When it happens to you

At Healthwatch Essex we work hard to gather the ‘lived experience’ of people using health and care services. We use this to help inform the providers of services – GPs, care homes, hospitals etc. – so that they can shape and improve services, and put people at the heart of care.

It means that while we spend a lot of time focused on the public and what they experience, we also talk to a lot of NHS and care professionals in order to help explain our findings. By and large, we find that despite coping with difficult budgets, bureaucracies and ever growing demands, most professionals want to know (and care about) what patients, users and carers experience.

But – like a lot of things, I suppose – sometimes you need to experience something yourself to really fully grasp what it’s like. And that’s exactly what happened to an NHS manager – we’ll call him Chris – who recently suffered a bad break to his leg. He shared his account of his experience of the NHS with me, and together we wanted to share an abridged version with you.

What is remarkable is that, although Chris is a manager in an NHS organisation, until he was in the position of needing care and attention, he really didn’t fully understand how it can make you feel:

My first interaction at the hospital after the initial X-Ray was with a young doctor who explained the break to my Tibia and Fibula. However, he didn’t know about the swelling to my knee and agreed to go away and have another look. That was the last I saw of him.

Doctor number two arrived to say he thought I had done something serious to my knee, which would need a CT scan. The news wasn’t good and I was going to need several operations.

They put me in a Back Slab and I was trussed and elevated. I informed a passing assistant that I needed to pee and within a few minutes she returned with a cardboard utensil in the shape of a duck with the neck as the funnel.

What they don’t tell you with these things is that positioning is critical. They also don’t tell you that you should never wait until your bladder is full, if you are a healthy man! The lack of this information coupled with their omission to put crystals in the receptacle resulted in a spillage onto the bed. I really cannot convey just how humiliating this felt.

My first few hours in hospital had already stripped me of my dignity. Believe me once it’s gone it’s virtually impossible to get back. What’s interesting is the response of the staff. It was almost as if it empowered them. I had somehow passed control over from myself to them, and that was better for them.

By early evening, now pretty well medicated, I was admitted to an orthopedic ward. I was asked several questions I had previously been asked. Indeed, I was asked about my height and weight a total of eight times during my 11 days in hospital. I was asked six times about allergies and I don’t know how many times I explained what had happened to me.

When I was told I needed to be moved to another hospital I must have shown my alarm as I was asked by a nursing assistant if I felt sick. She was the first and last person to ask me how I was feeling in all the time I spent in hospital apart from the surgeon who operated on me.

There was so much more about my stay that was depressing – the food, the drugs, further degradations, all of which meant that when I was ultimately discharged I actually burst into tears in the car park.

The experience has changed me and my perception of hospital. I’ll certainly be using my lived experience to try to help influence healthcare for the better.

This just goes to show how experiencing something yourself – or listening closely to the experience of others – is the best way to find out what something is really like.