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Seeing healthcare from the other side: 'I felt like I’d have been better off staying in bed'

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I’ve spent the last two days on the other side of the fence; in that I’ve been the poorly patient…. three times in 36 hours, in three different settings.

Rachael Starkey Student Nursing Times editor

Rachael Starkey is Student Nursing Times child branch student editor

I finished my final placement on Friday and came home from London, ecstatic that I’d finished the year and so exhausted that I was in bed by 10pm. Less than an hour later I was woken with excruciating stomach pains and ran off to be sick…

“I’m just overtired” I thought, until I spent the whole night with my head down the toilet.

Saturday morning came and I was still in pain and unable to keep anything down. I rang the much derided 111 service and ran through a list of questions with the woman on the phone. In the end, she decided that due to the amount of pain I was in, she would send some non-emergency paramedics round.

The paramedics duly arrived in a few minutes and were lovely, they gave me some IV paracetamol and anti-emetic. They told me that my local hospital were a bit “funny” about accepting gastro patients, so if I wanted to go in, they’d have to take me to a hospital much further away.

All I wanted was some pain relief that I wouldn’t vomit back up so I could get some sleep, so I told them I’d rather just stay at home. They agreed that I didn’t really need to be admitted, but the strongest they could give me without admitting me was paracetamol. I figured if it stayed down it might help, and they went on their way.

Back in bed, I lasted an hour before the pain came back, worse than before and radiating through to my back, up my shoulders and down my left arm. Trying to persuade myself I wasn’t having a heart attack, I stuck it out for most of the day, still bringing up every sip of water that went down.

I really didn’t want to go into hospital - my biggest fear being that I’m meant to be getting on a plane Monday morning and I’m not missing that well-earnt holiday! Also, I didn’t want to be far from home and didn’t fancy the long journey back after I’d been discharged.

Eventually however I relented and called 111 back who sent some more paramedics out. This lot were much less sympathetic, wondering I’m sure why I was such an idiot and hadn’t just gone in the first time.

They got me to hospital, which is now the only trauma centre in a large catchment area and seemed ridiculously busy. I was hooked up to some more IV paracetamol, and left alone for just over 2 hours.

The doctor came back in the end and asked me how I was doing, but before I could even answer said “great, you’re better, let’s get you home”.

I pointed out that I didn’t actually feel better, and was in fact in so much pain I was crying (no wuss), but he said I probably just had a bug and that I would be fine.

Duly discharged and after a long and painful train journey home, I felt like I’d have been better off staying in bed the whole time.

Later that night, I was still vomiting and still in too much pain when I caught sight of my sorry self in the mirror- sunken eyes, pale skin, dry mouth… I could spot the signs of dehydration and knew I needed some help if I was going to get on that plane.

I took myself down to the local minor injuries unit and explained the situation. I told them I knew what was wrong with me, but that I needed some strong enough pain relief that I could get some sleep and get over it.

The nurses and doctors couldn’t have been lovelie - I was straight onto a saline drip, full blood count and x-ray, and pumped full of morphine so I could get some sleep.

Exactly 4 hours later the doctor came to wake me up, apologetic that my 4 hours was up, but wanting to know whether I felt I needed to be admitted or if I wanted to go home with some stronger painkillers. He explained that it probably was gastritis, which would clear up before flight time as long as I slept and looked after myself and wanted to know what he could do to help me do that.

Some high strength co-codamols and a bit of diazepam later and I’ve had the best night’s sleep and am feeling fully cured (if a bit weak!).

I can’t help but notice that the best care came from the people who took the time to listen to what I was saying, and find out what I felt I needed to get me better. I also have to wonder why, at the weekends, my only option for medical help is an A&E 20 miles from my home.

Gastritis is neither an accident nor an emergency, but there were no other options for me at the time.

I totally understand why there are restrictions on the medications that the public has access to, but sometimes maybe a bit of common sense wouldn’t go amiss? Had the first lot of paramedics been able to give me what we all knew I needed, then a whole lot of time and money would have been saved.

Anyway, I’m better now, and by the time you read this, I’ll be swimming in a clear blue sea with a cocktail in hand. Happy holidays!

Rachael Starkey is Student Nursing Times child branch student editor

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