In Praise of the NHS
You may have seen a previous post about my upcoming operation to repair an umbilical hernia. As it happened, I ended up having emergency surgery at Salisbury District Hospital this week instead. I know a lot of people complain about the NHS, about waiting times and grumpy staff and all the rest – but I have had dealings with numerous different NHS staff members in the last week and have nothing but praise for them.
My local GP surgery:
My hernia got stuck on Wednesday morning, while I was having coffee with friends. Luckily it was at the Cross Keys Restaurant, where S and I are regulars – because I had to lay down on the floor to try and push it back in. It wouldn’t go though, and I later had to call the GP surgery in tears from my bed. The practice nurse was brilliant and got me an appointment within a few minutes. She and another GP took a look at my belly and we talked about the best course of action, not only for me medically but also to help me stop panicking about S and school pickup. The hernia, while painful, was not “strangulated” so we agreed I would go home and “watch and wait.” The GP called me back in the afternoon to check in with me, and I agreed I would call the surgery again in the morning. When I called in the morning I spoke to another GP who used to be a surgeon. He made me an appointment within an hour and talked to me honestly about what could be wrong and what that could mean. Then he called the hospital, printed out a letter for me, and sent me straight to the surgical assessment unit.
The Surgical Assessment Unit:
When I arrived at the hospital, I was in pain and terrified. I knew there was a good chance I would be having an operation and that frightened me. First I saw a nurse who booked me in and put a cannula in my arm. I told him that would be a challenge for him; when I had S they tried to put a cannula in my arm and ended up putting one in my wrist instead because they couldn’t find a vein. Aidan found a vein within seconds, put a cannula in and took blood, all the while chatting and helping to put me at ease. Next I met a doctor; I think her name was Hayley. She asked a lot of questions and looked at my belly before saying the surgeon would be round to have a look soon. Then she asked if perhaps I would be more comfortable in a bed than the waiting room and said she would find me a bed ASAP.
Next I saw the consultant, who was rather more firm in his poking and prodding; I was almost jumping off the bed. Once he’d finished examining me he said he would operate, and spent several minutes answering my questions and reassuring me – amazing for someone who was clearly very busy. I was advised to accept all offers of help because after the operation, mobility would be an issue.
I forget the ward sister’s name but she was just amazing, cracking jokes and trying her best to make me feel better when I was freaking out. She had a good giggle at my having laid down on a floor in public to try and sort the hernia situation. A healthcare assistant named Suzette came to fill in a form with me, but before she’d finished it, one of the surgeons had come back with a consent form. He went through the form with me, explaining that while this could be a straightforward hernia repair, there was also the possibility they would need to perform a “bowel resection” if part of my bowel had been damaged by being stuck. He talked about recovery times for each option, and answered my questions before crouching down to my level and telling me “not to be over dramatic here, but if we don’t do this operation there is a chance you could die.” I signed the form with a shaky hand and thanked him for his time.
The theatre staff:
A porter named Darren came to collect me for surgery. He could see that I was nervous (as soon as he arrived I began shaking uncontrollably) and kept chatting to me the whole time to try and calm me down. He told me he’d had an umbilical hernia which was repaired at Salisbury District Hospital and the people here are the best.
When they took me in to the theatre I was shaking really badly and had three or four people around me helping to get me ready. One tried on my glasses to see if they suited him; another made (terrible dad) jokes. The anaesthetist told me exactly what she was doing, and how it would feel. I remember thinking “keep your eyes open so they know it’s not working yet” – and then, predictably, nothing.
The recovery staff:
I woke up in recovery and as soon as I was even half awake, the recovery nurse told me exactly what the surgeon had done. She took care of me and when my breathing went a bit haywire she sat with me and talked to me until I was more stable. When I came round properly she was sitting next to me, watching. She told me again what the surgeon had done, reading from the notes to ensure she had it right. She got me a drink and fetched my mobile so that I could check things were ok with S. She had three patients to look after, and all of us were kept happy and comfortable despite the fact she was very busy.
There was another man in recovery, being looked after by another nurse and making quite a fuss. He kept asking for more pain relief; literally every ten seconds. The nurse kept telling him she’d just given him all the pain relief he was allowed; she couldn’t give him any more or she would lose her job. Still, he kept moaning and complaining, telling her she needed to find the pain killer he’d had before. Every time she left his side he shouted at her to come back and give her some more medication. When he couldn’t remember the name of the medication he’d had before he wanted the nurse to go and find his mother who would remember the name of the medication. The poor woman was looking after other patients too, and if it was me I would have punched him – but she was of course very professional each and every time she told him she couldn’t do what he was asking.
The ward staff:
I was taken back to the ward, where I stayed overnight and for most of the next day. People fetched water for me, walked me to the toilet when I needed to go, plugged in my phone charger, picked up my phone when I dropped it. They brought me medication, checked how I was, brought me food. In the middle of the night one of the sisters crept into my cubicle to give me an anti-clotting injection. She apologised for waking me before rolling up the leg of my pyjamas to give me the injection. I’m a grown woman; I could have rolled my trousers up for her but she did it herself, then covered me with a blanket again before leaving.
When her shift ended, the sister who had laughed at my floor-laying antics the day before came to say goodbye and that she hoped I would recover quickly. The next day when she came back on shift, she came to see me even though that day she was working on a different ward – just to check I was ok because she had expected me to already be home.
The surgical team:
While I was on the ward the consultant and a member of his team came round to talk to me about my operation. They said in actual fact someone else had ended up doing the operation, but they explained the notes to me and told me again exactly what had happened, and what I could expect from recovery.
The next morning the doctor who had done the operation came to talk to me about the operation. He explained to me that because there had been a lump under my skin for several years, my body would fill it with liquid for a while – because it doesn’t like a gap. He assured me this is not the hernia coming back, and that eventually it will disappear again. He answered my questions about recovery in a realistic way, telling me that “heavy lifting” depends on the person, and that I should avoid anything that involves effort for me. He must have been very busy; the ward was already filling up with people waiting for today’s operations. But it didn’t feel like he was too busy to talk to me.
The out of hours GP:
Today I noticed a red patch growing around my operation scar, and got worried it was infected. I called 111 and spoke to a lovely lady named Marguerite who chatted to me and assured me the local out of hours clinic would call me back. They called within an hour, and gave me an appointment for the out of hours service. When I got there I spoke to a lovely doctor who told me I was very unlucky to have needed emergency surgery on my hernia; most can happily go untreated. (for the record: I actually feel quite lucky). He took a look at the wound and reassured me it was absolutely fine, telling me what it would look like if it did get infected. He said he thought perhaps I was just having an allergic reaction to the glue on the dressing – but he understood it would have been worrying for me to see it turning red. He gave me a couple of spare dressings and sent me on my way.
When I found out I was having an operation, lots of people were only to keen to tell me of their terrible experiences at the hands of the NHS: make sure they check your drugs properly; make sure they look after you properly; my aunt caught a superbug; they made a mistake on my cousin. Everyone loves a horror story; we all tut and complain when things go wrong. But I can honestly say I have been treated brilliantly from start to finish. I think it’s important then, to tell a positive story in among all the negative ones. Because actually, the NHS and all of its staff are bloody amazing.