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The Nurse and the Cannula

Amanda Thorpe


Recently I was admitted to hospital, for 10 days, with cellulitis in my right hand that gave me a very high temperature making the hand red, swollen and very painful, so much so that I instinctively brought the other hand up, like a left hook, to guard it when a doctor tried to examine it.


On my first day I was not to eat in case I went to theatre and secretly I hoped for this, I imagined the pus oozing out of my hand, it resuming normal size and the pain ending. Eventually the doctors burst my bubble, they would not operate fearing my hand would not heal because of the scleroderma. I asked they consider cutting it off instead.


During the early hours of my first night two things happened simultaneously, they were the convergence of two elements making for a perfect storm, overwhelming and wretched. Firstly came Nurse, taking 90 minutes to provide pain relief, available in simple tablet form, which could have been administered in 10 minutes as there were no buzzers ringing, no admissions no nothing. Where Nurse wandered off to only she knows, what I know is that during her absence my pain raged and I toyed madly with the idea of ringing the buzzer again, for the same thing, at such a late hour! Dare I be that belligerent, declare myself a difficult patient on my first night? I looked at the clock every few minutes, straining to hear

footsteps coming my way and found myself ever so politely grateful when they finally did.


Then came my family’s personal favourite, Cannula Cowboy who burst into my cubicle shortly after the episode with Nurse, announcing “Cannulas are not contraindicated in scleroderma”. I suspected he thought himself so good he could get a cannula into the hide of a rhinoceros without breaking a sweat. I just stared at him, blinking for a time and then explained that it was common knowledge people with scleroderma were difficult subjects for cannulation, blood draws, anything involving needles. Oblivious he proceeded to try his luck and jabbed a needle into the crease of my arm, where you would normally find a vein in a person without scleroderma, but all he got for his troubles was a gush of blood all over my bed covers. Undaunted he turned to my hand, afflicted with sclerodactyly and covered in hard skin, asking why it had not been used. What’s the word, incredulity?


You see I had been told the existing cannula was in too small a vein and wasn't letting enough antibiotics in hence trying to find a bigger one. To me, in excruciating pain, more antibiotics meant less infection and quicker relief. He could have cannulated my eyeball for all I cared at that time, I actually shouted out for him to come back and try my hand having initially declined his suggestion. Try it he did, my right leg shot up in the air and we both watched as the needle, although piercing the skin, failed to advance any further. Cannula Cowboy then rode off into the night on the horse with plenty shame knowing that cannulas are, as a point of medical fact, contraindicated in scleroderma.


Shortly after an anaesthetist arrived with an ultra sound machine and the determination to find a vein because it was in my best interest to do so.She initially pierced the skin which is not on any planet or in any language a “sharp scratch” and began moving the needle around to catch a vein. This was painless and fascinating as I could see it all on screen like an old black and white video game, the veins were small holes that bobbed up and down against a background I can only describe as looking like a piece of liver. Very quickly she speared one enabling the antibiotics to literally course through my vein which I hoped would lessen the pain. Pain that was threatening to reduce me to a pile of emotional rubble but that’s another story.


As a poorly patient I was vulnerable and unable to fend off Cannula Cowboy or indeed give him the really good kick in the britches he so richly deserved. Not the type to learn from an experience in which he clearly embarrassed himself, that Teflon ego allowing it all to slip off, nothing but nothing lowers that grandiose self assurance. As for the Nurse, if you lit a fire under her britches the coroner would be declaring identification by dental records before she moved at a pace.


Although difficult and unpleasant I wanted to share my experience of "Nurse and the Cannula” in order to allow them redemptive merit, in literary terms, at least.


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