drugs · health · IBS · NHS

I saw the NHS crumbling around me

This is one of my accounts of being in and out of hospital last year:


Two years after his injury at work, for the first time, we were able to take day-trip with my partner last Saturday. Caught up in the British heat-wave frenzy, we headed to South End, chasing our childhood summers. He wanted to throw pebbles at the green flags on the beach and I wanted a picnic in the grassy hills overlooking the beach. 

Soon after we finished eating, I got a migraine.  I soldiered on not wanting to ruin the day and completed the long walk to the end of the pier. By the end of the walk, I could barely stand and had to talk in small bursts between waves of abdominal pain. We took the train back to the beach and before long, I was sick and in agony. By the time we got home I couldn’t contain the groans and screams of pain and by morning I was in A&E.

Because of his injury, my partner had to go back home to bed to deal with his own pain.  I was there, on the floor of the waiting room on my knees, keeled over a sick bowl, alone.  I was still in my sweaty beach clothes from the day before, make-up smeared all over my face and uncontrollably squirming in pain. I was so embarrassed because I couldn’t keep quiet and asked if there was somewhere more private I could wait, but was told that there wasn’t.  I felt so discarded and barely remember the cab journey home.

After about twenty minutes the streaming nurse saw me and told me I’d have to wait at least an hour.  I was so dizzy I had to hold on to the walls to walk. Under any other circumstances, an hour may not have seemed like much, but the humiliation was unbearable. I went home and endured the pain for hours more.  I was in the worst pain I had ever known for a full 14 hours.  I will spare you my more unpleasant symptoms, as ultimately it was the pain that was unbearable.

This pain would last 6-16 hours with gaps of 3-6 hours. It kept coming back. My GP couldn’t give me an emergency appointment so I went back to A&E on Monday, waited again on the floor of  the waiting room, my head hanging over yet another cardboard sick bowl.  I was seen for about two minutes by an “Urgent GP” there, who didn’t even examine me, told me I had digestion problems and sent me home to wait it out as these things take a while to clear.

By Tuesday, having bought every suggestion of the pharmacist and endured another long stretch of pain that wasn’t quitting after 10 hours, I went back to A&E in my pyjamas to literally beg that they give me some pain relief. They finally decided I needed to see a specialist and  I was left waiting in a chair for about 20 minutes, worried that I had been forgotten about as nurses and doctors walked frantically past me.  I could see they were so rushed off their feet that I felt bad to ask for help.

Eventually, I was put on a trolley with the privacy of curtains. For 5 hours I cried, rocking back and forth over that sick bowl, squirming on the trolley bed, shame having become a distant memory. I had begun talking to the pain in my mind, telling it that I WOULD beat it.  The friendliest nurse I have ever met talked to me about controlling my breathing to help with the pain.  I tried desperately to do this, but the pain would always catch up with me and make me hyperventilate.  Lisa the nurse was so friendly and soothing that I was grateful for the distraction of having something to try to do.   Somehow, despite being pulled from all directions, she never talked as though I wasn’t there and never forgot about me. She kept me fully informed of what was going on, how long to expect to wait and listened to everything the doctor said with me.  Doctor Tom was also a star, who talked to me with the kindest bedside manner and gave me all the information he had, concluding that I was probably suffering from biliary colic, a pain caused by gallstones.

As soon as the pain subsided, I was again, sent home, advised to follow up with my GP. Less than 24 hours later, I was back, worse than before, not having eaten since Friday, unable to stand or sit unaided.  I was finally admitted.  This time, the morphine wasn’t working. They had to keep giving me more in small doses. After 3 hours and 3 doses, the pain subsided. I was taken off to a ward with my own room. I was told that I had to wait for a scan to help determine if I had gallstones and that they would need to operate on me if that was the case.

While waiting on the trolley to be moved to a ward, I called a nurse for help as I needed the toilet but was still attached to a drip on my trolley.  She took the saline ouch off the hook and handed it to me, followed by instructions to the toilet. I asked her if I could put the punch down in the toilet when I got there and she said no, and walked off. So, I stumbled to the bathroom in my morphine-daze.

