Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The horror, the horror

It all began with a bit of a cough on Friday morning, but by evening Theo was running a temperature and was definitely Not Well. Although he wasn't exactly burning up and dripping with sweat, he was definitely a few degrees warmer than was healthy and when his fever still hadn't come down by Sunday, we decided to seek medical help.

As we're not yet registered with a doctor in Madrid and it was a Sunday, the most sensible thing to do was head for a hospital, which we duly did. Theo was feeling too ill to cope with the Metro (which can be a trial even to those in perfect health) so we took a taxi.

The receptionist was quite nice and tried out a few words of her limited English, once she'd established our nationality. We were told to wait until called, which we did on the ranks of hard plastic chairs with several other mainly elderly patients and one youngish man, whose fever was clearly more advanced than Theo's and was likewise accompanied by an anxious wife.

We were soon summoned to another desk where Theo's blood pressure was checked and we were sent to another waiting room, this one with more comfortable (if somewhat worn and threadbare) chairs.

Next we were called into a consulting room, where Theo's temperature was taken and his symptoms outlined in Spanglish to three youngish, friendly, female medics. They had a relaxed air about them and were enjoying a lively discussion about another diagnosis, while making sure Theo stuck the thermometer under his arm rather than his tongue and establishing that his temperature was indeed a couple of degrees higher than normal.

So far, it was all reasonably laid-back and even entertaining at times - a far cry from the clockwork efficiency of the Luxembourg hospital which had treated my kidney infection last summer, but organised and thorough in a Spanish sort of way.

But for Theo, events tipped into nightmare mode when the three companionable doctors decided he should have a blood test.

Theo doesn't have too many chinks in his armour, but hypodermic needles can pierce through even his legendary self-assurance. His expression changed to one of nervous discomfort. We returned to the waiting room, where it was clear the staff were going to take his blood in full view of all the other patients and their carers.

Any remaining shreds of calm disappeared when Theo realised with dawning horror that they were not only going to take some blood, but hook him up to a drip. It was then that I realised he has a proper phobia of needles. Any attempt at self-possession in front of the rapt spectators went out the window and he dissolved into wide-eyed panic mode.

It was clear the staff, though sympathetic, were not going to take any notice of Theo's plaintive cries of, "nonononono..." I got sent out of the room for my own good, they reclined him flat in his chair and the drip was firmly hooked into his vein.

Poor Theo. I did my best to keep him occupied by talking to him about any nonsense I could think of, but it was clear it was costing him a huge effort to retain any semblance of calm.

The nightmare got worse as he was led to X-ray, wheeling the dreaded drip in front of him - wheelchairs and beds thundering past doing nothing to ease the torturous journey. When we made it the 8 yards across the corridor, he then had to remove his shirt and jumper - which is not a straightforward matter when hooked up to a drip, I can tell you.

Chest X-ray completed, we gingerly made the return journey to the waiting room, where the vaguely insane antics of mad old Jose - clearly a hospital regular - were distracting the other patients from Theo's plight.

Theo's hopes were raised when the drip finally ran out and we flagged down the next available nurse to take it out. This she did, but left the needle protruding from Theo's vein. He was almost beside himself. The nurse was very sweet, but told him he would have to keep the needle attached in case another drip was needed. Theo looked like he couldn't believe things could get any worse and was on the point of turning into Basil Fawlty about the whole thing, when redemption came in the shape of another green-clad medic. She told us the blood test and x-ray had shown nothing unusual and Theo should return home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. He had a touch of the 'flu - not man-'flu, real 'flu - but nothing more sinister than that.

The relief of having the hypodermic removed and being able to escape the Horror House of Huge Needles was enough to make Theo feel a bit better straight away. His face, previously shades of white, grey and green, gained a little colour. The saline drip had sorted out the dehydration caused by his fever and his headachey, nauseous feelings had gone. He even recovered sufficently to take a light stroll in the park. Under the warm Spanish sun, the previous three hours seemed like little more than a bad dream.

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