NHS: The cornflakes story

NHS, NHS, NHS.  It’s one of the main topics in this General Election campaign with all sides offering their views on how they’d improve the NHS.  Well, everyone wants the NHS to be better.  There is no doubt about that.  Whoever gets the keys to number 10 has a big job on their hands regarding the NHS as this is a testing few years for the health service, it’s make or break really.

However, this constant coverage of the NHS got me thinking.  What examples do I have of the good and bad in the NHS? There’s a few.  I’ll start with the worst.

A couple of years ago I fell in the street at night.  I smacked my head off the concrete and was unconscious.  I was also lying in a puddle.  The ambulance came and I was taken off to hospital.  There I was changed into a gown, popped in a cubicle.  I don’t recall being checked for concussion but I may naturally have forgotten that.

In shock I was asking for cup after cup of water, which was given reluctantly, it has to be said. The staff appeared to want to chat to each other about a night out that was planned rather than treat me.  A policeman dealing with another patient even came and asked me if I was OK.

As I was drinking a lot, I needed to go to the toilet a lot, this was treated as if it was a Big Effort.  Well, sorry lads and lassies of that night, it wasn’t you having to waddle through A&E with your arse exposed in a crap hospital gown.

Eventually I was taken for a head x-ray.  That was simple enough.  The result wasn’t.  From my cubicle I could see the doctor (who was working her tail off) poring over my x-ray results.  I could see she wasn’t happy.  Eventually she came to me and told me they’d found a shadow on my x-ray and started to check me over.  

It turned out to be the drop down pearl earrings I was wearing at the time.  

Six o’clock in the morning I was free to go and handed a bag.  It contained my clothes.  Still soaking from the puddle.  With nothing else for it I had to dress in them and walk through A&E in soaking and muddy clothes and then get in a taxi where I had to apologise to the driver for my wet clothes.

As terrible experiences go, this isn’t that bad.  It was bad enough for me at the time though.

About ten years ago my Nana, the Godmother of our family, was suffering terribly from Alzheimer’s and it took its toll.  She was in a care home and ended up in hospital.  Can’t fault the care she received, just the phone call I made one lunch time when I about to head in to visit her.  I phoned up the ward and asked how she was getting on. ‘She’s doing well,’ I was told, ‘sitting up and eating a bowl of tomato soup.’  I was slightly taken aback.  ‘Really?’ I asked, ‘because she’s been unconscious for days…’.  An error but funny in the end, Nana would have laughed at it.

For those two bad memories there are many more good ones.  I’m not the perfect patient, not by a mile.  I might come across as that but I’m deceptive.  

I was taken into hospital last September.  A very minor issue on a Saturday evening.  I could have been left sitting in A&E for hours considering that my need was little compared to other people around, there were clearly people in more distress than me but credit to the staff, rather than have me hanging around for hours, I was taken quickly obs taken, tests done and then asked if I had someone to take me home.  Horror of horrors.  I lied and said my dad was in the car park.  I was discharged.  Naughty me.  I had to get two buses home.

My biggest deception took place about twenty years ago when I was roughly fourteen.  On the Friday I’d been sick a lot and was experiencing pain in my stomach and down my right hand side in the appendix region.  It didn’t get better on the Saturday and the emergency doctor was called out.  In those days it was actually a doctor from your own surgery that arrived.

Off I went to hospital, Saturday night in A&E at the old Royal.  Now THAT was an experience in itself.  Not even that late at night and it was heaving with drunks and whatnot.  I remember it being rowdy.

Eventually I was admitted to Ward 10.  It was a mixed ward but that didn’t bother me, I just wanted to get to sleep and they’d promised me they’d get me painkillers.  They duly did, in the form of a big injection in the arse, ‘bottom up please Miss Fox’.  

Thanks to “hospital corners” I could barely move but I drifted off to sleep with relative ease.  

During the night I was awoken by a newcomer to the bed on my left.  I remember his name but I won’t write it here, he’d been stabbed in the stomach, nothing serious but he was going nuts.  Not sure what his problem was.  His bed clothes were going everywhere, everyone was a this or that.  The police were there, he was just crazy.

Though, funnily enough, in the morning he was a different person.  When the nurses came round to do obs he was all ‘thanks’ and grateful.  The nurse that came to me chatted away and said that the girl who had come in over night had the same symptoms as me.  She pointed across the ward to a girl sitting up in bed who looked miserable.

Aileen Harvey.  She had books.  Calvin and Hobbes and she loaned me one.  It passed the time until breakfast.

Joy of joys though, that morning Aileen and I were moved to a side ward.  It had three beds in it, only two were occupied though, by myself and Aileen.  We had an en-suite shower-room/WC and our own TV! And we didn’t have to pay extra for it.

