Tag Archives: hospital

Curtains for the NHS?

Let  the person in the NHS responsible for soft furnishings please step forward.  Come on, stop hiding behind those dodgy curtains.  Let’s have a good look at you.

I’ve always been curious about who makes decisions about soft furnishings.  Let’s be honest, there’s not much else to think about when you’re sat on your bed.  You’ve already watched the bin being emptied, noted the woman opposite you turn a page of her book, so your eyes and your mind wander to those green curtains and the not-matching green bedspread.

Green.  Now there’s a colour I understand.  Presumably the NHS soft furnishing Tsar – or more likely soft furnishing committee –  rejected a number of other colours for sensible reasons.  Red – too much like blood.  Blue – too likely to blend in with nurses. Black – let’s not go there.   Green is calming, cool, cathartic, cleansing and load of other comforting words that begin with a C.  So ok…..I approve of green though I do wonder why yellow got rejected.  Is it too happy for hospital?

Anyway who actually picked the fabric?  The one I’m looking at now with no fewer than four different green shades in splodges on it.  It’s not what I would pick.  Who walked through the NHS fabric shop looking for just the right shade for my ward?  Does the NHS fabric shop have anything plain in it?  Or anything at all in black?  Did the furnishing Tsar spend hours sifting through rolls of green fabric before he found this perfect four-splodge version?

Thinking about it, maybe there was method behind his material madness.  Presumably as our Tsar is walking past those rolls of fabric, he’s thinking feverishly,  ‘It needs to match the bedspreads.’  Let’s be honest after a thousand patients, and hopefully a thousand washes, our NHS bedspreads could end up  a fair few different shades of green.  Maybe that’s where the splodges come in?  I wonder if he worries about such things, our Tsar? Does he feel stressed at the  pressure of buying tasteful textiles to accompany hospital treatment?  Is this a person comfortable in his choices or is this a man not trusted by his wife to pick his own ties let alone the bedroom curtains?

I’m assuming he’s a man which is, of course, very unfair and indeed sexist of me.  I’ve known plenty of women with terrible taste in furnishings if their living rooms are anything to go by.   My family once had to spend a huge amount of time sat on a lilac sofa in an intensive care waiting room.  The colour of that sofa was much discussed, and is now part of family history.  ‘It’s as bad as the lilac sofa’ , they say.   Lilac.  I bet a woman picked it.

Thinking about it, this is not an easy job.  Which normal person ever finds it easy to pick curtains? My living room lasted for years with no curtains, the neighbours looking in as they walked their dogs, simply because I couldn’t decide which blinking curtains to buy.  I’d spend hours in fabric shops looking for that elusive pattern that was just the right shade.   I only actually put some up when we needed to sell the house.  I’d be useless at furnishing a hospital.

So come on out soft furnishing Tsar.  I have reflected on the problem and it’s not curtains for you.   Give the man (or woman) a medal instead.

Boredom in hospital

In case you haven’t realised it yet, your time in hospital will be split as follows.   1% Treatment.   99% Waiting for Treatment.

If you are very seriously ill then the 99% will pass in a blur and it won’t matter.  But for most of us, while being in hospital can be depressing, painful, stressful, and so on,  the worst thing about it is the tedium.  If your ailments don’t get you, then there is a real possibility you could actually end up being bored to death.

You might think ‘Ah well.  I can use the time to do something worthwhile.  Write a book.  Learn how to crochet.  Become fluent in Mandarin.’  Forget it.  You simply don’t have the brainpower because of all the depression, pain and stress in the last paragraph.    Even reading something really simple can just feel like too much effort.

You know you’re in the grips of tediumitis when you start taking an unhealthy interest in the slightest movement in the ward.  When you find yourself putting down Take a Break magazine to watch someone empty the bin,  you need help.

So in the fine tradition of blogging lists,  here is my list of  five ways to keep yourself occupied on the ward without putting too much effort into it.

