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Contemplating life.

Perks of the profession

Image via Wikimedia Commons

When I was still working in Information Technology, choosing an employer was always linked to certain benefits that could be an important factor. Working for a large telecommunications company saved me a bunch off my phone and internet bills. Other companies after that offered different extras. All the little things add up in the end.

When I changed career, one of the many thoughts I had was: “I’m not likely to pick up any perks here”. True, there is not much that Paramedic Services generally offer. In Australia I got free Ambulance cover, but that’s free (as it should be) here in the UK.

But take a step back. A few pounds off your phone bill is helpful. A couple of percent discount whilst shopping is great if shops offer you a discount for being a Paramedic.

What about your training, your knowledge, your experience, your insight?

That is an invaluable perk of your profession.

A few years ago a relative had to go to hospital, and although I was unfortunately working most days during their hospitalisation, I was able to pop by the ward a few times in between calls to say hi, talk to the nurses on the progress, and explain and reassure on a personal level what was happening. Not to forget the follow up research, little bits of advice and reassurance I could continue to give after discharge.

Similarly with my own admission to hospital last week – although I took my sweet time getting myself in to hospital in the first place – once in and with half a brain to function, I was actively involved in my care. Not that I was going to change anything – there was no need for that – but I could ask a few pertitent questions (Glandular fever is virus based, why the Antibiotics? We suspect you have an infection on top of that, so we’re attacking it from all sides). I knew what was happening, why it was happening, what drugs were being pumped in to me, checking that hygiene ‘rituals’ were being followed, and that generally everything was up to standard.

Whilst monetary compensation isn’t generally fantastic as a Paramedic, your insight, knowledge and experience within healthcare is invaluable. Don’t underestimate that.

I’m back

You know, only old people go to hospital. And people who swerve to avoid trees jumping in front of their car.

Well, theres a third, statistically small category you forgot: trigenerians with Glandular Fever.

Somewhere between the crowded and coughing population of Londons Underground and the chilly streets of night time suburbia, I must have picked it up. Welcome to England! Make yourself feel right at home; over here you have Big Ben, that over there is Tower Bridge. And we’re really proud of our NHS too – want to give it a go?

Sure why not? Bit of stress from all sides of life, wearing your body to the ground…opens you right up for infections. It started with complete muscle ache, like after recovering from a cold. That was Friday until Sunday. Monday to Wednesday were similar, but I could function. Not at full pace, but still alright.

Wednesday night my throat turned from itch to ouch. Thursday morning I decided to stick my iPhone avec flash in to my oral cavity, and was quite disgusted at the result. And I love the occasional gory photo. But this? My tonsils were so swollen my uvula had about 1mm each side swinging space. Plus the tonsils had little continents of pus growing on them.

I should have gone to the GP right then and there.

But no, I do what I’ve been putting off, and google my symptoms. Probably tonsillitis. Rest, pain relief, and it will be a little painful but the next few days should get me through this.

Nope.

It was when I could no longer bear the pain of forcing myself to swallow what felt like a golf ball of broken glass. (Read THIS) I couldnt stand it. I couldnt to it any more. I swallowed my (false) pride, which I should have done far earlier, and made an out of hours GP appt (worked fairly well. I think most people who whinge about the NHS haven’t experienced anything else). Unfortunately said GP was rubbish: one look, one prescribption of Antibiotics, and everything I croaked on about the pain being really bad, he just wrote more pain killers to the prescription list. Clearly he wasn’t listening to me, but I somehow thought I could make it. So, Antibiotics bought from the 24hrs chemist, Paracetamol and Codeine too. Swallowed the analgesia under great pain, but it allowed me to swallow more pills (Antibiotics) after having the pain relief take the edge off the pain.

I got a whole three hours of sleep that night. I was positively surpised.

The next day I had a GP appointment I made the day before. Since the first GP was so rubbish, I thought I’d go and get a second opinion. This feller actually took my full observations with some history. And recommended the same treatment, together with 2-3 litres of fluids daily. And then he stopped listening. I protested I could drink 500ml at best under extreme agony. “Drink plenty of fluides or got to hospital”.

Thanks Doc. Very reassuring.

The day didn’t go well. The evening was worse. I had used up my available painkillers. I was dehydrated. Yellow urine is bad in my books. Dark orange…well I’d never had that before. But I couldn’t get anything more in to me. It was agony. I wasn’t going to survive the night (psychologically). Every waking minute was agony. Every minute was an hour. And the next day wasn’t going to offer any relief anyway.

Off to hospital then. The only way out. I saw no other choice.

Cab to A&E, sat down, got myself booked in, and it didn’t seem to take too long until I was seen to (remember this is a Saturday night!)

Sophie (my live-in-Archaeologist-turned-Nurse) did most of the talking thankfully, due to the swollen tonsils I could only speak quietly, slowly and gargly – nobody understood me, and repeating myself was painful, and left me very frustrated. I’m not carrying these two pus bags in my throat on purpose you know..

