I do not normally write about health. I work for the General Medical Council and try to avoid talking about health to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest. But I am making an exception. I want to tell you about my recent experience and what it told me.
For the second time in two weeks, I handed over my wife- the love of my life and the most precious thing in the world to me- to a group of total strangers for several hours at a time. They took her away from me into a room I could not enter, put her to sleep and then took control over her body, doing things which if they went wrong carried risks which could last a lifetime. This story is the story of thousands of people a day in Britain and millions around the world. There is nothing special about our situation, except to us. We did what people do- we placed our complete trust in the people in the blue, green and white coats.
The trust we place in doctors is immense. Nothing in my experience of the last two weeks tell me that trust is not well-placed. In fact, the opposite. As well as being technical specialists of great skill, the doctors we have met have been compassionate, caring and supportive. They have been supported incredibly well by their nursing colleagues- a profession which has received a bad press in recent times- some of it deserved- some deeply unfair. Between them, these groups of professionals have made my wife better and held our hands through an emotional, confusing and frightening time.
But none of that experience of our NHS- GP, A&E and hospital specialists- hugely reassuring though it has been- takes away the gut wrenching awfulness of watching your loved one going into surgery or leaving them in hospital alone whilst you go home. This is not my first time leaving someone I love in hospital or waiting from news from a surgery but- perhaps as I have got older and my understanding of risk and loss have become more acute- this time it was the worst feeling of my life. I now know first-hand that there is something extraordinarily unbearably difficult about being involuntarily separated- albeit for a few hours- from the person you live for and want to spend every minute of every day with.
My recent experience has told me three things, reaffirming and underlining things I already knew but perhaps didn’t fully understand. Firstly, doctors and nurses do the most amazing things and they do it under the most incredible pressure whilst dealing with unimaginable complexity; not just of the conditions of their patients, but in the environments they work. Secondly, no matter how often you look at your phone time does not move any faster. No matter how many times you press it on and off, it does not ring any faster. No matter how much you will a phone call to say everything is fine with your wife the phone call will only come when it comes. Thirdly, even though you think you already love someone completely, you realise how completely when the prospect of not seeing them again comes into your mind.
Our story is thankfully (and hopefully!) over and, except for a visit to thank the team at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, we do not plan to return. At the end of it I am reflective (and v tired). They are definitely things that happen in hospitals that you think could be improved; communication between colleagues, handover between shifts and faster lifts in the hospital! But overall it is rewarding to feel that you get a good return on your investment of trust. That not every hospitals fits the media stereotype of “failing”. But the most important thing is that you leave the hospital together to take your loved one home, safe and sound.