  1. Listen in to other people’s conversations. It’s unavoidable, so for the only time in your life , completely guilt-free.  Be as nosey as you like.   People have really  in-depth, interesting discussions in hospital, ranging from   ‘What’s wrong with my bowels?’ to whispered ‘ What ARE we going to do with Grandma when she gets out?’   If the curtains are drawn around the bed,  strain your ears as much as you like.  If they are open,  try to show a little discretion. I once had a family of six who were visiting the next bed, actually turn their chairs round so they could hear better what my doctor was saying.
  2. Hospital Bingo. You can make up your own list of phrases to tick off of course but here are a few to start you off. Have you got good veins? (Normally said by a nervous nurse with a needle.) Are my pills ready to take home? (Normally said at 7pm by a patient who was told he could go home at 10am.). Here’s your toast and it’s warm.  (Never comes up).
  3. Read your hospital notes. If they’ll let you. If  you manage to get past the ridiculous hospital procedures about whether you can or not, (another blog post pending), then reading your notes is extremely interesting.  Not only do you find out what you’ve got (which is often difficult to get out of the doctors themselves), you also sometimes find out what they actually think of you in their letters to each other.  I once read one which started ‘Thank you for referring this extremely pleasant lady to me.’ Really?  Of course if you’re a cantankous old moaner then you might not like what you read.  But then you could always write a few complaint letters.  That would use up a bit of time.
  4. Work out who is the most irritating patient on the ward. Points for snoring, whinging, not using their headphones for the TV, telling you over and over again about the intricacies of their illness, being unfortunate enough to be hooked up to a constantly beeping machine ( not their fault but hey), taking an hour in the shower,  having more pillows than you, and generally just staring at you across the ward alot.  Playing the game won’t make them less irritating ..but at least in conducting a scientific study, you can tell your visitors emphatically ‘The most irritating person on here is that woman over there.’
  5. Finally if all those fail, there’s one more thing to try to avoid boredom in hospital. Next time the nurse comes round, try playing dead.  That should liven things up.

Living on a NHS ward

Everyone should be made to live for a week on a NHS ward.  Especially our politicians.  No, not to see how over stretched the staff are. Not to experience how bad the food can be. Not even to see how long you sometimes wait for treatment. But for the simple reason that when you live on a NHS ward you’re forced into close contact with ‘people who are not like you.’

Let’s be honest, we all have our tribes and we all have our prejudices about people who aren’t like us.  For most of us – I hope – it’s not based on colour of skin or sexuality anymore but the prejudices are still there. Perhaps nowadays it’s more about what someone is wearing, the newspaper they read, the television show they watch, the way they vote, the place they live, the school they went to.

And for most of our lives we succeed in spending time with people like us.  Our families often, though not always, have a similar outlook.  We pick our friends.  Our work colleagues, if not from the same tribe, are often from a similar one.  We live our lives most of the time within a common consensus about what is ‘right’.

And then we get ill and we’re forced to live with total strangers, thrown together because of similarities in the ways our bodies have let us down, rather than similarities in education or income.  We eat together, sleep together.   We’re together 24 hours a day, sometimes for weeks on end.

We don’t just share magazines and bathrooms; we share nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants.  We share knowledge about which ones to ask for help, and which ones seem like they couldn’t care less.  We know intimate secrets about each other’s bodies; we hear hushed conversations through thin green curtains, telling us things about our bed neighbours we’d rather not hear.  We notice who has regular, loving visitors ..and who doesn’t.  Even when one of us retreats behind the curtains, desperate for privacy,  we can see the red eyes when they return to view.

I’ll be honest.  I often arrive in a ward in a foul mood.  Depressed and frustrated at being back in hospital, worried about my illness, my husband and kids, I retreat into non-communication with my fellow patients.  No eye contact, monosyllabic answers to those who pry too much, I pull the curtains and lie alone, trying to avoid the reality of what is happening to me.

