Bottom pic donated by my daughter
The Well of St Non (the saintly mother of St David) is easily accessible. Its water is quite pleasant to drink, but it offers no cure for a collapsed lung.
Nurses are a saintly breed but they can talk about the most inappropriate topics. The one who trolleyed me out to the operating theatre talked about food. As he conveyed me through corridors and elevators, he told me how his son was a gifted Chef. He told me some of his favourite recipes, and how to cook the perfect curry and an even more perfect Onion Bhaji.
This was to someone who had just fasted twenty four hours. The anaestheticist told me afterwards, he’d had some trouble inserting an oxygen tube from oesophagus to lung. I’m not surprised. It would have been struggling against a ravenous tide of expectant saliva.
Illness is a great leveler and nursing is a vocation. There have been horror stories in the press about malfunctioning hospitals, and I’m sure all of them are true. But when you see a good hospital in action it is an eye-opener. The patience and just pure human kindness is something you never forget. Over a short period of time I shared a ward with, amongst others, a drug addict, a simple-minded man with a beautiful soul, and another severely incontinent who had to be cleaned every few hours – all of them treated with humour and grace.
The first night after the operation I had a nurse who checked me on the hour. Just as well. Wires have a life of their own - especially those attached to the body. Anaesthetics also have unexpected effects. When I stood to urinate two things happened and one thing didn’t. Wires entangled me like mischievous snakes, becoming more creatively entwined the more I struggled. And the machine went berserk, beeping and flashing in various shades of red. This was because my heart hadn’t been warned and it rose from 92 to 160 and I staggered. Everything was working then, except my bladder, which slept through it all and refused to cooperate. The nurse systematically untangled me and my heart rate returned to normal the moment I lay down.
She was an excellent nurse, with a small tattoo on her neck. The machine had no tattoo but was malevolent. It had but one purpose, to punish not just me but the entire ward if I didn’t breathe deeply enough. I spent the night taking deep breaths, eyes fixed on a numerical display that couldn’t be allowed to fall to 8 or below.
It was like being attached to a video game 16 – 14 – 10 – 8 BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! I appreciated the sense of it. Lungs have to work hard after a pleurectomy. But some sleep would have been nice.
And the most perverse thing of all?
I learnt that when you’re told you can’t do something that you have never wanted to do – you suddenly wish that you could. I now wallow in melancholy because I will never be able to scuba dive or experience the joy of hard physical sport. This is weird and irrational. I blame it on the Tramadol.
And one thing to share: Pembrokeshire is a well kept secret - and I've just blown it.
St Nons is on the coastal path that will take you from one end of Wales to another.