The Best of Health

28th October 2009 |

Six weeks after the accident I described above I made my way to Germany on the bike and then, by air, to England. A doctor friend had suggested earlier that it would be a good idea to get a CT scan, just in case, so in London I wandered into the ER of a big London hospital, and it turned out that I had a bigger problem than I had realised. The hospital was part of the British National Health Service. I am not writing a medical journal but, because of the debate raging in the USA about Health Reform, what SHOULD be of general interest is the treatment I received. Horror stories from health services around the world are bandied about regularly and the NHS probably gets more than its fair share, so this account is as honest as I can make it.

I waited in the reception area for about twenty minutes. Then a nurse asked me some preliminary questions and I was shown to a cubicle.

I waited a little longer and then explained the history of the accident to one or two young men who came and went. Within two hours of my arrival my brain was scanned, twice, the second time after an injection. Almost immediately – and to my great surprise – I was admitted and put to bed in a clean, airy ward with five other men and my blood pressure, temperature, blood oxygen, reflexes and eye movements were monitored every four hours.

The next day I was shown the scan, with its ugly dark slug of blood down the inside of my skull and told I had a subdural haematoma. Evidently I had had most of this for weeks, but there was a little fresh blood probably due to my flying from Germany to England.

The blood was squeezing my brain into a space where it shouldn’t be and, incidentally, was probably the cause of waves of embarrassing incontinence that were plaguing me. They said they were trying to get me across to another hospital nearby that specialized in neurosurgery but there was a shortage of beds.

Had there been any sign of deterioration I would have been shifted immediately but my condition appeared stable and they were hoping not to have to drill through my skull. The consultant on the ward was very sympathetic. The nurses and the rest of the staff were friendly and efficient, as far as I could tell, and always ready to listen. The food was good (there were choices) and there was optional TV, radio and internet by each bed. In fact mine didn’t work, but had I cared I am sure I could have got it fixed.

I had been there for five days when the neurosurgeon came over for a visit. He talked very easily and openly, with no sense of self-importance, and gave me plenty of time to gather my thoughts. He said there was no point in my staying in bed and sent me home to become an outpatient.

He said there was every likelihood that the problem would take care of itself and they would do another scan to confirm this.

Now, five weeks later, they scanned me again, and everything is working out well. Everything is back to normal, I can fly again, and friends say that I seem to be making a lot more sense these days.

I hadn’t been in any western hospital for sixty years and was deeply impressed. Perhaps those who make frequent visits would find things to complain about, but not me. So there it is: One survivor’s tale of the dreaded national health service.