Updated: Sep 25, 2020
That seems a funny thing for me to write, you may think. After all, my diary excerpts contain a litany of examples of woeful treatment at the hands of various NHS employees, and of course I ended up successfully suing the NHS Trust for medical negligence. However, I think it would be grossly unfair for our wonderful NHS to be maligned as a result of a few diary excerpts, without appreciating the fuller picture. My page is not a place for political debate, which I find quickly descends into heated arguments on the comments section, and I know that discourse on the provision of medical treatment cannot be easily separated from the politics with which it is necessarily entwined. Nevertheless, my aim with this piece is simply to highlight the tremendous acts of kindness, professionalism and empathy I also encountered during my torrid time of 2011-2013, and beyond. I recognise that many of the deficiencies in my treatment came from the system, and not the individuals, though of course, the dismissal of my concerns by the male midwife at the outset rankles me still. When I came to sue the NHS Trust, I was in a place of complete turmoil – it did not sit easily to me to initiate litigation against a body which had after all saved my sons life. I maintain that this is the most important thing – his life was saved, and human beings make mistakes. It is simply unfortunate that human mistakes, compounded by systemic failures, contributed to a very serious consequence for me. I needed financial recompense for my loss of career and pension, without which I would have significantly struggled to look after the son they had saved.
Here are some of the moments I treasure and remember with gratitude
The midwife who came to visit me
After I was rushed to the other hospital in the city for my colostomy operation, I was taken away from the team of midwives and other staff who had been by side for that first week. It was a frightening time to find myself once again unsure of staff, and procedures. A few days after my operation, when I was back on the baby ward with my son, I was lying in my bed in my private room, feeling very low. I felt utterly hopeless and overwhelmed – I couldn’t even lean over and touch Sam without assistance. There was a little knock at my door, which opened with the friendly face of one of the midwives from the other hospital. She had travelled all the way across the city after her shift, just to see me, to see if I was ok. I burst into tears as soon as I saw her, so touched at her effort, and so pleased to see someone who had been so kind to me. She held my hands as I cried and told me that I would be ok. Such small gestures but they meant the world to me. The feeling of her hand in mine, the tender expression on her face, and the calm determination with which she repeated the words that I would be ok, move me to this day.
The male attendant who cleaned me up after my operation
The very first morning after my colostomy operation, I woke up to find the bag had come away from my stomach and faeces had leaked all over my stomach, bed, clothes. I was absolutely mortified, I wanted to curl up right then and there and never wake up. Can you even imagine this situation as a young 32 year old? Hideous. I pressed the emergency buzzer and immediately a young male health care assistant had arrived. I apologised profusely, trying in vain to assist, but he beamed a beautiful big smile at me, waved my hands away and swiftly, professionally cleaned me up. He smiled and nodded gently at me, quite aware of my distress, but calmly cleaning me and the bed up. The assistant didn’t have great English, but what does that matter when he is doing his job with such care, and as we all know, a smile crosses all languages. That was a seminal moment for me – waking up with a burst bag – and it could have set me off on a path of horror, depending on how the assistant had dealt with it. But he put me at my ease, made me realise that this was normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. No mean feat when you consider I was lying covered in shit!
The midwife who hugged me
When I was examined by the consultants during the first week, and found to have a missed 4th degree tear, abcess and fistula, I was told that a stoma operation would be required in order to quickly heal up the infection. In that second my world changed, it all seemed so fast, so unreal, so very scary. I was in a little room just off the ward at the time, and I had been sitting with a midwife who held my hand as they gave me the news. As the doctors left the room, I burst into tears. She hugged me, a big bear hug, as I sobbed and sobbed. She said over and over “Just let it all out, let it all out”, and boy did I do that. This was a woman that I barely knew, but she just understood. She got it. I could tell she literally wanted to absorb my pain. It was like life had slowed down just for a moment, and we had shared something special. I am so grateful she was there for me at the moment before I opened the door of that little room, went back onto the ward and started the next chapter of my life.
The Doctor who apologised
After my miscarriage in 2014, I had the operation to remove what was left of the baby. As I was sitting waiting for the operation, the doctor who would be performing it, came in to see me. She said the words I had waited so long to hear, which no-one had yet said. “I am sorry for the reason why you are here”. A recognition of the awful, terribly sad reason for the procedure. Brief words but so very important.
The Paedatric Healthcare visitor who cared
As Sam was born prematurely, he had his own healthcare visitor, who visited once a week until she was sure that he was happy and thriving, and up to a certain weight. She was a bustling, motherly figure, and I was the first mother she had dealt with who had ended up with a stoma. I always remember how supportive she was of me, of my many problems, and the way she always gave me such encouragement. She made me feel like I was doing ok, that I was doing a good job, and that I was surviving my daily battles with good humour. I was genuinely sad when her visits ended, and when she said the same I knew she was telling the truth.
These are just some examples, and I hope I have shown that our NHS is indeed staffed by many, many fantastic people, people who are totally and utterly dedicated to their jobs, and to their patients. Many people rant about the NHS, but we are so very lucky. I get all of my colostomy bags and anything else I need, for free on the NHS. I don’t even pay a prescription fee. In America everything has to be negotiated and fought for via the medium of Insurance companies, who have profits at the forefront of every single transaction. I can’t imagine that stress, having to worry about my basic needs being met, my comfort at the mercy of a computer algorithm. We are so very lucky and I will always be grateful.