By Juliet Atherton.
© Copyright Juliet Atherton 2017.
Published at Shakespir.
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Cover by Jessica Lincoln.
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This is a true story, only the names and places have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
Dedicated to all the wonderful medical professionals across the globe.
I don’t know what it is about me, December and hospitals, but they seem to go together. It was a December when the events of The Hospital Visit took place and it was December the next year when I ended up there yet again.
That October, after a visit to a specialist, I found that I needed minor surgery. Initially, the surgery scheduled for November, which is what I wrote in my diary, and I made sure I kept my schedule clear to accommodate it. It was to be quick and painless and I was told that I would be home by 5pm that same night after I fronted up at 7am to get ‘checked in’. An overnight stay was not even required, it was so minor. Having said that, the procedure would still require an anesthetic and, because of that fact, an assessment was necessary at the Pre-Operative unit.
I fronted up for my Pre-Operative assessment which was compulsory for all patients who would need anesthetic. I was told it would take about four hours, as I would have to see two different doctors and two different nurses. I wasn’t too concerned by this as our hospital has a lovely cafeteria which stocks something to please every palate, including a very large range of coffees, soft drinks and juices and a very nice view through the windows.
I arrived for my 10am appointment promptly after luckily finding a parking spot just near where I had to go. Of course, as I had never been in this part of the hospital before, I had to navigate my way through several corridors until I found the right department. In spite of getting lost a couple of times, I managed to be in the right place at exactly the right time. Opening the door, I was confronted by a sea of humanity, all of whom were standing before a desk with one very harried receptionist who was trying to cope with several people attempting to get her attention at once. The first thing that struck me was that there needed to be someone there to help this beleaguered woman who, in spite of all the people, managed to sort everybody into groups and give hand-held beepers to those who might like to leave for a coffee and use the beeper to know when she was ready to see them. We were given a beeper and went off to have hot chocolate in the cafeteria while we awaited our turn. Even though the coped admirably, she really should have had somebody else at the desk to help her, because the massive influx of patients when the doors were opened was quite a bit for one person to deal with.
When thinking back on this, the behavior of one of the soon-to-be patients was very amusing. It was a man in his sixties who wore two external hearing aids but obviously had chosen NOT to wear them that day. He was already being looked after by the receptionist when we arrived so it was very easy to hear what was being said (Although, given his volume, I probably could have heard him from the car park. ) The exchange went like this:
‘Name?’ the receptionist asked, and
He looked at her enquiringly, ‘I don’t know what your name is, you aren’t wearing a badge’. Needless to say, everyone, with the exception of the man and the receptionist, found this highly entertaining.
‘Not my name, YOUR name’ she said patiently.
‘Bill’. She looked relieved.
‘Is that short for anything?’ she asked.
‘No, it’s just Bill – B-i-l-l,’ was his very loud and gruff rely.
‘Are you married?’
‘What did you say?’ He gave her another strange look.
‘I said ‘Are you married?’
‘I don’t know if I’m married or not.’
‘Are you separated from your wife?’
‘Well, we aren’t together. She died last year.’
‘So, you are a widower,’ the receptionist said gently.
‘No, I don’t think so. We were divorced for 5 years before she died so I suppose that makes me a widower.’
We decided at this point to go and have our hot drinks. Much better than hearing the woman describe the differences between ‘divorced’, ‘single’ and being a widower.
By the time we’d finished drinks, we still hadn’t been beeped, so we returned to the waiting room. The backlog was cleared and we saw the receptionist, who finally sent us to see our first doctor, a young woman. This doctor had something of the zealot about her personality and didn’t seem to understand what I would and would not accept for treatment options. She was however very nice, and helpful, and had clearly been well trained. My only concern was she had a ‘party line’ and had every intention of sticking to it. I am not known for accepting things that don’t suit me, so I told her point-blank that if I was paying for this surgery and the options for the procedure she ‘suggested’ were not necessary, that I would not be having them done. Luckily, my chief surgeon agreed with me and said the decision was ultimately mine to make.
My second appointment that day was with a young and arrogant male medical student; whose stock-standard response to any questions was a very bored ‘I don’t know’. It occurred to me that he should know, but he told me that I would be actually unable to have an anesthetic for because my neck would not extend far enough to allow the required intubation. I’m glad I didn’t have to speak with him for too long, because his arrogance was beginning to annoy me, particularly the fact that he seemed bored dealing with me.
