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?


Pauline Barclay said…
Chris, I have tears slipping down my face for your poor Ma and you. This is so outrageous that nothing written in ficiton could come anywhere near. As the events unfold it seeems to just get worse.
Please send my hugs - very gently ones, to your Ma and for you too! xx

On a brighter note, I have awarded you an award, only when you have time to draw breath, take a peek at my blog. Take good care of yourself. xx
Cottage Garden said…
Every day you hear things are failing with the National Health system but this is completely and utterly outrageous Chris. I'm baffled and angry for both you and Ma. What a good thing that people of her generation are able to face situations like this with such stoism. I hope your Ma makes a good recovery and that she gets the proper medical follow-up care she, and indeed others of her wonderful generation, deserves.

Take care of yourselves.
Posie said…
How absolutely awful...your poor mum. Her shoulder looks really sore and her treatment sounded awful. Thinking of you all Chris...and hoping for a happy healthy recovery for your mum.
Best wishes x
elizabethm said…
I am so very sorry to read this Chris and send my very best wishes to your Ma. We have been extraordinarily lucky in that my FIL, who fell and broke his hip at the age of 92, has had first rate care from the NHS. He was operated on within 48 hours and then nursed through a minor stroke and a minor heart problem with real humanity and dedication. We might perhaps have liked to see the doctors more often but the communication via the nursing staff was frequent and comprehensive, the doctors coped admirably with his slight deafness and idiosyncratic use of language, and the whole experience has left us with deep admiration for the NHS. The only sadness is that the hospital in which this great care took place is being stripped of its acute care facilities and downgraded. I do truly wish your mother had had the same standard of care. FIL arrives to live here in about half an hour!
DOT said…
Explosive is how I feel!

I would copy your post and send it to the head of the local health trust, your MP, whatever useless person is now Secretary of State for Health and anyone else you think of - I would suggest Wikileaks but Assange is bit tied up at the moment.

I wish your mother a speedy and comfortable recovery.
Lins' lleisio said…
Moral of this tale is don't get old, especially if you don't have family to help fight your corner when you are out of sorts. Frightening.
jocannon said…
I am a doctor in the NHS and I'm sorry to say that this story is so, so common. It's one of the reasons I'm seriously questioning my career choice. There are so many people working in hospitals who have to fight every day to make sure patients are treated with respect and dignity. Very often, it feels like we are fighting a losing battle. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for any patient to be treated in this way. As individuals, we may not be able to do anything about cuts and theatre slots being cancelled, but good communication, respect and consideration cost nothing.

I am so distressed when I hear stories like these - especially when patients don't have a family to stand their corner. I'm so glad your mum wasn't alone in all this. Give her my best wishes and please let us know if the Trust respond to your complaints.
Crystal Jigsaw said…
I'm kind of sitting here with my mouth open! It took five hours to bring a prescription? That's absolutely disgusting. What kind of service are these people giving?

My best wishes to you, Chris.

CJ xx
Lucie said…
Oh my god Chris, your poor, poor Ma!

Noone should have to endure the amount of emotional and physical stress that she has. We all know that the NHS is overstretched, but it doesn't change the fact that people will still need to be treated, and fair enough, there is a priority based system in place there, but what is a little communication? The not knowing is hell to be put through and the fact that they prepped her 3 times for surgery - it's a disgrace!
The junior doc who saw you, should've been full of sympathy and advice for you all. Not be trying for the worlds grumpiest doctor!

It is horrendous that your Ma and your whole family have been put through this ordeal. I just hope that she has a speedy recovery and that you get some answers from the Trust.

Best wishes to you all xxx
Frances said…
Oh Chris, this has made me very angry. Of course, I send best wishes and lots of love you and your mom, but really! How could these days just drag on and on?

Let us hope that the treatment and surgery finally given your mom will actually result in her regaining full use of that arm.

As you are aware there is an ongoing huge discussion about the future of health care in this country, and at present no one is probably totally happy with what is going on...yet reluctant to make a change to something different.

Reading your post has really made me wonder about the NHS. Perhaps it operates differently in different areas of the UK? I am ignorant of this and just wonder.

