Tag Archives: single room

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?

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.