Thank God, I’ve been healthy enough no to need any hospital care in my life (so far). Twice, to be precise: once when I was 16 or so, for a very dubious self-diagnosed ‘bruise’ which eventually didn’t need any treatment, and the second time for a very private illness I can’t tell you. Anyway, this time was trivial enough again and I was just prescribed some antibiotics and that was it.
Somehow, it came to me totally unexpectedly that I spent a whole week in a hospital, due to my friend who had a stroke one morning and was brought in to A&E dept of a large general hospital in Southampton. This is by far the longest I spent in a hospital in my life.
The health care system in Britain is notoriously in decline, it is something of an unimaginable from what we get in Japan. Now that’s what we hear very often, but I can tell you, it IS true.
An oft-referred example, the notorious ‘waiting list’ is as short as 6 months if you want to see your doctor for ‘ordinary’ illnesses. Wouldn’t you think the illness would be either self-cured or the patient dead by the time he/she gets to see a doc? I’m sure peopel over here do think the same, but hey, what can they do about it?
It was one Friday morning in December, My friend, in his 50s, had a stroke one night, woke up with impaired speech, vision, and the function of his right hand. Dialed 999 and got on an ambulance. Arrived at the A&E dept at 11 am, he was greeted first by a student doctor, who carried out a few tests with pen-light, a hammer, and the stethoscope. She asked my friend a few question, but of course he couldn’t answer most of them because of confusion, panic, and the speech impairement. Several other ‘doctors’ followed, but did more or less exactly the same tests and questions. The result – they can’t tell him anything until he’s had a CT scan done.
Being left in the A&E dept for 9 hours in total without much further attention, he was finally moved to a ward in the acute stroke unit at 8 pm. The earlier promise of the scan to be taken that evening had long gone by this time. The nurses in the ward now tell us;-
There’ not scan service for today – the operators (of the scan) have gone home, and they won’t come to work until monday. There’s an emergency service over the weekend, but that may be used only if the patient’s condition dramatically deteriorated…
There’s no way of telling what he’s got, what caused the symptoms, so we don’t know what treatment to give him.
If he’s in pain, we can prescribe some painkillers.
Some stroke patients have problems swallowing foods and liquids. So the medically certified staff has to carry out a ‘swallow assessment’ to make sure the patient has no problem with it before eating and/or drinking anything. It only takes about 15 minutes, seemingly fairly straightforward procedure, requiring only a sip of water. Poor my friend was on an introvenous fluid, banned from eating or drinking (even water), and left more than 24 hours just like that. The following morning, there was a nurse who could carry out the assessment for him, but she was ‘too busy with more "prioritised" patients’ all morning, while he was left starving. From the nurse’s point of view, he was "medically stable" and no need of urgent attention.
Ok, fair enough… or is it? It’s only the 15 minutes!! and here’s a person starving unnecessarily over 40 hours because of the nurse’s poor organising skills!?!
Illness does all sorts of worrying things to its sufferer. Anxieties are one of the most troublesome things. The fear of not knowing; what happened, why it happened, and how long it’s going to take to get well… The list is endless. But apparently, patients are not to bother the nurses with their anxieties. My friend, left unattended for hours on ends, became so worried and impatient because no one nurse bothered even to say ‘are you ok?’ while passing the bed up and down busy with other paitents in the ward. But whatever he said to the nurse, they went
Are you in pain? Would you like some painkillers?
No. It’s not what he’s trying to communicate! Somehow miraculously, the conditions he was in (i.e. impairments in his vision, speech, and hand movements) seemed to have escaped the communications between departments in the hospital. They never showed any sign of understanding what condition my friend was in and try to communicate with him. If he persisted in his efforts to communicate, the final word from the nurse is
There are hundreds of patients here and we are all busy!
The bedside manner used to be one of the things taught at nursing schools in old days. Nowadays, I suspect, nursing has gone up the medical hierarchy so that the nurses are as bossy and arrogant as doctors!! (Well, to be fair, there are lots of nice nurses as well. Just hope there will be more in the future….!)

About Dr Kats

a working sociologist/linguist/translator based in Kobe, Japan
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