Anyway, I was booked in, and after around 5-10 mins I was seen by a nurse practitioner. By this time my tonsils were actually hiding my uvula. Additionally, geology had gone backwards in time on the surface: the spread out continents of pus had amalgamated to one large Pangaea-of-Pus super continent, and the little buggers had also reclaimed land. Approximate 80 percent of my visible tonsils were covered in pus. That night, Nurse, Doctor and ENT specialist all had similar things to say once they saw them: “Ugh!”, “Wow!”, and “You’re a brave man what you’ve been through.” I corrected the last remark to: “I think I’ve been a silly man.”

I was shown to my own little cubicle in A&E, got to wear my first hospital gown ever (yep, you’re not missing out on anything there), and just the thought of now being in the right place with thte right treatment coming up made me feel a little more at ease.

An IV was started (ouch, but necessary, so Im all for it), and through it the good stuff: Antibiotics, pain relief and fluid. I went from feeling Rubbish with a capital R to slightly better than rubbish with a lower-case ‘r’.

At this point I must mention that the staff at  Newham Hospital were great. I didn’t (well initially) tell them I was a paramedic, as I didn’t want to bias them (positively or negatively). They got me seen quickly, got their stuff done, were friendly an professional, and I can’t say I would have done much differently (If I was in their position), certainly no better.

But that was the acute treatment only. I still couldn’t swallow if my life depended on it (and in the long run, it really does!). Thankfully (and I am glad I didn’t have to argue the point in the slightest), and contrary to the two Prior GPs, the A&E staff realised this, and organised me to be seen by the ENT specialists at Whipps Cross Hospital. Patient Transport Vehicle called, an hour later I was being driven across town.

Checking in the other end was a little painful (again, Sophie to the rescue doing all the talking and form filling). By now Sunday morning, I was expecting a bit of a nightmare at the A&E, and yes it was full. Luckily, because I was an ENT referral, they were awaiting me, so it wasn’t an excessive wait. After the paperwork was done, I was in a cubicle within ten minutes (I think), with an ENT doc first taking a good med hx from Sophie (“you save your voice for now, I’ll get the details in five minutes”). Thats what he did, saved my voice. Great! Explained right from the word go that I will need to be admitted for at least a day, the way my tonsils looked. I apologized for being a stubborn patient, and said as a paramedic I should have taken myself in earlier. Look, no problem, but you should have said earlier, I won’t dumb down the language as much~”. He seemed appreciative to know that he was speaking to another medical professional. “Grab some sleep, I’ll see you in the morning!” he winked, and left. Shorlty later I was transferred to a ward – quieter and darker, and some rest was in order.

It was 3am by then. I was tired, but so happy that I felt much better than just hours earlier.

The next day was similar. ENT visit, quick update on the plan, continue treatment, get better. I felt like I needed to release energy. I wanted to walk the entire hospital. I felt pretty good. Until I had to swallow. The shards of glass were still there. A tad less painful than before (and steroids had reduced the swelling a bit), but still agonising. A day of supportive treatment and rest.

And that day is just coming to an end. I am sure I’ll be out of here tomorrow. I can eat milky desserts (albeit painfully, but not in agony). Sleep, letting the meds work, and time should get me there. I don’t want to hog a hospital bed longer than necessary. I want to get out. I want to be free from this life-saving yet restricting IV pole. Never as a paramedic did I think that I’d be walking around in a hospital gown, pushing an IV pole with three different bags attached around a hopital so soon!

This was written with my head in the clouds, high on drugs, high on the fact that I can live my life without agony, high on hope. I did need another day just to get me completely able to swallow and look after myself at home. Now, a week after being discharged, I’m well on the road to recovery.

The Royal London Museum

Today, I visited the The Royal London Museum, the…erm…Museum attached to The Royal London. Stop me if I’m stating the obvious here.

The museum documents the hospitals history through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries; from the idea behind the building it in the first place (1740), carrying through to the future.
It’s an interesting concept: The hospital was built as a voluntary hospital, meaning it was funded by donations only, and available to the sick and the poor. Quite remarkable I believe – we’re talking over two hundred years before the National Health Service (NHS) was born. East London was (is) the poor part of town with a health record lagging behind the rest of the city (and country). Healthcare for the population, mainly made up of immigrants, was direly needed. The Royal London was one of five voluntary hospitals built at the time, and it was only after they were built that the birth rate once again exceeded the death rate in the city; London began to grow and prosper again (now there’s a good argument for public healthcare!).

I won’t rattle on about the whole history – it is already available in book and exhibition form, plus I wouldn’t want to take the experience away from you.

If you’ve got half and hour to an hour, it is well worth a visit to learn about the development of healthcare over the past 300 odd years, what it has achieved, and what we owe to our forefathers (and -mothers). Exciting, interesting, gruesome…you’ll find it there.

Visiting Information
Where: St Augustine with St Philip’s Church, Newark Street, London E1 2AA.
When: Opens weekdays 1000-1630, except Christmas, New Year, Easter and Public Holidays. It’s worth calling ahead, as staff shortage can affect opening hours.
How much: FREE, as all good museums in the UK. (I feel sorry for you American folk). Donations are welcome, though
Web: Official website: http://www.bartsandthelondon.nhs.uk/about-us/museums-and-archives/the-royal-london-museum/

The Royal London Museum is a part of the “London Museums of Health and Medicine“. It is my goal to visit all 25 of them