It has been a very trying month or in other words, another very rich learning experience.
Ever since I started being pressurised by the DWP, which triggers my PTSD so badly I would gladly chuck myself in the Thames rather than go to the Balham Assessment Centre, my health has gone into decline. By this, I mean both physical and mental health. I have chronic pain from a giant fibroid which I have named Esther after a certain McVey MP and return of the epilepsy from my childhood.
It turns out I have been on too low a dose of epilepsy medication and so as more layers of stress are added, the more seizures I have.
One was unusual in that I usually get a warning a fit is coming so I can put myself in the recovery position in a safe place. This time however I must have just fallen on my face ending up with bruising on my face and a head injury. Paramedics were so concerned that instead of taking me to my usual hospital, I was taken to St Mary’s Paddington where there is a specialist trauma unit.
At this stage, I was strapped to a board and had my head encased in a padded thing that resembled something a trainee boxer would wear. I was perfectly lucid and had a great chat with the wonderful paramedics who were up from the South West for the shift. One was from Taunton, the other from Plymouth. This led to lots of talk about pasties and whether you put the jam or the cream on first on a scone.
Once I got there, I was surrounded by so many doctors and students I was really panicking. I was immediately despatched off for a CT scan which thankfully revealed heavy bruising but nothing of real concern. This is where the fun really started as I was sent off to A&E. I now know that to stand for Armageddon and Excrement.
I was given a cubicle of my own and I was incredibly lucky in that regard as there was a queue of trollies in the corridor. It was a trauma unit really, so there were RTA victims, stabbing victims and all sort of people in distress and pain all lined up waiting for a non-existent space in a cubicle.
TOO MUCH INFO ALERT:
I was wired up to several machines and had a cannula in each arm. A problem I have is that with a fibroid of giant proportions sitting on my bladder, when I need to go, I really need to go. I had been told to buzz for a nurse whenever I needed to. As incontinence was on the cards I buzzed. I usually don’t do that as I know how busy they are and try to be self-sufficient. However, there was no way I could disconnect myself from so any machines so I buzzed again. Of course then the inevitable happened and I ended up lying in my own urine and excrement. I buzzed again. This time, the bossiest nurse I have ever met arrived and proceeded to berate me for making a mess and even getting urine on her feet. There was the feeling that I had somehow done this on purpose.
Look at the mess of you. You are disgusting.
Compassionate care in action.
Eventually I was disconnected from most of the machines and left with just a drip and I know how to disconnect myself from that, though I shouldn’t as clearly there can be air bubbles which require the line to be flushed before disconnection. However, once again I had buzzed and again no-one came, so in the end I just took the risk, disconnected myself so I could get to the toilet.
I should say that I was still in the urine soaked sheets. The nurse simply put the blanket from the ambulance on top of it and made me lie on that.
By this time, I was imagining I was in a Solzhenitsyn novel. People were screaming out for morphine and the queue of trollies was not getting any shorter.
My pain levels by this time were rating ten in their one to ten scale of which they are so fond. After several hours I had not been seen by a doctor so I started disconnecting myself from my drip and waiting at the nurses’ station to ask incredibly politely whether there were any plans to have me seen by anyone. They said “hopefully yes”. It reminded my of a French colleague whom I would ask “will this be happening?” and she would say “normalement oui”. I would know then that there was not a chance in Hell it would actually happen.
In the end, I had two further seizures while in the cubicle as they had not given me any medication. I felt disorientated and sick. I buzzed again. They had said, if you feel you are going to have a fit, buzz for a nurse. I had the aura prior to a grand mal seizure. I buzzed. No-one came. I had a seizure. I came round having been incontinent again with a catastrophic headache, buzzed again, and no-one came.
Again, I disconnected myself, found a medic and advised him I had had another seizure and could I please have some help. The bossy nurse shouted “get back to your bed”.
I had another seizure. I buzzed. No-one came.
Once again, I dragged myself together enough to disconnect myself from my drip to approach the nurses’ station. I found the bossy nurse and said that I really need pain relief and anti epilepsy medication which I am prescribed anyway.
Can you tell me if I am on the list to be seen?
