I was shocked when I saw what medics face every day
It’s true, Doctors, like Police Officers, look younger every year. Following my experiences in five short hours at the Emergency Department of St Thomas’ Hospital in Central London, I have no idea how they keep their youthfulness and positivity.
If I had to go through what they do each day, I’d have been miserable, haggard, baggy eyed and grey by twenty-five. I would also have left the profession.
After a blue-light ride in an ambulance, which would have been exciting were it not for the concerned faces of the paramedics, who were worried my husband had an aortic aneurism which might burst and cause him to bleed to death at any moment (he didn’t, phew, and that’s the last we’ll hear of him in this), we were met by a team of bright young professionals in the Emergency Room.
Everyone was fresh-faced and attentive, and they introduced themselves by first name and asked ours. Miraculously, they retained that information for the duration of our stay.
Because of the apparent seriousness of the medical condition, I was led through to a relative’s room whilst scans were carried out. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to wait to hear if a loved one has a life-threatening condition, but it’s not fun. I was too anxious to even scroll through my phone. Yes, that concerned.
It was whilst in that room I first heard shouting and swearing. I was alone, with unlocked doors on each side, and the deep voice of a man was screaming threats and obscenities somewhere close by.
He was demanding attention, threatening to smash the place up and it was scary. Despite the screams, I could still hear a female medic in a nearby cubicle talking to an older woman about her asthma attack. She quietly and patiently soothed her confused charge, her tone never changing, despite the bellowing.
It was then that I realised this was nothing unusual.
As a Doctor led me through to see my husband, I passed a young woman, sitting in a cubicle, with bandages covering both her calves. She was heavy-set with a shock of multi-coloured Mohican on top of her head. She looked furious.
Later, during the inevitable wait for blood test results, this young woman walked past us numerous times, circling the department, seemingly angrier each time. My mothering instinct wanted to stop her, look her in the eyes and give her a hug. My more precautionary side sensed danger.
The staff followed her, gently encouraging her to go back to her cubicle and sit. They never reacted to her spitting retorts, didn’t flinch at the burning fury when her eyes met theirs, once again demonstrating, this kind of thing happens every day.
Cheerful announcements came regularly over the Tannoy. Sometimes they gave the timescale of the arrival of a trauma victim. I don’t want to imagine some of the sights these professionals have been exposed to. Once, the voice gave a request for a Spanish-speaking member of staff to attend the department.
A short time later, a couple who had been waiting, clearly upset and anxious, were being spoken to in their own language by a bubbly, small woman, who switched effortlessly between speaking to them in Spanish, touching them reassuringly on the arm, and translating to the team what help they needed. Soon they were nodding and smiling. What a service.
When it was decided we were ready for discharge, we were moved to another ward. In the adjacent room was a man who emerged regularly to scream at the staff at the nurse’s station. His words were vitriolic and slurred. The staff soothed him, answered his accusations calmly and encouraged him to lie back on the bed.
More than once, Security was called, and I was astonished at the alacrity of their arrival. As we left the ward, I understood the speed of response, because, at the entrance, was a chair with a burley Security Guard sitting in his black uniform, eyes fixed on the corridor.
This was his station. Medical staff are put in danger so regularly that a dedicated Security Guard is positioned at the end of this ward. That realisation made my jaw drop.
It is not my aim to vilify people with mental health issues or addiction. I’m sure it’s rare for an individual to intend to cause such disturbance in a place of healing. It is, however, my intention to disclose the reality of what I saw, as an uninvested person, in a meagre five hours at this Central London Hospital.
The staff were, without exception, professional, warm, calm and communicative. Their investigations were thorough, and we left reassured and safe.
The fact they could do that for us when they are so clearly under huge pressure and imminent threat of verbal and physical abuse is astonishing to me. The people working under those conditions (and I haven’t even mentioned workload or Government policies) should be applauded everywhere they go. They have my admiration, my gratitude and my respect.