Hell on Earth is alive and well

2010-05-10 00:00

I AM not quite sure if I believe in the concept of hell. I used to imagine that, if it existed, hell would closely resemble the Beit Bridge border post from South Africa into Zimbabwe. Endless queues of frazzled individuals enduring Pythonesque synchronised shuffling through buildings without air conditioners, cool drinks or seats for the elderly or infirm.

Silly me — I hadn’t encountered Northdale Hospital. It makes Beit Bridge look heavenly. Mum-in-law (universally known as Gran), 88-years-old and just released from Grey’s Hospital after a hip replacement, was suffering from breathing difficulties. The treatment she had received at Grey’s was so good that we didn’t think twice about calling the state ambulance service to assist her.

Two kind, caring and prompt paramedics reassured Gran, gave her oxygen and took her to Northdale Hospital at 9 am. Her son went with her. I, being a medical expert from watching House and Holby City, asked my husband to make sure that she had an oximeter attached to her finger to monitor her blood

oxygen levels.

The interim report from hubby was that Gran had had a chest X-ray, blood had been taken and she was feeling much better and should be home for lunch, which was a good thing, as there was nothing available in the hospital to eat or drink. No further word until 5 pm. No blood test results were available and the doctor on duty would not release Gran, despite her now being in pain from the hip replacement and generally very distressed. She was told that if she discharged herself and needed to go to Northdale again “things would not look good for her” — sorry, I must have missed the bit in the Hippocratic Oath about it being okay to threaten old people.

So, being the bolshie medical expert that I am, I went to Northdale to release Gran. Dante’s Inferno ain’t got nothing on Northdale, believe me. The waiting room at casualty was overflowing, the smell of urine and decay was overpowering and suffering patients were sitting or lying on the floor. The whole place was silent — very surreal, the sound of defeat perhaps? The young doctor in charge was distraught and close to tears — she confided to me that she’d asked the nurses for the oximeter (see, all that medical telly pays off) and been ignored, and the reason that she had not had the blood tests back was that the equipment was broken in the laboratory. I would guess just by looking at her, that she hadn’t had the luxury of a good night’s sleep in quite a while.

We made the obvious decision that, as we would not be going anywhere near Northdale again, we’d discharge Gran. As we left I felt great sadness that while we were able to make alternative plans, the suffering of those people who were not looked at would continue well into the night.

Surely our provincial Health Department cannot be so ineffectual that they can leave the most vulnerable in such distress and their most dedicated and hard-working young doctors in tears of fustration.

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