I guess it’s common knowledge now that last Thursday I went into Hillingdon Hospital to have the tumour removed from my bladder. I was discharged on Saturday but at midnight on Sunday I had a heart attack and was rushed to Harefield Hospital for emergency surgery. I’m back at home now feeling mightily relieved that (a) the tumour was benign, and (b) I’m still alive.
The two experiences couldn’t have been more different. There were brilliant staff in both hospitals. But there were some not so good ones, located solely at the first hospital. I’m sure it was down to the cultures of the places. Although in the same borough, they were different trusts. Hillingdon was characterized by a threatening chaos, whilst Harefield (which is a specialist trust with the Royal Brompton) was heavenly in its quiet authority. Hillingdon seemed to be run on a skeleton staff made up in the main of bank staff and locums: Harefield had plenty of staff around and as one nurse said to me, “When you work here, you never want to leave to go somewhere else”.
Here are a few vignettes of people I encountered over the past week:
It didn’t get off to a very good start. The admissions nurse wasn’t paying an awful lot of attention and kept writing something down that was completely different to what I’d told her. Several times she told me how much better her life would be if she won the lottery. This scanty attention to detail was there from beginning to end. When I got home on Saturday I had a closer read of my discharge form and in the section about my GP, they’d put the practice we left over 25 years ago. I have no idea where they dug that up from. I must have given my GP’s details to at least 12 different people over the past few weeks, including the admissions nurse. The scary thing though is that my diagnosis, surgery and follow up treatment would have disappeared into the void if I hadn’t had noticed.
The manager of the recovery room was fascinating. Clearly playing a part he had based his character on one of those belligerent New York detectives that shout a lot in Murder She Wrote. “I WANT BED 7 MOVED NOW. GO. GO. GO”. Although I was out of my head on drugs, I was fascinated by this pillock. Compare that to Harefield. As the ambulance pulled up, the crash team were waiting for me in the car park. Nobody shouted. Inside the theatre each member of the team got on with their prep whilst the surgeon pulled up a chair, rested a calming hand on my shoulder and explained what he was going to do.
The strangest, most sinister person I encountered was the ??? who appeared out of the blue on Friday. Hello my name is had completely passed her by. In fact she only spoke to me twice in the hour she worked on me. She decided to remove my catheter and fit a larger one. She was rude and arrogant. At one point when the pain was so bad I was screaming and punching the bed, the assisting nurse came and held my hand. That didn’t go down well – “Nurse, remember why you are here. Your role is to assist to me”. But the oddest thing was that nobody seemed to know who she was. The assisting nurse didn’t know. I asked other staff on the ward and they didn’t know either. I don’t remember seeing her before or after the catheter assault. Someone suggested she was the on call ward locum doctor. I called her “the assassin” and I’m only slightly joking. I’m convinced it was that traumatic experience that led to the heart attack two days later.
Fast forward two days and I’m in Harefield and it was like chalk and cheese. Touching humane care. On Monday I wasn’t allowed out of bed all day and had to use one of those cardboard bottles for peeing in situ. After the assassin’s work it felt like I had razor blades inside my knob. One of the night nurses sat with me for over half an hour as I struggled to produce a drop and we had a lovely conversation comparing musicals we have seen. Then there was another nurse who went off in search of a BIC razor after my own razor snapped in half in my toiletries bag. Or there was the rehab nurse who gave me nearly two hours of her time yesterday morning and we shared stories of raising our autistic sons. There was always something for them to do but they gave the precious commodity of time. I’ve cried quite a lot since Sunday, but they were those good tears when you’re profoundly moved by someone’s humanity.
One final thing that made my week – on Tuesday I was pushed in a wheelchair to have an echocardiogram. I discovered new parts of the hospital I’d missed when I was being trollied to theatre on that opening night. We went through a pair of double swing doors and the venue for the echocardiogram was the Eric Morecambe Suite. I thought that was delightful.
This is probably the last I’ll write on the subject of my hospital experiences. I’m not a huge fan of medical blogs. I know I wrote a couple of weeks back about my childhood message of not blowing my own trumpet but I am quite proud of how I’ve dealt with the last week. The work I’ve done this year both in the gym and on the meditation couch has definitely paid off and stood me in good stead this week.