My experience with the NHS

How to find more balance in your life bloghero 1080x1080

At the start of this year, I started a new job. Not long into the job, I found myself in hospital and naively thought that the trip would be my ‘one and done’ for the year... Oh, how wrong I was.

Between then and now, I’ve had four hospital stays.

Each visit has highlighted how much the NHS is in trouble. The pandemic, the lack of funding and staff levels dropping have had a huge impact on the day to day running of the service. If you’re just popping in for a quick appointment, or a day, you may get a hint of their struggles, but after spending a week in hospital, I saw the relentless challenges the staff face every day.

During my third visit to hospital, I was told that they wanted to run some tests to see if my problems were due to scar tissue, the return of Crohn’s or something else. I was sent for an endoscopy, which is where I really started to see that the NHS’s challenges run so much deeper than some may be aware of.

An endoscopy is a test to look inside your body. A long, thin tube with a small camera inside, called an endoscope, is passed into your body through a natural opening such as your mouth. -

Due to the procedure, I was nil by mouth from 6pm the previous day. I was told my scan would be at 2pm. 2pm came and went. I was questioning whether to wait it out or try to have a nap to kill time and take my mind off the hunger. Being well experienced in hospital stays and how many times your scheduled procedure time can change, I decided to sleep.

At 4pm, I woke up to the sound of my name being called. Slightly dazed, I was rapidly moved from one bed to another to be taken to the endoscopy department. During my travels, I passed through A&E and the corridors lined with patients in beds, waiting for a space on the ward to become free. Sadly, this has been a recurring theme on all my visits and just highlighted how hospitals are struggling with bed shortages.

We then arrived at the endoscopy department. I was placed in a room with 12 bays, some empty and the rest filled with people waiting or in a stage of regaining consciousness after their procedure. Some people were day visitors and others were on the all-inclusive package, like me.

When you’re in hospital, you do a lot of people watching, be it patients or staff... us humans are nosey creatures aren’t we! Watching staff allows you to see some of the process of how things work... or in this case, don’t work. The ward was clearly understaffed, not only was this obvious from watching the poor staff running around like headless chickens, it’s the many comments said out loud. Staff would vocalise various frustrations, not just as a way to express their feelings, but I guess in the subconscious belief that someone, somewhere might actually be listening.

Hearing their colleagues vocalising their frustrations, almost seemed to build the comradery between the team. It was as if each frustrated mutter from a colleague was a reminder that they aren’t alone when facing challenges, that they may be fighting a never-ending fight, but they’re doing it together with the shared goal of helping others in need.

Eventually, a nurse grabbed a questionnaire and came over to ask me various questions. The usual stuff about medication and other things that may be wrong with me. I was then asked if I wanted to be sedated... erm, YES! I know many people will say an endoscopy isn’t bad, but when your intestines are inflamed, it’s a painful process and not something I wanted to be completely awake for.

It was then around 5pm and in the hours I’d been waiting, I had witnessed patients going in and out of their appointments, some with the wrong paperwork and others waiting to go back to their ward but couldn’t because there was no staff available to take them. To return to your ward, you seemed to need to have a porter and another member of staff. With 12 bays on the ward and only 3-4 people working, getting back to the ward could be a long-drawn-out affair, as the small team were juggling escorting patients back to the ward as well as processing patients for their procedures. It was like a chaotic distribution centre.

6pm was when the unit was due to close and given that it was already 5pm, I was worried I would be moved to the next day or become a rush job. I was the latter. The nurse came over to go through some last-minute things before I went in. Then began what could only be described as a series of unfortunate events.

I was questioned why I was not in a gown, and I explained that the ward didn’t have any and I was sent down as I was. Then what followed was a rather heated discussion between the nurse and the porter that brought me down. I was then issued a gown and sent into a room to get changed.

Once back at the bay, further questions followed. “Have you got a replacement stoma pouch?” Now, yes, I fully accept that I should have thought to grab one before my journey down but being in a half-asleep state and sort of pressured to hurry along, I forgot. I told them I didn’t have one, but I could go back to the ward, however, I was told not to worry, they would find one from another department.

Given the department and the types of patients they would be dealing with, I naively thought that they would have stoma supplies! After all, if an emergency patient came in, there would be no way they would have supplies with them. Anyhow, given everything I had already experienced; I didn’t have much confidence that I would be given a bag after my procedure.

Time for the procedure and everything felt rushed. I saw the sedation go in, but I didn’t feel it kicking in and I was worried they were going to start before I was ready. Unfortunately, the sedation didn’t pay off. I don’t know if it was because it hadn’t had time to take effect, but the procedure was painful and this only confirmed something was wrong as they struggled to get the camera in more than 6cm. Feeling fuzzy, I remember groaning in pain, a warm feeling around my stoma, a member of staff wiping around it and then placing some pressure on it, which I assumed was a stoma bag.

I later found myself coming back around in the endoscopy ward, only it was far emptier. It felt like closing time at a shop, with nurses running around remaking beds and completing other various tasks.

My stoma felt weird. I know it had just been prodded with various camera equipment, but it felt warm and wet. A nurse came over, lifted my gown and removed what appeared to be a large dressing. All I could see was a lot of blood and no stoma bag! I started to panic; this was a worst-case scenario for me. A stoma with no bag is like a loaded gun with a hair trigger. You have no control over when it wants to empty and I now found myself in bed, feeling a bit rough, with an exposed stoma.

The nurse placed new dressing on it and told me to hold it in place. I then sat uncomfortably in the recovery room thinking about the ensuing mess that was coming. The odd moment would occur where air from the procedure would come out of my stoma with traces of blood, and I would panic over what may be to follow.

Eventually a porter showed up to take me back to the ward, so I knew that I could clean myself up and get a bag back on before the chaos was let loose.

Sure enough, back on the ward, I creeped out of bed, grabbed my supplies, got myself cleaned up, stuck a bag back on and finally felt like I could relax.

While I laid in my bed recovering. I thought back to what had happened. While I didn’t enjoy it, I can in no way blame any of the hospital staff for the experience. There may have been a few dropped catches, but these are easily forgivable when these people are working incredibly hard while short of staff, time and supplies. I don’t know what the fix is, but something needs to change before it’s too late.

Share this article:

by Nick Axtell

Nick Axtell

About the author

Hi I'm Nick. Diagnosed with Crohn's in 2006, gained a Stoma in 2010 and Completion Proctectomy November 2015. I have a family with 2 girls and a somewhat unusual sense of humour, which I hope will come across in my blogs. I am trying to live my life to the fullest and not let my stoma get in the way.