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A brush with the NHS

A fortnight ago I found myself in the often imagined situation of being raced up a motorway in an ambulance, lights flashing, sirens ululating. What had happened was that my old enemy, Mr Migraine (I often think that having suffered from migraine has been more of a lifelong affliction than being blind in one eye) hadn’t stopped after the usual six hours or so of nausea, but had gone on and on, night and day, for about 24 hours… 24 hours of non-stop vomiting, rolling around on the bathroom floor feeling sorry for myself, with frequent prayers and imprecations to the Almighty… O God! O Christ!  Vicky was becoming concerned about possible dehydration, thus this trip via ambulance, much to the solemn curiosity of our neighbours.

It may have looked exciting from outside but inside that ambulance it was an uncomfortable ride. I was reminded of being jolted around on the rutted sun-baked laterite roads of Northern Nigeria.  A young paramedic insisted on taking a full account of my medical history on her tablet computer as well as asking a series of tick-box mostly irrelevant questions about life-style habits.  Meanwhile I was throwing up continuously. This repeated taking of notes, together with the repeated charting of blood-pressure, heart-rate  and temperature, seemed to be the default reaction of nearly all the medical personnel  I was to meet in A and E over the next 12 hours.  I wonder if all that information was ever truly collated, or even read?

It seems ungrateful to criticise the NHS, the introduction of which was, to my mind, one of the glories of the post-war Labour government, together with other common-sense socialist measures like the provision of universal National Insurance  and pensions, and I couldn’t have wished for a more kindly assortment of (multinational) nursing assistants and nurses.  But what I really wanted from them, from anybody, was, first a diagnosis followed by some kind of treatment.  Instead  I found myself being trollied and re-trollied and passed down a kind of sausage-machine of background investigations – x-rays then ecg.s, and then more x-rays – all gathering more data I suppose.  I was beginning to suspect that the department was first of all covering itself by going through all the possible investigative procedures rather than getting on with diagnosis and nursing.  The injection to stop vomiting that I was eventually given had no effect at all.  Feeling by now that I was taking up valuable time and trolley space – the Irish drunk with pneumonia on one side and the lad who had burnt his chest and arms by squirting white spirit onto a barbecue on the other side, were clearly more urgent cases. So, still throwing up, I persuaded Vic to take me home.

After another night of hellish discomfort, Vic drove round next morning to find a Sunday Chemist which was open; the young Asian chemist she discovered turned out to be notably well-informed and helpful, suggesting  an effective non-prescription anti-sickness pill  (‘Buccastem’ if you’re interested ) as well as different means of rehydration.

My lasting impressions from our visit to that Accident and Emergency department the previous day was 1) that it was clearly over busy, too busy really to stop and think 2) that it was under-resourced with experienced doctors and 3) that it seemed  to be designed  to be procedural, rather than dealing quickly with diagnosis and treatment. (I wonder if such professional defensiveness could be the result of those television advertisements which encourage patients to sue, if not their employers, then at least their doctors and dentists?)  Finally, days later, a doctor member of my own family has been able to provide an explanation for so much vomiting – apparently a Migraine attack can, rarely, prolong itself into something  called Migrainosus Stasus,  a spasmodic migraine attack that can last up to 72 hours, just in the horrible ways I had experienced.

Now much better, thank you, and feeling a bit sheepish about that ambulance trip, it has taken about a fortnight and some lovely May sunshine to regain a sense of health and well-being.



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