So there I was, starting a new job, having a cat rescue job scheduled for the weekend (collecting the most adorable kitty from Luton and bringing her across town to the nether regions of Kent) and started to feel unwell. Just a cold but I knew before the day was out that it had travelled to my chest. So I did the sensible thing. I called my doctors. They couldn’t see me, too busy and the best I would get after begging, was an emergency appointment the following day.
I duly rocked up at 8am on the Friday, waited for nearly two hours and was seen by a doctor who insisted I had had ‘flu. I queried this because I didn’t feel fluey- just very chesty and I had a cough that made me sound like a dying horse. Ah she said, no – definitely flu. Go home and take some Lemsip, the powders are better than the tablets.
Put firmly in my place, I went into work. My colleagues looked at me incredulously as I relayed what the doctor had said. I am in the “meeting key contacts” period of my induction so I had to repeatedly apologise for my coughing and sneezing state. By the end of the day I was exhausted and not able to sleep and not in the best of moods. Looking at the journey ahead of me the next day – two hours there, just under two hours to the new home and just over an hour back to mine afterwards, I was starting to get less and less impressed with the way my Saturday was going to go.
I am never keen on transporting animals by public transport. Especially travelling in and out of some challenging areas, a cat in a carrier sometimes is too much temptation for utter pieces of useless trash not to have a go at, so I always advise travelling in twos. This however was out of the question as ex-hubby was away for the weekend; I didn’t want M anywhere within sneezing range of me as a nasty bug could be the end of her and the only other person I could call on for this sort of stunt is not comfortable on trains and also has a newborn baby to take care of.
Counting my options out I realised I would have to cancel. Cancelling was then ruled out as the old owner (who was travelling a considerable distance herself) was unable to do the drop the following two weekends.
Faced with no options, I gritted my teeth, got up early the next day and tottering off to the station was greeted by major train failure, all over town. The plan had been to go from my nearest main station on the Southern network to Luton Airport, a journey of about 1hr 45 mins. Not only was this out of the equation, but I couldn’t even get to St Pancras directly. Gritting my teeth some more, I chose what I felt was the least roundabout way. Pleased that I had factored in an extra hour for Saturday travelling, I arrived at Victoria and this was when my troubles started.
Because I had a hacking cough and felt so rubbish, I didn’t feel any difference when my temperature rose. And rise it clearly did because by the time I got off the train, sparkly lights, dancing leprechauns and my old faithful, Mr Sleepless Giraffe were waiting for me, along with crowds of people trying to get on an underground network that had massive doses of Fail.
Quite amused but understanding I needed to snap out of it, and feeling rather smug that after all these years, I could still navigate Victoria Station with my eyes closed (or in this case with Extra! Interesting! MultiColoured! things to see) I decided to get on the Northern Line. Except the entry was closed, two tube lines were out completely and I had to follow a circuitous route I didn’t know.
Finally, breathless, yucky and started to get rather irritated, I collapsed onto a Northern Line tube train, checked the time and realised I still had half an hour in the bag. Gaily I travelled along, hawking and sniffing like a cocaine addict, and I managed to get off the train at Embankment.
Whereupon I realised that I had got on the arse end of the Northern line and was nowhere near anywhere I could get a tube to St Pancras. Added to this was the fact that I couldn’t get near it via any of the other tube lines either. So quietly buggerating to myself, I stopped for a fag and considered my options.
With a huge degree of thanks, I remembered (sometimes I still have to remind myself) that I was no longer completely skint and had tucked a bit of money away from my last bit of work from one of my old clients that I intended to use to make the journey back across town less tortuous for poor kitty. I am still doing the odd bit of work for them as I need to get myself out of overdraft so I can remortage and pay back the lovely people who kept me afloat for so long.
I had a “fuck it” moment and got in a black cab. Seeing the state of me, the cabbie closed his window faster than fireman sliding down a pole. We got to St Pancras and I discovered that the whole Southern network was closed, not something that was advertised when I left home. By this time I was feeling very sorry for myself and staggered towards the closed gates where I could see some staff having a fat chat. Coughing to get their attention, I asked what the hell I was supposed to do now and was directed upstairs.
The new St Pancras station is big. In fact it is humungous. I know parts of it only because of my trips to York and can navigate from the mainline Kings Cross bit to the Southern network bit without too much trouble. Upstairs was not something I knew or had considered at all. I found it eventually (guided by a useful day-glo leprechaun who did a great job of showing me the escalator) and jumped on the first train I found. It was an Ye Olde Worlde Made Sometime In the 60s piece of rolling stock, stuck together with tape and string and as bumpy as hell but we clattered and clobbered our way out of North London and towards Luton.