But after a couple of hours sulking,  I have no choice.  I’m forced to engage with those around me whoever they are, whatever life they lead, however old they are, whatever their faith, whichever newspaper they choose … and life on the ward is generally better when I do.

And it does broaden your view of the world.   We all know in our heads that there are people who are poorer than us or posher than us,  less or better educated, or who vote for parties we might consider unthinkable …but until we actually meet those people, it’s the differences that stand out rather than the similarities.  Living on a ward can make you more tolerant, less sure of exactly what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, more appreciative of the difficulties other tribes face.

And that’s got to be a good thing. Hasn’t it?

Sleep in hospital

Sleep.  The great healer. The time when our bodies recharge and mend themselves.  Without it we quickly feel poorly.  Scientists have linked lack of sleep to, among other things, diabetes, obesity, and even speeding cancer growth.  It is without doubt a great natural cure for our ailments and the reason our doctors, and our mothers, tell us to ‘Get a good night’s sleep.  You’ll feel better in the morning.”

Why then does the NHS put so little value on it?

It’s a recognised fact among us patients that we won’t get much sleep in hospital.  The staff from consultants to porters seem to recognise that too.  The cause is generally put down to other patients, snoring, the crazy ones who shout all night, those who simply weep, loudly.

But as much as other patients do sometimes keep me awake, without doubt, it’s more often the hospital staff and procedures that leave me tossing and turning in frustration at 3am.

Let’s talk about last night.  Lights off about 11pm.  I’d shoved in my headphones to drown out the sound of the two elderly, confused ladies alternately crying for help and ranting at the poor care worker on shift.   Then I’d managed to drop off to sleep.  Until, at 11.58pm,  I heard a voice. “Fiona.  Sorry love but can you wake up?  We need to move you to another ward.  Can you get up and pack please? The porter will be here in a few minutes.”   I travelled down some cold corridors, porter commiserating with me, (“It’s not bloody fair love, they shouldn’t move you at this time”), and probably woke everyone else on the new ward as I clumsily tried to unpack in the dark.  I was not surprisingly then a tad unrelaxed and didn’t manage to get to sleep until about 4.30am.  And of course they woke me at 6.30am to take my blood pressure.

Now if this was a rare occurrence I’d accept it as inevitable in a busy  hospital that has to admit patients through A and E in the middle of the night.  But in some wards, in some trusts, it seems to be an  acceptable, common way of behaving.  The night before last I’d been woken from my slumber by first one patient moving out at 2am and another moving on half an hour later.

And it’s not just the procedures but sometimes the staff themselves. There are those who seem to understand that it is in fact nighttime, who get on with the stuff they have to do but at a lower decibel level than they’d use during the day.  But there are many who carry on as if it’s the middle of the afternoon, switching bright lights on, talking in hearty, loud voices, waking us all up to ask a patient a few questions which could perhaps wait a few hours until morning.

So, NHS, here’s what I propose.  Let’s introduce sleep-protected time zones in the same way we have protected times for meals.  A period between midnight and 7am when everyone talks in whispers, lights are dimmed and no-one should have to move beds.  Of course there will be times when these rules will have to be broken for essential medical care.  Most patients would recognise that.   But if it’s not essential, let’s keep the ward quiet and dark so we can get a few hours uninterrupted kip.   We’re ill for goodness sake.  We need our sleep.

A single room in hospital

 

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.

Company at the Bed – the hospital visitor

Always a tricky one this.  We all want hospital visitors.  Let’s face it, if we’re so bored that we’re reduced to putting down Take a Break to watch someone empty the bin, then it’s pretty clear someone from the outside arriving to actually talk to us will be the high point of the day.  Or will it?

The problem with visitors unless they are your nearest and dearest, conversations run dry pretty quickly.  Here is a typical example:

Visitor:  Hi! You’re looking well (blatant lie).  How are you doing?

Patient: Oh not so bad (another blatant lie).

Visitor:  How did the test go/what did the doctor say/when will you be out?

