In Praise of the NHS Staff
I can’t get to the loo.
I know this is an unconventional way to start a conversation, especially one that is so public, but bear with me.
It all started nearly four weeks ago when I stepped outside my house and took a tumble. For you young folks, I must explain something that creeps up on you with age and which most seniors will be well aware of. When you are young, you fall over. When you are old, you “have falls”.
Well, my fall resulted in rupturing both Achilles tendons. These are the thick cords at the back of the leg that make it possible to move your foot, so you can walk. It is, I have heard many times since, very unusual to rupture both at the same time. Clever old me!
In my case, because it didn’t hurt ( apart from a burning sensation at the back of my heels) but the rest of me did, I collected myself and got up. I did that five more times over the next two hours and immediately crashed back down each time. Eventually I got the message: my feet didn’t work. I couldn’t even crawl.
When the ambulance arrived, I was checked over ( apparently you can tell if the tendons are ruptured by squeezing the calves), my feet were quickly encased in cumbersome black boots in hospital and a bed was found for me.
The treatment is either surgery, which was deemed too risky for me, by the doctor who shook his head a lot and sucked air through his teeth, until I thought was for the knacker’s yard.
The non-surgical treatment, or conservative treatment, is to immobilise the foot in a position that points the toes downward and gives the best option for the tendons to knit back together. A fibreglass cast was fitted with wedges inside to help keep the feet at that angle.
Three weeks in hospital was an illuminating experience. Normally one is in pain here, and people have passed through this ward in a variety of conditions over those weeks. Some have been very poorly indeed, all have been treated with utmost kindness by the nurses, carers and whatever the lovely people in maroon who feed us are called.
I have not been in pain. The casts were like iron and rubbed my toes raw, but I have been in the unique position of being perfectly physically well while occupying a window bed in a ward of people who, for a range of reasons, are not.
I met amazing people, some of whom I hope will remain friends. I have been able to write for Pembrokeshire.Online because the internet has been freely available (a lifeline for a writer), I have been fed nourishing food by smiling people who go out of their way to accommodate small appetites, picky habits and sicky tummies, and of course getting the tea just the right colour and consistency. I know you can’t please everyone, but the soups are great in my opinion and there are vegetarian options each day.
I have to say something about the ambulance staff – comedians almost to a man or woman. Privy to the beginning and the end of so many lives, and every stage in between, they offer comfort and distraction for the anxiety and fear that so many of us experience when vulnerable. A special thank you to Ivor, who checked up on me in A&E between his shouts on a very busy day and Huw (I think) who popped by as I was writing this.
The staff are incredible. I wont get too political here but it seems ridiculous to me that many men and women here, some not only working long hours, but also studying, are taking on second jobs to make ends meet. How can that be right? I remember thinking when everyone was clapping for frontline workers a few months ago, that what was really needed was an assertive push to make our government understand the need to value people by paying them what they deserve… which would be much more than they currently receive. And in case you are interested, most of the staff I have spoken to in here feel the same. Generally I met with some variants on “It was well meant for a couple of weeks, but didn’t change anything”.
There are days of three people on a shift… the next one person doing three people’s jobs, all smiling and friendly, though obviously very busy.
There is also the outdated equipment. Staff having to do things several times because monitors fail halfway through or need charging up, and then there is the scarcity of basic equipment.
Which brings me back to my opening statement. Having come back into hospital after a few hours at home in which time I re-injured both tendons and it became clear that I could not stay there – at least until I can move around a bit – I find that a shortage of commodes means I have to call already busy staff every time I want to pee… which I am sorry to say is rather more often than I would like, especially at night.
So….”Nurse! Could you help me please?”
PS In case you were wondering, I was just shy of a three-week stay in the hospital when I was taken home. Within a few hours it was clear I couldn’t take care of myself there and did some further damage to both tendons. The next day I was back to the same ward and the same bed and am now awaiting a place to go to. What’s next?