DIFFICULTIES WITH HOSPITAL VISITS
As I was leaving Gloucester Royal on a Thursday in March 2023
I went to Gloucester Hospital on Thursday afternoon for an appointment with my neurologist. The consultation went pretty much as expected. I listed my gripes he listed his gripes, and we then spent half an hour consoling one another about the inconsolable. That is being profoundly unfair: he is infinitely patient, borders on the omniscient and is caring beyond measure. Part of his chair side manner is to appear vulnerable which he does with consummate skill. I wake at night fearing that he has retired or worse. He reassured me that I had a number of sleeps left before he left. So, it was with a joyous heart, fresh Botox coursing through my arms and salivary glands, and the promise of assignations with multiple other consultants that in so far as my Parkinsonian shuffle would let me, I hopped and skipped out of the outpatient’s area, down the long corridor and out to my car.
But all that is a diversion from the main story which is:
On my way out of the hospital grounds there is a rather sharp corner. I entered it too quickly and while trying to manoeuvre my way out of that my sleeve or elbow pulled on a button on the Mercedes’s steering wheel which can make the car accelerate- which it did – into the side of a building.
I had ploughed through a four-storey window. When the glass shards had momentarily settled, I was halfway in and halfway out of what seemed to the power plant of a submarine. I had stopped within feet of damaging the hospital’s primary backup generator. Had things happened differently I would presumably have bought crucial procedures at a major hospital to halt. Standard operating procedures must dictate that that backup generators are working before beginning complex surgery. Everything that is dependent on electricity was potentially compromised.
I was unharmed. In a moment of good sense, I switched off the engine fearing an all-consuming conflagration – which at the time I remember thinking would be a sad end to an otherwise very lucky beginning. This was followed by a moment of not such good sense in which I switched it on again to check that I done things as intended.
Shortly after what must have been a terribly loud bang a small crowd gathered behind me but dared not approach for fear of the still cascading glass.
A nurse named Becky and Ian from IT very bravely came up to the driver’s door and spoke to me. I explained to Becky that I was shaking principally because of Parkinson’s rather than due to anxiety or trauma. I could not get out the car without help as there was not much room for the door to open. The car was pretty much jammed into what was once a large window frame.
I phoned J (Jenny my wife) to tell her what had happen and then gave the phone to Becky to provide reassurance – it was apparent even to me that my opening description of my collision with a building might not have put her ease and allayed any anxiety that she might have inexplicably developed.
Pretty soon after this the hospital’s medical crash team arrived. Four doctors, three nurses, each seemed to have their own junior assistant all of whom were pushing, pulling or carrying a large bag of what I assume was medical equipment. Because they were behind me, I only had a peripheral sense of what seemed to be a joyous throng who suddenly had purpose to their august office. I don’t know on what basis they were chosen but they were the medical equivalent of the cast of Bay Watch. All were young, chiselled, beautiful and with BMI’s of 21.5.
They were joined by many others. Onlookers, people offering help, people not offering help, maintenance men whose secret place had suddenly been exposed to a gawking public, innocent patients, and employees whose only way in and out of that section of the hospitals network of roads was now gridlocked. The quizzical, the interested, the concerned and the board. People seemed to gather in clumps dictated by the colour of their scrubs; burgundy, forest green, sky blue and sea blue, while the maintenance men grouped in their black fleeces, then there was the now regulatory and substantial, but unknowable contingent of those in Hi-Viz jackets. The person who stood out was a smallish man in a blue suit with an unlikely flamboyant tie, who with hindsight I now recognise was pacing anxiously.
All the while I sat in what remained of the Mercedes. In fact, quiet a lot of it remained. I was safe in its safety cage, gleaning what I could from the mirror above the dashboard. Both side mirrors hung limply reflecting, bits of torn tire, shattered glass and masonry.
Someone suggested calling the fire brigade to secure what remained of the windows and their frame.
A short while later not one, not two but three engines came, sirens blazing, blue flashing lights turning the area, momentarily, into what might have past as a post-modern discotheque or the only scene from Blade Runner not to make the latest director’s cut. The three red and yellow appliances lent both an imprimatur and a permanence to the gridlock. The engines disgorged their crews. Great big elves in iridescent yellow helmets and murky mustard uniforms swarmed into what passed for as my line of sight. The fire men and few fire women were surprisingly lightly footed, almost nimble, when one considered their obviously heavy protective clothing, not to mention breathing apparatus and other “stuff”. They established rings of access using tape. From what I could see anyone with a stethoscope could enter the inner cordon. The crowd seemed to magic up stethoscopes.
A police lady who had arrived earlier hovered just out of view but occasionally would flit down, an angry magpie, to enforce the authority of the fire brigade. It was clear that her blue and white police tape trumped the authority of the red used by fire brigade, which I later saw overflowing from a bin.
Luke, a fireman, came and spoke to me crouched at the driver’s door. A cavern of heavy canvas was erected over his head to protect him from the occasional flurry of glass probably dislocated by the beginning of what would become a driving rain. He put a cover over the steering wheel – apparently airbags sometimes deploy themselves late which seems perverse. I asked him to join me in the car – he sat in the back – I asked him about life as a firefighter while he asked me about life as a barrister.
The crash team and others were not going to deflected from their purpose by a minor gale with accompanying blinding rain. Like children at a miserable marshmallow bake out they would see out their mission -joyously.
I asked Luke to please help me out the car. He said that a doctor had suggested that rather than me walking out or being carried out I should be strapped to a board.
