Sitting on a plastic chair in the dark.Sometimes all you can do is repeat the immortal words of those great men “Laurel and Hardy” and say quietly “this is another fine mess you have got me into”. I said this to myself as I sat stark naked in complete darkness on a small plastic chair in a shower cubicle in the “Royal Gwent Hospital”. Nobody told me that on Saturday mornings the electricity was shut off to all the non essential areas of the hospital while safety checks were done so I was just going to have a shower when everything shut down and I stumbled backwards into a chair, sat down and then found I couldn’t get up because I was jammed into this tiny shower seat and my swollen knees and legs couldn’t boost me out of it’s clutches, I had to yell for help and after a long wait a nurse rescued me. This is not something I wanted to have happen, everything is monitored and written up in your file including information about your behaviour and medical condition and I already had hysterical, incontinent diabetic on my file.
This situation came about because my spondylitis went berserk when my bed broke and while waiting for the delivery of a new bed my legs and feet swelled up so much I developed weeping sores on my shins and my balance was so bad I had several falls and felt so ill after the third fall I was taken to hospital in an ambulance.
When I came into hospital I was given a cubicle which was very lucky as most patients in Accident and Emergency that day were either sitting on chairs jammed into the waiting room, laid on trolleys or on beds placed in a semi circle around the central receiving desk where the nurses and doctors do their paper work, the whole room looked like a make shift MASH ward in a war zone or a refugee hospital. All the usual tests were taken and after a short time my bed was wheeled by a porter through the long confusing corridors, “Royal Gwent” is a huge hospital, to a ward where I had a cup of tea. To tell the truth just to be able to lay down on a comfortable bed and rest after weeks of trying to sleep on a recliner chair and then a lumpy sofa bed was wonderful. I slept and when I woke up it was supper time, I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom and back again unaided and had supper. I am telling you this because it lays the ground work for what happened in the middle of the night. The night nurses did their rounds and decided to check me for bed sores and if I was wet, I said I didn’t have any bed sores and wasn’t wet but they wanted to check. My swollen legs made it very difficult to roll over on my side easily so they decided to “turn” me. Four of them stood round the bed looking determined, is the only way to describe them, the bed was tilted so that my feet were much higher than my head and I was “helped” pulled onto my side so that my back could be checked, then I was put on my back and suddenly I had no breath, I couldn’t draw breathe, my chest had seized up and I was being “turned” onto my other side, somehow I dragged myself up on the bars and got a tiny breath inside me “I can’t breathe” I squeaked. “If you can speak you can breathe” one of the nurses said, to which my logical mind said “yes, that’s quite true” while the rest of my mind was screaming “can’t breathe, going to die”. Another nurse said “she’s panicking” and somebody else said “she’s hysterical”; slowly the bed was tilted until I was sitting up but I still couldn’t breathe and they had to get a nebulizer to regulate my breathing. As they were fitting the nebulizer mask another nurse said “get a catheter, she’ll be incontinent”. Somehow, I had enough breath to protest I wasn’t incontinent to which she replied “there’s always a first time”. I refused the catheter and finally made a deal where I would wear a pad. Dear God, how had it come to this? And to add insult to injury somebody made a clerical error and put me down as diabetic so in one night I had gone from being somewhat capable to hysterical, incontinent and diabetic. The next morning the results of the tests came back, I had blood clots on the lung, a lung infection, a bad spondylitis attack and a rash so I was put on a course of “warfarin” for the clots, antibiotics for the infections and a sticky cream for my swollen legs but no diabetes or high blood pressure. I stayed in the Gwent for 10 weeks and then I was transferred to St. Woolos a smaller hospital up the hill.
