Thank god we are not health workers

11th August 2006 at 01:00
Earlier this year, I broke my knee cap. It is a long road to recovery and physiotherapists are my new heroes. When you have a long-term injury like mine, there is a chance to reflect on life and its meaning and I have learnt a few things.

One of these is that no matter how complex the issues are within the education service in Wales, they are nothing by comparison with health, its sister agency. Let me give you a few examples.

Some four months ago, my 91-year-old mother was knocked down and taken to a hospital in north Wales. In pain and barely able to speak, she waited for most of the day for some attention. Eventually, a gruff individual came to see her and, in an aggressive manner, told her to go home and stop wasting hospital time.

For three days she tried painfully to struggle on. It was apparent when I phoned her that she could not continue and as I was in plaster and on crutches, there was little I could do. So I rang my brother in Shrewsbury.

He drove to see her straight away, found her in tears and took her back to the same hospital. An assessment showed she had suffered serious injuries and required immediate surgery. She remained in hospital for 10 days and convalesced at a long-term residential home in Colwyn Bay for a couple of months before being allowed to return home.

While my son was in hospital recovering from a spinal fracture, another man entered casualty following a serious motorbike accident. He was operated on immediately and ended up in the adjacent bed to my son.

A few days later my son was discharged. By then, the biker was about to undergo his fourth operation since his emergency one in casualty: before his first operation no one had removed all the grit from inside his leg, and this had caused serious complications.

Awaiting treatment for a minor operation to his hand, my father-in-law became friendly with the man in the next bed. They agreed to swap experiences after coming round from the anaesthetic. My father-in-law awoke to find the bed next to his empty. A nurse told him there was a "cock-up".

"After getting the gentleman into the theatre, the consultant discovered the operation had already been done the previous year. There was a mistake on his records," she said.

My final examples are based on my own recent experiences and come from a slightly different standpoint. After my initial emergency surgery, I lay in bed in pain hoping to gradually improve. However, within a couple of days, I could not have escaped the hospital soon enough.

I found myself in a mixed ward. Despite this, the man in the bed opposite frequently urinated straight on to the floor. A second man kept shouting across at me to demand the alcohol and drugs which he claimed he had been promised and to which he felt entitled. It transpired that he had been brought for his operation from prison. That evening, the women were moved from the ward for their own safety.

The following day I witnessed the worst case of racial abuse that I have ever encountered when a male black nurse endured a tirade of insults from the two aforementioned characters. You can imagine how pleased I was to go home.

Six weeks ago I had to return to hospital for some further surgery. I was given a time and date but on my arrival found that no bed was forthcoming.

Eventually, I undressed and was prepared for the operation in a broom cupboard off one of the main wards. When the consultant came to see me he just laughed and said: "I've seen everything now."

The floor was covered in litter and a variety of other knick-knacks. My wife wondered when it had been last cleaned. When I was taken down to the theatre on a trolley, the porters apologised to the anaesthetist because they could not find a pillow. He exploded and disappeared, returning 10 minutes later with a brand new pillow.

I now think how fortunate we all are to work in education. Yes, schools and colleges have their fair share of problems. But most are not life-threatening.

Ken Reid is deputy principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education

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