Lee Foxall was told last June that he needed a heart operation to replace an aortic valve and an artery that could burst at any moment. He was notified that he was a priority. Eight months later, he was still waiting. In January, after a number of serious medical incidents, he was finally admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. But there his wait continued. With Covid patients taking up intensive care beds, his operation kept getting cancelled.
Here he talks about how he coped with the uncertainty and loneliness, and why, as someone who’s experienced homelessness, he’s so relieved to have his own flat waiting for him when he gets out. As told to Giselle Green.
I’ve been here in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for almost a whole month now, waiting for heart surgery. I’ve had it cancelled three times in three weeks. The first time it was understandable. When it happened again and then again, it was a terrible disappointment. I had got myself so prepared the night before, you do your nil by mouth, no water and no food after a certain time. You get yourself shaved for surgery. You’re woken up early to get washed. So from like six o’clock you’re ready, you’re just lying there waiting. Mentally prepared. I listen to some music on my earphones and get totally relaxed. About half eight the sister came in and said she still wasn’t sure they could get a bed for me in intensive care. She said we would know in a bit. She came back within about 40 minutes. And I just knew by the look on her face, she was going to give me bad news. And she did. She just said it’s been cancelled. The surgeons and team came up in the evening and apologised. And they said it won’t be this week now. I’m not even going to think about it now and not until I wake up in recovery, because there have been times where people have been took down to the operating theatre and it’s actually been cancelled right at the very last minute.
My heart operation was cancelled 3 times in 3 weeks because there were no intensive care beds
There are people in here that have been in longer than me. One chap, he went home two days ago, he’d waited over 10 weeks for his heart operation after it had been cancelled quite a few times. There was another chap and he’d been waiting five weeks. But it seems to be the norm at the moment.
It’s all down to Covid patients filling intensive care beds. I think people who are going out should just should stop and think about the effects that it’s having on everything else. People should stop and think about all this partying that’s going on. The next thing you know, somebody’s got Covid and they end up in intensive care. They are taking up beds that are urgently required for other major surgery. I’m the proof of that.
There’s such a backlog now that this is just going to go on and on and on for quite a while now And obviously there’s so many people out there that have got more major surgery required than myself. I just feel for them.
And one of the hardest things is having no visitors. Total isolation. I’m in a room on my own at the moment so I’ve got no one to talk to. The nurses and doctors come in and do their observations. And you have a bit of a chat, a bit of a banter. But I don’t think they’ve got the time. Everybody’s been lovely. But they’re very busy. The NHS is so under pressure, they’re run off their feet, you can see that. And I take my hat off to everybody in the hospital. Praise to the NHS.
As we’re not allowed to have visitors, I’m lucky enough to have my phone. I would’ve found it so much harder if I hadn’t been able to talk to anyone outside. I’ve also got my tablet so I’ve managed to get onto zoom with Groundswell and Crisis as well. I’ve had some good messages and it’s good seeing these people. They are a blessing to me. I don’t know what I’d do without that.. It would be a case of just sitting here waiting, You’re not allowed to go out of the building. Just sitting here waiting. Total boredom.
The thing I’m most looking forward to when I get home is my own bed! I must admit, the beds here are ok but they’re not the comfortablest are they? And a change of scenery and being secure back in your own place. I think once I get back home, I’ll be, ‘Ok it’s done now, it’s just a case of onwards and upward, get on with my recovery.’ Hopefully, we’ll have a nice summer so I’ll be able to sit in the garden.
For someone who’s been homeless themselves, it’s a big thing being able to go home. I’ve been street homeless and through hostels and everything, I’ve done the journey. But to actually say you’re going home and knowing I’ve got the key in my pocket, it’s a relief. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for somebody who is homeless, they’ve got that feeling that they’re going back to a hostel. My heart goes out to them. I know that I am actually going to what I call home. It is such a relief.
POSTSCRIPT: After sharing his story, Lee’s heart operation finally went ahead. He’s now at home, recovering.
More about Lee:
Lee has spent 30 years working in social services and health care, including supporting adults and children with learning difficulties. He has been street homeless and lived in hostels but now rents his own flat in the Black Country. He has volunteered and done ambassadorial work with charities including Crisis and Groundswell
Lee is one of 12 people who joined the Pavement magazine solutions journalism training course from Dec 2020-Feb 2021, funded by European Journalism Centre. The Pavement is a free bimonthly magazine for people in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh who are homeless or insecurely housed. www.thepavement.org.uk