“No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.” – Nye Bevan
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS, and so it is fitting that I write part 2 in my series looking at what my visit to hospital taught me about the NHS.
For context: I have had knee problems for several years, the result of 15 years of playing rugby and basketball at a relatively high level. I had a major knee surgery in January of 2017, which got infected and led to sepsis, which completely sucks. Since then, I have had another two knee operations, several MRIs, a nuclear scan, a CT scan, X-rays, massage therapy, counselling, strength and conditioning and about 50 hours of physiotherapy. I have been seen by over 100 different health professionals in 7 different sites. In short, I have a lot of experience. Onto some more observations. Part one is here.
Point Number 1: It is made great by the individuals…
Once it was clear that my knee needed a washout (an operation when they cut open the infected area and clean it out with fluids), the hospital moved very quickly, scheduling and performing the operation within 12 hours. The nurses that tended to me in that time had exemplary bedside manners, polite at all times despite an extreme workload. I don’t have many memories of the hour or so before the operation, but I do remember one woman who was in the pre-op room who spent a good half an hour chatting with me about shared interests. It was the kind of small talk that I don’t normally engage in, but coming before an operation, it was exactly what I wanted. It made everything seem normal and that was reassuring.
If my memories of pre-op are hazy, my recollections of post-op care are crystal clear. When I came to, I was in extreme pain. There were 4 workers in the room and I was the last operation of the day. Once I was stable they were finished for the night. The problem was that whatever painkillers I had been given had made minimal impact on the pain. They tried a range of different things, eventually going with morphine (more on that drug later) which provided some pain relief. I believe they stayed with me for four hours until I wasn’t in agony. I never got their names, but I am so thankful that they stayed way past when they were due to finish. I have dozens of stories like this – where NHS workers went over and above the call of duty for me, always with a smile on their face. My experience of the NHS at the time was the complete opposite of the image that was being portrayed by the government at the time.
Point Number 2: …But it only takes one to tarnish its reputation
Before I go into this story, I want to stress that I have had over 100 healthcare professionals look after me and this is the only negative interaction I had. I’ve also briefly covered this story here.
After the operation, I was moved to the orthopaedic ward to recover. The professionals on this ward are unbelievably good. When I got there, I was on a lot of morphine for the pain as well as several types of very strong antibiotics for the infection. The nurses often had to wake me up to take my blood pressure and temperature and were great about it.
They were also in charge of bringing my medication to me. I had recognised that when I didn’t get my medication on time, I would develop a fever. This had been noted by my nurse and she was excellent about getting my medication quickly when I asked for it.
In my second week there, I had a different nurse that brought me medication. I will never forget feeling the first symptoms of a fever coming on and pushing the buzzer. She arrived and I asked her to get my medication. She said she would and went. After 10 minutes, I pushed the buzzer again. No response. I panicked because the fever had arrived in all its terrible glory. I pushed it a third time and then a fourth before an orderly came. I explained, with an increasing hysteria, that I needed my medication ASAP and that I was feverish (also: I want to extend a massive thank you to the orderlies, cleaners and other auxiliary staff that chatted with me, told me about their lives and were, to a person, amazing. You are a foundational part of the NHS).
That incredible orderly found a nurse, different to the one who had been looking after me, and quickly brought me the medication I needed. She asked me why I hadn’t rung the buzzer. Between sobs, I said that I had rung it a lot and that the nurse had said that she had gone to get my medication, then disappeared. She looked at me in horror when I told her that, and I know something happened, because I was visited in short order by the ward doctor and the matron. To the eternal credit of the ward, nothing like that happened again, but its effects on me were profound.
Point Number 3: Hospital food is bad. Vegan hospital food is worse
Look at the two images below. Really look at them. I will give a prize to anyone who can tell me what the one on the left is supposed to be. I had one mouthful and I couldn’t tell you.
Point Number 4: If you REALLY want to lose extreme amounts of weight, try infection
There are a lot of fad diets out there. But if you really want to lose extreme amounts of weight, forget Keto, Paleo and Atkins. No, for the truly hardcore, try infection! I went in weighing 127kg (19st 10lbs) and left 3 weeks later at 106kg (16st 7lbs). Part of it was the vegan food at the hospital; part of it was morphine, a wonder drug for weight loss. Morphine takes away extreme pain. It also takes away your sense of time and space, shrinks your stomach, makes you constipated and for me, made me itch so much, I would scratch in my sleep and now have scars on my legs. But if you want to lose weight that way, go for it! (Still no sarcasm font – Ed). And part of it was the infection, which led to me (gross part coming up; you have been warned – Ed) sweating so much, that for the first few nights, I thought I had wet the bed. Bless the orderly that weighed me over the first two weeks, who was convinced her machine was broken as I sometimes lost 2kg (4.4lbs) a day. Another sidebar: I didn’t know I was fat until I came out of hospital and all my friends complimented me on the weight I had lost: it was a tough way to find out.
In conclusion, my visit to hospital taught me that the great majority of the on the ground workers in the NHS are hardworking, diligent, caring, patient and absolutely committed to their patients. I also observed that they are underpaid, overworked and scapegoated for problems that they don’t create. In my final part of this series, I will talk to some NHS workers and ask them what working for the NHS has taught them. Happy birthday, NHS!