I sit, and I shuffle around, and I wait patiently for the morning light.
This too shall pass.
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Thinking of you all the time Jen. I remember the nights in hospital when Stevie was ill, and from a parent’s point of view they could be the worst time too. Hope you get some rest today and feel better soon xx
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3yr old Jen thunders down that long room, jumps onto my sofa bed in the lounge. Book in hand she says read this “Avocado baby,” she snuggles into my bed, and into my heart. And there she stays, I call her thunder child.
That’s me!!!!! 😀
Just remember the day that follows the night, Jen. Although often long the darkness will eventually lose its battle with the day.
Yes, the morning sun eventually rises and brings a new day and with it, new hope.
The longest night has an end.
Enjoy the day.
So beautifully written that I could cry. I remember those countless agonizingly scary nights in hospital, in a city far away from home. Damn cancer. I hated the nights, when sleep did not come.
I spent last night in pain, this time it’s my shoulder. Even my dental implant didn’t keep me awake. Shoulder pain does.
Here’s hoping you get some sleep- more pillows should do it, or a giant Winnie the Pooh toy?
I’m often the same – body pain is greater than the pain from whatever is specifically plaguing me and put me in hospital. Sleepless nights feel desperate. But I suppose they end. The extra pillows helped a lot.