Okay, let me first of all put you straight on a notion that I was once stupid enough to hold. You might think that being allocated a single room in hospital, i.e. a room to yourself, is good news. In most cases, it’s really not.
I remember being wheeled on a stretcher to my first single room. ‘Never mind love. At least you’ve got a single’ said a kindly porter. Oh yes, I thought, how lucky. Privacy. No snorers. No other patient listening in on my so-called private conversations with my consultant. All true. All good. But completely offset by the following. Unless you are very, very lucky, there are generally only two reasons why you might be given a single room in the NHS today.
1) You are deemed to be officially just too irritating for other patients to bear. You can of course take advantage of this premise. Find yourself in a mixed ward with a snorer on one side and an incessant talker on the other, then by all means have a go ….pretend you’re a nutter for a couple of days and you might just get moved (or sectioned). But singing Kylie on a loop for 48 hours or taking off all your clothes every time a nurse comes in, can be a bit debillitating in itself. And the staff aren’t daft. Anyway watch out for the other patients if you decide to take this path. We’re an unforgiving lot what with our confined space and bad food. I once found myself in a single room opposite another single room whose occupant had such issues. At first I was sympathetic to his shouts of Help every 3 seconds. When it continued remorselessly for 24 hours, I was less sympathetic and raging at the system that had put someone with drastic mental health issues in a room next to me. When ‘Help’ turned into racist taunts of the staff, smearing his excrement on the food trolley, and throwing furniture into my room once a day, I lost all sympathy and am ashamed to admit I spent the days that followed planning a detailed operation to pass on my superbug by spitting into his water jug. (Didn’t actually carry that one out).
2) Single room in hospital equals superbug. Most commonly MRSA or C Difficile (which I had). OK so you might be vomiting for England but hey, at least you can do it in peace. And you get to amuse yourself by watching the various means the staff come in and out of your room. First we have what I call the Stormtrooper approach. Masked, hooded, gloved – is there a nurse in there? You watch the major dressing up operation just outside your door and wonder if you’ve actually got leprosy rather than a vomiting bug. Then we have the Indiana Jones types. Minimum apparel, a quick push on the handgel, and then before you have chance to say MRSA, somehow Indy has got across the room, retrieved your full bed pan and got it outside with barely any surfaces touched and nothing more than a whipcrack of the plastic gloves. And then sadly we still very occasionally get the parliamentary candidate approach. Press the flesh as much as possible without thinking of the consequences and then sally forth into the next ward, without so much of a glance at the handgel, to press yet more flesh. In my years in the NHS I thankfully see fewer of these types but they’re not extinct quite yet.
I’ve always felt quite isolated and vulnerable in a single room. The reason you’re in hospital in the first place is because you’re pretty poorly and you need some attention. In a single room, unless you’re in intensive care, you will spend large swathes of the day alone, trying not to be a needy type and pressing the call bell too much. If you’re on a ward with other people at least you can grab a nurse as she walks past, have a bit of conversation with the other beds, listen in to everyone else’s ward round consultation. And the staff glance at you when they walk past, a quick check to make sure you’re ok. I once spent three weeks in a single room. I’d got into the habit at night of shutting the door so I could ignore my mad neighbour and sleep. Then they let me home for a night during which I had several seizures, fell out of bed and had to be blue lighted back to hospital. My husband was there in the room with me. Had I been on the ward in my single room, I’m not sure anyone would have found me until the next morning.
So when you’re sat on your bed, desperate for some privacy, irritated by the woman in the next door bed, fed up of sharing a loo …just be careful what you wish for. A single room in hospital isn’t always worth a supplement.