Monday, 6 April 2009

In sickness and in health

This time yesterday my eyes were heavy with that dull, grainy ache of tiredness that comes of a cocktail of sleep deprivation and stress. This is because instead of spending my weekend on our first adults-only weekend away since the twins birth at a luxury hotel in Oxfordshire, I spent it on a camp bed in the paediatrics ward of our local hospital staring at my sick baby boy through the bars of his institutional cot. 

The drama began to unfold on Friday evening when we noticed that Jonah was running a fever, further examination showed he had a temperature of 39.5 degrees, dangerously high in a seven week old baby. Off I sped to the walk-in clinic only to be told that I should have rushed him straight to A&E but, despite this urgency, I was now not not allowed to leave until he had seen the clinic doctor who could refer him to the hospital. 

I had entered the NHS labyrinth, a place as torturous and topsy turvy as any Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.  I suggested that rather than wait around ticking boxes I take him directly to the hospital where he could get the treatment he needed immediately, and this threat to untangle the loops of red tape that held us was enough to miraculously free up the previously fully occupied doctor. 

After greeting me with the patronising comment 'First time mum are we?' just because I had had the temerity to demand that my burning up baby be seen ahead of the usual drunks and miscreants who appear magnetically drawn to medical facilities, the doctor finally referred me to the hospital. 

I dragged baby, car seat and all, to the paediatrics ward, where I had been told to go, only to discover that my boy still couldn't be seen as we hadn't been booked into the computer in the A&E department, and without a hospital number he couldn't be treated. Off I trudge wasting even more precious time, baby now screaming for his increasingly late feed, out to the inner circle of hell that is the emergency waiting room. 

I fight off an incoherent drunk who is determined to continue his slurred row with the receptionist about his taxi rather than allow anyone to actually book into the magic computer system that opens up the next stage in your quest to see a doctor. 

Hysteria is beginning to take hold and I am boiling with frustration that my potentially seriously ill seven-week old baby has now been waiting over an hour to be treated just because we have to dance this administrative jig in order to see a doctor. Finally we are in the children's A&E, guarded fiercely by a dragon of a nurse who seems to have been milked of all her human kindness. 

As an aside it always amazes me that women so lacking in sympathy or empathy seem so often to choose to work in children's health. Most mums have tales of midwives who appear to take sadistic pleasure witholding care and compassion when new mothers need it most and the woman we encountered who was specifically employed to cope with the emergency health care of children seemed positively annoyed with having to deal with a stressed mother of a sick child. What is it that draws such uncompassionate people to the caring professions? Perhaps some kind of perverse desire to work against their strengths. 

Once we had finally jumped through sufficient hoops to gain enough points in the NHS game to win the chance to see a real live paediatrician he was determined to test my baby boy for every illness under the sun. Here was me labouring under the impression that after almost a decade of medical school, plus plenty of practical experience, he might be able to throw some light on the problem without subjecting a tiny baby to a battery of possibly unnecessary tests. 

I told him the whole family had been suffering from a nasty virus and that dad was laid up with severe tonsillitis, but he was still determined to carry out blood tests, lumbar puncture and canulla insertion. I know it's better to be safe than sorry, but I did feel that a touch of common sense wouldn't go amiss. In the end I insisted we moved up one rank in the doctoring hierarchy for a second opinion and bargained down to just a canulla for blood tests and antibiotics, but no needle in the spine unless it was absolutely necessary.

To cut a very long, sleepless, anxious weekend of tests and temperatures short, the baby boy did have the virus and is now well again. And no, he didn't need that lumbar puncture.  

But as I carried him out of his hospital room, safe in the knowledge that my child is well, I suddenly realised that as I was wrapped up in frustration of arguing over minor treatments on a baby who was clearly not too unwell, all around me were families who weren't fortunate enough to be caught up in such petty grievances. There was the baby we had seen being carried down the corridor in an oxygen mask, a boy running around with renewed energy thanks to a blood  transfusion, a tiny, pale girl confined to her bed after surgery. 

I was suddenly ashamed by how irritated I had been to have to wait a few extra hours before we were discharged. I realised how very lucky I was to carrying my baby out smiling after a couple of days of Calpol, rather than staying, soaked in chilled fear because tests hadn't come back all clear and my child was really sick. 

As the doors swung closed and I walked away from  the children's ward I prayed that I would never have to gaze on those cheerfully colourful murals painted on its walls to distract me from just how black life can be. 


  1. How awful for you.

    Glad he's OK now.

    I had similar feelings when we were in hospital for the day with the 3 year old for his ear op. We saw so many sick children.

  2. You poor things, what a nightmare.

    Glad that all is well. x

  3. Sounds horrible for you. Really pleased he's ok. Hospital visits are horrendous, especially when children are involved.

  4. Yes, some very sobering thoughts. (And I always thing of those mothers of burning-up babies in countries where they have no access to health care at all...)