Monday, September 30, 2013

Checking out British emergency services

I'll admit that there was some panic on my end. I even foolishly called my parents, which I know, deep in my heart, I should never do unless I actually have no choice. There's nothing they can do from that far away and all I end up doing is worrying them horribly. This can have terrible short term consequences (for everyone). This does nothing good for anyone. I will try to keep my head on straight next time.

Eventually I had enough logic to remember closer friends though. I called DP Steve, who didn't answer. Then I called Books, who also didn't answer. I finally called Intern, who picked up though admitted in a later talk that he'd just been about to silence his phone for the night. Apparently everyone and their mother does this except me. I guess I've always been too afraid of being that asshole who someone tries to call in an emergency and doesn't pick up because their phone is silenced. Being the person on the other side has made me cautious in this way. I guess we know why I think it...I am that person trying to call you in the middle of the night with an emergency! Pick up your damn phone and stop silencing my call for your own sleeping convenience! I promise I will pick up your call in return when you have an emergency!

[As a small side note this is probably why my friends do call me with their emergencies...especially emotional ones in the middle of the night...they all know I never silence my ringer. I have received several 3am calls in my past to this effect. I still do not regret my decision. I would rather be the rock in the night that everyone can count on than be the jerk who later found out my friend was in need and I was not there.

Okay...getting off of my soapbox. Apologies. Just passionate about needing help and sometimes not finding it.]

Intern was extremely helpful in giving me appropriate numbers and information, having just been through the hospital system himself (though lucky for him it was things he'd scheduled, rather than for emergencies). And as I was getting off the phone with him DP Steve called me back, having heard my rather frantic voicemail (he's the only one I know, especially close, who has a car...this is vital information when you can barely walk and sitting is a pain...literally).

Now it had crossed my mind that I could call an ambulance (which is oddly free in this country...I know this is probably how it is in most places but coming from the States the idea of emergency care being free still strikes me as strange). I'd been told that if I really couldn't walk and get into a taxi I could indeed call an ambulance to aid me to the hospital. But that just seemed ridiculous to me. So I called a taxi. Luckily DP Steve called me back before this taxi arrived though, so I was driven personally instead of needing to pay. Friends with cars: priceless.

Also, as it turned out, since it was a bank holiday weekend, they'd all been celebrating the Notting Hill Carnival and it seem this is a known time for gang violence. Something something lots of drunk people and lots of people gathered in one spot...violence erupts. They've done a better job of squashing it with additional police presence and the like...but inevitably there will be some idiot who shows up and starts a fight. In any case, I was warned by the woman I talked to at the hospital that even if I did call an ambulance I might be waiting forever and a day because they were exceptionally busy that night.

We drove to the hospital and I hobbled through the A&E (Accidents and Emergencies) entrance as DP Steve parked the car. I could only walk with my torso horizontal to the ground so it was an awkward talk at the desk. Luckily they accounted for this possibility and had mounted speakers at every height, so they could still hear me through the glass.

Surprisingly this part of their system is very much like the US. They have you fill out a form about what your problem is then it's triage. And despite what the woman on the phone had said, I guess my condition was deemed urgent enough that they called me in within 15 minutes...not shabby.

There they did the usual things - took samples, measurements (blood pressure, pulse, etc), the like.

After that I was booted back out to the waiting room to wait again. I couldn't walk all the way there though so we were given seats in the hallway on the way back out to the waiting room. I think we waited there for half an hour; it was hard to tell time anymore and I hadn't bothered to put on a watch as putting clothes back on to go outside had been painful enough.

DP Steve and I caught up on what had been going on in life since we'd last seen each other. He'd bought an apartment in Hanwell (which is nearby). Sweet stuff.

Eventually I was shown in to see a doctor. After some prodding around of my abdominal areas and some other physical tests she determined it wasn't my appendix. In fact she didn't know what it was. This left us in a pickle of sorts. Since she couldn't tell for sure what it was and didn't have a good idea, it was a hard sell to send me to emergency without good cause. Yet because I was in so much pain she couldn't really send me home either, since that's just plain mean and silly.

So she gave me a few tablets of codeine and then decided to sell me to emergency services under the guise of pain that seemed to be something something the thing (medical condition that could be something more serious but was undeterminable). Apparently this is your ticket into emergency services. Triage, sometimes you work against me.

