Surviving a Night at a Brit Hospital: Keeping Calm & Carrying On

6 Aug

Given the blog’s title, I try to keep the content relating to fashion, but I’m afraid this week the most fashiony thing it will be relating to are the fit of white lab coats and paper-thin, sky-blue scrubs. That’s right, I guess in order to complete my true England “cultural experience” a trip to the hospital was in order…ha.

After work Tuesday, Lora, my friend, roommate and co-intern, and I were on our way home when the pain I had been having in my neck for the last two days became unbearable. I cried in public on the tube (now my crying isn’t a pretty cry so it had to have been bad!). We went to a pharmacy to seek help first. The woman did not really speak English and said all that she could do was give me ibuprofen. That was not going to cut it this time lady! The pharmacist said if I wanted anything more I would have to see a doctor. “The hospital is just up the road and to the left,” she replied.

Lie! Lora and I (me with a fever that felt like I was having menopausal hot flashes) walked for what seemed like city block after city block. All I remember is this unusual sight: a wheelchair-bound woman, her loose pitbull and her caretaker pushing her. The woman seemed to be drunk — her hat on backwards she was yelling at her dog — along with obscenities — in public, creating quite a spectacle. She had to keep yelling for him to come back as he was not leashed. She kept squirting him with her water bottle at each crosswalk stop — to pedestrians’ dismay who got a second bath as the pitbull shook off the excess water — on them! They were taking the same route as us — the entire way. It was just par for the course.

Lora and I arrived at the emergency room around 6:30 p.m. We waited until nearly 9:30 p.m. before we were called back to a room. It seemed as though every other person had been called before us, even those who had arrived after we had. We tried not to speculate it as a cultural thing. I guess we will never know if we received delayed attention because we were foreigners.

The first nurse I came into contact with was not a pleasure. In an almost attacking manner she got fairly close to myself and asked, “So, you have neck pain. Have you had any parecetamol or ibuprofen today?” I was so disillusioned (I figure because of the fever and pain and just being overwhelmed and scared) that I did not understand her. I told her so. Then she asked me again condescendingly as if she would someone who is mentally incapacitated, “Have you had any PAR-E-CET-E-MOL or I-BU-PRO-FEN today?”. I nearly cried. I replied that I had no idea what “pareceta”-whatever was. That’s the thing, England’s medicines and ours go by differing names. Turns out parecetamol is just a fancy name for Tylenol. Who knew? She gave me a dose of both and we waited some more.

I was taken to an E.R. room, the curtain left open. Lora and I wished we had some privacy. Thankfully we were greeted by a cheery, 20-something nurse who had compassion. She would say things like “darling” and “sweetie,” and when I started to panic about the situation she tried her best to assuage my fears. The doctor came in. He was an Indian man, all-business but nice enough. He explained I had an infection and sadly he did not know where it was coming from. I would most likely have to stay the night to have further tests run. This is when I lost it. Lora was right by my side though. We laughed through our tears (she can’t see someone cry without doing so herself) about peeing in cups and played with the funny looking tourniquet the nurse used to put the IV port in. We made the best of it.

Then came the funny part. I went for a chest x-ray and the technician doing it turned out to be this incredibly good looking young man! What a sight for sore eyes. We had a few gaffs – my birthdate was all messed up (in England the date goes in the opposite order as ours does in the U.S.) and my hospital gown was open in the back! He helped me tie it. And, I had all sorts of metal still on me, including an unmentionable. It was embarrassing to take care of it right then and there, but, it made me laugh at least.

I ended up being admitted up to the Acute Medical Unit sometime later to be greeted by another nurse – and let’s just say she had more in common with the “PAR-E-CET-A-MOL” lady. She seemed to be from the Caribbean and her accent was thick as she spoke through her gold-capped teeth. I was in Bed#1 to myself, which kind of scared me that I was not with the other patients out in the open in the communal rooms. The shower could fit about three of the dorm bathroom’s inside of it. The nurse did not have to kind word to utter. She was about to not even let Lora stay with me. She said it was against policy, that I was an adult and I should be able to handle it on my own. She wondered why should I be scared? People like her go to America all the time. She said that life was hard and you get sick. I told her I had already had my fair share. She could take my word for it.

Lora and I decided it would be best for her to go home, we would both just be sleeping anyway and there was no way she was going to be able to get any rest sitting in a wooden chair or on the floor. The hospital offered no cots or extra blankets or anything for her. They were not very accommodating. I was even afraid to ask the nurse for an extra blanket and pain medicine for myself! It seems in the U.S. people are friendlier. Yes, that is a huge, maybe brash generalization, but people here, especially in the female realm, tend to be harsher and not as compassionate as they are back home. I have been told numerous times since I have been here that my smile is a dead giveaway that I am an American – just the fact that I am smiling at all.

I made it through the night, half-sleeping, half staring at a blank, white wall, wondering why the nurse had not been in to check on me in five hours. I buzzed her when I had had enough and sat awaiting her in fear. The alarm was loud and it was five a.m., but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right?

I saw another doctor later on that morning, a cheery, friendly older man with a bright colored bow tie. Lora came back first thing in the morning to stay with me.

Still no answers.

Lora had brought necessities from home for me, plus loads of fashion magazines and snacks. We watched Iron Man (the first one), which the hospital called a “New Release” (haha). Anyway, she was a lifesaver. In the afternoon her and Anabel, another friend of mine here and flatmate, swapped places and she stayed with me. I could not be more thankful for the two of them. I don’t know what I would have done!

We spent the day in the hospital. I tried to eat hospital food, but it really is just as bad here as back home, no difference there. Lora ran out and got us Pret a Manger, a lovely chain fresh food restaurant in England. We waited.

Infectious Disease ended up coming in and doing their own assessment of the symptoms: stiff neck, fever, headache. The bloodwork showed a rise in certain levels which was an indication of infection, but the doctors were at a loss. They did not think it was meningitis, although it sure smelled like it. They concluded, rather inconclusively, that it was an upper respiratory tract infection that had settled into my neck. The doctor who had been in earlier (the one with the bow tie) came back and said he disagreed with his colleague. He believed it to be an infection. That left me between a rock and a hard place. And strangely after both of these discussions they decided to let me go home! (after asking me if I wanted to stay). What person in their right mind would want to?

Their decision has left me, my family and friends sort of waiting in the wings. I am happy to be home in my flat, yet unsettled in their decision to pretty much undecide. Because I am feeling better (aside from one symptom), unless things worsen I am going to wait it out until I get home to the States and see my own doctors for answers.

I wanted to thank everyone who sent kind thoughts, well wishes and prayers our way. I know that is what brought us through. I really am learning to live by the Brit’s motto: “Keep Calm & Carry On”.

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One Response to “Surviving a Night at a Brit Hospital: Keeping Calm & Carrying On”

  1. Janice June 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    What you experianced is quite typical of a British hospital,NHS!! I can honestly say as a Brit living in America I much prefer the system here, we use to have a wonderful system in the U.K but unfortunately that has changed for the worse.

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