What my visit to hospital taught me about the NHS part 1

“…the plural of the word anecdote is not data…”  Kenneth Kernaghan and P. K. Kuruvilla 1982

Today, I start the first part in what will be an ongoing dialogue about my experiences with the NHS. At times it will come off as a staunch defence and at times a critique. What it will always be is experience based and what I am interested in is the experience of others. Like every internet-based writer, what I am looking for is for you, the reader, to comment and start a conversation. (Start a conversation? That is definitely cliché number two – Ed).

For some brief context, I have always been fit and healthy. I played sport a couple of times a week throughout my 20s, at a range of levels in a range of sports. I played a relatively high level of rugby and basketball and have played with and against many who have gone on to make a living playing sport. At this level, injury is inevitable and I had my fair share: broken nose, fingers and toes; a torn rotator cuff; three serious concussions; multiple sprained ankles and a myriad of knee injuries. It was the knee that was always most problematic and before my extended stay in hospital, I’d already had an arthroscopy so I wasn’t overly concerned when told I needed a more serious operation. The operation itself was a success and I thought I was 9 months away from playing again – that was 16 months ago. A few points:

Point Number 1: Pre-op is not like pre-flight

I like travel. The world is a big place and I intend to explore it all before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I have sat on dozens of planes and I have always checked out when the safety demonstrations are given out. I figure if something goes wrong, follow the crowd. I took the same attitude with my pre-op. The surgeon was taking me through the risks and mentioned that if I felt feverish in the ten days after the operation that I should immediately get to the hospital, because there was a chance that it was infection and with infection, every minute counts. He said there was a 1 in 10,000 of infection with every operation. All I took in was ‘…fever…infection…1 in 10,000…’ Sure enough, ten days later, I woke up sweating and feeling sick. And, like many men, well, like many stupid men (Not sure you need that clause – Ed.), I thought I had a bit of ‘man-flu’ and tried to sleep it off. Needless to say, that was a mistake and when I awoke to a feeling like someone had planted razor blades in my knee, I remembered too late the surgeon’s advice. The moral: listen to your medical professionals.

Point Number 2: Ambulance people are real life superheroes

As I have mentioned before, I am a unicorn. A big one at that. 10 days after my operation when I came down with the fever, I couldn’t use my right leg at all and was upstairs in a house with a narrow corridor. The crew that responded to the ambulance call were normal sized humans and I was being no help. As far as I can remember they weren’t power lifters; they had no wands, cast no spells and summoned no one else. Yet they managed to manoeuvre me into the ambulance and hospital bed  with minimal fuss and maximum people skills. To be clear, I was a good meal away from being 20 stone, about as much use as a cotton wool sword and these workers went about their job with an efficacy that is unusual.

I thought I had known pain before this. I was wrong. Having an active post-op infection is to beg for the sweet release of death. Looking back though it did provide many moments for hilarity. For example, one of the forms the ambulance crew had asked on a scale of 1-3 how much pain I was in. In the middle of the pain, I spent a good two minutes berating whoever came up with the scale for being rubbish. 1-3? Seriously? Lazy. Another moment of hilarity came when the doctor working the night shift asked me to describe how my knee felt. I had been literally crying out in pain before he asked me, but his question was redundant enough for me to stop, look him dead in the eye and ask him, “Really? That’s the question? Lets go with painful.” There followed two to three seconds of a deliciously awkward silence before he carried on. I don’t believe in Karma, but I did laugh when he told me that he would aspirate (I think it’s Latin for stick a giant needle in) my knee, explaining that if the fluid was clear, there was no infection and if it was cloudy, there probably was. Poor man, there was such a build up of fluid in my knee that when he stuck the needle in and removed it, a creamy red  (ugh  – Ed) liquid rushed out and landed on his face. Credit to him – he cleaned himself up and, totally deadpan, said, “I think we will go forward under the assumption that you have an infection.”

A bed was found and I was scheduled to have an operation in the morning and that brings me to final point for today:

Point Number 3: doctors really care

Please remember the opening quote to this article before I continue. That said, I emailed the surgeon at 0658 in the morning, scared and panicking about my knee and he responded at 0835 that same morning. This is a man with a family and a very full clinic, a man that works all over the county and is highly regarded and he responded in about 90 minutes. He kept in constant contact with me and the surgeons that ended up operating on me later that day.

People like him, the ambulance crew and the night doctor are part of my experience of the NHS and I could not be happier with the early care that I received. It was thorough and professional as well as caring. Next time I write about this I will talk about my experience of post-op care and life on a hospital ward.

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