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'I was out of my depth, out of my comfort zone and terrified'


Nursing Times blogger Martin Jones on emergency treatment and experiencing care from the patient’s point of view.

Eight days ago I went over the handlebar of my bicycle taking the full force of the fall on the palms of my hands and elbows. I’d been gazing across beautiful open countryside and totally failed to notice the steep rigid sleeping policeman that halted me so abruptly. Leaving behind some elbow skin and my dignity I cleaned up as best as you can in the men’s room of a nearby pub equipped with toilet paper and a hand dryer.

Eight days later my left hand continued to give me deep, sharp pain in the heel of the thumb. Changing into fifth or reverse gear while driving was especially aggravating, I couldn’t lift shopping bags and it wasn’t getting better. So at 7:30 on Monday morning I cycled to A&E at my local district general hospital.

Anticipating a long wait my spirits soared on seeing an empty waiting area. Within eight minutes I’d had next-of-kin details added to my file and been triaged. “Are you generally fit and well?” “Yes.” Back to waiting.

I’ve waited here before, mostly after my boys’ occasional sporting injuries. You know the scene: dispiriting ‘no-win-no-fee’ solicitors advertising, a tired-looking leaflet rack with seasonal flu vaccination information beside cautionary photographs of severely sun burnt skin and vending machines selling food and drink to cause despair in Dietetics, Cardiology and beyond.

I’ve always been a little in awe of A&E nurses: their adaptability, capability, practicality; their confidence born of having seen it all before and coped. During my general training it was my trauma block that left me most, well, traumatised. While student nurse colleagues patched up inattentive cyclists in A&E I was assigned to trauma orthopaedics. Here were the most critically sick people I had nursed. I was out of my depth, out of my comfort zone and terrified.

Half an hour later a charge nurse was examining me and ordering an x-ray whose results he discussed within the hour. “Nothing broken, take ibuprofen.” Declining this on the grounds of recent treatment for heliobacter pylori. I was chided as my ‘past medical history’ box stated ‘none’. Surely nobody had asked… Ah that earlier triage question, “… generally fit and well?” “Yes.”

There’s always something to be learnt when nurses use the health service. Today’s reflection is on the routine questions that I ask, the way that I ask them and how I interpret the answers.

All in all, an excellent service where I turned up unannounced was assessed, x-rayed, reassured, advised and discharged in an hour and a quarter. I picked up some ibuprofen gel on my ride home. When you need it, isn’t the NHS brilliant?

About the author

Martin Jones, Clinical Nurse Specialist HIV, East Sussex Downs & Weald.

Martin Jones has worked in sexual health and HIV since 1986.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Martin, your story reminds me of working in a day surgery unit many years ago. I admitted an elderly lady who was accompanied by her daughter. We went through the comprehensive admission document together and just to be sure nothing had been missed, I added a few questions of my own. 'So', I concluded, 'other than the problem you are here today for' (a minor procedure), 'you are generally fit and well?'
    'Yes' replied my lady.
    'Apart from the cancer.........'

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  • after all the bitching and backbiting communications we normally see on this site, what a breath of fresh air. Thank you Martin.

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  • Yes, it's good to hear of a positive experience in these days when it seems to be in vogue to criticise the care/nurse/NHS in general. Glad you're ok.

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