I was pondering a ‘grateful’ theme for this week when I received a call from my dad telling me that he’ll be having a heart monitor injected into his chest in a couple of weeks. Yes – injected into his chest. This thing can last up to three years and comes with a corresponding ‘box’ which records the heart rate. And perhaps also an app that sends him a push notification telling him to calm down when his heart is beating too fast? Maybe! My first thought was ‘what the heck is this craziness?’ but then – as the Red Cross warns of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in NHS hospitals – I thought about how lucky we are to live in a country that offers us free healthcare (yes, I know we pay taxes, but I still think we get a pretty great deal). We’re so lucky.
By complete and utter chance we were lucky enough to be born in the U.K., and not in Syria or Afghanistan or Sierra Leone. In another life, my Mum wouldn’t have had the life prolonging drugs that cost the NHS somewhere around £1,000 a month and gave us almost two and a half years after her diagnosis; my Dad wouldn’t have received the thrombolysis that was delivered within a short enough timeframe after his stroke that he was left with no permanent damage. In another life, those with disabilities are left to beg on street corners and women with complications in childbirth are left to hope that Mother Nature will step in (I’m sure she does sometimes, but not always). Just because of the complete and utter lottery of where we happen to have been born in this world. Whatever horrid things might happen to us, we can pretty much walk into a hospital and they’ll do whatever they can to fix us – no paperwork required.
Yes, of course, there are issues within the NHS. I’ve definitely seen my fair share of them: the time when the anaesthetist ruptured one of my Dad’s arteries before heart surgery and he nearly died; when my Auntie was sent home early after surgery and suffered a bleed on the brain; when my Mum spend time in the local hospital with pneumonia and the nurse was unable to use basic maths to calculate the correct dose of painkillers. You may be wondering why on earth I’m writing about being grateful for the NHS!
After Mum’s stay in the local hospital, the matron actually asked my father and I to attend an upcoming ward meeting to speak about our experience – she wanted her team to hear first hand how distressing it had been; how my father literally didn’t sleep for five days worrying that somebody would either give Mum an overdose or miscalculate the amount of morphine and leave her in pain for hours until the next drug round. Life in an NHS hospital is certainly no barrel of laughs. Throughout Mum’s illness, my family were completely spoilt by our experience with the Marie Curie hospice – with palliative care it’s literally drugs on tap; take as many as you need until you can’t feel the pain any more. Not so much on a general NHS ward where patients are getting over a bout of flu or having a varicose vein removed, where it takes four hours for a doctor to come and fit a cannula, and nobody has any idea that the jolly lady in the next bed is terminally ill.
Hospitals can be so bloody miserable, so terrifying, but yet again during Mum’s stay in that local hospital, I was also reminded of the loveliness of people. The ladies on the ward laughing together, helping each other, even standing up for the woman who couldn’t quite stand up for herself or make herself heard by the busy nurses. Walking into that ward felt terrifying, but within hours it had – in some ways – taken on the feeling of a slumber party. Perhaps that’s a touch rose-tinted; the snacks included an omelette and gravy (yes, somebody actually did order that), lights were out by 7.30pm, and the gossip was mainly focussed around getting out – but there was a definite feeling of friendship and solidarity. Hospitals are so horribly sad and stressful, but I’m just so grateful when I think about where we could be if we didn’t have them at our disposal; we’ve all heard stories of people in America selling a kidney to pay for their child’s chemotherapy, or committing fraud and using their friend’s health insurance in order to have their appendix removed safely.
The thought of how to make the NHS all right again is just completely overwhelming and very much beyond my knowledge. What an absolutely gigantic responsibility to have; so much cost and so many stakeholders, so many years of ingrained practises, so many underpaid staff who have lost their love for the job. So many customers and none of them paying a penny! As an overworked doctor or an underpaid nurse it must be very difficult not to want to snap when a family member is questioning their mother’s treatment or a father is calling for the tenth time to beg you to move his child’s appointment forwards.
I have so much respect and gratefulness for both the system and the individuals who work within it. I’m literally in awe whenever I meet anyone who has chosen healthcare as a vocation; I can’t imagine the weight of bearing actual human lives upon your shoulders, of caring for people at the most difficult of times, of breaking bad news to family members, of trying your best but not being able to win every singe time. It makes a regular desk job seem like a walk in the park. Thank goodness that there are still people who want to give their time and energy to a role in the medical profession. I know I certainly couldn’t do it.