Wednesday, 14 August 2013

An Unfortunate Day

I have had an awful day today. This post is rather painful for me to write as the experience is still raw. Bear in mind, I'm still grieving as I write this, and flashes of anger may appear. I have tried my hardest to be as fair as I can while writing this, but I am not sure if I have achieved this. So please bear that in mind when you read this, I must emphasise that the staff here are overworked and try their best, I have nothing against them and they do a brilliant job. I must also stress that at no point was I at risk of dying through this event, nor did I believe that I would die, nevertheless it was an extremely traumatic experience. Please read this with an open mind and do not judge harshly. After all, the first person to present their case seems right until another comes with questions and you hear the other side of the story. That said, let us begin. 

Today, I had a platelet transfusion - platelets are you used to help the blood clot and my levels were low hence the need for the transfusion. They hung the clear bag with yellow fluid neatly on Boffin, my drip stand, and set him to start transfusing. All was well through the process, that was until Boffin sounded the familiar Bing Bong indicating his job was done. I noticed that I had problems swallowing, my windpipe was clear, it was just very suddenly painful to swallow. At this point, I wasn't too concerned thinking that maybe my throat was dry, unfortunately water didn't help. But still, not too concerned because my airway was open, I was still breathing and I had a pulse - ABC check. The nurse came in, and I told her I had problems swallowing; she looked at the inside of my throat and but couldn't see anything suspicious. She went out the room to get a flush and when she came back I had a full blown urticarial (hives) rash and I was trembling. I was having an allergic reaction to the platelets. The nurse came back with drugs to counteract this reaction and administered them. Unfortunately, my heart rate hit the roof, I could feel my heart thumping furiously against my chest wall and I was starting to lose control of my breathing and began to hyperventilate. I was then left alone. Predictable my symptoms got worse, but still I had slight comfort in the fact that in terms of basic life support training I was in no risk of dying.

I waited a while, trying to get control of my breathing, knowing that now anxiety was setting in and exacerbating the problem. I couldn't take it anymore, I started to wheeze and the pain in my chest was unbearable. I pressed my buzzer, desperately hoping that someone would come quickly, despite past experiences. I thought, surely they would, they know I am having a reaction to the platelets, they know its a risky situation. But nobody came. I saw a number of people walk past my door to look at my chart, but none of them came in. I looked up at the crash buzzer which the staff used it and willed myself to pull it, but it was too far out of reach. In a last ditched attempt I shouted for help, when I saw someone near my door, but it took four attempts for someone to finally decide casually saunter in. He took one look at me and asked me what was wrong, all I could manage was the word nurse, with that he legged it out the room. The doctor came back, and took my pulse which he noted was very high and helped me get control of my breathing, he reassured me that my wind pipe wasn't going to close up but put me on a nebuliser because I was very weezy - the joys of asthma. I was comforted by the kindness of the doctor and the time he took to stay with me - being on your own in a room when no one comes to help is very frightening, for want of a better word, when you know time is of the essence. After the administration of the nebuliser, I finally fell asleep after my ordeal. 

But, there was one more obstacle to come my way. After I woke up, I went to the loo, and discovered that I was bleeding from back passage. I can't tell you what words I used at that moment, but they aren't used in polite conversation. I calmed myself down and used my medical knowledge to deduce that it was only a superficial bleed and not serious. In any case, I knew I had to tell the nurses. I told them my symptoms, in the style that my medical training had taught me to do so. The nurse confirmed my diagnosis. I don't know if it was because she knew I was a medic, but there was a distinct lack of empathy and acknowledgment of how distressing this situation actually was; knowing that it is not serious is beside the point, that fact alone does not take away the trauma that has just been experienced. 

I really felt dehumanised in that instant, and because I had no serious red flags, as they call them, I was deemed fine and that was that. It seemed  to me in the cases of the allergic reaction and the rectal bleeding, my body was perceived as a machine, all that was required was to follow protocol and that was the job well done. What I needed in those times was someone to sit with me and acknowledge my pain, and treat me like a human being.

A furious rage began to rise up within me. It was last week that I had officially raised concerns about the time it took for a the buzzers to be answered, this was after I had waited forty minutes for someone to answer my buzzer the previous day. I pointed that this time delay was a real risk and that had I, or another patient, been choking, or having a reaction I would be well and truly dead with no chance of resuscitation by the time they got to me. I said that this just can not continue. Effectively I was dismissed, albeit politely I should admit, and was told that I should write to the PM to campaign for more staff. I'm sorry, that's just not acceptable. There are many changes that could happen at this level, maybe solutions should actively be sought out rather than shot down by people who would rather take the default position of there is nothing we can do. It is only because it is easier to do nothing rather than stand up for what is right that nothing changes. 

Given this experience today, I will not let this issue slide. Having the background that I have, I understand the pressures that face the staff of the NHS, the staff are overworked and need more support, but they do a fantastic job with the resources they have to work with. But I also know what it is like to be a patient, and the stress and the struggles that we patients endure for no good reason. What the NHS don't realise is the psychological damage they cause to patients after they have been  through their doors, is long lasting, painful and cannot be fixed by a pill. I am a person first, not just a patient. This change in attitude that is required has to happen on an individual level and it is called empathy. It can not be forced by managers, it comes from pausing one moment, actively listening, and thinking about how you would like to be treated if you were in their position. It is up to each individual to choose to change. After all, an ocean is made up of a multitude of drops, we all need to do our part.  

I have debated at length with myself whether or not to publish this post. But it is my duty to speak up, not for myself, but for all the other patients who aren't able to speak for themselves. I am in a position where, due to my training, I can interact more with my treatment and spot potential dangers early. Most people who come through these doors, are not able to do this. If you are reading this and you work in the NHS, I implore you to take to heart what I've said. It is not down to someone else, it is down to you to change things. All it takes is to simply give more thought to your actions. I understand the pressure you are under and its not fair, but one act of kindness is all it takes to soothe the soul.

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