When I had finally got myself comfortable and powered up my laptop to write this column last week, I had no idea how things were going to pan out over the next seven days. I had based it on the trials and tribulations that came with the difficulty of movement after surgery I was experiencing but I had thought that that was going to be the extent of it. The plan was that the stitches would be taken out that following Monday and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, things could not have further deviated from that plan.
As the week progressed, my discomfort very much crossed the boundary into severe pain. By the middle of the week I was on more painkillers than I had been initially and was watching the clock to see when the next dose could be taken, even if I didn’t think they were doing very much. By Thursday I was changing the dressing over the wound every couple of hours and things just seemed quite bleak.
As darkness crept in that night I decided that I was going to go up to the treatment room at the GP to get things checked out again. A few hours later and things were unbearable enough that I was taking myself up to A&E. It was the worst timing imaginable because I had an assignment to submit that night but there wasn’t a hope of getting it done with the state I was in – I may have met the word count but it was unlikely to be addressing any topics that were at all relevant.
Along with Mum’s expert nursing experience, I’d decided that it was the stitches causing the problem and that they needed to come out. I hadn’t quite planned out what was to happen after that, but I had figured that I would only be in for a few hours: home again before the sun rose on Friday. It didn’t quite happen like that.
I was armed only with a phone for entertainment and after four hours in the waiting area, the battery and I alike were struggling. All pretence had disappeared at this point and I’d found a perfect space to lie down in as I waited, wishing that I’d had the foresight to grab some change for the vending machines as tea time was a distant memory by now. As I was called by the doctor, it felt that the end was in sight. I got myself up on a bed, answered all his questions like a good little patient and showed him the problem area. It turned out that the end was not near as a surgical consult was needed.
As it was nearing 5am at this point, the mood was not good. I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours and it was sheer stubbornness keeping me awake. The surgeon said it appeared that there was an infection setting in and upon his poking the wrong part, it made itself known with a vengeance. This apparently wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought and he started talking about admitting me to a ward so a consultant could get involved.
I was adamant that he was not. I had only the clothes I stood up in, a worried mother waiting up for me at home and a dead phone. I said I’d come back after grabbing a few essentials and cleaning myself up. I promised and I pleaded. In the end, he still won and by 6am I was being wheeled along the corridor to ward one.
At this point I thought it was just for a short stay and that I’d be out basking in the rarely seen sun by lunchtime. The surgeon had other ideas. It transpired that there was a nasty infection in the wound that needed an eye kept on it for a few days and so the stitches that had been causing me such aggro over the past few days were taken out and from what little I could see, they hadn’t been doing much anyway.
I was on the move once again, this time up two floors to ward nine which was to become my home until Sunday. This was the first time that I was an inpatient in SWAH and so my first experience of the individual roomed wards it seems quite fond of.
Some journals have cited infection control as the reason for single-bed rooms but others have disputed this fact. There are just too many avenues for infection to enter through. The same staff are dealing with all patients and while they obviously wash their hands before and after, bugs could still be carried on their clothing it’s unreasonable to expect them to fully change between patients. You’re never going to be able to eradicate infection completely. You’re also exposed to less noise and so should be able to sleep better but realistically, a hospital bed is a poor substitute to the mattress at home that you’ve carefully moulded over the years and anyway, you’re probably in for something that’s uncomfortable or painful so sleep isn’t going to be as easily found as it normally would be.
I wasn’t so much of a fan. Of course, it’s nice to have some privacy for visiting time or when you’re flopped on a bed in your pyjamas and a spacious ensuite is nothing to be sniffed at but it can be quite lonesome when you’re in a room on your own for hours on end with only a television for company. I’d get excited when the staff came in because it was a chance to talk to a real human for a few minutes as they went about their work – I was elated to spend half hour on Saturday morning talking about education with a lovely man who was in mopping my floor! However, as they had to tend to patients in individual rooms, there was less opportunity for them to just poke their heads in every hour or so and they’d be more difficult to find as they would be in rooms rather than at the nurses station. This meant that I had to use the call bell for any request and it felt like a bit much to be sounding an alarm just because I needed some water or extra gauze.
It does pose questions about how other patients would use the call bell. You might have some who don’t want to be a bother who don’t call for help when they really should such as if their pain is increasing or if they are perhaps unable to. In an open ward, fellow patients could see a change in their neighbour and call on their behalf but this level of peer care is lost in the single-bed units.
There are some benefits to having individual rooms but one size cannot fit all. Not everyone is able to have visitors coming in every day and the solitude could potentially lead to mental health issues that will not be conductive to healing. If we’re seeing a move towards these rooms as the norm, then we also need to see an investment in nursing staff to allow them to spend more time with the patient and look after them as a whole rather than being constrained by time and resources and constantly wish that they could do more than they do.
I’m out now under the care of the district nurse and I’m hopefully staying out. No harm to the staff in wards one and nine but as nice as you were, I really don’t want to see any of you again. There is only so much daytime television that one woman can handle!