It began with a call to 111, the NHS helpline. After a night of unremitting stomach pains, I decided I couldn’t wait until the GP surgery opened at 8am so at 5.30am I was relating my symptoms in a phone call. The polite male voice asked me a series of questions which concluded with advice to seek medical help within two hours from the Urgent Care Centre at Russells Hall Hospital. I expected this though I didn’t welcome a visit to A&E knowing how long these visits can take only to be directed back to the GP.
This time it was different. By the time I arrived at A&E with my trusty husband/carer/chauffeur I was in a great deal of pain. Thankfully It was almost empty, and I was ushered through to a cubicle. Relief eventually came in the form of strong pain relief administered intravenously, blood taken for testing and blood pressure monitored. Oh, and oxygen administered because my saturation was a bit low and temperature taken. It was busy, the staff on duty were constantly occupied and I faced yet again the reality of how dependent our NHS is on staff from overseas coming to work here.
There was also courtesy. It was humbling to be treated with such courtesy. It was humbling to see that I was in the hands of people who wanted me to get well. Time in an A&E department seems to function differently to ‘outside time.’ From my morphine induced haze I heard someone casually reply to a request for the time, ‘it’s 10.20am.’ Ten-twenty? I was sure it was at least 3pm.
I had expected that my visit to hospital would end with receiving good pain relief and advice to visit my GP later that day, the medical staff had other ideas. I was referred to the surgical unit thanks to finding a scan that was taken two years ago, on my medical records. To my surprise a porter came with a wheelchair to take me to the surgical unit, I had expected to walk, perhaps I was worse than I thought? More doctors, nurses and health care assistants, many of them with origins far from these shores. More blood taken, ECGs, examinations, blood pressure checks and a consultant who was curious to know why I hadn’t followed through with a procedure when I had the scan two years earlier. My GPs words came back to me ‘It’s good to resist the surgeon’s knife for as long as possible’. This advice given at the time because everything had calmed, and I was symptom free. I replied simply ‘My GP was cautious.’
Yes, it was busy, yes sometimes it seemed chaotic and no there were no beds. One doctor wanted to keep me overnight and I was escorted to the ‘Fit to Sit’ ward. This is a ward where you have a reclining armchair and they can administer all the medical care you need, it’s a kind of halfway house where you wait for a proper bed. I was promised that there would be a bed eventually, but by 9.30pm I realised I didn’t want to spend the night in an armchair when I had a perfectly good bed just a few minutes’ drive away. So, with permission to leave and promising to return the next morning I left with my pain medication.
What have I learned?
The vocation to heal is a high calling, and I saw close at hand how all these people were working to make me better. They are not rewarded nearly well enough for their skill and dedication.
The under-resourcing and bed shortage in the NHS is a disgrace and the people who it distresses the most are the staff. I overheard one nurse saying this; ‘it is such a stressful shift with no spare beds anywhere in the hospital’.
How fortunate I was to have a partner who was able to take me to hospital and stay with me, then take me home, something I take for granted far too easily.
How blessed we are to have the services of such a medical facility that we can access without having to think for a moment of how we are going to be able to pay for it.
How human it all is. It’s always fun when I answer the question, ‘So what do you do for work?’ with ‘I’m a vicar.’ There is always the moment when the unspoken thought ‘I wasn’t expecting that’ emerges into consciousness.
Then there was the woman who brought round dinner, dispensing a good enough selection of meals (I enjoyed the fish pie) then asking if I wanted Bakewell tart. I had already been warned off by the doctor to avoid anything fried, so I said, ‘I think I probably ought to have some fruit.’ She gave me a banana, two apples and a satsuma. When I protested, she said, ‘you might get hungry in the night.’ I was moved by the healing properties of those kind and thoughtful words.
And thank goodness they have not yet received the memo with the NHS directive about calling patients by their proper names – who wants to be called Mrs Hoist rather than ‘Bab’? Yes, the name is Host and they almost always get that wrong.
Here’s a prayer that I will try and pray more often from now on:
Healer of nations,
you provide insight to all who seek you, and defend those in need.
Thank you for the gift of health services in our nation,
freely available to everyone no matter their background, income level or need.
Give your wisdom to our government, health professionals, and advisers as they seek the right reforms.
Bless our health service to thrive, to prosper, and to heal.
Bless our doctors and nurses to care, to excel and to bring healing.
Bless our nation to understand, thank, and honour those who seek to bring us health.
For everything that is good comes from you. Amen.