Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Starfish Ward

The outside of the building is dark and miserable, much like the early morning itself. We walk in, straight past the lift where I have some mad memories of a call years ago (that story another time), and up a flight of stairs. Hospitals are miserable places. Full of sick people as well as unappreciated and overworked staff. The only place in a hospital that tends to have smiling faces is the maternity unit. Oddly, that's the building we walked into, but only because that's where the paediatric wards are, and we were taking our little one to say goodbye to his troublesome tonsils. Over a dozen episodes of tonsillitis and dozens more "Say Ahh"s in eighteen months do not make for a particularly happy young boy. For a change, the system agreed with us, and the NHS would take the kind donation of a pair of five year old tonsils.

The dark early morning confused the little one into thinking that we'd woken him in the middle of the night. We'd prepared him for the day by explaining as much as we knew. He read a book that he borrowed from a friend who'd faced the same ordeal not long ago and understood a little more, and we had decided up front - no tricks. He knew about the magic (EMLA) cream on his hands, he knew about the needle and that he wouldn't feel it, he knew that he'd be asleep when his tonsils were taken out, and he knew that, more importantly than his parents being there with him, so would his favourite Beddy Bear.

He pressed the button allowing us into the ward, and the instant the door opened, the hospital magically transformed. Starfish Ward is full of colour, the walls covered with sea creatures of all sorts, psychedelic jellyfish dangle from the ceilings, and the theme is continued into the rooms and especially the impressive play area. The first person we met smiled at him and made him instantly feel at ease. Not an easy feat at the end of a night shift. We were shown to a room where he was given a choice: bed by the window or bed by the TV. The view from the window was dull and full of hospital buildings. I'll let you guess which he chose.

After he was booked in he was asked if he wanted to head to the play area. The world land speed record was broken on route. Whilst he was entertained we met the nurse who'd be looking after him, the surgeon, the anaesthetist (add an -easiologist on the end if you're across the pond), and were constantly kept updated by the staff who couldn't do enough for us. MrsInsomniac kept a cool and calm exterior, even as we wheeled him down the long corridors towards theatre, helped in no small part by the staff and their caring attitude. The normal sized hospital bed made him look small and for the first time a little vulnerable as he was taken into the anaesthetic room.

The cannula went into his little hand, twice, without even a flinch. He even watched as they did it, probably making sure they were doing it right and that everything he was told was true. As the propofol went in I watched him fight a losing battle with sleep he gripped ever more tightly onto his bear, I gave him a kiss, and left to wait outside.

An hour later they came to find us.

We went to see him up in the recovery room, where he was just coming round and was a little confused. A bit like I feel most of the time. He tried sitting up in the bed, but his head looked as if it was made of lead and made him lie back down again. MrsI held his hand all the way back to the ward, back through the grey buildings, through a colourful mural painted in one tunnel as we approached our destination, and back into the full vibrancy of Starfish just moments later.

It took him just over an hour before he was back playing in the play area, as if nothing was wrong. Analgesics are wonderful things. He was eating and drinking a little, and the first "Can we go home now?" came after less than two hours. Barely six hours after the operation, we were allowed home. He couldn't wait to get home and show his non-existent tonsils to his big sisters.

The system is what it is. It's beauraucratic, it's cumbersome, sometimes it's slow and irritating. There are gripes, there are moans, there are those who, whatever you do for them, will always complain about the system and those who run it not doing enough. Behind the system, however, stuck in its grinding cogs, are the staff. The real people with real faces.

On Starfish ward they wear brightly coloured uniforms that match their surroundings. The staff we encountered are a credit to their uniforms, and their characters mirror in them. They were helpful, friendly and understanding, and of course highly professional. There were children on that ward who are, unfortunately, regular customers and the staff know them well. We were only temporary dwellers, yet were treated by the staff as if we'd been there every day for a year. They are a credit to their ward, to their hospital and most importantly to themselves. MrsI, JuniorI and I (heh) can't thank them enough. Instead of hanging your "Thank You" card stuck onto a wall or cupboard door somewhere, yours is going global.

Oh. And it was two operations for the price of one. Beddy Bear also had his tonsils out. Starfish looked after him too.


CJS said...

As a student paramedic there isn't enough time spent on how to connect with children or their parents in the emergency environment. This is why, on the thankfully rare occasion, when we take a child in the the Paeds department it is such an honour for us students to observe these playful and energising yet professional staff doing what they do best, looking after patient, parent... and of course, teddy!

Tom102 said...

When it works, sometimes the systems outstanding. Unfortunately, despite the obvious problems, rarely do you see/read/hear about just how well it can function.

My love to the little one and teddy.

As a dad/granddad, the thought hospital is anathema to me.

Anonymous said...

Our local a & e had a dr that quibbled over the cost when the peadiatric reg prescribed I/v paracetamol. The reason he was even in a & e because his tonsils were so huge he could neither swallow and was having problems breathing.
Thank god for the amazing a & e peadiatric standing his ground. And the amazing ward staff who looked after him for three days.
Hope little insomniac is better soon!

Anonymous said...

Darn it. Forgot to explain my post relates to my 3 year olds recent stay in hospital.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

All’s well and both little guys doing fine. There’s an ending we can all love. Here across the pond I campaign for single payer nd firmly believe that it is the only way that will dissolve the rationing that occurs now in our system, hurting the poor, the disabled, the indigent and the mentally ill.