Living in Sandbach, our nearest hospital is about eight miles away. For reasons which will shortly become obvious, I won’t mention what it’s called, but it begins with ‘L’ and rhymes, somewhat fortuitously, with ‘Satan’.
As a family, we have required the services of this Godforsaken place on four occasions (arguably one each, if the boys can count their own births as their turn) and each time it has been more traumatic than the last. There are some aspects of the care and treatment provided which are very good, as I shall hopefully explain, but there are also some medical professionals working there who, quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust to rip a plaster off without attempting to kill someone.
Visit #1 – 2003
In the year 2003 BC (Before Children), when my wife and I were still happy (despite living in The People’s Republic of Middlewich), our first experience of this Hospital was a visit to the A&E Department.
Unlike the two subsequent occasions, when my wife had a new-born child to show for her recently-endured pain, all she had on this occasion was a throbbing foot, having impaled it on a rusty nail in our back garden. Still, the wait to be seen by someone wasn’t that bad (from recollection) and as far as I am aware she still has both her feet, so it can’t have been too bad a first impression.
Stress rating: 4/10
Medical negligence factor: 0/10
Visit #2 – 2010
In 2010, we had our first taste of the maternity ward (not literally – I don’t care how much disinfectant they use) which, as it happens, has recently won a national accolade. I can only assume the judges focussed on the facilities (which are excellent) and nursing/midwifery staff (equally superb), without speaking to any of the doctors – who were presumably busy defending themselves in Court at the time.
When my wife first went into labour, her contractions started becoming regular and more painful (as, I understand, is customary) in the early hours of the morning. After a while, we telephoned the maternity ward and spoke to a midwife, who listened to a contraction down the telephone and told us that, whilst she sympathised, we still had some time to wait. She could apparently tell from listening to my wife’s breathing, and having timed the contraction, that we were some way off meeting our first baby. That phone call took place at about 8.00am.
By 8.15am, I decided I had best walk the dog while I still had the chance, as he would most likely spend the rest of the day at home on his own, while we were at the hospital. I returned around 5-10 minutes later, to find my other half in some distress, and feeling the need to push. We decided that, yes, the midwife most likely knew best, but we’d feel far happier sitting around at the hospital than at home, where something could potentially go wrong.
So, I threw our bags in the car, and we set off. Barely 5 minutes into the journey, it became abundantly clear, even with my limited medical knowledge (I got a B in A-level Biology), we were far closer to the birth than we had been led to believe.
In short, we left home at around 8.40am, arrived at the hospital at exactly 9.01am (I remember the parking ticket I collected as we screamed into the car park on two wheels), and Ollie was born at 9.16am. That’s not a typo. He was born 15 (FIFTEEN) minutes after we got there.
I still recall our NCT teacher saying that you should never rush to the hospital, as adrenaline can slow down the labour, and you often have far longer to wait than you think. But that advice goes out of the window, when you realise you’re about to become a dad for the first time by the side of the A534, and there’s a decrepit Honda Civic-driving nonagenarian travelling at 24mph in front of you. I won’t repeat what I called her, as I overtook at speed, but suffice to say it was not complimentary.
Fortunately, it was a Saturday. The journey would have taken twice as long during the weekly rush-hour (which it would have been at that time in the morning), and the car parking is a nightmare during the week, so I have no doubt that Ollie would have been delivered by me at the side of the road were it not, thankfully, the weekend.
Still, we were now parents for the first time, and that eclipsed some of the trauma of the journey to the hospital.
It was the care we received afterwards, and particularly the paediatricians that were assigned to us, that really beggared belief. The first paediatrician was useless and lazy, and failed to discharge Ollie for so long that we decided to take him home anyway – which they eventually let us do, on the condition we brought him back to be properly checked over and discharged the following day.
When we returned, we waited ages to see a different paediatrician, and when he did finally arrive, he was so inept that I remain convinced he had won his doctorate in a raffle, or found it in a crisp packet. I won’t go into detail, as there were too many examples of his negligence to mention, but when examining a little baby boy’s testicles to make sure everything is correct and present before you discharge him out into the world, even I can safely hazard a guess that ‘not applicable’ might actually be the box you tick when the baby in question is, in actual fact, of the girl variety.
Stress rating: 6/10
Medical negligence factor: 5/10
Visit #3 – 2013
My turn now, but I have to say on this occasion the Hospital staff were in no way at fault.
I had been to the opticians for a routine eye test, and having discovered that my sight had deteriorated somewhat since my last visit, the optician decided to put some drops into my eyes to check for anything more sinister. Once they were in, he said we should take a look at some new frames in case I fancied a change, and so off we went into the main shop.
No more than a minute later, I was stood looking at some frames, when the room began spinning and everything started to go dark. I vaguely recall saying I didn’t feel well, and asking if there was a chair I could sit on, before I (apparently quite spectacularly) collapsed. As far as I was concerned, I had started to go faint, but had managed to stop myself from actually blacking out, and only a few seconds had passed before everything started to come back into focus. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find a paramedic in front of me. I later found out I had been out cold for around 10 minutes, much to the distress of the optician and his staff.
Having passed out before (see my earlier blog entry Another Brick In the Wall (Part II) for more details), I was somewhat embarrassed – again – but explained I was ok and happy to get back to work. The paramedic was having none of it, and insisted on strapping me into a wheelchair to get me into the back of the ambulance (in front of all the Sandbach sticky beaks) for a proper check. Once there, I tried to protest that I did not want (or need) to go to Hospital, but when I realised he had my wife on the phone, who had been interrupted from teaching to be told there was a chance I had suffered a heart attack, I decided I best shut up. Heart attacks aren’t the sort of thing you should fuck about with, so off I went to Hospital.
