I just went to the ER. What I saw horrified me

“Nurse, nurse, I need some fresh air because my feet are swollen.” I’m sitting in what I’ll call a holding area, on IVs, waiting for a bed in a big city hospital. I won’t bother describing the first few hours in the emergency room waiting room. You’ve heard it all before. And it’s not even Saturday night.

The place is packed to the brim. Opposite is a well-dressed elderly man, on all fours, looking for imaginary garbage, which he tries to get into his pocket. He has already stepped on the glasses.

In the small section next to him is a group of men. The language is mature. A patient assumes the role of speaker, diagnoses his fellow patients, and regularly asks for help. A nurse stops to persuade the old man to sit down. She has been on duty for 11 hours, hot, tired – no lunch, just coffee.

An overweight man with a nebulizer joins the fray, out of breath. He goes out. Back after a few minutes, he had gone out to get a quick cigarette. Apparently he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and a hole in his lung.

Some patients have three family members with them, despite notices saying one per patient. This adds to the crowding and noise. Good job Covid is not widespread.

My daughter doesn’t have a place yet. There’s a little girl crying in a plaid scarf. A woman googles her her symptoms in case she has MS. An old man, asleep through all the comings and goings, is blocking the corridor. How does the staff do this job, day after day?

Hours later, I am transferred to a small temporary ward. No sleep, the dementia patient next to me cried and called most of the night. Another older woman says she’s worried about her nine children… in fact, she means her cats. The girl in front of her is using wax strips on her eyebrows and trying to convince us to try! Light relief.

Two days later, I reach my ward, where I will spend almost three weeks. The staff are outstanding. I get tested, almost every day. I cannot fault the care shown to me.

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I see all that is right about the NHS and all that is wrong. Spotless wards thanks to underpaid cleaners, who often double as an early warning system. Staff looking for pillows or sheets in the hospital. Meals affected due to supply issues: a dinner of sandwiches instead of sausage and mash. The meal attendant is embarrassed.

Nurses shouldn’t treat someone whose head is full of lice, nor should they be abused because they need “more medication.” This is remedied with a whispered phone call and an outdoor meeting.

None of the staff – nurses, doctors, caregivers – want to go on strike, but they fear they have to. One or two are considering going into private healthcare, for better shifts, more money. We are talking about jobs in supermarkets. Early retirement is another option.

Where is humanity? Where is the planning? Where is the parity? And where is the money? Aneurin Bevan must be turning in his grave.

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