And with that I was told to hand some papers to the window across the ward (luckily a slow and plodding 10 minute walk for me but not so horrendous) and well...wait again.

One again the procedure continued: taking measurements, pulse, etc. This was the third time I was being asked about my symptoms, despite it all being recorded everytime. It might have been the pain and fatigue talking but I was getting a bit annoyed. I just wanted the pain to go away and to sleep (which I couldn't do because of the pain). By now it was around 1am.

I was told to go back out to the waiting room to wait for a bed (the only kind of space they have in emergency services). They would call me back to get some blood in a bit but otherwise it might be a bit of a wait; lots of people from the carnival had arrived and it was a bit hectic.

Unfortunately at this point DP Steve had to leave. He had to work the next day and would then be taking a two week holiday somewhere excellent (New York). I thanked him profusely for staying with me as long as he had and driving me, and he left.

I laid down on the benches in emergency services' waiting room and basically fell asleep as much as I could. The pain at this point was tolerable (guessing the codeine had done some magic) but it's not exactly glory laying on a metal bench in bright fluorescent lights at 1am somewhere unfamiliar. There weren't that many people in the room with me (just a middle eastern couple who looked just as freaked out as me), so at least it was fairly quiet. The advantage of going in the middle of the night I suppose.

About half an hour later I was called in and they took blood. No beds were available still but they said they would try to get things done as efficiently as possible. I warned them about the difficulty with my veins - for whatever reason I have the kind of  veins that love to not rise to the occasion. You can poke and prod all you like but you're not going to get anything substantial from them.

The nurse heard me but blood needed to be taken.

And thus the wonderful experience of eight needle pricks began. She started in the normal areas - crook of the arm, in the crease where normal IVs go. When this failed miserably (and I do mean miserably), she switched to the top of my hand, with mild better success. After three pricks there she dug the needle around enough to get what she needed - four tubes full of my blood for testing.

She then inserted the scariest apparatus I've ever seen in my life:

Apparently this is one of those "just in case" things. Maybe I'd need an IV later or some sort of medicine intravenously, therefore...instead of dealing with the fuss of finding veins again later...well, we'd just keep that puppy open.

The entire thing was taped to me. I was told to go back to the waiting room until a bed was opened. I was a bit freaked out. Not a huge fan of having pieces sticking out of me that are attached to holes in my body. Holes.

About an hour later a bed was ready. I'd definitely started passing out in the waiting room by this point so it was a welcomed change. I was led to a bed in a separate room (even had its own door with a peep window so doctors could see that I was in there).

On the way there I could see the other beds were all full. Most of them were only behind curtains rather than in separate rooms. I considered mine a "luxury suite" in comparison. The ones with curtains also had police officers stationed at the ends of them. Guess that's what they meant by people from the carnivals. Getting watched while you get medical treatment. Ouch.

After I got to the room they once again asked me about my symptoms. I was then told to undress down to my undies and lay on the bed. I could steal a sheet from the shelves and lay on the bed (a gurney really). I asked if I could fall asleep in the meantime. I was told that I was more than welcome to, and in fact it would be encouraged because it would likely be awhile.


So I did exactly that. The only problem? The thing taped to my hand. And I had foolishly worn a long sleeve sweater.

...not something I had planned for.

I will sum it up like this though: getting a sweater off with something large and attached to your hand is really difficult and terrifying. The fear of ripping out said thing from your body is quite high while the desire to get the sweater off is also quite high. Not a desirable situation. I'll leave it at that.

After twenty minutes of finagling I got the sweater off though and promptly passed out. It was around 3am by then.

Doctors came in and out of my room and over the course of several sleepy visits, I got my treatment. I barely remember most of it.

They eventually discharged me at 4:40am. By this point I knew I wasn't going anywhere that day, and the pharmacy was naturally closed so even though I'd gotten a prescription that would likely help my situation, I couldn't get to it to receive immediate help anyway. I'd need to come back. Sigh. The inconveniences of not-America. I did grumble.

I called a taxi and went home after emailing my team that I would not be coming into work. Oddly my manager was awake only an hour later and said that was more than alright.

Little did I realize that I would miss almost an entire week of work...

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