An hour and a half later, I disembarked, shaken, rattled and rolled, 15 minutes early. Waiting outside was not something I did for long and I took myself upstairs for a cup of tea and a sandwich. The only sandwiches available had meat in them so I bought the cheese and ham as at least I could extract the meat.
Two bites later, kitty and owner had arrived and I stumbled down to meet them, armed with three more packets of tissues, water and a huge cup of tea. The sandwich I had squashed into my bag.
The poor owner was greeted by a rather curt and unwell me, kitty and her accessories were handed over and I immediately navigated the route back to the right platform. The train was hideously delayed so kitty and I shared the sandwich, she had the ham and I had the rest. She didn’t fancy any water so I had some and we got on the train back to London.
A much easier and smoother journey back home, involving another cab and another horrible cat story (which I will go into later) and at London Bridge I texted the new owners to say we would be there around 3pm. And then I made a huge tactical error. Because the trains were so FUBAR, I said I would text her when I got to the station as she had kindly offered to collect me. I had also cleared down my messages in the week, erasing her address.
Hugely grateful that not only was my journey with kitty a train ride away from ending but that I could go home and go to bed soonish, I had forgotten that my mobile completely loses its signal at the destination station. I got there, managed to get one text out and then …. nothing.
It was freezing and windy and I decided the only thing to do was hunker down and wait. Kitty was as calm as Buddha and I was anything but, as we sat on the ground outside the entrance, snow starting to fall round us. The fever had gone away by this point, probably realising I wasn’t going to give into it, the leprechauns and giraffe disappearing with it so I had no entertainment for the 30 cold minutes I tried to get my bloody *&*&(*^*%%effingthing3networktwatty&*!!! phone to work. And then the battery started to die.
Realising again I was out of options yet bloody again, I staggered towards the cab office, looking every inch the deranged cat lady, carrier in hand, eyes and nose streaming. The cabbie office owner looked alarmed and rather put out as I explained the situation and asked him to ring the owner for me. He tried several times and got voicemail. It also then transpired that the nice cabbie driver who was making such a fuss of Sabrina the kitty refused to take us once I had the address, on the grounds that he didn’t take animals in his vehicle.
At this point, something in me snapped. Throwing the remainder of my tea across the office into the wastepaper basket in a complete strop, I startled both men who clearly thought I was a complete lunatic. I asked whether there were any drivers who could take me home, back to my town as I had Had Enough. Mr Cabbie Owner named an exhorbitant price and I just said right, do it.
Whilst waiting, I thought I would try one more time. Leaving kitty in the warmth of the office, I walked up and down the station and lo and behold a text came through. I could not reply but luckily, a call from the new owner came through (she had been frantically trying to get hold of me) and she was on her way. I went back into the cab office to undo the arrangements, the owner looked only too pleased to be shot of me and wouldn’t even accept money for the call he made.
New owner duly arrived, I strapped Sabrina into the back seat and toddled back into the station to catch the train. I can’t actually remember arriving home but I did at some point.
I spent the next day in bed and booked another emergency doctor’s appointment for Monday. This time at 5pm, I waited over two hours before seeing one of the more useful doctors at the surgery, who agreed that yes, I had a roaring chest infection, prescribed an inhaler and antibiotics, declared I was not in any way contagious and off I toddled. The week that followed was a mission and a half, as I could not sleep. I can survive on a few hours a night for a couple of days but a week’s worth, along with dragging my sorry, sick body around was a bit more than I could bear.
The following Saturday was a 5 Quid for Life meeting, followed by a MadUp, followed by an equally nuts plan to get on a train and surprise my lovely man for his birthday. He was not expecting me in the slightest as I had already explained I needed to be at both prior events. He couldn’t get down to London as he had a birthday party already planned. More on these later too but the upshot was that by Saturday night I was coughing even more horribly than before and felt something go “twang” in my ribcage. Not feeling it at first, by the Sunday morning I knew I had done some damage.
Annoyed, because if the doctors had listened to me in the first place, my chest infection would not have got so bad, I travelled back home for another week of work.
Back I went to the doctor’s. Saw doctor number 3. Oh no, she said, you can’t have cracked your ribs, I have never heard of that happening. She gave me another prescription for antibiotics and after some spirited discussion agreed to send me for a chest xray. And then the stupid, bloody, unspeakable piece of idiot ever to qualify as a doctor decided to examine me.
If you know me well, you will know I am not a screamer – I can shout and bellow with the rest of them but I never scream. She pressed on my ribs until I had tears in my eyes and then asked where it really hurt. I showed her and she poked.
I screamed. It was so painful, I couldn’t help it. It was so painful in fact that it did not occur to me to bitch slap her across the head until I was out of the surgery and struggling to breathe on the way back home.
