Working in hospital, usually in the middle of some soul-destroying night shift, I used to feel strangely envious of patients. Too sleep-deprived to think, my scrambled mind craved a hospital bed. I never wished a horrible illness upon myself, but maybe something more minor might have been worth it; an admission for head injury observations perhaps, or maybe even a broken bone?
The idea of food and drink brought to you at the press of a buzzer seemed like a luxury too good to be true. Catheters monitor urine output, saving any tiresome bathroom trips during the night. It’s a good thing that no one measured my urine output during a night shift, I occasionally thought, because that would not make pretty viewing.
It took an unfortunate rugby injury, and subsequent 10-day stay in hospital, to completely shatter that illusion.
It wasn’t just the tasteless food and the mind-numbing boredom, as terrible as both of those are. I spent each day waiting patiently for the next opportunity to speak to a doctor; to find out any information I could regarding my treatment, only to be granted 30 seconds on the morning ward round. I garbled and stammered, desperate to ask all the questions I’d been rehearsing in my head overnight, but to no avail. The curtains were drawn back, and they were gone, leaving only the poor F1 to desperately scribble in the notes.
I would spend the rest of the day trying to find out as much information as possible, only to be met with blank expressions or sympathetic shakes of the head from the nursing staff. Any attempt at mobilising would leave me exposing myself to the rest of the ward, my arms too weak to tie my hospital gown and save any modesty. Any sense of shame or embarrassment disappears when you’re stuck in hospital.
Patients in the beds around me complained constantly, and were no better during the night, their incessant snoring denying me any semblance of sleep. Medical students, nurses and doctors butchered my veins attempting cannulas, my initial empathic reassurances at their failures changing swiftly into frustration and disbelief.
Many a time as a doctor I’d promised a patient I’d return later to speak to them again, only to find that time and workload didn’t allow this to happen. It had never really struck me as all that much of an issue, but being on the receiving end as a patient is devastating. You’ve been assured that someone will come and talk to you and provide you with more information. You stay obediently in your cubicle all afternoon, afraid to disappear even for a moment, in case you miss them.
No one comes. The betrayal is almost too much to take. The wait for the morning ward round, and the next 30 seconds of information, begins.
Never again will I envy the life of a patient. They may have a bed, but to them, that’s probably a very small comfort.
Dr Mike Forsyth is a GP trainee in south-west London
This was the runner-up in the under-35s category of Pulse’s 2018 writing competition ‘Turning Tables’. Click here to read a selection of the best entries
20 December 2021
21 September 2021