In which we learn that ‘observation’ should involve observing the patient

I said that, through the time in hospital, I was getting worse.  If you had watched me, you would have seen me trying to avoid noise and lights and movement.  There were two noisy patients in the ward, and there were machines, and I would get out of bed and go into the visiting area.  If there were people there, I might sit hunched up in the corridor. A nurse would come and tell me to go back to bed, and I’d curl up and stay put, so she’d shrug and walk off.

You would have seen me walk slowly to the bathroom, start washing and slow down until I stopped and got ‘stuck’.  If a nurse came and found me, she would tell me something and I wouldn’t respond, so she’d speak louder and even shout at me and I’d still not respond.

You would have seen me trying to eat, but in slow motion, and slowing down until I could hardly chew.  After about a week, you would have seen me jumping at any sudden noise – like the nurse shaking out a bed sheet.

There were new nurses all the time, and no shift seemed to pass on to the next what my problems were, so each lot came and told me off for eating too slowly, or shouted at me when I got ‘stuck’, and I tried to tell each one that that was just making me worse.  My husband asked them if they could find me a quieter place, but the tests were negative, which meant that there was nothing wrong with me, so I didn’t merit a quieter room.

The consultant never saw me until the day before I was discharged.  He sent his junior, who came once a day for a few minutes. When the consultant did see me, he looked at my test results and saw that they were all negative, and then took me into the corridor and asked me to walk. I did so – very slowly.  He told me to walk faster.  I picked up a foot and ‘froze’.  So he grabbed my hand and dragged me up and down the corridor.  ‘There you are,’ he said. ‘You can do it.  There’s nothing really wrong. You’ll be fine.  In a few months, all this will seem like a dream.’ And off he went.  When David came to see me a couple of hours later, he found me in a kind of daze – slower than ever, and hardly able to talk to him.

I don’t think that anyone was interested in observing the pattern of my behavior. . . . except for one very nice doctor who came and sat on my bed and talked to my husband and watched very carefully while I was trying to eat my lunch.  She asked David the right question, ‘Has Ida ever had a head injury before?’  But she suddenly realized that I was not one of her patients, and she left and I never saw her again.

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