Opinion with Christine Tongue: Countdown to cut off

Christine Tongue

On May 31st I have my left leg cut off!

And put back on again with a brand new custom built hip joint in place. That’s the plan (eek!) But you have to be prepared for everything — increased mobility, decreased pain or decreased mobility and increased pain. Anything can happen — including stroke, total  joint  failure or, at worst, demise! It’s all risky as you get older and the complications increase. So I’ll say now thanks for reading my columns and making such helpful comments all the time. Check them out!

There’s a lot to take your mind off it as the date grows  nearer. Lots of tests and checks that your house is sufficiently adapted and your stupid stairs don’t undo the surgeon’s careful work etc etc.

But in hospital for the preliminaries you really feel a need to behave yourself. I turn into an utter sycophant with everyone — oh yes please take an armful of blood, ram swabs up my nose and put stickers all over me and no, I don’t mind registering with no heartbeat, must be my fault, not your machine. Sorry forgot to switch the old ticker on this morning…

Most nurses are experienced in these nerves and physios are even better. I never met a gloomy physio in my life. The ones I saw last week were full of enthusiasm about the wonderful things I’d be able to do after the op. I don’t think I heard marathons being mentioned but I got the impression it might  not be out of the question. I’ll be grateful to be able to climb a few steps and stand on my left leg without falling over — and not die just yet!

But for all the optimism of the fantastic NHS staff, one of my biggest worries is just getting there and back safely and without increasing my blood pressure!

It all has to be done way up in north London, a hospital so difficult to get to that patient transport is the only way of reaching it if your legs are dodgy. And in a specialist orthopaedic hospital most patients have dodgy limbs.

So I’ve now had several journeys with the free transport on offer. In the old days the NHS had their own transport but now it’s all “outsourced” to a big business private taxi service.

The drivers have all turned up on time and got me there but the experience has varied tremendously. It’s a long way from Broadstairs to the hospital and the opportunities for hold ups are endless. And no toilets on offer on the way! I’d booked a wheelchair for my first appointment and when I arrived — dying for the loo — I told the security man booking me in “ I really need a wee…” I meant to finish with “wheelchair” but he saw my face and scurried me to the loo. If you’re disabled you have to be prepared for constant embarrassment.

I’ve met a real mix of drivers. One was the proud owner of a car so posh you sank into cream leather upholstery, and chatted about life in retirement after being a stockbroker.

One vehicle was labelled ambulance — good for rushing through traffic, but so high I had to stand on my veg box to reach the seat.

Other drivers have been so car proud you had to sit on a plastic sheet and were not allowed to eat your sandwiches! You leave home at 9am, get back at 5pm. No catering in hospital outpatients and you have to gulp down the snack you brought from home between seeing the consultant and getting a porter to take your wheelchair to the loo.

The worst for me was the guy who insisted on putting my crutches in the boot. Separate a disabled person from their mobility devices and panic ensues. But you’re in their hands. If you break down or your driver has a heart attack, you’d have to crawl out! An extreme case I know but why make patients insecure in any way?

You have to remember they’re not paramedics. They’re people with a range of abilities and opinions. Conversation keeps them awake but here’s a piece of advice.

If your driver is praising Donald Trump and Putin for being strong men, remember you can’t get out in disgust — you’re in the Dartford tunnel, your sticks are in the boot and your legs don’t work. Just say: “that’s an interesting view” and go to sleep.

With any luck you’ll dream of an NHS that doesn’t use private services — and that we have good local hospitals able to do this hi-tech specialist stuff without lugging patients hundreds of miles with no sandwiches.

Christine Tongue is a member of disability campaign group Access Thanet