SKIPPING through social media of late, I came across a series of tirades about hospitals... the food, the times it is delivered, and the notion that those providing it were ‘suiting themselves, not the patients’. Many of those commenting confessed they were not talking about their own experience, but were presenting ‘the facts as facts’, as is now customary.
“The very first requirement of a hospital is that it should do the sick not harm,” so said Florence Nightingale back in the day, and while I, like many, have been critical of the health system in the past, I often wondered why we only hear the doom and gloom stories, given that thousands go through the likes of Cork University Hospital (CUH), the Mercy, South Infirmary Victoria and hospitals around the country every month of every year.
Just a few days after reading those posts, I found myself contemplating deeper on the subject as I stared into the back of an ambulance. It followed an innocuous trip on a step getting into a car on the South Mall one evening which ended up causing major damage to both knees. (I was asked in the hospital if I had been in a car or skiing accident, such was the impact of the fall on my legs… alas, my tale was much less dramatic!).
As someone who was never in hospital and has never missed a day’s work in more than 30 years, I faced into the ambulance with some trepidation.
It was not an emergency situation but with something seriously wrong in both knees that meant I could not stand up (the ultimate diagnosis was a quadricep bilateral rupture in both knees), a call for an ambulance was required and answered within an hour.
The medics were cheerful, reassuring and compassionate en route to the Emergency Department of CUH, which they described, on arrival, as being the quietest they had seen for weeks... so I know fortune played some role in all of this.
Triage happened within 30 minutes and an inspection by a staff nurse and doctor some two hours later confirmed the seriousness of the situation and the need for surgery. This was in the context of a very busy ED that had several young babies and children screaming in pain with anxious parents looking on; a couple of older people poking their heads out of pods seeking attention; two serious sports injuries; a severe angle-grinder laceration; and a Ukrainian woman with very little English struggling to describe her ailments.
I later heard of another chap referred from Limerick for a brain abscess and another from Tullamore who damaged a leg in an accident, underlining the scale and scope of the work facing the hospital staff.
A bed (in a public ward) that had just freed up was sourced and within less than 24 hours after entering the A&E, the surgery on both knees was completed and I was back in the ward recuperating alongside two new patients who had been admitted and were awaiting surgery themselves.
Lest people think otherwise, I knew nobody in the hospital, nor was there any special treatment. The others in the ward had similar experiences as surgical teams worked several cases over the weekend to clear backlogs ‘while things were relatively sane’. One of the five beds was turned around three times in as many days, another, twice.
From the ambulance driver and medics to the staff nurse in A&E, to the porters who brought me to the ward and later to and from the operating theatre, to the anaesthetist and her team of technicians, the surgeons and doctors… all, to a man and woman, were humane, good humoured, supportive and interested at a testing time; all simply outstanding.
Yet it was the nursing staff over the days post op that truly astonished. They cared for the patients like they were their own family. They knew the form and the peculiarities of the longer-stayers and were well able for the banter, while still fulfilling their primary role in ensuring everyone was comfortable and getting the medication and care they needed.
The male and female nurses, both Irish and international, buzzed around our ward until we were all OK, then buzzed around to the next ward, no doubt providing genuine care and dedication to an equally needy audience. Once their shift was up, they went home tired, only to be back the following day bright and bubbly to do it all over again.
As a snapshot of the sheer extent of what they have to do, it was remarkable and reaffirmed a belief that they are not paid enough given what they are called on to do, and they are certainly given too much work and responsibility to make their jobs worthwhile and safe (as is also the case with the new junior doctors).
One patient on the Saturday night was particularly difficult; in fact, he was obnoxious and bang out of order. His story was told in full voice from 1-3am, as heard by the rest of us in the ward (all after surgeries that day), and he required stitches.
He knew it all… his rights, the law, the problems in society, what was medically right for him, the problems with the HSE… except of course he didn’t, but his selfishness occupied the nurses, a doctor, two security men and a Garda until 5am.
He continued to be disruptive… all while still under anaesthetic and when his wound was not given a chance to heal.
He ultimately discharged himself, against medical advice - much to the relief of all of us and probably the staff (and another young man delighted to get a bed) - still spouting on about the infringement on his medical autonomy and damning the nurses and staff.
I could only imagine the media headlines if anything had happened to him while still deemed medically unfit… and how we’d all - myself included - be abhorred at how this could have been allowed to happen by the professional staff in the CUH. There are often reasons beyond the sensation.
I am extremely grateful as I continue my rehab that I was so well looked after in one of the country’s busiest public hospitals.
I know my experience isn’t or hasn’t been the same for everyone: but I also know that the efforts of frontline staff across the board need to be trumpeted and appreciated when things go right, and not just get highlighted when things fail… our hospitals are about our people who are dedicated and brilliant.
Finally, I say to hospital management, the HSE and the Minister and Department of Health: value the people we have at the coalface who are showing such laudable courage under fire every day of the week.
When there is a will, there is a way.