Happy chats helped ease away the pain

The rather unfortunate (putting it mildly) illness that struck me down this summer and swallowed up most of August did have some spin-off benefits: I was able, for example, to gain a fresh, enlightening perspective on Norfolk's biggest hospital and its remarkable services.

The rather unfortunate (putting it mildly) illness that struck me down this summer and swallowed up most of August did have some spin-off benefits: I was able, for example, to gain a fresh, enlightening perspective on Norfolk's biggest hospital and its remarkable services.

Readers of last week's column will already be aware that I had to undergo emergency surgery just as we were about to embark on our long-awaited annual holiday in Brittany.

Buckets and spades were disappointingly unloaded from the Bullockmobile as I was instead whisked off for a few days in the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. A cancerous tumour was promptly removed, together with the embarrassing part of my anatomy in which the lump had stealthily grown.

I won't go into graphic detail again of the gentleman's malady that laid me low other than to say that I am now doing well and, to use strictly clinical terminology, am “only firing on one cylinder”. Enough said, folks.


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My experiences of the old city centre hospital were never particularly pleasant but it was at least geographically closer to Bullock Towers than the enormous, labyrinthine complex at Colney.

I once spent several chilly and distressing hours virtually abandoned on a trolley in the corridor of the A&E department, having been taken ill in the night, and vowed to steer well clear of all hospitals in future unless I was either clinically dead, in an irreversible coma or simply visiting another patient with some Lucozade and a Woman's Own.

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Not long after the new N&N opened, Julie was admitted for a painful appendectomy and I chose - perhaps overzealously - to vent my spleen in this very column about the hospital's perceived shortcomings.

Design-wise, I still find the 21st century complex deeply disappointing. As I remarked at the time, Norfolk had years to plan its new county hospital and yet managed to come up with a bland series of brick boxes interconnected by charmless communal areas.

Though I now formally apologise for my harsh suggestion that “N&N might stand for Nondescript & Nauseating”, I have never found much about its architecture - internally or externally - that is either warm or welcoming. The circular WRVS coffee shop is one welcome exception. The atmosphere in the atrium housing the main restaurant is particularly cold and unappealing, however, with vast areas of exposed brickwork creating all the ambience of a redundant power station.

Although Julie's post-operative care back in 2002 was far from impressive, I have no complaints about the excellent level of treatment I personally received last month from the N&N staff. Hoorah for the urology and oncology staff, and all the nursing team on Edgefield Ward!

I even experienced one or two little 'Trisha moments' when I suddenly felt quite a celebrity. “Excuse me, I heard your name being called in the waiting room,” one smiling lady told me as we waited for a lift. “Are you the Ian Bullock from the EDP?”

And having just regained consciousness after my operation, I mumbled to one of the recovery room nurses: “My name's Ian.” To which she replied, in a kindly, reassuring tone: “Yes, I know all about you and your family, Ian. I read your EDP column every Saturday.” Nice.

In our small, six-bedded men's section of Edgefield Ward, I was fortunate to wind up with a friendly bunch of fellow patients: chaps who chatted, lifted one another's spirits and provided gentle, unstinting camaraderie 24 hours a day.

Even after lights out, we'd continue our conversations well into the night like naughty dormitory schoolboys. What could have been a depressing urology ward instead became a warm social gathering, an often lively political debating chamber and a wonderfully therapeutic self-help group all rolled into one.

We'd each talk about our favourite places and fondest experiences, easing away much of the discomfort, fear and anxiety amid the monitors, needles, catheters, drips, tubes and bedpans.

Sipping a foaming pint of Adnams at Southwold, dropping crab lines from the end of Cromer Pier, angling at dawn on the misty Norfolk Broads, strolling across the handsome Lake District fells or Cornish cliffs, sailing off the East Anglian coast, running through the surf on Lowestoft beach - colourful postcards and snapshots from our lives sometimes seemed more powerful than a dose of pain-killers.

No, I certainly wouldn't want to go through it all again - but, for me at least, my close encounter with Norfolk's flagship hospital this summer has been a positive, fairly comfortable and, ultimately, lifesaving experience. And who could complain about that?

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