… And so do all of the nurses, healthcare assistants, anaesthetists, cleaners, recovery nurses, porters, support staff and junior doctors who may have just saved my life this month.
CN: Mentions of surgery, bodily fluids, hospitals
Despite the ravishing shot of my sexy hospital ensemble, complete with flip-flops and support stockings, this is not going to be a glamorous post. In fact, it is going to be quite embarrassing for me in places, but as our public sector employees continue working into a seven year pay freeze, I wanted to write about my recent trip to The York Hospital and the incredible care I received whilst I was there.
I had a tummy ache and felt bloated. I hadn’t opened my bowels for a few days so assumed this was the result of constipation and began drinking fruit juice and eating high fiber cereal. Two more days passed with no success in the bathroom and I was in increasing pain and discomfort. By the early hours of saturday morning the pain had become unbearable and I decided to ring 111 – I was simply too embarrassed to call an ambulance for constipation!
111 kindly arranged an out of hours GP appointment for me later that day at the hospital and I turned up expecting to be given a prescription for some laxatives and sent home. This was not to be. Initial observations showed a feverishly high temperature of 39.7oC and a tachycardic resting heart beat of 135bpm! I was swiftly admitted to the hospital and sent up to a ward to await further tests and information. Canular in, bloods taken, antibiotics given and huge amounts of IV fluid administered before being sent for a CT scan and told that I would be staying overnight.
And what a night it was! Suffice to say, after all of the fluid which had been pumped into me, I wasn’t constipated anymore! I have never experienced diarrhea like it. Everytime I moved even the slightest it came, and it was grim. Having not expected to be admitted to the hospital I had no change of clothes (or more importantly underwear!), and by Sunday morning I was sat in a pile of my own blood, sweat, tears and worse, feeling disgusting and utterly exhausted.
The doctor came round first thing and explained that I had a kidney stone which was causing a blockage resulting in an infection in my kidney and sepsis. I would need an operation later that day to place a drain in the kidney and would have to return as an outpatient to have the stone treated and the drain removed.
When I thought that at least things couldn’t get any worse, the nurse broke the news to me that as I was having ‘loose stools’ (an understatement if ever there was), and my fever and blood tests were indicative of infection, I was to be consigned to my room and no longer allowed to use the communal bathroom on the ward. She wheeled in the commode and I felt my heart sink. The rest of the day was spent wrestling with said commode and a selection of incontinence products none of which were designed to accommodate a person of my size. Every 5 – 10 minutes I would have to press the button to call for a nurse to come and collect the latest outputs and periodically change my bed sheets when I had been unable to make the 2 foot journey to the commode in time. Despite feeling more embarrassed and alone than I can ever remember, I couldn’t help but be in awe of each and every nurse and health care worker who came in to my room smiling and chatty and completely unphased by the clean up job required.
At 7pm I was wheeled down to theatre where I was met by a jolly anesthetist and her team who talked me through the next steps and checked for the 3rd time since I’d been admitted that I was not pregnant (an immaculate conception that would have been!). The next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room. Memory of the moments after coming round are vague but I know I was very confused, distressed and in pain. I am also pretty sure I wet myself in front of a room full of people as I hazily recall being moved around and cleaned up. Mortifying, but not apparently unusual following surgery on one’s bladder and kidney.
As I came round properly in the recovery room I was again struck by the incredible kindness, patience and professionalism of the people looking after me. I had soon struck up a lively conversation with a Polish nurse about the Brexit shitshow and European politics in general and was touched by his ability to look me in the eye and talk to me as an intelligent capable human being, when I knew, that not 30 minutes earlier, he had been cleaning up the mess I had made following the surgery.
I simply don’t know how these people do what they do. Long, antisocial hours, demanding patients, hard and unpleasant work, and all for a salary which has fallen in real terms every year since 2010. That they do it with a smile on their faces, a sense of humour and with unflinching tenderness, absolutely astounds me.
What was clear however, after spending 4 days in hospital, was, that despite the best efforts, grit and determination of all of the staff I encountered, the NHS is at breaking point. Snippets of conversations overheard revealed a serious lack of resources, wards closed and beds unavailable. Following my own surgery I ended up being kept on the recovery ward for four hours longer than necessary as my bed had been given away and a new one could not be found. Even once a bed had been allocated the wait was on for a porter to be free to come and move me. One of the recovery nurses even told me that they were now technically in breach because there were too many patients in the recovery bay for the number of available nurses.
It was simply heartbreaking to see the people caring for me making call after call to try and find me a bed all whilst carrying out their clinical duties and apologising to me profusely- as if they were somehow responsible for the lack of beds.
I ended up returning to hospital this week as a bout of cramping in my kidney again became unbearable. This time I went through A&E. I was given a trolly in A&E pretty quickly but as I needed to see a specialist urologist rather than an A&E doctor I waited ten and half hours before one became available to come and see me. More waiting for an X-ray and a bed, I was finally moved onto the urology ward at 03:30 in the morning.
I want it to be clear that this is not a criticism of the NHS or the incredible people who work so hard to keep it running. I am so grateful for the care that I received and can’t even begin to imagine having to confront a situation where being discharged from hospital might be followed by a huge pile of medical bills I would never be able to pay. My criticism is of a government that refuses to fund the NHS properly. A government that has denied some of the hardest working people in this country a pay rise for 7 years. A government that harps on about tightening our belts and cutting red tape whilst binging our most valuable national asset to its knees.
The NHS keeps on going. It does not turn people away and it does not charge for its services. As things get harder and harder for public sector workers I want to make it clear that their work does not go unnoticed and that we will keep fighting for a better deal for the people who are always there when we need them most.
My recent encounters however, have made me acutely aware of the fact that the NHS simply cannot keep on keeping on for much longer. We cannot continue taking it for granted that more cuts can be made and that people will stay in thankless jobs that leave them knocking on the doors of foodbanks when their salary no longer covers the cost of living. We cannot hope to recruit a bright new generation of public sector workers to keep filling the gaps in care when an NHS job no longer offers security and a decent living.
The system is at breaking point. We are yet to see what Brexit will mean for NHS staff retention and recruitment. There are not enough beds. Not enough doctors and nurses, and not enough support staff to keep the things ticking over indefinitely. I for one, do not want to be in need of urgent medical care when it finally collapses.