Hero, villain, angel, machine

The other week I broke a bicep tendon, which I wouldn’t recommend. I posted this twitter thread with some reflections about using the NHS.

I had quite a few responses, so I’m reposting it as a blog here:

As an NHS Assembly member I thought I should road-test the NHS. So last weekend I snapped my bicep tendon while rock climbing training. Ouch. Here are some reflections.

Firstly, this was a self-inflicted sports injury, but can only be fixed by surgery. That the risks we choose to take (exercise, lack of it, etc) are covered, free-at-point-of-use seems miraculous at times like this.

A&E on a Sunday at Leeds LGI hospital. A wait of course, but in under 4 hours, I was assessed, x-rayed, seen by a specialist, booked me in for next week, by busy, effective, kind people.

I was phoned on the Sun and Mon to book and confirm a Tuesday appointment. The surgeon and his team there were friendly & clear. Options & risks explained. Surgery booked for Sun.

One of the great things about our NHS is the sense of equality. The surgical ward’s patients were a cross-section of Leeds. An unconscious homeless man brought in by 2 police. An older lady keen to chat. A young man having to wait ‘too long’ left in a huff (or maybe in fear?)

An unconscious homeless man was brought in by two police officers. An older lady fretted about getting home. A young man left in a huff when told how long his surgery would be.

Being trolley-ed half-dressed to theatre, scalpels & general anaesthetic feels like being wheeled away from the land of the living. Porters have a degree in cheerfulness which helps a lot.

I met the surgeon just before being anaesthetised. Ideally, I’d have had some significant last minute risk info earlier. He did what seems to be a great job of the op.

Waking up. I burble at the endlessly patient nurse & spill my water. Back to the ward. More kindness + a chemically-enhanced sense of wellbeing. I love the NHS!

This album on my phone seems to have lasted a month.

All morning on the ward TV politicians shouted about Brexit, immigration & NHS crisis. While the multi-cultural, multi-national team were busy, effective, cheerful & kind to us all.

I hear a passionate discussion about an issue to do with unnecessary waiting, and what the team planned to do to fix it. A strong sense of us patients as people with lives outside of this ward.

I think about someone I know in a mental health crisis & my experience of those services: overwhelmed with demand. Long-term care lost behind waiting lists & ‘life-or-death’ criteria.

With my ‘self-inflicted’ injury fixed, I thought about my colleague Meg who talks about being treated for self-harm injuries with less compassion: results of a mental illness seen as ‘self-inflicted’

Is the balance right between the impressive resources here & those available to people with life-long conditions? This team is under pressure, but imagine social care resourced like this…

Later I read this harrowing BBC report into Mark Stuart’s death: autistic & fatally lost in a hospital’s care system. His parents said, “It was like he didn’t matter”.

The NHS is a miracle which has not yet reached all those who need long-term care. It is easy to simplify the NHS to hero, villain, angel, or machine, based on our latest experience.

The NHS needs us not to worship it, or despair at its faults, but to see it clearly, value it and question it. The staff here were at their best when they listened, explained, empathised.

In some places, that culture of kindness and professionalism will break if we take the NHS for granted. We need to invest in it. & we need to listen to those who don’t yet experience it.

The bill for all this was of course, nothing: just paying my taxes. I dread to think how much my care has cost the NHS, or how much private paying health care systems would charge.

Finally, huge thanks to everyone at the Leeds General Infirmary – you are doing an amazing job in tough circumstances and I couldn’t be more grateful.

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