Let me tell you a story

as Max Bygraves used to say. There’s been so much on social media about what is happening to the NHS that I thought it about time I shone the light on an excellent hospital run by a superlative matron and just by way of contrast on another and quite different hospital unit run by a bully.

But to begin at the beginning. Three years ago, I took a rather spectacular fall backwards down an embankment at Arundel and broke my pelvis. The place where I fell wasn’t exactly the best location from which the paramedics could retrieve me, being in a watermeadow surrounded by trees alongside the river. The three paramedics who came to rescue me were kind, skilled and extraordinarily strong, which was just as well because they had to carry me up the embankment, over a style and along a footpath. It was quite a palaver but they gave me morphine to dull the pain and encouraged me all the way. At the local hospital I was diagnosed with a broken pelvis and watched over all night in a ward along side the A&E department. The kindness and care of all the staff was superb.

The next morning, though, my troubles began. There was no bed for me in that hospital nor in my local hospital in Bognor, so I was sent by ambulance to another hospital in Midhurst. It was a culture shock. I’d not been there more than an hour before I was visited in the ward by two nurses in a stripy uniform who told me quite clearly that their job was ‘not to help me’ but ‘to help me help myself.’ Sadly, I soon discovered that they meant exactly what they said. I was lifted off the stretcher, put in a wheelchair and left. And as there was nothing else to do I watched what was going on and took notes.

The ward was run by a brisk sister who rushed through the ward at regular intervals, looking fierce and not taking any notice of anyone in it. Her nurses followed her example. They didn’t even say very much to us when they pushed us down to the dining room for our lunch. It was without exaggeration the most repellent meal I’d ever eaten, or tried to eat. I discovered later that the food was prepared and cooked in a factory in Wales and heated up in a microwave. I ate what I could of the main course and was then told to pick a sweet and given a choice of three things, all of which were full of sugar – which I don’t eat being diabetic. I tried to explain to the sister but it just made her cross, ‘Well,’ she said ‘you’ll just have to have a diabetic sweet, that’s all,’ and brisked away to find one. It was a pre-packaged jelly with bits of fruit in it. Knowing how careful I have to be with sweets I read the contents and found, rather as I expected, that it was sweetened with Canderel. So the next time the sister came rushing past our table I told her I couldn’t eat that either because Canderel gave me the runs. She was extremely cross with me. ‘You’re so clever!’ she sneered. ‘I can see we are going to have trouble with you.’ From then on she had me in her sights.

The next morning when I had a bowl of water put on the bedside table beside me so I could wash, she arrived and instructed me that I was to tell my family to bring me in some soap. ‘I don’t like scroungers,’ she said. ‘You can’t expect us to provide soap.’ It was the first time I’d heard the word ‘scrounger’ used to a patient and tried to tell her that I’d been brought into hospital straight from the field where I had fallen and hadn’t had time to go home to get a sponge bag and soap. But she walked away without listening.

That night the other two patients in my ward were in difficulties. One had, had a stroke and couldn’t speak although she struggled to try and tell people what was wrong. The other who’d talked to me very sensibly during the day became a different person at night, getting up and stripping the bed and moving the furniture over and over again. The night staff who said they came from ‘Team medical’ were very kind and patient and put her back to bed every time she got up. They tried to talk to the stroke patient and they lifted me out of my bed so that I could use the commode. Absolute dears. But in the morning bossy boots was back snarling and snapping and disapproving of everybody. By that time I was noticing that her staff were very wary of her and didn’t want to do or say anything to make her cross. In short, she was a bully. On my second day I asked to be sent to Bognor.

It took three days before a bed was found for me there and I never was so glad of anything in the whole of my life, because the difference between the two places was quite mind-blowing. I was greeted at the front door by two nurses and a matron and taken up to a ward, undressed and lifted into a bed most gently and given painkillers and settled for the night. From then on there was always somebody to lift me in and out of bed and push me down to the toilets and the wash-room and sit and talk to me and generally look after me. On my second day there, the matron arrived by my bedside to ask me how I was and when she’d discovered  that I was settled in and I’d told her how kind her staff were being, she asked me if there was anything else I needed.

