A Winter's Tale
Thursday 2 December
Feeling confined in her snow-muffled flat, Ma takes a walk up her front path to take the morning air. As she returns a cat jumps over the wall and startles her. She slips on the icy path and lands heavily on her shoulder. When her injury doesn’t spontaneously heal, she eventually gives in and calls her local GP surgery. In the evening a GP visits and summons an ambulance ‘sooner rather than later’. Around 10.30 pm Ma is admitted to her local hospital. X-rays suggest she has a fractured scapula which will require emergency surgery. She is put on a nil by mouth regime that night and transferred to a larger hospital for an emergency operation. However, she’s picked a busy period for her accident so the operation doesn’t take place.
Saturday 4 December
The operation is rescheduled for this morning, so Ma’s had a second night of nil by mouth. A CT scan shows that Ma’s humerus is broken in four places. Despite her obviously smashed-up arm, which is in a sling and bruised black from shoulder to elbow, she is given a pair of surgical stockings and expected to put them on unassisted.
The operation is cancelled.
Sunday 5 December
The hospital ring my sister who lives locally and ask her to bring in blood pressure tablets for Ma as they don’t have any.
Monday 6 December
Better road conditions mean Tom and I can travel to Surrey. We visit Ma and confirm with the ward Sister that mum has a compound fracture of humerus. There is no mention of her shoulder.
Tuesday 7 December
Am. Ma is visited by a medical team who tell her that her arm will be plated and pinned at one of two hospitals (whichever theatre is free) on Wednesday morning.
Pm. Ma is visited by a second medical team and told that the ball and socket joint of her shoulder will be replaced.
Tom and I arrive at the hospital for visiting and seek out ward sister to ask what is happening and where. Sister is unable to answer either question, except to say that she knows of no transfer to another hospital.
Wednesday 8 December
Ma calls to say that procedures are being carried out to prepare her for surgery. One of the medics asks which arm is broken. Ma clearly indicates that it would be the arm in a sling – the one covered in a huge purple bruise, now fringed with yellow, from shoulder to elbow. The medic draws a big, blue arrow on Ma’s big purple bruise. Various people visit to prepare Ma for op. All is going smoothly until a nurse (a matron, Ma thinks. None of the staff wear name badges so it’s impossible to tell who you’re talking to) visits to tell Ma that her operation has been cancelled again. The sterile pack with the replacement shoulder joint has arrived damaged. Ma is too upset to accept a cup of tea.
10.15 am. Ma rings me, greatly ‘pissed off’. However she has pulled herself together enough to ask to see ‘The Top Man’. She is visited by someone who introduces herself as the Trauma Co-ordinator who explains why the op cannot take place. The Trauma Co-ordinator tells Ma that her op has been rescheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon.
11.50 am. I visit the hospital Patient Advice and Liaison Service office to seek help and break down in angry tears explaining events to an advisor. The advisor says she’ll contact the medical team in charge of Ma’s care and ask someone to speak to me. She suggests Tom and I wait at the ward.
12.10 pm. At the ward the sister tells us Ma’s op has been cancelled ‘because machinery has broken down’. We’ve arrived at Protected Meal Time when visiting is prohibited. We’re happy to comply, but tell her why we’re there. ‘We’ll get to the bottom of this,’ Tom says. ‘Good luck,’ says the sister, ‘because we never do!’
2 pm. PALS advisor rings to say she’s been unable to summon a doctor to talk to us but shortly afterwards the ward sister tells us that one’s on his way ‘in half an hour’. She advises us to add another half hour onto that.
3 pm. A junior doctor arrives. He is clearly resentful at being summoned to talk to us and borderline aggressive. When I write his name down he looks visibly annoyed. A couple of ‘as you were told earlier’ asides to Ma are obviously meant to suggest that she just hasn’t listened properly. He impresses upon me that the hospital is overstretched and that they are struggling to cope with all the fractures. He tells me that Ma will be attended to, but that hips take priority because of the 8-10 hour window. The outcome of Ma’s fracture will not, he says, be any worse for the wait because they have a 10 day window in which to carry out the surgery. His whole manner of delivery seems to be intended to intimidate us into submission and for a split second I’m almost tempted to make his life easier by just simply thanking him. I resist. I tell him that I recognise that he has a difficult job to do and many patients to treat, but that I only have one mother.
I tell him that I’m reassured that the outcome for Ma will not be any worse for waiting, that I’m glad to know that she’s ‘safe’ until Day 10, but point out that tomorrow (Thursday) is Day 8. I also point out that Ma’s a feisty, spirited woman who has coped admirably on her own for five years, but that she has had to suffer the psychological and emotional trauma of being prepped for surgery three times. He apologies.
Ma makes a joke and he smiles – at last. I ask him what exactly they are going to do in the operation. He claims to be ‘no expert’ (ie qualified advice) and tells me that they are going to replace the ball and socket shoulder joint and pin and plate the broken humerus. I thank him and he gives a small smile and tells us to ‘take care’.
The sister suggests we take Ma for a change of scenery so we take her down to the canteen. She’d like a smoothie – but the machine is broken. I find her a fruit juice drink as the best alternative.
8.10 pm. My daughter rings to say that her visit has coincided with that of the Trauma Co-ordinator. Ma’s op is confirmed for Thursday 9 December. It should start at 1.30 – 2pm and last up to 2 hours with an hour in recovery. Well that’s the plan…
Thursday 9 December
6.45 pm. After an anxious afternoon of waiting, we arrive at the hospital just after Ma returns from recovery. Her shoulder has been replaced and her arm pinned and plated from shoulder to elbow. She’s full of praise for the consultant who’s carried out the op and the team who attended.
Friday 10 December
2.10 pm. Arrive at hospital just as a porter arrives to take Ma for an x ray. She is checked in then forgotten. An estimated 30 min wait turns into 2hrs. A radiographer realises that Ma has got lost in the system. She apologises. A porter arrives to take Ma back to the ward. Firstly she forgets Ma’s notes then picks up the wrong ones. It’s only because I’m there to check that the error is corrected.
Saturday 11, Sunday 12 December
The staff car parks are empty, the nurses are stretched and there’s no rest on the ward due to the moans and cries of patients in distress. Ma is desperate to come home.
Monday 13 December
11 am. The hospital ring me tell me Ma has been discharged. On arrival, we find Ma dressed and ready to leave, but she is waiting for strong painkillers to be made up at the pharmacy. Oh, she is also told she must have her lunch.
4 pm. The painkillers finally arrive and Ma is free to leave. Another £8 of car park fees. As for the arrangements to have her stitches removed, physio sorted out and outpatient treatment? Well, what do you think?