Of course, it wasn’t a heart attack, but thankfully I hadn’t simply passed out either, so at least I was spared the further embarrassment of having had ‘a bit of a turn’ for no reason. Having been through various tests at the hospital, a very nice specialist told me that the eye drops were a muscle-relaxant, and in very, very rare cases (he seemed to be delightfully intrigued by me) some can get into your blood stream. Having been sat down, when I got up to look at the frames, my heart rate had been slowed down to such an extent, that my ticker couldn’t pump any blood to my brain (which, if you weren’t aware, is a good 6’3” from my feet) and down I went like a sack of spuds. Classy.
The only saving grace, was that the optician knows I am a personal injury lawyer, so when I told him what had happened, and despite advising him it wasn’t his fault and joking I wouldn’t sue, he still insisted on giving me endless free pairs of contact lenses. Bless him.
Stress rating: 7/10
Medical negligence factor: 0/10
Embarrassment factor: 5/10
Optician negligence factor: 1/10
Visit #4 – 2014
Our most recent, and hopefully last ever, experience of this particular Hospital. I still haven’t quite recovered from this one.
In truth, Isaac’s birth was not all that traumatic (easy for me to say, my wife may think differently), but again it was the aftercare which left a lot to be desired.
Isaac was born just over 4 weeks early, so not hugely premature by some standards, but enough for them to want to keep an eye on him at first. Understandable and, as parents, we of course had no issue with that. It was perhaps unusual, therefore, that he ended up being discharged from hospital faster than Ollie had been, and we were home the following day.
Nevertheless, all seemed to be going well, until a few days later when my wife felt something was wrong. Isaac had become lethargic and floppy, and wasn’t feeding properly, so on that Friday night, we (mostly she) took the decision to take him to A&E.
On arrival, we did not have to wait too long to see a ‘doctor’, but when she turned up, having seemingly just arrived from hiking in the Welsh mountains (such was her appearance), alarm bells immediately started ringing. This may, in all honesty, have had a great deal to do with the Manchester United backpack she was sporting when she arrived.
Sure enough, she was a moron. She essentially told us that we were overreacting, and that there was nothing wrong with our baby. Fortunately, following our all-too-brief consultation, my wife insisted on hanging around in A&E to try and feed Isaac, adamant that if he still wouldn’t feed she wanted another opinion.
When he refused to take any milk, we returned to the main desk and asked to speak to someone else. I managed to refrain myself from asking for someone with genuine medical qualifications. We were eventually sent down to the children’s ward (we couldn’t go to neo-natal, apparently, as he had already been discharged) and there, after a wait, we were seen by another doctor who ran some further tests. In their defence, they did agree it would be best to keep Isaac in overnight for observation. My wife had anticipated this, and had packed a bag just in case, so I returned home with Ollie and left them both there.
The short version of the story, as I’m acutely conscious this is the longest blog in the history of the world already, is that Isaac not only remained in hospital for (in total) around 3 weeks – he was briefly sent home only to return a few days later for another stay – but it became apparent that he had all sorts of medical issues that could, if undetected, have killed him.
Firstly, his jaundice levels shot through the roof, so he had to spend much of his time in an incubator under the UV lights. Then, he developed spells of prolonged sleep apnoea, during which he would stop breathing for up to ten seconds at a time. Finally, and most worryingly, his heart rate had a tendency to drop to dangerous levels every few minutes, meaning that my wife was too frightened to sleep, even though she was allowed to stay in the same room as him 24/7.
One of the tests Isaac went through, at just over one week old, was a lumbar puncture – a needle injected into his spine – to test for problems that might be affecting his brain and, specifically (bearing in mind his symptoms at the time) meningitis. Having to sit in a room, while they take your tiny little baby (he was under five pounds by this point) to inject a needle into his spine, is heartbreaking and something no new parent should ever have to experience. What’s more, the first time it didn’t work, so they had to do it again.
The nurses on that ward, as they had generally been throughout the hospital, were amazing – apart from the two who decided to hold a conversation directly outside the room we were in, about a baby’s lumbar puncture results which had just come back as positive for meningitis, and how horrible it was going to be to break the news to the parents. You can only imagine our reaction to hearing this. Fortunately, it transpired that they were discussing a different baby on the ward. I say ‘fortunately’, because the feeling of relief we felt at learning they hadn’t been talking about Isaac, was almost matched by the feeling of guilt at receiving good news at another family’s expense.
Thankfully, there was a happy ending. Isaac made a full recovery from whatever infection he had – we’re still not entirely sure – and the jaundice slowly subsided as a result. Like many premature babies (as my sister-in-law, whose daughter was seven weeks early, will attest), because he had to fight for his life at such a tender age, he’s now making up for it, and although he isn’t quite one, he could quite happily kick the shit out of Ollie if he wanted to.
I dread to think what would have happened, if we had accepted what that Manchester United supporting bint had told us at A&E, and my wife hadn’t trusted her instincts.
Stress rating: 9/10
Medical negligence factor: 7/10
- The nurses at this particular Hospital are, with a few exceptions, fantastic;
- The doctors at this particular Hospital are, with a few exceptions, terrible;
- I never want to see this particular Hospital ever again.
Thanks for your patience. That was far longer than I intended, and was almost entirely devoid of humour, but I found it immensely therapeutic and, in the great blog of my life, it’s an important chapter that needed telling.