Bright note...sounds as if your mom's spirit is still very strong. Please give her a gentle hug from me. xo
Flowerpot said…
Oh Chris I am so sorry for all that you have all gone through. Which hospital is that? Thankfully the dreaded Treliske is a hive of efficiency compared to that. And they all wear name badges. I would get on to your local TV station, but I don't suppose you want the hassle now. Big hugs and take very good care. xx
Sallys Chateau said…
Well I know what I think, I have read your account with utter disbelief. It is utterly incredible what people are expected to tolerate from the NHS. Car park charges are barbaric, I used to spend up to half an hr or more trying to park when visiting a relative. Sending love and good wishes to you and your family for a peaceful stress free Christmas. xx
Chris Stovell said…
Pauline, thanks for your kind words and for the award. I've been a very bad return blogger recently. Combination of caring for Ma and intermittent internet availability! Hope to collect the award in due course!

Jeanne, yes, you are so right about people of Ma's generation. There was an 82 year old opposite Ma on the last two days of her stay, who was completely ignored by staff all the time I was there because she was waiting for an op. There was no one to make a fuss on her behalf and she was becoming increasingly concerned about her dog who was being looked after by a neighbour - but she just sat quietly, putting up with it all. I'm still wondering about her. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Posie, thank you. Yes, Ma sat there for 8 days with her only treatment being a sling and painkillers. At least the pain she's in now is due to treatment rather than the injury.

Elizabeth, I'm so pleased to hear your FiL got the treatment he deserved and that communication was so good at the hospital. At least half of our frustration was that no one seemed to know what was going on - the staff on the ward certainly didn't - leaving us with a terrible sense that the whole system was hanging by a thread which would break any minute. Not where you want your loved ones to be. Good for you, for being a grown-up and a decent,caring human being who is willing to look after someone else. Your father will be so much happier to be in such good hands. Thanks for your good wishes and I hope all works out for you and yours.

DOT, thank you! I'm sorry I made your blood boil too, but I'm truly grateful for all the fellow feeling. It's surprising how just a few days of fighting the system can leave you wondering just who is in the wrong - everyone on the other side just hopes you'll shut up and go away! I'll just get my breath back and then, when Ma's ok, go in for round two!
Chris Stovell said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Stovell said…
Lins, yep, I feel desperately sorry for anyone on their own.

Jo, thanks for reading this and for your response. The trouble is I don't know how the system will cope when doctors like you, who care, feel unable to carry on. One or two of the nurses we encountered were actively unkind to patients, perhaps it was the pressure they were under or maybe they were the ones left when other, more compassionate, individuals couldn't suffer watching the indignities that happen when the safety net fails. Thank you for your good wishes for my mother. Deep breath, then I'll take the next step.
Ivy said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ivy said…
Don't know whether to hit something or just quietly sit and cry. THIS IS EUROPE (I know you British don'T consider Your Islands as Europe but hey they are) and we have nothing better to offer to people in pain and distress??? Hope the recovery at home goes as planned
mountainear said…
Your story beggars belief and I am lost for words. who would believe this could take place - or not take place in an allegedly 'first' world country?
Chris Stovell said…
Please note; the comments that have been removed are my own - I'm working away from home and on an intermittent connection!
Chris Stovell said…
Crystal, we were repeatedly asked what Ma's prescription was for and gave the answer numerous times - the right hand just didn't know what the left hand was doing! Thanks for your good wishes.

Lucie, that's what worried me most; that an emotionally robust woman, who's coped really well on her own, should be made to feel so helpless and passive. I was so afraid that it would completely knock the spirit out of her. She's got enough to cope with managing with her physical injuries! Thanks for your good wishes.
Chris Stovell said…
Frances, thank you from all of us. I couldn't believe how the days went by either. So many days of raised hopes and all the psychological preparation for a big op only to be let down three times.

I don't know what the answer is to the growing problem of healthcare; clearly it works in some places, Elizabeth's father-in-law received good care and the hospital communicated with the family. The atmosphere at Ma's hospital was bleak, with staff either struggling to cope or seemingly indifferent to what was happening. It's a good job Ma is so robust - I fear for those who are not so strong.
Chris Stovell said…
Fp, yes, you're right, I'm just taking care of Ma right now before bracing myself for another go - this is as much as I've had time to do so far. Name badges would have helped a lot... but then maybe staff working in such a shambolic regime prefer to remain anonymous. Glad Himself was well-treated.

