This week I was a patient. I found a lump residing somewhere it shouldn’t. As a nurse, I knew it might be nothing, I knew the likelihood was that it was a harmless bump, signifying nothing more than a new, if frightening, imperfection. But, as a nurse, I knew I needed to get it checked, and this is where my patient journey began.
I think nurses will agree, as a group nurses do not make good patients! This is perhaps because we have knowledge of how the body can let us down, we see sadness relating to illness daily and, as a consequence, we desperately do not want to be a patient.
So, my patient journey began with a visit to my GP. After asking me how I was and how she could help, my GP held my gaze quietly, listening to all I said. As she examined me, she focused on me in a very discerning way – looking at my body whilst watching my face too meant that she also saw my growing fear that all was not well, as well as carrying out an examination of the lump. We together decided that a two-week referral would be appropriate after talking me through her hesitant diagnosis (possibly a cyst, possibly a more sinister lump), and an urgent referral because of what the lump could signify.
Two days later I received a call from one of my local hospitals giving me an appointment to see a consultant. Let’s think about that – two days; in any analysis, that is a pretty quick response time to get access to a consultant, someone who specialises in the field of my lump and where it is – such is the NHS.
My consultant saw me in a hospital I am not particularly familiar with so, walking in, I nervously searched the signage in the foyer in the hope that I could figure out the ‘coloured zones’ and find my way to my appointment, like any other patient. Whilst I was searching the board, a member of staff approached me and asked if I needed any help and I cannot convey what this meant to me, I could have hugged her! I was apprehensive and she made me feel less alone while helping me to get to my appointment on time! The meeting with the consultant was preceded by a full introduction from a Healthcare Assistant, who told me what would be happening and showed me where to wait. As the consultant examined me, he explained that I would need two scans, one of which could be done straightaway whilst apologising for a delay in the second scan because this one could not be done until the following day. Two scans and twenty-four hours later it was confirmed that my lump was harmless and could stay where it is if this is my choice. A celebration and good news all around, a wonderful feeling and one which I am now acutely aware some patients don’t get to feel.
My overall impression of the NHS as a patient is of having seen a well-oiled machine in operation, and it looks and feels very different when you are not a functioning part of that machine; the experience of being a patient was very enlightening and one from which I gleaned a number of things:
- Being a patient is not easy because it requires a certain amount of passivity and relinquishing of control
- Someone making a simple offer of help can mean a lot
- Even with some knowledge, I still felt utterly powerless because the dynamic between me and my body had potentially altered – illness is very scary
- Waiting for results when the news could be life-altering feels like a wait of years
- When you consider an illness to be serious, you do not think of yourself but of those you love, and this was, for me, the most terrifying and excruciatingly painful of considerations
Throughout my relatively short – if intense – patient journey, I felt cared for and respected – cared for because people recognised what it meant to have answers as quickly as possible, and respected because information was conveyed in a way that was geared towards me, the patient, by watching and waiting for my responses, by ‘reading’ me.
Essentially, I was valued.
By placing patients are the centre of care in this way, the NHS provides a level of compassion that is unrivalled and we do this outstandingly well; this makes a huge difference if you are a patient. But, perhaps more importantly, the NHS itself could be fundamental to how we care – as patients, we walk into a hospital and we have an expectation of how we will be treated; as practitioners, perhaps our own professional expectations are closely tied in with our workplace, namely the NHS. What if our environment, our NHS, in part determines our response in how we provide compassionate care to patients? The NHS teaches practitioners of all levels to place patients at the centre of all care, and long may this continue; it is horrifying to think that all this could be lost along with the NHS if that too disappears.
I want my patients to continue to receive the same level of care and expertise I received, and I want patients to receive this care in an environment that fosters such learning and compassion. The NHS has a proven track-record of doing this and, last week, I not only saw this but I felt it too. I cannot convey how safe I felt. I cannot convey how cared for I was. I now feel a stronger sense of ownership of our NHS and more pride in my colleagues than I thought possible.
Believe me, as a patient and a colleague, our NHS is worth saving. It is a unique and wonderful achievement.
Let’s fight for its survival because its demise could signify a loss too great to comprehend.