Dear Hospital

Georgia O'Keeffe - Breasts
Not mine, unfortunately.
Georgia O’Keeffe – Breasts
Alfred Stieglitz
(American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864-1946 New York)

During my last hectic visit to A & E in Stoke Mandeville I noticed boxes with slots on top, plastered with signs asking for feedback from people tired of waiting, in pain and worried. I believe there are similar ones in the cancer unit at Wycombe hospital but I didn’t spot them, being weighed down with other thoughts, my eyes turned inwards.

Having returned to Wycombe Hospital for treatment this week I can report that, as is usually the case, the demeanour and intentions of the staff were exemplary.

We all know how short of staff the NHS is – scheduled to get shorter I suspect following the Chancellor’s latest decision to freeze public sector wages again.

‘We’re a caring profession,’ one nurse said to me. ‘Don’t they care about us?’

Now in recovery I have time to reflect on my short stay in the day surgery unit. In the main I couldn’t fault my treatment. How it affected my stress levels though, could have been improved with a little communication (‘A big word used by too few people’, as a work colleague once said to me). The letter I received gave inaccurate information on some matters: I was, contrary to the typewritten advice, allowed to use a mobile phone in the ward, and I should have drunk plenty of water before 6am to prevent my blood vessels dilating for the anaesthetist later. Not life threatening, just confidence eroding, and in the case of my anaesthetic, multi-puncture-causing. Trying to find the ward where I was expected was badly described and on arrival, poorly signposted so that we had to ask a kindly maintenance man for directions.

Once I was installed in the ward it was the usual process of go there, do this, come here and so on, and this is where a little bit of thought would have been helpful. Time scales could have been explained so that I could decide whether to take my book with me. The whole process could have been mapped out so that my expectations were managed.

There were four women on my ward, and we had all arrived at 7.30 with empty stomachs and having eschewed fluids since 6am. We were all expecting to be on the morning list but two of these poor women found themselves on the afternoon one. Apparently their consultant is in the habit of doing this and despite it having been mentioned to him, refuses to change. It would not have been so much of an imposition if these frustrated women had known before they arrived, what to expect. They could have eaten later for a start. Fortunately they were given drinks of water.

During each stage of my treatment I asked for a running commentary so that the sting of a needle or the clamp of an X-ray machine were not a shock. In many cases I didn’t need to worry, I think the staff would have done this anyway, but in one in particular case, I think the guy was a student or new to the department, I did find it necessary and I felt less confident about the process as a result and came out wondering if he had put the wire in the right part of my breast, and whether the subsequent operation would be a success.

My scar is longer than I was expecting. I feel sure the consultant held up his finger and thumb about two centimetres apart when he described what to expect during an earlier visit. I think it’s about double that. Was it because the wire was in the wrong place or because the very amusing consultant from Poland, mentioned in an earlier post, was erring on the generous side? It’s not that it is particularly important, but in the matter of PR it did further damage to the NHS in my mind.

I thought that all this communication stuff would be second nature in hospitals these days. They seem to have taken it on board in the matter of procedures. Now they need to apply it to the whole hospital experience. In A&E I can almost forgive them, they are worked off their feet, but in a normal ward, it’s less acceptable.

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