September 3, 2018

5.30 am: I awoke and readied myself. The last time I visited Neath Port Talbot Hospital, on October 16, 2017, Storm Ophelia was battering Ireland and the western seaboard of Wales. (There is no diary entry for that day, oddly):

I recall taking the train from Aberystwyth to mid wales, and being followed by a cloud of dusty amber light. The landscape and sky took on the complexion of a mellow apocalypse. Today, there was only driving rain.

I arrived at the hospital at 9.10 am. The building’s interior looked like the type of shopping mall that you experience between airport security and the flight gates:

The care nurse dealt with me promptly and thoroughly. By 9.30 am, I was in the waitingroom biding my time until my call to the ward. My case was fifth on the list of operations. Currently, the surgeon is performing the second of the day. I’m hoping that the procedure, the second on my left little finger, will finally right the problem. This condition is genetic and skips a generation. Likely or not, one of my grandparents had it, and one of my children’s children will get it. It’s a frustrating, but not a life-threatening, illness. I’ve much for which to be grateful. I was glad to be in South Wales again, among reassuringly motherly accents: ‘How are you my love?’ I was surrounded by patients with complaints that weren’t visible. A few appeared to be wearing their partner’s/spouse’s dressing gown. A TV game show bleated-on mindlessly, just out of view. Me, I was googling surgical procedures for a fasciectomy. ‘Yikes!’ The room was soporifically warm:

I met, first, the anaesthetist, who explained the various options with regard to nerve blocks, general anaesthetic, morphine, and their combos. There’re always potential dangers. Both of us were keen to minimise the risk to muscle movement and nerve response after the operation – particularly in view of my ambition to remain a guitar player. And post-op pain management was a serious business too.

I noticed the scar on my knee, which was caused when my penknife slipped while I was whittling at the age of ten years old:

A doctor of no fixed role talked me through the ‘disclaimer’ form at 1.00 pm. The surgeon confirmed my routine, with helpful explanations, fifteen minutes later. By 1.45 pm, I was on my back counting down from 5 to 1, breathing in and out on every count. I got to 3 and … .

3.15 pm: ‘How are you feeling?’, an ‘angel’ asked. I was in a different place, at what seemed like a moment later. (Is this what death will be like?) Once the discharge nurse was convinced that I’d got my head around the pain-killing regime, I was let out into the world. The staff had been, to a woman and a man, polite, reassuring, efficient, and, above all, professional. My hand had been in good hands. All praise to the NHS.

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