As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
AFTER the last column, written from my sick bed on a corridor in University Hospital Waterford, many of you responded. I heard the horror stories and the heartbreak of families who have been through similar and a lot worse. I was overwhelmed by the depth of anxiety and despair we all share.
Then came the devastating news, in this paper last week, that two more people were not as lucky as I was. They had both died after being discharged from the Emergency Department, the only place in the Region where they could go for help out of hours. I imagined them on those hard metal chairs, going through each set of double doors, into the inner sanctum, trying to hang on until a Doctor sees them.
When you are ill in hospital, on your own, staring at the ceiling lights on a busy corridor for days on end, this is what you are dreading.
You are asking yourself if you should be shouting louder for attention? If you are safe from further infection on a busy congested corridor? If the doctors have gotten the diagnosis right? If you get worse, when everyone is so busy, will anyone even notice?
As I approached Day 5 on the corridor, tied to an IV, I feared that I wasn’t getting any better parked there between the Nurses Station and the Store Room. It was still impossible to sleep. There were some very ill people on the wards and in the rooms nearby. Two or three of the older patients, possibly with dementia, continued to shout out in distress all night.
‘You are asking yourself if you should be shouting louder for attention? If you are safe from further infection on a busy congested corridor? If the doctors have gotten the diagnosis right? If you get worse, when everyone is so busy, will anyone even notice?’
In five days, no one came to change the bed, make the bed or ask if I’d like a shower. I was still wrapped in the one blanket that I grabbed in the Emergency Department on my way over to the corridor. Like any resourceful camper, I managed to find a screen, a chair and on Day 4 one of the staff appeared with a tray on wheels. This meant that I could finally put my food somewhere else besides on my lap.
On my last day, at 6am, and while it was still dark, a nurse came to administer my morning IV of drugs. During the night the cannula, a connector in my arm for the IV, had fallen out and she had to insert a new one. I had no locker or bedside light so she put all her gear on the bed, handed me her phone to use as a torch, and I held it while she tried to find a vein.
The first vein failed. The second attempt failed and as she applied the third bandage all I managed to say was; This isn’t right! This isn’t right! I was lost for words, sleep deprived and upset. The poor nurse, worn out from a night of constant demands was upset too.
I will never forget this scene in that corridor. The nurse crouching down beside that tiny bed. Me holding the torch on her phone, trying to stay still while she stuck needles in my exhausted veins. As I lay there all I could think was – what the hell am I doing here, this is a war zone.
But it was not a war zone. This was the new normal in our Irish hospitals.
I was discharged later that day to continue my recovery at home. I couldn’t wait to leave my corridor campsite and get some proper sleep. However, if things had been different I could have stayed until I felt better and was more confident of improving. Sometimes like in my case, hospital is the right place to be. In the end, in spite of the conditions, the medical team turned around what could have been a very serious situation for me. I am more than grateful.
But it’s not enough. As I write this there are over 600 Irish people waiting for beds in our hospitals. University Hospital Waterford is now one of the worst in the country for overcrowding. After observing day to day life on the corridors what’s at issue is under staffing. There is a lack of care and attention because staff are overwhelmed by their workloads.
Those of us who are concerned about the future of our hospital, who are ill or bereaved, have little choice but to keep chipping away and hope that raising our voices will eventually make a difference. But it feels like our words, our anger, our sadness just spill out into an abyss.
We are weary of apologies, but we can’t give up yet. Hospital should be our blessed sanctuary, not our worst nightmare. Especially when we are at our most vulnerable.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com