I read Aileen’s books to pass the time.  The auxiliaries came round to change the beds.  I had a shower.  Ever tried having a shower attached to a drip pole? Had to drag it with me and try not to yank the needle out my arm.

Later in the morning I found Monty Python on the TV, Aileen was sleeping, so I settled on my own bed and got right into the film.  I think it was Life of Brian but I’m not sure.  Anyway, I was enjoying it when round comes Matron, or whatever they were called at that time, with a troop of doctors and she walked right up to the TV and switched it off.  I was furious, however, one did not say a word to Matron or it would be double the dose later.  (Not really – I think).

Did stay on my best behaviour though.  The quicker this lot hummed and hawed, the sooner they’d be off and I could get the TV back and not miss too much of the film.  

They went to Aileen first, she was more unwell than me.  They spent a lot of time with her, I could have been watching the TV!

Anyway, they eventually made it over to me.  Matron introduced me to each of the doctors, their names went in one ear and out the other.  They read my notes.  Asked me if I could be pregnant.  I’d been asked that a hundred times since my admission the night before.  Again I answered no.  One of the doctors pointed out that it could be an ectopic pregnancy.  To this I pointed out that it couldn’t be given that there was no chance I could be pregnant.  Then one of the doctors said that they were happy with my progress but that I wasn’t eating properly.  I would be able to go home the following day providing I had eaten my breakfast by the time the doctors came around in the morning.

Hmm.  I had to think about that.

I picked at my roast dinner.  The truth was, I just wasn’t hungry.  Hard to force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry.

So, the day went on, Aileen and I had visitors.  At some point in the afternoon the third bed was occupied by a girl whose name I don’t recall.  She didn’t look at anyone else.  She didn’t speak.  She was offered Calvin and Hobbes but just shook her head.

Tea time.  Picked at what ever was for tea.  Ate the sponge and custard which wasn’t that bad, as I recall.  Then I got settled into bed with the TV on.  Aileen had visitors in the evening but I didn’t so I just settled back and watched TV quietly.

Well, I had a plan to formulate, didn’t I? The following morning I had to choke cornflakes over so that when the doctor came around with my test results he would also want to discharge me and that was only happening if I ate my breakfast.

Some time during the night Aileen disappeared.  To this day I don’t know what happened to her.  No one would tell me.  I had a feeling something bad had happened.  Still, I had to get on.  The woman in the other bed was moaning and groaning.  She’d been doing that since her arrival. 

When the auxiliaries arrived with breakfast I smiled and told them doctor had said I had to eat this before I could go home.  The auxiliary who was giving me my breakfast said I’d better eat it all up then.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll eat this bowl of soggy cornflakes.

As soon as the auxiliaries were gone I checked the coast was clear and got out my bed.  I checked moany/groany but she appeared to have gone to sleep.

Dragging my drip pole, praying that it didn’t suddenly develop a squeaky wheel, I shuffled off to the bathroom, bowl of cornflakes balanced in my free hand.  I was sure something was going to go wrong.  I’d get caught, not just by anyone but by Matron.  That thought terrified me slightly but I powered in.  Into the bathroom, shut door, lock door and shuffle over to the toilet.


Into the toilet bowl went the cornflakes, flush and they’re gone! Success.  Though I still had to get back to my bed with an empty bowl in my hand.  I checked there was no evidence in the bathroom and headed back out, doing that thing when you stick your head out the door to make sure no one is there.

Matron was going to be pleased, the auxiliary who collected my empty bowl said.  Yes, yes she would and I would be released.  Although, it wasn’t her that had to be pleased.

Later, when the doctors came round I felt a moment of doubt.  They’d see it in my face that I hadn’t eaten the breakfast, it would be written all over me.  I maybe should have left some of the cornflakes in the bowl.  They’d ask me about that.  Not eaten an entire mean since I came in and suddenly I’ve devoured a whole bowl of soggy cornflakes.

They went to moany/groany first, which gave me more time to worry.

Then they came over.  My test results showed a bad infection, antibiotics would sort it, the pharmacy was making them just now.  I was free to be discharged, said the doctor, as long as I’d eaten my breakfast.  He stared at me.

I looked back at him and told him yes, yes I had eaten my breakfast.  All of it.

Good, he said, well, as soon as my drugs were ready I could call my family and I could go home.  The joys!

So these are my memories of the NHS.  Mostly, good, rarely bad.  There are other stories, too many to keep writing in the blog or it’ll be a novel.  However, I do remember when my grandad was ill in hospital, he got his whisky every night, and that was important.