People kept coming into my room, not telling me who they were as I lay there in a haze. One lady was a cleaner.  I saw her sporadically half-wiping random bits of the room with antibacterial wipes and leaving.  This woman either hated her job, didn’t understand the importance of it, or both. I cringed as I noticed she only wiped the hot tap and didn’t bother with the cold.  This is what happens when people are not payed or trained properly.  I was in the surgical ward of a hospital and the cleaner didn’t care to disinfect the taps properly.  I remembered all the headlines about the NHS again.

I waited for hours with no information and eventually asked when my scan would be.  After not hearing back from the first two people I asked, I tried my luck and got lucky with a third, who told me that my scan would be the next day. I was so hazy with all the morphine, I had no idea whether I had been talking with the nurses, cleaners or food distributors. It didn’t help that most didn’t knock or introduce themselves. In fact, one nurse terrified me in the midst of my pain, as I had my head between my knees, whilst sat in bed rocking and moaning.  She entered silently without knocking and made me jump suddenly when I heard her voice next to me. I jumped so suddenly that I got a cramp in my neck, leaving me with a whip-lash-like injury for the next 5 days.

Later that afternoon, a consultant (not sure but I think that means senior doctor) examined my abdomen and advised me that gallbladder operations are not considered emergency operations. It didn’t quite sink in til he left, but this meant if they found I needed an operation, I would be sent home to wait for an appointment.  Apart from confirming that my scan was due the following day, the consultant had no other information for me.

I was lucky to have a pain-free sleep that night, but soon after I awoke on Thursday, I was in agony again, clutching my sick bowl.  It took them about three hours to get me my first dose of morphine, which didn’t work. Around the fourth hour, I was attached to a morphine pumping machine which allowed me to push for a fresh dose every 5 minutes. After about half an hour, this worked, and I was finally pain-free.

I was so happy to be pain-free and felt armed for the pain with my morphine-button. I paid £7.50 on my card for 24 hours of TV in my room.  Grenfell Tower had burnt down while my insides had been busy crippling me.  And as I started having lots of reflection time, I started to think about what was going on right around me as I was too busily submerged in my personal woes.

I heard the old lady in the room next to me talking to the nurse and got up to introduce myself. Maggie said she was so worried fore when I was groaning in pain she was so worried she kept calling the nurses for me. I apologised for the racket I had made and said I hoped my TV wasn’t too loud. She told me not to worry and that she couldn’t hear a thing.

My partner came and spent the two hours the parking would allow for with me.  As he came in I heard Maggie from next door shout out, “I hope you’re alright, dear. Don’t worry about your telly.  I can’t hear a thing.  I called out my gratitude. I cried afterwards.

Then I went to the bathroom and looked at myself for the first time. I hadn’t showered in days…didn’t they have showers there? I had clearly lost weight. I tidied my hair and washed myself as best as I could over the sink next to the toilet. Then I went and had a chat with Maggie, who told me about her movie life. She was a professional ballet dancer, who married a doctor. She had two sons, one stillborn, and one who fell off a horrific height and died in his twenties. She then adopted a son about 35 years ago and he is now her carer and visits her daily after work.  She had been in hospital for 8 weeks and went getting better.

Then, this glamorous, charming lady cheekily fluttered her fully-mascarad eyelashes at me and said, “I need to go outside for a cigarette.”  Delighted at the idea of going outside, I joined her and smoked a cigarette for the first time in years.  I gave her my ear and heard her story and her health concerns.  One was that she would randomly fall asleep and suffer falls, but no one took her seriously. 

The next morning around 4am, I was awoken by a sudden thump and Maggie’s pained, weak shouts. I was plugged into the wall and couldn’t run out of my room so I instantly yelled for the nurse several times as loudly as I could.  Maggie had gone silent. What seemed like too long but what was probably about 30 seconds later, a nurse came running to my door and I pointed next door to Maggie’s room where I thought she was.  It took the nurse a moment to realise that Maggie wasn’t in face in her room to the left of mine, but in the toilet, to the right of it.

Then about 5 more nurses came rushing round the corner, one who told me to go back to bed and not worry and pushed my door closed for me while I was still standing as close as my attachments would allow to it… things only got worse…