Sally, your good wishes are very much appreciated - I think we could do with less stress. The car park charges don't help, especially when you're only waiting because the chain has broken down somewhere else. Of course, we were happy to be with Ma for as long as she wanted or was necessary... but an average of £10 per visit with diesel (we could have walked to the local hospital) was punishing!
Chris Stovell said…
Ivy, I wish I could advise you! As my eldest daughter would say there were times when I wanted to scream into the nearest pillow... although the 82 year old opposite Ma waited ALL DAY despite frequent requests for a pillow! She was sat in a chair, very weak from being nil by mouth overnight, and simply wanted to lie down and rest.

Mountainear, I've barely started! A message sounded to anyone approaching the ward inviting them to use the hand gel before entering... it was empty for THREE DAYS, Tom and I just waited to see who would refill it. The second gel inside the door ran out too, so we used bottles by the wards. We didn't report it because we wondered how long it would be before anyone bothered. Eventually it was picked up on a ward inspection.
Jane Lovering said…
Chris, I've just caught up with your blog and I'm so sorry to hear about your trials and tribulations (and your mother's too, of course). Health Services in this country are so patchy, it sounds like you got caught at a busy time in a busy hospital with busy staff, and failed all down the line.

I hope things are improving for both of you now, and that your mother is starting to recover from her injuries. She's lucky to have such a concerned daughter.
Jenny Beattie said…
I imagine the mental health services are also over stretched by medical staff as well as patients and their relatives. Really this is awful, awful, awful.

I hope your mum stays in good spirits and recovers quickly.
Preseli Mags said…
The fact that your mum managed to joke and smile and was full of praise for the consultant who (finally) treated her says a great deal for her spirit. What appalling treatment from start to finish.

I hope she has a speedy and comfortable recovery now. Best wishes to all. xxx
Preseli Mags said…
PS: I hope you don't mind but I e-mailed a link to this blog to the Prime Minister's office.
Milla said…
This is outrageous (though I recognise the junior doctor....)
It seems that you "just" fell through some cracks since nothing else could explain the catalogue of disasters.
I do hope your mother recovers. It's the dent to the confidence (thank goodness you and Tom could get over there) as much as anything else. It's her knowing she has to place herself in unreliable hands (all those lost notes and forgotten appointments). The NHS, when it works, is great. But when it doesn't, it's ver worrying.
Bloody cats!
Chris Stovell said…
Jane, I'm still unable to post on yours, but I'm not at my usual workspace. Yes, very little went well... except, we hope, the op! Thanks for your good wishes.

Jenny, hopefully the malfunctions at this hospital are not repeated in mental health services too. Well, you'd like to hope so, anyway. Ma's very tired, as you might imagine, but still herself - thank goodness.
Chris Stovell said…
Mags, she's a true fighter, but goodness, as Jeanne says, her generation ought to have done enough fighting. It's a shame she couldn't get the treatment she deserved when she needed it. Thanks for your good wishes which we all appreciate. And thanks, good idea, still busy looking after Ma here.

Milla, exactly - it is that loss of confidence that I fear; how can Ma every place herself in the system that seemingly prolonged her suffering? And, as you say, that's with someone on board to help her!
Kath said…
This is just shocking. Thank goodness the surgery went well, when it finally happened.

What I hate most of all is the way that some of those dealing with you and your Ma seemed to want to suggest that you and she had not understood what you'd already been told!!

And as for the Trauma Co-ordinator - he or she is obviously not doing their job properly. Nothing about the trauma you or your Ma went through sounds remotely co-ordinated.
Chris Stovell said…
Hi Kath, yes, that's what made Ma start to feel anxious. There seemed to be an assumption on the part of some of the staff who dealt with her that she'd lost a few of her marbles. In fact she has a sharp, quick, enquiring mind, but being treated in that way made her started to make her feel depressed. I can see why some elderly patients lose heart and was worried about the same thing happening to Ma.
Debs said…
Well, I'll never complain about our hospital over here ever again, that's for certain.

