It’s one of the loneliest and most forlorn places I’ve ever been. I’m clutching a bag of (prescribed) drugs, the dawn breaking on a chilly August morning. There are a couple of people waiting to be seen by doctors, myself, and the cleaners. I sit next to a phone I’m told might ring when the taxi the hospital has called to take me home arrives. ‘Or he may come in and ask for you’. I’m dressed for a warm summer evening, having arrived almost 12 hours earlier. My hand stings from where a canula has just been removed, and I’ve puncture marks all over both arms where successive attempts have been tried to draw blood for tests. An hour ago, I was told I’d be kept in overnight for observation. Half an hour ago, after sending my family home on that basis, I was told I’d be sent home straight away. ‘I’ve got no keys, or money.’ ‘We’ll pay for the taxi and phone your parents to expect you.’
It started just before dinner, with unexplained sharp pains in my chest, which my parents wanted checking out by paramedics and called an ambulance. Like most NHS staff, they were lovely and caring and professional and although nothing seemed untoward, decided to take me to the Accident & Emergency ward to get checked out. My ECGs, blood pressure, heart rate seem fine but I have to wait 6 hours for a follow up blood test to see if I’ve had a mini heart attack. Which sounds kind of cute, like a mini-Magnum ice cream, or a child’s happy meal.
Which is all fine, but takes another two hours for the results to come through, which seem to mystify the Registrar, who decides to keep me in to see a member of the cardiology team in the morning. I say cheerio to my family planning to see them in the morning, knowing they are exhausted and have already spent far too long in the A&E sweatbox waiting with me.
Another doctor arrives to ask why I’m there, and then tells me again they’ll keep me in for observation ‘as a precaution’. Out of nowhere, one of my cardiology team arrives in his scrubs. I’ve only ever seen him in his shirt, tie and chinos before. He asks questions and actually listens to my responses. He conducts a thorough physical examination, and takes a detailed look at my notes, blood test results and doesn’t forget, as the registrar did, that I had a chest x-ray taken. ‘You can go home,’ he says reassuringly. He means in the morning, but now A&E seem keen for me to leave ASAP, and parcel me off like meat from an abbatoir.
At four in the morning.
Later today, the Prime Minister announces an ‘increase’ in NHS funding for A&E departments. I wonder how many times he’s sat in A&E reception at four in the morning with nothing but a plastic bag full of drugs, waiting for a hospital taxi.