There was some shuffling of feet and wry smiles as it became apparent that none of the fire engines had a board on board. It was decided to call an ambulance who seemed to be under some kind of operational duty to carry one. Their operational mandate did not seem to extend to actually operating. After ten minutes of waiting for an ambulance that showed no sign of coming it was decided to junk best practice and Luke hoinked me out of the car to what seemed to be the genuinely rapturous applause of the 75 odd people who were still gathered and stood faithful vigil.
I was told that I would be taken to A & E to be checked out. I pleaded to be allowed to walk but they would have none of it. I was put in an industrial grade wheelchair and the victor of a great campaign, paraded triumphantly past the place of my undoing, through some garden, up a ramp, down the long corridor (see supra), past near to the outpatients and into the hallowed Critical Care Unit of A & E.
All the while I desperately willed myself to look the picture nonplussed detachment. It was hard as I was the cause of, the survivor of and the totem of what crinkly radios and discreet NHS staff referred to as the “hospital crash”. Modesty does not comfortably fit those who are the incarnation of an euphonism. I had become an influencer. I had followers or at least I led my egregiously happy but by now rather flirty and wet crash team to an A & E cubicle.
In the cubicle I had to argue vigorously to save my T-shirt from an industrial grade set of sheers. I was stripped down to my jeans, put in a gown and taped up for an ECG.
A few days before this I had redone the donation of my brain to the UCL Parkinson’s Brain Bank. Given the near unique aetiology of my Parkinsonism my neurologist, his many predecessors and I agree that this organ is a thing that could keep a laboratory or two of post-docs submitting to peer reviewed journals for some time. But as I had not sent the form in yet and the questions, they asked me seemed to be focused on keeping me alive I was not particularly concerned about them using the “hospital crash” as an excuse to harvest my head.
The crash team milled about while Dan the Critical Care registrar gave me the once over. Over a nod and a wink, we agreed that this all about going through the motions. Dan was concerned about helping me contact my wife, my extended support group including my Rolodex of NHS doctors. In so far as a could I tried to assure him that things were in hand.
A man came and asked me if he could put a canula in. Without hesitation I said “Yes”. When I looked again, he had drawn a vial of blood, I though it strange that he had neither asked me for permission nor told me why he had done so. In the course of a long afternoon this was the only moment in which I was not treated with kindness, candour and non- judgemental respect. Talking of being non-judgemental: many people came up to me and reassuringly told me not to worry and “that it could have happened to anyone”. If that was true, the entire stock of NHS backup generators is permanently vulnerable.
The crash team members all came over to individually say their last farewell’s before going for tea – I was invited to join them but it seemed rude to intrude on what was clearly only a very occasional gathering.
Then a police constable named Nancy in the nicest but no nonsense way came read me my rights, took a statement, my details and formally took the car keys. All this while trying to cajole broadband to be operable but instead it downloaded documents so slowly that it was possible to plan, commit, and be convicted of a major felony before a simple query relating to its definition appeared on her tablet type device. She did these things while dealing with instructions and interruptions from one of two headsets and her mobile phone.
I found it strange that I was asked for a statement by the police, who presumably knew that somewhere in the minefield of my insurance policy, hidden in sandwich of whereases and herein afters garnished with the occasional res ipse loquitor and caveat bigarius (the driver of a two horse Roman chariot) statistically there was a clause warning me against making admissions that might affect their liability. But there did not seem to be any point in taking the point.
While I was still lying on my gurney Ian from IT came to check that I was OK. He seemed to have been quite moved by the afternoon’s events. A number of maintenance men who I recognised also came to see how I was. This was not easy for them as they would have had to find out where I was, get to the general area of A & E, then negotiate the absolute maze of corridors, passages and swing doors, and officious gatekeepers that enveloped the Critical Care Unit.
Becky who had hovered nearby me throughout said goodbye and returned to her real life.
I phoned J again. We agreed that I would take a taxi home.
Dan by now had moved on to more serious things. Out of sight and two screen cubicles away he had begun the surprisingly noisy business of saving the life of someone named Mohamed who had been involved in what was obviously a very serious accident.
To my surprise it was possible to fit in a round of Jewish Geography. A young A&E doctor who could have stepped out of a class photograph of any Jewish day school in the world came and spoke to me for a while. He clearly had something on his mind. Eventually he asked if I was related to a doctor named Lily Goldblatt who he had studied with. “Not as far as I know. But I am friendly with a professor of Immunology at UCL named David Goldblatt who has a daughter named Lily”. He seemed to think that was her father. Before I could challenge him to a return bout he was called away, by bleeping monitors and a rising sense of urgency, to join in saving Mohammed.
Dan’s deputy was doubtful of the wisdom of me taking a taxi but eventually he agreed to discharge me into the care of the porters.
Two large bulls of men arrived: they were both doubtful and dubious about the practicality of first going to the car to sweep it for things that I might need and then taking a taxi.
We went to the car which sadly was being winched onto a flat bed. Nancy was there filling in computer generated forms as well as multitasking into her two headsets and phone.
I recovered what seemed important although I did leave 12 bottles of Hedonist Shiraz in the boot.
The small man in the blue suit and flamboyant tie was still there although now sheltering under a large umbrella. I asked one of the porters who he was. “He is Management, from Administration. He is big”. I have two abiding regrets about the episode. One of which is that I did go up to him to apologise for fucking up his generator plant, his afternoon, and his next few days.
The porters called a taxi for me. They waited for it with me. They put me in it. Milcho who came to this country from Bulgaria five years ago, would neither hear nor speak any criticism of the UK or it’s government. What he liked most was the system of law and order. Yet he drove with no visible regard for any domestic speed limits or any other rules of the road, in near zero visibility rain. He got me home. Safely.