Lying on the bed in an anti-room of the neurosciences ward, I’d felt some trepidation. Electricity and I have never been great friends. You might say we were no longer on speaking terms, ever since 1989 when 415 volts 13 amps of electricity tried to kill me. OK, maybe it was my foolish oversight, but being electrocuted and burnt by a washing machines mains capacitor was quite enough to put me off electricity for life (See my blog “Ambulance Transport” for the details). I had therefore not been very happy when in 2007 a neurologist referred me for a nerve conduction study, and I discovered it involved running electric currents along my arms and fingers until they jumped. Yes, it hurt, not really badly, but it was the reminder of the previous electrocution that was the worst part.
Now 12 years later and in a declining health condition my current neurologist wants to rerun those tests to see what has changed. I’ll tell him what’s changed, I now know what’s coming and I worried all the night before.
So, lying on the bed awaiting the test I was practising meditation. I’m hoping practice makes perfect and that at some point it will work. Actually, I can relax quite well when I set my mind to it and that’s what I did.
I am going to back track at this point, as the process of getting to hospital in a limited state has its points of interest. If you think preparing to go to a hospital appointment is complicated generally, try it when you have limited mobility.
First, I must call the hospital and ask what tests will be done. If they need to test me lying down or sitting up, then if it’s lying down, as this was, do they have a bed available? If they have a bed, do they have a hoist to transfer me from my wheelchair into the bed? If they have no hoist I will have to arrive on a stretcher and a banana board is used to transfer me. Then I need to book an ambulance with stretcher transport. Which takes a while because they ask a lot of questions about why you need it. I then make sure there is a bed available on the ward and tell them I’m arriving by hospital transport. Next, I must change my carers timing. Because the appointment time would clash due to allowing enough time for being ready early. When you get hospital transport you have to be ready two hours before appointment time, that’s if the appointment is nearby. When I was going up to Liverpool, I had to check a leaving time, as it took 4 hours to get there. Before I was on the latest medication, I didn’t have the concentration to do any of this, so Mary sorted everything. Even with the new tablets, which help my focus, I still get absolutely wiped by this process and it is the only thing I do in a day, organise the trip to an appointment. This all happens weeks before the actual appointment.
Back to the day of the appointment. While we were waiting Mary took a phone call, checking parking and confirming the time of arrival. Always very helpful for me as I get anxious if I am waiting for an unknown time. My appointment was at 12pm and the two ambulance crew members, a lovely couple of ladies, arrived a bit before 11.30am. Those who follow my blog will know that our house is not big and so a stretcher, which I needed as the test involved lying down, is difficult to get into the house. The crew got it through to my bed with a bit of jigging, the bed, not them. Then started to get the stretcher prepared ready for me to transfer onto it. One of the ladies recognised me from my blog, I am famous at last. Holding back on signing autographs, that for some reason she didn’t ask for, I hoisted up from my bed onto the stretcher. I was swaddled onto the stretcher with straps and a blanket. This is done so that if I have a collapse on route, I don’t end up with my arms hanging. I also had on the neck cushion that keeps my head from lolling. Fortunately, I am very light, which makes it a puzzle as to why the crew heaved so much on slopes and corners. I know the BMI says 14 stone is obese for me, but that’s crazy. After much tricky negotiation the two ladies got me through the tight doorways, round the sharp angles, up the inner ramp and down our bumpy alley. Then onto the High Street where the ambulance awaited.
If you have never been wheeled out into the High Street on a stretcher, let me just say, you have never lived. I used to think the most embarrassing thing would be using a wheelchair, until the first time I was wheeled on a stretcher in Wellington High Street. There is something about being in bed, that feels like it should be inside. I don’t know why that is, lying down, in a blanket just feels like an inside sort of thing. Obviously when you have a major accident or emergency you are wheeled on a stretcher publicly; in that situation you may not be very aware of what’s happening. But remember I was being transported that way because I needed to be tested on a bed. So, I was awake and aware, oh yes, and embarrassed. Red has always suited me though.
We arrived at Musgrove after a very smooth trip, the ambulance crew parked around the back so that we were on the correct level and didn’t have to go up in a lift. The first thing that hit us all as we entered Musgrove was the smell of lunch, they were obviously having smoked fish. I say obviously, but it could have been any fish from fish fingers to smoked.
There is something very nice about arriving on hospital transport. It makes up for a lot of the inconveniences. Because the ward has advanced notice of your arrival, you often go straight into the side room that you will be seen in. That happened this time. I still had to wait for the doctor. Next came the transfer from stretcher to hospital bed. At home I used my hoist to transfer onto the stretcher, here I had to be slid on a banana board. I had on my day sling, which is a polyester sling that covers all my torso. This has straps which they could hold onto and pull. There were three people in the room, two ambulance crew and a nurse. Here I had confirmation I am not obese, they called just one more member of staff. A year ago, when I was transferred into the MRI machine, they called a total of 8 people! I must be half the size, mind you I have lost weight. The 4 of them transferred me easily. This involves lining the two beds up close and same height, slipping a board under me, pull across and take board away, simples, for me anyway.
I didn’t have long to wait for the doctor. She asked me some medical history questions and then started the test. She attached electrical contacts to parts of my body starting with my feet and asked me to say when I could feel a pulse, while recording the results on a computer. After I felt the first pulse several more followed. She repeated this at different points on my feet, lower and upper legs, arms and neck. At some points she warned me that I would feel a whole series of pulses in quick succession, at others that my arm or leg would jump, they did. If you have ever used a TENS machine or one of those electrical stimulation exercise machines, that’s what it feels like. I would not describe it as painful, as such. The pain for me came from two things, anticipation and memory. The other thing I noticed was that it was less painful than the test I had 12 years ago and that this time it included my legs, which previously it hadn’t. In that test 12 years ago, the doctor had spent a long time on my hands and arms. Testing each finger many times. This test was over more of my body, but less detailed per part. I suppose that’s because this is updating how things have progressed, at that point 12 years ago, I could still walk, a little, I could also stand.
The next part was an electromyogram, this was very specific in my case, looking for a rare but unlikely neurological condition. So, I only had the needle inserted in my head, above one eye. I think if you had the test, it more likely to be in other muscles. This part did hurt at times as the doctor kept moving the needle around as part of her test, it also took a long time. I was well ready for it to be over. While the test was ongoing, I could hear a continuous sound like rain on a metal roof. Every so often she said to the nurse “Now.” Obviously, a button was pressed, the sound stopped for a second then re-started.
It’s always frustrating after these kinds of tests that you don’t get immediate results. They write to your consultant, who contacts you. When it was over, we only had about 20 minutes before the same ambulance crew returned to collect us. But just before they arrived, I had a collapse which lasted part of the journey. So the only way I knew where I was in the journey out of the hospital was a combination of Mary telling me and the smell of fish near the exit.
In Wellington we had the High Street parade to look forward to. A repeat trip along the High Street, maybe I should wave, no wait I can’t, my arms are strapped to my chest. Then back up our alleyway and home. The end of an exhausting trip out.
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