Sunday, 27 April 2014

Random acts of kindness

It has been a funny sort of week. Funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha. But they say that any week you can walk away from must, by definition, be a good one.

Oh, hang on. That's aeroplane landings isn't it? Never mind.

On Monday we came back from an overnight stay. We'd had a good time but She Who Must Be Obeyed was not in the best of spirits. In fairness, she was probably in a better condition than the mouse that Eric, our cat, had left on the kitchen floor. Actually, it was the lower half of a mouse - we never did find the top - but that wasn't the salient point.

After I had cleaned up the kitchen so it looked a little less like the set for a rodent snuff movie, I turned my attention back to SWMBO. She was sitting on the sofa, a pained expression on her face, rocking slowly backwards and forwards. She didn't feel too well. To emphasise the point, she said, "I don't feel too well."

She suffers from an intestinal condition which much of the time stays fairly benign, but occasionally flares up. Thinking it was just another case, she dosed up on codeine and went for a snooze. However, as afternoon turned into evening it was clear that all was not well. It was 10pm on a Bank Holiday Monday and things didn't look too positive.

We drove gingerly to the out-of-hours surgery, SWMBO now mining a whole new vein of swearing. After waiting in a room full of other people's coughs, we saw a triage nurse. And this is when I stopped worrying.

It's sometimes a little tricky to get into the health system in this country. But my experience on Monday showed to me that, once you're in the system, you're generally surrounded by people who want to help.

A doctor checked her over and immediately referred us to the main hospital next-door. As we limped along a corridor, a member of staff - with her coat on, making her way home - stopped to ask if we needed a wheelchair.

On the ward, we encountered a fierce-looking Ward Sister. But while she entered our details and dealt with several other people, we saw her stop a young female patient who was leaving.

"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I've been discharged. I'm going home."
"On your own, at this time of night? Don't be silly. There's no bus. I'll call you a taxi."
"But I've got no money."
"Then we'll pay for it. It's gone midnight, dear."

SWMBO pulled her regular party trick of fainting during a blood test. The nurses took this in their stride, unflappable, ever-cheerful. "Just sit down here, there's no rush."

She was placed on a ward and we waited. I noticed the staff - not just nurses, but other medical staff, domestics, doctors - going about their business. Efficiently, quietly (it was gone 1.00am by this time), but with utter care for their patients.

Eventually a young doctor came and examined SWMBO. "Yes, you did the right thing coming in. This isn't your normal flare-up and I'm afraid we'll have to keep you in. Let's get you a drip going."

At about 4.00am I left her in a hospital bed. The Ward Sister saw my evident confusion, stopping me at the exit to write down the ward's phone numbers and visiting hours.

"She hasn't got anything with her," I said. "I'll need to bring a change of clothes in the morning."
"Don't worry about it," she winked. "We'll provide her with what she needs. And we won't stop you if you come back outside of the visiting hours."

In the next two days, while they stabilised her condition, ran several scans and generally patched her up before releasing her, I had plenty of opportunity to witness the care first hand. I thought it would be worthwhile - after all, at the age of 44 I've probably got more of this to look forward to as bits of me stop working.

It was first class. But more than that, it was delivered at a human scale. From the surgical attention, all the way down to the cheerful woman pushing her tea trolley around the wards, everyone was there with one purpose. And it wasn't about the bottom line.

At no point did I get an invoice. No-one is asking me to fill in insurance forms. This is the UK's National Health Service and I cannot imagine living in a country without it. I know it's not always perfect. Sometimes it doesn't work as it should.

But it's a system that puts people first. And we muck about with that at our peril.


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