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I knew, I just knew, from the moment I saw the A&E cat following the stretchered casualties out of the ambulances, and I told the nurse it could sleep on my bed, and she said, O, it sleeps where it wants to, and I knew when I heard the old ladies crying themselves to sleep.

I knew I was going to have near-death administered on the NHS.

I’m v. poorly. I’ve somehow got a deep soft tissue infection which is on the verge of turning to whole body septicaemia. When interested, I can peer at my legs and watch the vivid scarlet inflammation and swelling moving visibly upwards.

At one a.m., I find myself in a ward. At five a.m. I hear a plaintive wail from behind a screen. It’s an old lady. She was put on a commode before my arrival and they’ve forgotten her. She’s still there, stiff with cold. And it gets worse.

It’s Friday evening. I’ve been there three days or so in a small ward of four; two very elderly, very fragile ladies, Gladys (90-ish, broken pelvis) and Dorothy (80s, broken arms). I’m tense because the previous night was traumatic (nurse aggression) and my consultant has promised me I could move to another ward. I’m still waiting. A fourth woman, new, in her mid sixties, or so is wheeled in. She’s broken her leg and is being prepped for surgery.

Gladys can’t go to the toilet without nurse assistance and she’s been asking for two and a half hours. She’s crying and desperate. She calls for a nurse and when one appears, the nurse shouts at her and says she’s got to wait. Gladys bursts into tears again and says she can’t wait. Nurse says she’ll have to. Gladys shouts in despair, ‘Do I have do wet my bed?’

Nurse says, ‘Right, that’s it, I’m not helping you at all. I’m not being shouted at.’ And stalks off.

So I say, ‘Gladys, I’ll help you,’ and I hop out of bed on my one mobile leg and try to support her with her broken pelvis to a commode, and Broken Leg Woman struggles out of her bed and between us we get poor desperate Gladys to a commode, give her privacy, then help her back. She’s distraught, humiliated, ashamed and sits on her bed sobbing bitterly.

I’m nearly in tears myself. I’m heartbroken for her.

The consultant anaesthetist comes to assess Broken Leg Woman for surgery and draws the bed curtains while they talk.

Dorothy then needs the toilet. She realises there’s no point in asking for a nurse. Her bed’s next to the ward bathroom, so she lifts herself up with her arms stuck in plaster and slides out of her bed as best she can, but she slips and she reaches out with her broken arms to the bedside trolley for support, but because it has wheels it shoots away from her and she crashes straight onto the floor. The trolley and all its contents topple around her in  a slow motion cascade and she’s lying there semi-conscious, face down in a rapidly spreading pool of her own blood from her head, surrounded by glass, papers, body fluids and water from her jug. I hop out of bed again and kneel down, holding her head above the water and fluids so she doesn’t inhale them, and the anaesthetist emerges and between us we lift Dorothy so she can sit on her bed.

I can’t call for help because, as the doctor finds out, all our alarm buttons have been turned off. Eventually a nurse comes, attracted by the noise. The nurse takes in the whole scene, Gladys inconsolable on her bed, Dorothy bleeding and dripping, glass and matter everywhere.

The doctor says,’ Nurse, I need dressings please. This woman has a serious head wound.’

The nurse says one thing.

‘Did anyone witness this?’ she says.

‘I did,’ I say, calmly.

She stands there doing nothing. Thinking.

‘Nurse,’ I say eventually, ‘the doctor has just asked for dressings. Please could you do something?’

The nurse addresses the doctor. She’s defensive and belligerent. She says, ‘It’s not my responsibility. I’m not getting involved.’ And she walks off. Leaving a doctor humiliated and stuck without assistance.

When the doctor is able to leave poor Dorothy, who’s semi-conscious by now, he goes off and shortly a red faced, resentful nurse comes with a mop and bucket and cleans up the floor and the mess and eventually Dorothy.

By this time, Broken Leg Woman is in tears and her family have arrived; she’s asking whether it’s safe to be left here. I’m frozen with terror at the thought of staying here any longer and sitting on my bed just rigid with fear and shock. Frail Dorothy with her broken arms picks up her dressing gown and says she’s going home. I go and sit by her and talk to her and help her see that she can’t just walk out.

Eventually a wheelchair arrives and I’m taken off to a different hell.

CONTINUED in ‘Shipman’s Acolytes (2)’ – next entry – please read on…