Your poor Mum and you, it sounds like such a horrendous and surreal experience, I'm horrified. I suppose a lot of the problem comes from the major decisions of how to run these hospitals being made by people with no idea how it all works on a day to day basis.
Pondside said…
I keep trying to leave a comment, but keep getting booted off - doubtless because the NHS and blogger are linked!!
Your poor Ma - she is certainly made of stern stuff. She'd have found much the same situation over here - beds closed, spaces in medical schools severely limited and services de-listed. It's a good think that you could be present throughout the ordeal for your Ma.
Lane said…
Oh Chris, I'm so sorry your Ma has had such an appalling time. I was open mouthed by the time I got to December 8th. Thank goodness she had you and Tom to fight her corner - and that you kept fighting.

I do hope your Ma is on the mend now and that this hasn't put a dent in her confidence. Wishing her all the very best. x
Rob-bear said…
Oh, Chris! This is unspeakably bad! Horrid!

The problem is that I work as an ethicist in our health region. And I'm worrying our system will degenerate to the condition of yours with our Conservative government. I'm already seeing signs that are worrisome.

I'm so glad you could be there for you Ma. There are many who have no one there for them, and they fair even more poorly.

Best wishes to your Ma from the Bear in the colony across the pond. And Happy Christmas all round.
This is dreadful - I came here via Preselimag and am genuinely horrified at the basic lack of respect and dignity shown to you and your family. I think that the elderly are so stoic in these situations but they have paid taxes all of their lives to be treated well by the NHS. To be treated so badly therefore is appalling.

Is this an opportunity perhaps for the online world to work together to do something? We all just seem to accept this care-less status quo, I think on the basis that we are grateful treatment didn't kill us.
Chris Stovell said…
Debs, Ma said the other day that she felt as if she was trying to put a bad dream behind her, so it certainly had that surreal feel.

Pondside, thank you for persevering, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Yes, it certainly is a good thing that she and so many of her generation are so stoic, but it breaks my heart that, after a lifetime which has spanned the hardships of evacuation, war, rationing and a many years of hard work, that the treatment she and others ought to have simply isn't there.

Lane, thanks. I knew Ma was plucky but I've been astounded by her bravery and sheer grit. I do fear for anyone who can't do that and doesn't have a family to fight on their behalf. Thanks for your good wishes.
Chris Stovell said…
Rob-bear, Hello, good to see you - I do hope our experience isn't the shape of things to come for you as I wouldn't wish it on anybody. Many thanks for your good wishes and a happy Christmas to you too.

Carole, hi, thanks very much for visiting and taking the time to read and comment on this post. Yes, as you'll see from my previous responses, it distresses me greatly that the elderly have been dealt such a bad hand. However, from what we could see and from the conversations we overheard, the whole hospital was at breaking point. This diary of my mother's treatment is a direct record of our experience, but I imagine if everyone did the same there would be a vast database of hospital meltdown and patient misery.
gaelikaa said…
What a stressful situation for all of you. Hope yuo're all doing okay. Especially Ma.
Kitty said…
Bllimey. What a going on. Poor Ma and poor you too. Good Lord are they an incompetent bunch. Hope she's on the mend now, and your stress levels are on the wane!
Chris Stovell said…
Gaelikaa, yes, it's been a tough one. Ma doing pretty well, all things considered, thank you.

Kitty, thank you. I'm feeling quite low after all that's happened, but it's good that Ma's recovering.
Directed here from Guido (Tom Tomos at 10.23 from the Rich and Mark thread), so you might expect me to have a mindset more critical of the Royal National Health Service than most of your posters.

My Dad had a knee operation late last year and his experience was the opposite of that suffered by your poor mother. There is a postcode lottery for healthcare going on (look up South Staffordshire if you do not wish to believe it).

I've had experience of healthcare abroad: the NHS is not a beacon to the rest of the world. It is oppressively Statist and biased against the poor.

Perhaps Andrew Lansley's reforms are a step in the right direction. One can only hope. My best wishes to your mother.
Rosalind Adam said…
Sadly I too have a similar story of hospital neglect of my mother. Following this morning's Radio 4 programme I am sending copies of all my complaint letters to Ann Abraham, the Ombudsman. We should join together and form a pressure group... we really should.

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