‘Well,’ I said ‘I don’t suppose this is possible, but I’d love a shower.’

She gave me a big smile ‘that’s perfectly possible,’ she said ‘come on, I’ll give you one’. And she did, the matron herself, washing me very gently, shampooing my hair, even drying it afterwards. I felt like a new person. I was in that hospital for 3 weeks and had plenty of time to see how her care and compassion for her patients permeated the entire hospital. She was and I’m sure still is, a star and she showed what an enormous difference leadership makes in any organisation. Respec’!








12 thoughts on “Let me tell you a story

  1. Astonishing difference. With women like the one at Midhurst, it’s no wonder the NHS are having trouble. Luckily, we have excellent GP services here, and I, for one, would never complain about our hospitals.


  2. Care is dependent upon the underlying culture. I am extremely thankul for the NHS, but I have met two night nurses who should NOT have been placed together as they fed off each other’s cruelty, and a Staff Nurse who was so vindictive – in a Maternity Unit – that I remember her 25 years on!
    Also in one hospital side ward I had a dried puddle of blood under my bed more than a foot across [not my blood!] which was still there 72 hors later.
    They kept tellling me I’d be fed, but [I was unable to move without my wheelchair, and they had placed the call bell out of reach] I had no food for 27 hours and nothing but “old” water to drink. I was in the middle of chemotherapy, hence the side ward, but they apparently just forgot about me.
    There have been angels, too, for which I will be forever thankful.

    Where the “boss” is bad the staff are forced to follow suit – in a hospital, or school, or offices – and where their goodness shines out, their staff do, too.


      • I wish I had the answer, Beryl – but once again it has to be at least partly down to the prevailing “culture” [kindness selects kindness].
        However, the problems can still arise with dependence on Agency Staff [the cruelest night nurse was agency staff] and these days the NHS seems to be unable to survive without them.
        Unfortunately I was on that ward for a month; I presume her NHS “partner” requested her, and she was on duty many times…


  3. Bullies can be found anywhere, likewise Angels. What truly annoys me is that somehow I am always caught out by such behaviour – never expect it! Except, perhaps, I grow a little warier as I get older. Be thankful for the good’uns, but never let the others get you down!


  4. So sorry Beryl that you encountered the bully….there are still a few about I guess! I worked for 40 years as a radiographer mostly in cottage hospital settings…36 years single-handed on Islay and I encountered the same bullying attitude towards patients. Not just nurses but in one particular case it was a female doctor who bullied patients and staff (me as much as she could). Managers chose not to listen or see what was hapenning. It’s sad…really sad! I apologise from the NHS for your ghastly experience and hope you are now completely recovered. There are honestly more of the caring and kindly nurses than the other kind! My mum was a nurse in the 1930s….she would have been appalled at your story….as am I. My lovely older sister was a nurse too and I’m sure very much of the caring and loving kind.
    Love Pat x



    • The matron at Bognor and her splendid staff more than made up for my difficult three days at Midhurst. I told my story to show that. I’ve met so many caring people in our NHS over the years I cant bear to see it being denigrated.


  5. It beggars belief why some people choose a caring profession. During my stays in hospital I have often had to act as a go between for elderly patients who have been ignored by the nursing staff. A new hospital has now been built with all single rooms and I wonder what will happen to those patients who’s request for water,toilet, etc is still being ignored and there’s no other patient to speak up for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It can differ from ward to ward as well Beryl. When my father was seriously ill the first ward he was on was staffed by angels, led by the most wonderful ward sister. Other wards – and hospitals he didn’t fare so well. As with all things, it starts at the top – good leadership. I’m glad you were so well cared for at Bognor.


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