Finally, after I think about seven hours a medic appeared. He spent about three minutes telling me I could have some medication then disappeared.
This was when I noticed my wrist tag. It had my name as “Hotel Coulsdon” with my date of birth as “1st January, 1900”. By this stage, I felt that old.
Suddenly then I was told I was being moved. I was moved into the corridor directly next to the nurses’ station. I was so close to them, I could hear all their tales of what they had been up to at the weekend and had them clicking away on their computers. By this stage I had started being violently sick which happens after I have a fit.
While on the subject of vomit, I heard so many patients actually begging for sick bowls and no-one listening, that I disconnected myself, found an empty cubicle, raided a cupboard and went around distributing sick bowls to incredibly grateful patients.
Mid vomit, I was told I was fit to leave. Bossy nurse shouted “go and wash your face and go”. She gave me some wipes and so off I went to try to get myself looking at least slightly human.
I felt so weak. I felt so unwell. I felt so scared.
I had been found by paramedics virtually unconscious so I had no coat and more importantly, no money or bank card. It was about 3am at this time. I asked how I was expected to get back to Earls Court from Paddington and was told it was not their problem.
I was left with no option other than to leave with no discussion about how I would get home and no discharge summary.
I decided I had to walk from Paddington to Earls Court. By this time, it was about 3.30am. I know my way around that area when it is light but in pitch darkness it is quite different. The other issue was when I went to the main door to get out I found a poster saying the door was locked at that time so I had to go back to A&E and go out of some other door so I was now totally disorientated.
I was rather scared heading down the road which is clearly how the ambulances get to A&E. There was no lighting. I was imagining the Crimewatch reconstruction at this stage. Thankfully, I was headed in the right direction as eventually I started to recognise certain cafes and so forth. There were very few people around. I walked on. I actually thought about the death march from Belsen and thought if they can do that, then walking several miles while feeling on my last legs should be no problem.
I got to near the tube station when I met an angel. He was not a conventional angel in that he was Irish and said “feck” a lot. He asked me directions. I said I had no idea as I did not live in that area. He asked if I was ok. I replied I was not as I had been decanted out of hospital with no support. He said “my Mother would never forgive me if I left a vulnerable woman on her own”. I started protesting. He said “will ye feckin’ sit on that wall and I will get you home”. I was going on about how would I pay him back etc and he told me to “feckin’ shut up, I will get you home”. And so the delightful Brendan, a total stranger, hailed a black cab.
The cab driver when he heard the story was so moved he said he would do the whole trip for £10 but Brendan negotiated it up to give the driver a decent tip. He just said “I need you to get this lady right to her door safely”. He paid by card, got in the cab as far as Bayswater, shook my hand and disappeared off into the night.
It reminds me of the motto of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris:
This is a wonderful story of a random encounter with an angel. But what about the demons? What on earth were hospital staff thinking about in terms of discharging a woman with no means of getting home who had just been through the trauma of being in resus, CT scan and many hours in the Armageddon zone onto the streets at 3am? Is this routine practice?
I believe the factory line atmosphere with trollies backed up in a queue and not enough staff or space to provide anything like adequate care has caused the very same cut off from values, from caring, that Menzies Lyth talked about decades ago.
There are other failings though that cannot be blamed upon the lack of resources. I heard this same nurse berating a woman for vomiting on her clothes. She had been desperately asking for a bowl but again, no-one came. What other option did she have as she was attached to machines. I heard her say “do you think I WANT to be sick all over myself?” She had been buzzing for help but again none was forthcoming.
I am sad for St Mary’s Paddington. This was a once great hospital which in places such as the Trauma Unit still is. However at the rough end, in A&E, patient dignity goes out of the window and we are simply damaged goods on a production line, and as such need to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Only when I got home did I realise that they had forgotten to remove the two cannula so I had to remove them myself. Am lucky not to have ended up with sepsis. I saw and heard very little basic humanity. Having taught in that hospital for a few years now, I feel deeply let down, not just for myself but for the others who have inevitably wobbled alone down the dark road to nowhere in the middle of the night with no-one to help unless they are lucky enough to be met by an Irish angel.
Wherever you are Brendan, may the road rise to meet you.