Life in ICU

or 'away with the fairies'  by Martin Graville


following my near fatal illness in July 2002 I was persuaded to write the following report of my stay in the intensive care unit of Lincoln County Hospital.  Whilst I was in what the doctors called 'stasis' very strange things happened, these seemed not mere dreams but much more like suspended reality. I met again friends and acquaintances who have been dead many years, I went to my own funeral as an observer and was transported back to Gainsborough in the 1940s, never actually physically there but always transported by floating bed. I can recommend it as a means of transport!!

Now, happily, almost recovered I look back on it with some alarm, much humour and the knowledge that, were it not for my family and friends and the skill of the doctors and nurses, I would probably have stayed permanently on the other side and then the following piece would not have been written.

The first thing you should understand is that the Intensive Care Unit at Lincoln County Hospital is situated, not at the hospital, but in a town, on an island, off the coast of Sweden. This is, as you might imagine, a tad inconvenient but there is a fleet of helicopters running a shuttle service, flying time around 10 minutes.

The town itself is a bit like a wild west shanty town, rather empty and run down, but this could just be because the Swedes are at war with someone and there is constant flying and shooting. The air space is often closed and this makes it difficult for the shuttle helicopters to operate making the service very hit and miss. There is also a constant battle with night-time sea-borne raiders who are very cut-throat and not to be trusted.

Never fear though, the method of travelling around couldn’t be easier; you just lie on your bed and float; down the street, through walls, up stairs, very comfortable!! The shops were English but the merchandise was very sparse, I also floated round a blacksmith’s shop which was derelict but apparently I needed some nails so where else to go?

The hospital itself, a largish, plain, two-story affair situated at the edge of town, was privately run and everyone seemed to be related to everybody else. The system was that as soon as you were admitted your family were expected to organize an auction in order to pay for your stay, so on the phones they all got, mother, wife, sons and cousins, contacting everyone they could think of for donations of goods to sell and, by heavens they did well with the pride of place being a Bentley motor-car, not new I admit, but in reasonable order, and donated by a local garage. This was expected to fetch a substantial amount. The whole affair was being videoed (camera donated) for posterity by my Mother, which, if you know my Mother, seems highly unlikely, but she couldn’t start filming until all the friends and relatives were there. People kept coming and going, however, so, many false starts later, nothing much was happening. Apart from family the only person I remember seeing was our revered Rector. Phillip was dressed like a latter day ‘Adge Cutler’ and had brought with him his version of the Worzels who were attempting to sing ‘drink up thee cider’ with very mixed results. More of Phillip later.

The auction must have taken place but I slept through it or at least I remember nothing about it until it was over and my sons & cousins were counting the proceeds, a little down on what was hoped and I never did find out how much the Bentley had fetched but it seems to have been bought by one of the doctors. I was very miffed because they were all enjoying themselves having a party and they wouldn’t even give me a drink of water, all they would say was that it was forbidden. That night there was a dance in ICU with a full dance band and lots of revelry, just the sort of thing you would have in ICU, very noisy.

Somewhere about this time, it could have been earlier or later, time wasn’t of the essence, I found myself in a village near Scarborough as a guest of Phillip at a cider drinking contest organized by a friend of his. Phillip was there, complete with straw in his hat, the life and soul of the place, and singing his heart out. Never did ‘drink up thee cider’ sound so….sung!! Although everybody but me consumed prodigious amounts of alcohol, I was the only one who was ill and all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep. I remember lying down outside the pub late at night wishing that everyone would just be quiet and let me sleep. We had no accommodation so had to get back home. This was a problem. Phillip turned his car over, twice. (I’m surprised he could even find it!!) John (senior son) went home to Wales thinking I had a lift and Paul (junior son) was on his motorcycle and I was not up to riding pillion, but somehow and very much later we must have succeeded as cider, but not Phillip in his drinking outfit, fade from the memory.

During my sojourn in ICU the year was somewhere in the fifties/sixties, and I met again many acquaintances of the period all gathered for a funeral…mine. I know it was mine as I attended my post mortem and inquest as well as the funeral, all as an interested observer as well as the corpse in question, very surreal. John Knight took the service but I wasn’t interred or cremated, perhaps because I wasn’t dead!!

One day the doctors decided I required a scan and so it was back into the helicopter and off to Scarborough Hospital. Quite why Scarborough features in my perambulations I don’t know but seemingly this was the only place the scan was available. The journey there was over in a flash but back to the island took an eternity battling storm force winds, ice and snow (well it was August!!) and my feet were cold. I couldn’t talk because of the plethora of tubes, so I tried to make myself understood by sign language that I wanted my slippers, my feet stayed cold and I had to do something about getting rid of the tubes in my mouth so I organized, as one does, a team of doctors to perform a tracheotomy. Now they wouldn’t take my word that this was the best way forward so there had to be a gathering of the family all of whom had to agree to the operation. By the time agreement was reached the team had run out of ‘operating hours’ so a fresh one had to be contacted and prepared. The operation was carried out peripatetically whilst ‘beating the bounds’ of the hospital grounds. This all seemed normal and although I still couldn’t speak it was progress of a sort.

The hospital at night was run by just one person who seemed to be the owner and, if it was his night off, he would explore the hills of Yorkshire  & remember we are on an island off Sweden, he would find a stand-in from whoever was available be it neighbour or friend. Strange things would happen whilst these stand-ins were in charge, one found an animal and brought it to the ward only to discover it was an unknown specie which had to be sent to the natural history museum and there were frequent and rather frightening incursions of wild creatures that would hide upstairs after being let in. Shadowy people would also appear and would wait while a taxi was organised so that they could be sent away. They would wait silently in the dark, hiding and saying nothing and eventually would be whisked away never to be talked about or seen again, were they people from the ‘here’ moving to the ‘hereafter’ it’s certainly possible.

Although I could sleep during the day, sleep at night was a problem as the hospital was on the edge of a prison quarry and all night long (but not during the day) the prisoners were hacking and crushing stone and lorries were transporting it away. The noise was indescribable and it was impossible to rest, I was told that it was the air conditioning system but that was plainly ridiculous as it was far too loud and anyway if you looked out of the window you could see the prisoners. Gradually though other people’s ‘real’ world superimposed itself on my version of it and an equilibrium was established.

Did all this happen? Do pigs fly? All I can say is that it seemed very real at the time and who am I to disbelieve, after all, I was away with the fairies!!