I didn’t stay on that ward for more than 2 days, which was fine with me as that nurse had the look of someone who would sneak up behind you with her beloved catheter – all the women on that ward had catheters and all were in their late 80s and 90s. We all came under “Care for the Elderly” which starts at 55 and covered all illnesses as far as I could see but the biggest part of this initiative dealt with senile dementia patients who came from nursing homes where they had fallen, some several times. The second ward I went into was a temporary ward which had a shortage of sheets (let’s make the bed do for today) and towels (hang onto that towel, we won’t get more for a few days) and no showers or baths so we washed each morning with a bowl of warm soapy water and disposable flannels. I knew there was a shower room and a bath but when I asked about having a shower I was told the shower room was full of office equipment and the bathroom hoist was broken, even if it worked you couldn’t bathe because the room was full of office files. I must have asked about the shower too many times because I was moved from the main ward to a room of my own with an en suite shower, the notorious shower I got stuck in, now that was fine for me but what about everyone else?
Everyone else never asked about having a shower, all the ladies were dementia cases living in their own little worlds which could be very dangerous for them as elderly people tottered around the wards and corridors looking for taxis to go home, wondering why all the lights were on which was a waste of money, screaming for a policeman because there was a dangerous burglar in the room, every night the alarms would be triggered by these poor dementeds, which is what I privately called them, wandering the corridors trying to go home and the nurses would run up and down the ward trying to find them before they fell, broke something or knocked a piece of equipment over. The nurses ran, there was no “fast walk that did not cause alarm” just damage limitation. One night there were several of these emergencies at the same time a nurse was trying to get a lady back into bed, the lady was very frail and in the bed opposite to me, she thought she was at home and needed to make all our beds, this was at 3am. As she tottered around straightening sheets and folding blankets the nurse saw I was awake, shoved a buzzer into my hand and said “watch her”. I struggled out of bed because my legs were still very swollen and my knees couldn’t bend. I tried to talk her into getting into bed but she suddenly decided she did not know why she was in hospital and was going home so she proceeded to stagger across the room barefoot, dressed in a nightie with no dressing gown and hardly able to stand; I hit the buzzer and another nurse came and put her back in bed while she complained loudly about her children who had put her in hospital when she was obviously perfectly well.
The nurses were amazing, short staffed, many with back and shoulder injuries from lifting patients or dealing with violent patients they ran from job to job and still found time to serve tea, feed patients who wouldn’t eat and be kind.
There is no television, radio or internet in the “Royal Gwent”. I spent all those weeks totally cut off from any news except the rugby scores (well, this is Wales) and I only heard about the Paris terrorist attack because a visitor said “wasn’t it terrible about Paris” and I had to ask “what about Paris?”. I lay in my en suite room looking at the beige walls or out the window. I did have lots of social workers and occupational therapists who visited me to try and find a way forward for my health problems and my housing situation. After a month the chest infection, rash and swollen legs had either healed or subsided to a reasonable level and the occupational therapists classed me as mobile and capable because I could walk unaided, use the shower and potter about, I even used to strip and make my bed each day as the nurses were short staffed and it gave me something to do. But, I was what they call “bed blocking”. I couldn’t go home because my home was not fit for purpose as it was riddled with damp and I couldn’t climb the steep staircase to reach the bathroom or my bedroom so I was living in one room of my cold damp house. The social workers organised carers for me when I left hospital and help with finding a new place to live either a ground floor flat or a bungalow.
Then on a Sunday morning I was told I was going to St. Woolos so I had to pack my few things and be ready to go. As I sat waiting to move I heard an argument start between an ambulance man and the ward sister. Whoever they were arguing about was over thirty stone with a huge BMI, who wouldn’t fit in the ambulance. The ward sister came and apologised, I wouldn’t be going to the other hospital so i unpacked and had lunch. I realised the argument had been about me, but I wasn’t thirty stone, before I had become ill I had been dieting and was 20 stone and I had come to hospital in an ambulance so I could definitely fit in one to go to St. Woolos. Half way through lunch I was told repack you are leaving. With very bad grace the ambulance men produced a wheel chair for me to sit in and be wheeled to the ambulance, it was as large as a four seater sofa, so I sat in the middle of my couch and was trundled out to the ambulance where we had another argument about how could I walk up the ramp into the ambulance (inference being I was so “huge” I couldn’t stand). I got in a temper, stepped out of the chair and stomped up the ramp and sat down on one of the seats unaided, the chair was duly wheeled up the ramp and strapped down. At the end of the journey I stomped down the ramp unaided, waited for my huge chariot to be rolled down the ramp, sat on the wheel chair and went into my new ward and new environment.