My next port of call was to have my medical history, measurements and blood taken by a nurse, for pre-surgery evaluation. This was where the fun really began. There were two nurses there when I arrived, and they clearly had some kind of issue with each other. They didn’t seem to be able to speak civilly to each other. I have always believed that, whatever your problems may be, you do your best to not take them to work with you. Clearly these two had not read the memo on the subject, because there was definite animosity between them. After being weighed and height measured, one of the nurses had what I presume to be a menopausal hot-flash. She was bright red and looked as though she was going to faint. Interestingly enough, the other nurse who was taking down my details didn’t make any move to assist her colleague. I really did think she was going to lose consciousness and given her position, my lap would be roughly where she would fall. It was myself who was asking if she was okay, not her colleague, who didn’t seem to care one way or another.
When it came time to take blood, I had the usual problem of my flat veins to deal with. Sure enough the nurse had trouble extracting blood from my veins, and after three attempts she angrily gave up and told me I would have to go to the Pathology department and have them take it instead. Talking to my friend who came with me on that day, I remarked fondly about the one particular nurse at the Pathology department who was always able to draw my blood successfully on the first attempt. The nurse directed her anger at me, snapping ‘Well, maybe she’s gotten more training at this than I have’. She told me to go to the waiting room and sit there until I was collected by somebody from Pathology who would deal with me. It wasn’t long before a nurse from Pathology came for me, and she was very friendly and guided me to her office to get my blood there. Within minutes, she had taken several vials of blood for testing, without any issue at all.
Back at the Pre-Operative Assessment unit, the receptionist told me I would later receive a phone call to confirm the date of and my availability for my surgery. It was on my way home that I allowed the thought to cross my mind that if that nurse’s job was to take blood, that she should be better at it, and definitely not blame a patient for having flat, ‘difficult’ veins. Perhaps she was having a bad day working with her colleague, but that is no excuse for being bad-tempered with a patient.
Just after 9am the next morning, the phone rang and I assumed it was the hospital to confirm the date of my surgery. However, it was my surgeon’s receptionist, wanting to know when I was going to have my pre-operative blood test. I was quite surprised to hear this; after all, I’d had my blood taken the day before in the Pathology Department. Had they lost it? She apologised and told me they’d track it down; there must have been a communication break-down. If they couldn’t find it, they’d let me know so I could come back in and give more blood. When I didn’t hear back, I assume they’d found the test, it was fine and the surgery was to go ahead.
A fortnight after the Pre-Operative assessment day, the phone rang again. It was a very nervous young doctor from Pathology telling me that the Head of the department had viewed my blood test and noticed a low platelet count. This changed things he said, and I would have to come in to speak with him to decide how my surgery would proceed. He then said that somebody from Pathology would call me back with an appointment date because the surgery was looming ever-closer and we had to work fast, or else everything might be put on hold. I had never heard anything about having low platelets before. All I knew was that people with low platelets could be in danger if they bled or were bruised heavily. I would have to wait and see what the pathologist said.
Two weeks after this hurried call, I still hadn’t heard when I would be seen again, and the surgery was very soon. I telephoned the surgeon’s receptionists and told her that I was still none the wiser. She told me to come in at 8 the next morning and so I did. Finally, everything was sorted out and my new date for day surgery was 20th December.
As instructed, I arrived promptly at 7am., After being checked in to a very quiet area and told to put on the provided hospital gown, I settled down to wait. Within a few minutes, a nurse came in and checked all my details and gave me my pre-med in the form of two tablets. I was also given an anti-nausea drug as anesthetic drugs usually make me feel quite ill. By the time the orderlies arrived to take me to theatre at just before eight, I was feeling pleasantly calm and not as stressed as I had been before the medication kicked in.
Two cheerful orderlies were to conduct me to the operating suite. I remember this clearly although not much about what was said. In what seemed like a matter of seconds we were outside the doors to the operating room and the members of the surgical team I hadn’t already met introduced themselves.
My surgeon appeared seemingly, out of nowhere and asked me was I ready to get this show on the road? I remember thinking that she may have been short in stature but she was certainly big on authority. Within seconds, I was asleep, and my next memory was of waking up in the recovery room and being spoken to by a lovely male nurse. The area was a hive of activity but quiet and organized at the same time. I felt well and very comfortable. The male nurse brought me some ice chips to ease my throat, which was a little tender after having swallowed the tube during surgery.
They kept me in recovery for just over an hour and all the staff was jovial, pleasant and helpful. Finally, I was wheeled down to my ward, complete with an icy drink and some yoghurt. I received exceptional care and treatment and cannot fault a single thing although I kept it in my memory to inform the administration department that the hard-working people in the pre-operative assessment unit needed some back up during peak times.
By 8p.m., I was at home reclining in my own bed, still feeling very tired but pleased at how smoothly everything had gone. I was very lucky to have such a marvelous surgeon and such an efficient hospital.
I saw the doctor again six weeks after the surgery and we were both delighted with the result. All clear, and no more problems expected. I certainly couldn’t ask for more than that.
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Sincerely, Juliet Atherton.
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