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Walking the hospital corridors in dad’s shoes

This week’s storyteller has chosen to be anonymous.

Our storyteller talks about their experience of life as a hospital in-patient and shares how they came to appreciate their dad’s perspective after seeing behind the curtain of NHS patient care.

I’m not normally a hospital patient. I do spend a great deal of time as a visitor and as a facilitator of out-patient visits though. Recently however I made my own unexpected visit to the coronary unit of a London teaching hospital.

Has seeing NHS healthcare from the other side of the curtains helped me to understand my dad’s perspective? A little perhaps. Here’s what I’ve realised.

Food is the centre of the universe

Whenever dad is in hospital, he reports first and foremost on the food. Sometimes he actually thinks it’s good. The first thing I want to know when I visit is how he’s feeling and what the doctor’s said, but perhaps he’s a bit tired of thinking about that. I can see now that meals are a highlight of the day and give you something to do.

Even coffee and Custard Creams are exciting in the tedium that’s otherwise only broken by the comings and goings of other patients. Shame the food can be quite so – well, you know.

Dignity is only so important

Last time we were in A&E dad glared at the notice on the curtains of his cubicle and declared that he wasn’t remotely interested in being given dignity in his care – he just wanted to be fixed. I thought this was a bit harsh and ungrateful at the time.

Now I know that hours and hours of lying looking at a sign demanding that staff respect your privacy begins as a positive and quite soon gets to be really, really irritating. Not to mention patronising to staff who don’t need it and patients who apparently are easily put at ease by a bit of lamination.

The nursing happens when the visitors aren’t there

Many times I have visited my parents as in-patients and wondered if the staff really have their finger on what’s happening. Now I realise that nurses try to stay away when the visitors are around, which means that visitors are unaware of how much goes on behind the scenes.

Different hospitals are different though

My experience was phenomenal. Combining professionalism with kindness is a real skill, and the staff on the coronary care unit at St George’s Hospital in Tooting extended the same sort of care to all of their patients, regardless of age.

I was lucky though. The ward had six beds and at least three nursing staff on duty at any time. I haven’t seen the same sort of ratios on the wards dad has visited.

Our joint experience also tells me that paying for care doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll get the best.

We shall all be rattl’ng

I have sighed at dad’s piles of pills – pre-breakfast, post-breakfast, evening – spread around the dining room and his bedroom. When he lived at home he used to collect two carrier bags full from Superdrug on a regular basis.

I saw multiple medications as a sad indication of old age. Now I have a collection of my own so I’ll have to revise that opinion.

One of the good things about moving into a nursing home was that dad got that whole raft of prescriptions reviewed, and discovered that one medicine he was supposed to take for three months was still on his list three years later.

Regular reviews are good and I recommend them.

Don’t read this if you are of a sensitive nature

I’ve lost count of the times dad has called me and started with an update on the state of his bowels. Why is he so obsessed? Currently I’m in full sympathy with him.

Never mind my own sufferings, which I have no desire to detail here, but feel for the bloke who “exploded” in the bed next to me and needed his sheets changed three times in half an hour. Sorry, too much information. But I must stop thinking that way when dad tells me all about his own issues.

Friends and family

You know that survey you’re encouraged to complete before you leave? Would you recommend this ward to your friends and family? I haven’t changed my opinion on this one. I still think it’s totally bizarre as a bit of market research. Would I recommend that someone demands to be driven another 50 or hundred miles to an alternative hospital while having a heart attack? Bonkers.

I know it’s not quite the same

I recognise that the big difference between our perspectives is that my visit was, I hope, a one-off for a single fixable condition. That’s not the same as one of a series of appointments trying to manage a range of chronic conditions that combine to make life increasingly difficult.

If I’m on the mend but already feeling sorry for myself because there are things I will have to wait to do, then I need to continue to have sympathy for my dad, who doesn’t even have that to look forward to.

It’s been good to walk a little in dad’s shoes. Renewed understanding and patience is the order of the day from here.

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