The other day, I was in a hospital waiting room waiting for an ultrasound appointment. There was a couple next to me, and they were not happy. Apparently, as the whole waiting room were finding out: their doctor was running late. After sighing repeatedly, getting up to ask the receptionist about 14 times how long they would be and talking very loudly about how 'f***ing useless [the medical staff] all are', the man turned to me, as if somehow we were kindred spirits, and said "forty f***ing' minutes late! You know full well they're all just in there having a cup of tea or faffing about with paperwork. You can't possibly be running forty minutes late at ten thirty in the morning."
He looked at me and waited for me to agree with him and join in the ruthless slander on the NHS. I shrugged "Well, I certainly hope so" I said, before turning back to the seven year old copy of Heat I had found (did you know that Katie and Peter have split up?).
Realising that he had not found his new BFF, the man went back to moaning loudly to his disinterested girlfriend, and didn't press me on whether I had just said what he thought I'd said. But I did say it, and I did hope it. I did hope that his doctor was off surfing Facebook or 'faffing about' with paperwork.
When I was 27 weeks pregnant with the youngest baby H, I was at a family party when I started bleeding. A lot. After screaming for my husband, both he and my Mum rushed me to hospital. I rang on the way, bordering on hysterical, and was told by a kind and efficient midwife to come straight to the delivery ward where they would be waiting for me. They were, as I walked through the doors, a doctor and several midwives were there waiting, and rushed me in to triage without wasting a second.
As I lay on the bed, crying and waiting to hear that we had lost our precious unborn baby, I was introduced to our doctor, Elizabeth, who immediately tried to find our daughter's heartbeat. Within minutes someone had located a scanner and she was able to show us that she was still alive in there. In a ridiculous blur of activity, I was checked over, attached to a monitor and told a flurry of information that I didn't hear a word of. All I did hear is that there was a large possibility that they were going to need to deliver that night. When a sudden extra gush of blood came, I was rushed in another room where I was then attached to a drip, and a number of other medically things that to this day I can't remember what they all were.
Within half an hour of stepping foot through the doors, on a Saturday night, I was introduced to a stream of medical professionals: an anaesthetist, someone from NICU, and more doctors and nurses. I couldn't really take any of it in, but I knew our situation was dangerous and they were doing everything they could to keep me and my tiny baby safe. That same night I was given steroids for the baby's lungs, magnesium to protect her brain, and was monitored non stop for 24 hours.
Long story short, they didn't need to deliver that night. The bleeding stopped and it emerged that the baby was OK. We weren't totally out of the woods, but for now we were going to be OK. I was kept in for five days, three of which I was on 24 hour monitoring, with a midwife in our room at nearly all times and checks being done hourly. After six days, I was allowed to leave. A bit shaken up, but ok. We were told that no-one could be sure whether it would happen again. I would need to go for extra scans for the rest of my pregnancy to monitor the baby and I, but potentially that could be the end of it until we delivered.
It wasn't. Two weeks later I bled again, luckily much lighter, but it still called for another three day admission. I was let out, only to be back in two days later, and so it continued. In total I was admitted and let out again seven times.
During our multiple stays in there, we were treated by a steady of doctors, midwives and care assistants. When my husband wasn't there when I was taken in on our third bleed, one of the midwives didn't go for her tea break and held my hand whilst a doctor checked me over. I was allocated a consultant, a very cool German, Boris Johnson-esque man who was straight talking but made me laugh. He explained that the reason they weren't delivering was because our baby was safe, and showed no signs of being affected by all of it, so for now she was safer inside me than out. Every time I was admitted, he would come and see me several times to see how I was doing. No matter how many people needed him, and how busy he was, he would come and see me.
On the fifth (perhaps, who knows at this point) admission, the bleed that had led me to be in there again had been heavy, and I was starting to lose faith. I started telling myself that no matter they were saying, our baby was not going to be OK. No one could bleed this much and still be ok. I felt like shit, and I was on the verge of totally falling apart. One of the doctors in my consultant's team, Eli, came in just doing the normal rounds that they did every day. I don't know whether she just is like this to everyone, or whether she could see I wasn't handling it so well anymore. But instead of the usual two minute run through of what was going on, the same polite smile and then leave, she stayed for ages and told me things were going to be OK. She explained why the baby really was safer inside, and what was going to happen. She stayed and answered a thousand questions and didn't leave until I was done. She didn't tell me that she had a million more important things to do and that I was wasting her time.
When it was decided that I would eventually deliver, at 35 weeks, My midwife spent her break finding me ice because I kept saying how much I needed it. Eli, the same Dr as before, supervised the whole thing and came in throughout my labour to check if I was doing OK because she knew I wasn't. When my waters had to be broken and it was uncertain whether I would start to bleed again and need an emergency section, a team of specialists were outside our hospital room to jump into action just in case.
Here's the thing: none of those people 'had the time'. When I came in, bleeding and terrified at 27 weeks, no doctors or midwives would have been scheduled on purely to keep my baby alive. As a result of preventing me from bleeding to death, another patient was probably kept waiting for Elizabeth. Somebody's scheduled C-Section was probably held up whilst it was determined whether my 27 week old foetus needed to be delivered. No midwives would have been timetabled to stay at my bedside constantly to make sure things didn't go downhill. When I was not holding it together, Eli probably didn't have the time to sit and answer a thousand of my irrational questions. Someone was probably rude to her as a result of being kept waiting because of me. Someone was kept waiting because my consultant was making the decision that delivering my baby was the safest way of making sure she survived.
Since talking to other people about my time in NHS, I have been inundated with stories of the same nature. My friend went for a scan on her twins to be told one had passed away. Her sonographer stayed with her for 45 minutes while she cried and waited to be told by a doctor what was going to happen. Her appointment would have been scheduled to be 15 minutes long. A client of mine, who had lost a baby previously, told me how her community midwife cancelled everything when she went in to labour early when her husband was overseas with the military and had no-one there with her. When another friend was told she had cancer, her GP didn't tell her that her ten minutes was up and she needed to stop crying and leave his office so that his next patient wasn't kept waiting.
I am certainly no expert on the NHS, and I have no valid information when it comes to budget cuts. I know the increasing number of cuts are bad, and I know patients are missing out because of it. I know Jeremy Hunt is trying to blame much of the failings on all those 'lazy, greedy doctors'. Whilst I know the latter to be mostly bollocks, I don't know enough about the goings on in UK hospitals to have any real opinion on any of that side of it. But what I do know, is that when me and my tiny offspring needed them, they were there for us. Yes, there were times I was kept waiting. There were times I was told someone would be there in the morning and I didn't see them until the evening. But when we needed them, they were there. And as a result, my baby is here now and i will never stop being thankful for them.
So now, whenever I'm kept waiting, I hope to God that its because my doctor is off playing solitaire or washing his Mercedes. I hope that they're running late because they're surfing Facebook and drinking coffee.
The alternative - and lets face it, the truth - is that someone needs them at that moment and they can't get away. The chances are they're having to deal with something that they can't get away from and they can't just walk out of because they're running late. They don't have the option to deal with it next week because they have better things to do right now. People's lives don't wait.
How much more convenient is it to think, as my dear friend from the waiting room said, that those 'lazy, useless doctors' are wasting his time 'faffing about'.
I hope they are.
If those doctors and nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants are off wasting time doing paperwork and chatting, it means that they aren't helping another person who's life is falling apart, and that perhaps somewhere, someone like me is absolutely terrified and facing the possibility that they're about to lose their perfect little baby.
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