St. Woolos is like a cottage hospital with shower rooms, television room and non stop cups of tea with fairy cakes. Again, I had my own room and I am sure it was because someone felt I might see too much and perhaps cause trouble after all I had refused a catheter, asked for a shower and I asked questions about my treatment and when I had been told I would have to take warfarin for the rest of my life I said I would take it for the specified six months and no longer as it was an absolute poison so it was better I was kept under control, in a discreet way of course.
The ladies on my ward were all very elderly, one was 100 years old and in various stages of dementia from hysterical laughter like Mrs. Rochester from “Jane Eyre” to asking the same question over and over again and trying to get out of bed to go and catch a train. The lady catching a train nearly gave me a heart attack. I had been given a zimmer frame to help me walk and I always used it to go to the bathroom, I was just coming back to my room down the long silent dark corridor as it was about 11pm when I heard several ladies calling for a nurse. There were no nurses in sight, I went into the ward where I had heard the shouting and the train lady was laid on the floor, she had got out of bed and fallen. I was using the frame because my legs weren’t too steady but I did a three point turn any rally driver would have been proud of and hobbled down the corridor heart pounding in my chest which is not good for someone with blood clots on the lung, I was shaking as I started shouting for a nurse, one came running and dealt with the poor soul, who tried to do the same thing the next day!
My days were filled with boredom and bed making but I couldn’t go home because my blood results had not stabilised and I had no bed to sleep on if I did go home. A doctor allowed me to go home for the afternoon to wait for the bed to be delivered and then an ambulance would collect me and bring me back to the hospital in the early evening. The bed was delivered and I spent the rest of the bitterly cold afternoon on line trying to find a new place to live while waiting for the ambulance, but at least the room was warm as I had the heating turned on full suddenly the electrics went off and I was sat in total darkness with no heat, time went by and the ambulance had not come instead an emergency response car arrived and the responder waited in the dark with me, he had to wear a light like a miner’s lamp on his forehead so that he could see to take my blood pressure and temperature (it was like a scene from a surreal film by Bunuel) but it was no joke by the time the ambulance arrived my temperature had fallen 2 degrees and I was freezing even though I was wrapped in a quilt. So, I was trundled back to hospital and supper.
The next day it was decided I could go home, in fact the hospital was sending everyone they could either home or back to their nursing homes and I wondered how some of them would cope being back at home when they really were lost in their own worlds. The reason for this sudden activity was what the nurses called ”Winter Pressure” where as many beds as possible had to be free for the flood of seriously ill people suffering from flue, pneumonia and all the winter ailments.
I went home, at least the electricity was back on and I had a bed to sleep in but all the help I had been promised evaporated and I was on my own. When I rang my social worker thinking it was just an error I found out I had been classed as independent and capable of looking after myself so I wouldn’t get any help but I could keep the zimmer frame.
The National Health Service is buckling under the incredible strain of lack of resources, lack of equipment (I am sure that is why so many of the nurses have back problems when the hoist is broken they have to lift the patient), lack of staff (so many of the nurses were agency who did one shift and you never saw them again that is why everything was written down from what you had for breakfast to medications to create a continuity of care) and no matter how many social workers you have when they can’t do anything tangible to help the client, the buzz word is “we don’t want to impede your independence” they are useless and angry that they can’t do their job.
So, now I am back home, my independence unimpeded, still living in one room in a damp house and making my own way in finding a new place to live and I have an awful feeling that unless something is done we are seeing the last days of the NHS.