And then … on Tuesday, one of my colleagues got ill. Within 24 hours of her first sneeze, she sounded just like me, classic chest infection. She spent the rest of the week in bed. So much for not being contagious. And as I had been told I was not going to pass it on, I had been to see M, whose system cannot withstand bugs.
To cut another long story in half, last night I came home from work early, feeling awful, got myself straight into bed and slept for two solid hours. Getting up, I still felt dizzy but a lot less sleep-deprived. I fed the cats, made dinner and then got suddenly very breathless. Shortly afterwards, the real pain started. Waves and waves of horrible, knife-like pain spread across my ribs from the doctor-poked spot, making it impossible to breathe properly and up into my shoulder. I finished dinner and decided to get into a hot bath, in case it was muscular. It got worse and worse and I realised I was in Deep Shit Factor 10.
Just managing to get myself out of the bath, I texted ex-hubby who texted me the NHS helpline number. I won’t go into the saga of telling the same story five times over and over or the fact that they decided I was having a heart attack but I managed to persuade them not to call an ambulance but instead speak to a nurse. When the nurse came on the line and for the sixth time I was asked to confirm my name, address, mobile number and post code, I realised that if I was having a heart attack I was going to be dead before I got any decent advice, so ended the call and decided I probably needed to go to hospital.
I texted Ex-hubby to let him know what was going on, he kindly offered to meet me at the hospital (not an easy journey for him that time of night), I called K, my brother in law and in breathless words and floods of tears got what was happening out. He must have run down the road, he arrived so fast. S, my neighbour was out at a party but headed straight home to take me to A&E.
At one point on the journey, the pain was so bad I had to ask S to stop the car. It was hideous. We got there, she parked and I had a cigarette. Unfortunately, the only way I can cough anything up is to have a fag so I did. One exceptionally painful cough later, we headed into A&E.
A&E in a London hospital at 10pm is the stuff of nightmares. There was the obligatory gang family, commiserating over one of their number being hurt (if they got upset when someone gets stabbed, why do they all carry knives?), several people who looked like they were just there for the warmth, a couple of drunks (thankfully no-one too bad), with policemen and women charging back and forth with victims and perps who needed medical treatment, nicely rounded off by several groups of people who I am sure have regular guest spots on Jeremy Kyle.
S and I watched the procession of the Damned as they went about their business, whinging at the delay to see their sore fingers and their black eyes. I admit to sniggering a bit in between bouts of pain and real breathlessness. Two hours later, the pain had started to subside a bit, Ex-Hubby had arrived and S went home to get some much-needed kip.
I cannot fault the A&E doctors and nurses. I was put on a nebuliser for about an hour, which gradually did help and then sent off to have my x-ray taken. Ex-hubby was also brilliant as my mobile had died and he kept my boyf up to date constantly. He took a marvellously rough photo of me on the neubuliser, one finger aimed squarely at the camera.
My sense of humour is always honed by darkness and we discussed how we would make a musical out of MayDie A&E (the local hospital used to be called MayDay but carefully changed its name after a rash of not very good publicity that resulted in the new tag).
The x-ray showed an infection but nothing horrible. Sadly, it did not show the revelant ribs so they still can’t confirm that it is what we think. Once the doctor had examined me gently he agreed it may well be the case, or that the cartilage which attaches the ribs to the sterum has been damaged. After being prescribed painkillers, we were off home.
I came home to a clean sink, with the fish put away and a brother-in-law (who around now should be referred to as Saint K) who had stayed up to greet us. BiL wended his way back home. Ex-Hubby offered to stay over to make sure I was okay and I opened a bottle of Amaretto as by then we really needed a bloody drink. That took care of the last of my breathlessness and I managed some sleep.
But what really, really, really annoys me beyond all anger is that had the doctor diagnosed me properly at the start, none of this would have happened. I would have got antibiotics in time, the infection would have cleared up and I would not be taking a second set of antibiotics to get rid of the now advanced infection, nor would I have cracked my ribs. I would not have had a nightmare journey to collect the poor kitty, three people’s nights would not have been disrupted and I would not have had to take several days working at home to recover.
I understand the NHS needs to save money, I understand that they don’t want to throw antibiotics at people willy nilly. But my god, when someone comes into a surgery with a hacking cough and green phlegm then surely they would go – aha yes, this one needs medication, no matter how many days I had been ill. Interestingly, my colleague was given a prescription over the phone. Once they heard the state of her, she had hers in 3 hours
By the way, just a note – the guidelines apparently are – no antibiotics if you have been coughing for less than four days. So if you are ill and need them, and have a doctor who is a complete tnuc, you now know what lie to tell.
For my non-UK readers: The Tube is our (mostly) underground rail network. The map can be found here: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/standard-tube-map.pdf.
Jeremy Kyle is an odious television host who pretends to help people with their problems … a bit like Oprah but much nastier … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jeremy_Kyle_Show