There will then follow three minutes of conversation in which you draw out in great detail the one minute conversation you had with the doctor this morning.

Pause …….

Patient: So how are you?

Visitor: Oh fine, fine.

Patient: Any news?

Visitor: No not really.

Pause………

Right so now you’re at most six minutes into your visit and you have at least another 30 before your hospital visitor can reasonably leave, safe in the warm feeling that they’ve done their duty by coming in to cheer you up.

And then there’s the tricky issue of what they bring with them.  Because they want to bring something.  To arrive at a hospital visit without a gift is a bit like being invited to dinner and not bringing a bottle.  Except they can’t really turn up on the renal ward with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  Flowers?  Well that used to be the easy option, but nowadays most wards don’t want them. They’re apparently a hygiene risk.  Along with a load of other hygiene risks that most people ignore of course …but frankly flowers are messy, require vases, drop petals …and when you’re ill any strong smells can tip you over a vomit inducing edge.  So no thanks to flowers.

Magazines?  Newspapers? Books?  Yes please. But be prepared, as a patient to see your hospital visitor in a whole new light.   You expected the Daily Mail, he brought the Guardian.  You thought you’d get Vogue, you got Chat magazine.  Their choice of what they bring you to read says something about them …or about what they think about you! No pressure then Visitors.

Food.  Ah yes.  Even worse. They won’t know what special diet you’re on.   So if you’re on low salt, they’ll bring crisps, low potassium you’ll get bananas and ‘I thought you’d be missing your skinny lattes’,  restricted fluids you’ll get a nice big bottle of lemonade to wink at you from your bedside cabinet.  With every visit your table piles higher and higher with forbidden food until the nurse comes over and tells you in no uncertain terms that if you don’t  sort your diet out, they’ll stop the IV insulin.  (*IT WASN’T MY FAULT.  SOMEONE BOUGHT IT ME!!!!*)

If you’re in for a particularly long spell, you may find your gifts get more and more imaginative (or bizarre).  I recently got a Lego campervan, two origami kits, a paint by numbers, and a Rubiks cube.  Think I may have been doing some moaning about being bored.     I didn’t finish any of them while I was actually on the ward ….but it did give us all something to talk about.

Expect many pauses.  Some will be extended while you both listen intently to what visitors to the next bed have to say.  And what the doctor said to them on the round.  And to see what gift they got.

And of course your visit ends with more blatant lies.

Patient: Good to see you

Visitor: You too.  I’ll tell everyone how well you’re looking.

Anyone got a funnel? The joy of providing a urine sample

Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, when us ladies have to provide a urine sample, it’s a tad more difficult to do so than for male patients. Put it this way, without a fair bit of limbering up, arm gymnastics and serious danger of an unpleasant splash zone, I have very little chance of hitting that specimen pot.   Luckily someone at some point had the bright idea of a specially shaped cardboard container to help. Made out of cardboard, small and triangular with a helpful handle and a pouring edge to get it into the bottle once you’ve done.    So far so good – except they’re like gold dust.  You can get the great big bedpan type ones, but getting your precious sample from one of them into a small sample jar without a funnel  is like trying to pour a large glass of red wine back into the bottle.  You’re heading for disaster and likely to end up with the urinary equivalent of a red stain on the carpet.   No, it’s the small ones we need but they seem to be in very short supply.   I once had an outpatients nurse look furtively around the department saying “Quick take that before anyone sees.  I’m not supposed to hand them out”.

Anyone know how much they cost? 3p? 4p? Surely not 10p? Tell you what, NHS, I’ll buy one off you.  It’ll save me getting wee on my best jumper.   How about a vending machine, strategically placed next to the loo? Or put them in as a free gift with Take a Break magazine?   Until this changes, women all over the land will continue to use kitchen bowls, saucepans,  flower vases , whatever comes to hand really.  Then we’ll watch silently in horror as our families make gravy in the measuring jug we last used in the bathroom.