Friday, 10 June 2011

My Patient Experience

My experiences as a Patient in Whitchurch Hospital 

When I was about 4 years old, I recall being taken to St David’s hospital on several occasions, and eventually told that my daily stomach pains were due to ‘Anxiety’. I was labelled a ‘nervy’ child, which is hardly surprising when - at the sound of a wailing siren, my mother would rush by brother and me underneath a bomb-proof shelter.  Here, I would cling to my mother like a limpet, being so frightened that I even used to eat the marmite sandwiches that seemed to form our staple diet

My first stay in Whitchurch hospital was some twenty years later, when my marriage had deteriorated, I had become unemployed, yet had a wife who demanded more and more for the children.  Matters came to a head when I had been crying well into the ‘wee hours’ and I wrote my family a short note, the contents of which I cannot remember.  I do, however remember, loading the right barrel of my grandfather’s 12 bore shotgun with a no.5 shot cartridge, taking the safety off, then sticking the barrels into my mouth. The next bit was awkward, as I had to reach the trigger with the big toe of my right foot.  Eventually, I was managed this feat and pushed the trigger hard.
To my surprise, there was only a loud ‘click’ that seemed to reverberate in my ears for ages.  I was still crying, but managed to pull the barrel away to see what had gone wrong.  I had loaded the right barrel ( correctly, as is the habit of any hunter ) but failed to realise that the trigger I had depressed with my toe was for the left (or ‘choke’) barrel, thus setting off the firing pin of the empty barrel.

I became hysterical and my next memory was of a lady, handing me a cup of tea saying ‘here you are Robin, drink this for me’, in the assessment ward at Whitchurch Hospital.  She seemed so kind, but all I could do was keep on crying for hours - then days, without being able to eat, drink or sleep properly.  Periodically, I saw a doctor who I didn’t understand, but who still prescribed more pills for me to take.  The staff were like tired robots, and I had no idea why they shone a torch into my eyes at night, then woke me up to ‘have a wash and a shave’.  I washed, but that was all I could do, staggering back into the ward and, immediately told to join a queue for my ‘medication’.

This regimen was repeated in the evening, with the bonus of a cup of milky, sugarless tea which I detested. Days later, I was even less aware of my situation, in spite of everyone talking to me as though I were a rather stupid child who didn’t understand words unless they were said very s-l-o-w-l-y, but the staff seemed genuinely concerned.  And so the daily routine continued until I managed to stop crying long enough to be allowed to sit in the lounge with my fellow inmates ( there was a ‘locked door’ policy, and rules to follow – like asking to go to the bathroom to use the toilet or the shower ).  Looking at the other patients I became very frightened.  Some stood against walls banging their heads, whilst others stared, vacantly, into nothingness, seeming to have lost all hope.  I felt trapped in a vortex of utter despair myself, but I didn’t want to become like that poor soul.  During the following hours, some patients became agitated and started shouting, whilst others ( like me ) began crying in fear of what they might do.  I could not understand, at the time, why I was here – in a ward full of men and women, all in varying degrees of physical and mental distress.  I retreated to my bed, but was quickly dissuaded from this as I ‘had to mix in order to make friends’.

My bouts of crying returned and I tried to do everything I was told so as not to get told off by some of the more senior and much stricter staff.  I was living a nightmare of having to obey a strict routine, whilst enduring the seemingly endless queuing at either end of the dormitory.  I kept asking, and then begging, to see my family but was told that ‘it was too early’, and that ‘I’d soon be well enough’.  One day, we were all ordered to our beds in the middle of the day and told to ‘be quiet’, whilst a cabal of doctors and nurses huddled at the locked door end of the ward, whispering to each other harshly.  Later, nearing my discharge, I was told that ‘one of the very sick patients had passed away’, aided ( as I discovered later ) by a ligature of dressing-gown cord  and a light fixture.  The rest of the day passed in relative silence, but at least I could feel my senses and my awareness returning, following a reduction in my medication, that was made as a ‘treat’ to an obedient dog.  Still no family came, only the daily routine and wasted interviews with doctors who seemed to be reading from a script and not caring whether I answered or not.

Eventually, I was discharged into a world of kindness and understanding where everyone I met was sympathetic towards the mentally ill ( yeah right ), but that another story…… 

N.B. You can turn away now and it's over, but the patients in Whitchurch do not have this luxury.

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