Ninth Floor Haematology and Oncology ward, one of two lead lined rooms. My first view of it was when I woke up after the anaesthetic from the morning, it was about 4.30 and I had gone into theatre at 8 for a half hour procedure. Somehow I had lost a day!
I had no chance to inspect the room as I was already in the bed I was to occupy for the next 70 hours, plumbed in, hooked up, flat on my back. Somehow my things that I had left in another room, another building were there, conveniently out of reach. The room was painted in that greyish off white that they must deliver to hospitals by the tanker load. Is it meant to calm patients or just depress them? On the far side of the room, where another bed could have gone, was a picture, something in pale pastel, with reflecting glass in front of it, so that in daytime or at night I never did find out what it was meant to be - there was pink in it, that is all I knew. The curtains were not regulation; clearly the hospital decorating committee had not been consulted! Bright red and blue print that covered the floor to ceiling windows the full width of the wall about a metre and a half from my bed. If I turned my head to one side I could see through a small gap between buildings the sky, the sea and down to the playing fields of the private school that, in spite of watering restrictions seemed to have sprinklers going most of the time. My only view.
At the end of the bed, plumbed into the ceiling was a black and white television, surely a relic of an ancient past. If I lifted my head slightly, I could see the screen and listen through the tinny control set that I found inconveniently under my pillow. In the morning the OT came in and suspended a large coat hangar above my chest and told me it was a monkey bar to help me moved about the bed. It blocked off two thirds of the TV screen and I was not meant to move about the bed anyway. So I resigned myself to being sensory deprived for the next three days and nights in a bland room with a bland picture, no TV, no human sound filtering in, but at least through that crack between the buildings I could see ships at sea.
That night I discovered Charlie. Charlie was in the other lead lined room next to mine. Charlie must have been asleep, drugged, zonked or something when I was moved in and came to my senses. Charlie was a haemophiliac and had had a bleed. He was demented. About 9 pm he started - Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, on and on it went al night and all the next day. Every few hours there would be another person in the room - “Is it night or day Charlie?”, “How many fingers am I holding up Charlie?”, “What time is it Charlie?”. I was not getting any sleep as the machine did it’s thing everyhour and the gentle night nurse would bring me cups of tea and rub my back.
The next night they moved Charlie to another section of the ward and it was quiet, except when the machine did its tarantella and the night nurse whispered. But, Charlie came back in the daytime, the calls were a bit less strident, but the fingers and time demands continued. Gradually his dementia lessened and he became calmer and quieter.
The next morning the resident came to check up on me. Time for intimate examinations, so to ensure my privacy the curtains were drawn. Just in case someone had scaled the building to the ninth floor and was looking in!
At the end of the examination the curtains were left closed - the ultimate sensory deprivation . I almost longed for Charlie!
The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears, or the sea. Isak Dinesen
Cancer Council NSW would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work.We would also like to pay respect to elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people.