24th November 2020, The Lister Hospital, Hertfordshire, England
That was a rough night
I woke violently at 2.30am. My legs ache so much that I can’t find a comfortable way to sleep. All of my skin feels red hot, and the feelings of searing heat and shivering cold coursing through my body are relentless.
At 5am, my temperature is 39c, and I’m clearly in a bad way. In these strange times, my first thoughts were COVID-19. Because of my damaged lymphatic system, I just thought it was taking a disproportionate toll on my legs.
I booked a test in 5 minutes from my phone without even turning the light on. It was easy to find a slot in Welwyn later that morning. When I turned the light on 10 minutes later, I immediately realised it wasn’t COVID at all.
My groin was covered in a blotchy red rash, indicative of the cellulitis I contracted back in February. That led to sepsis, and I really don’t want that again.
The NHS too often fail on the basics
I called NHS 111, but they weren’t much use. Despite me having first hand of experience of cellulitis and sepsis, they just booked a mystery appointment with my GP who would call when they could.
Surely the real value of this service would be to do the triage over the phone? Clearing the way for the most urgent patients to be seen at the most appropriate clinic or hospital.
They advised me to call my GP surgery in the meantime, and see if I could bring the appointment forward.
So, I did. The receptionist at the surgery was equally non-committal about doctors’ schedules. After getting a bit of info, she said I could wait, or go to the QE2 in Welwyn.
Not very useful advice in what could be a real emergency, so I went to Welwyn. The new QE2 is a fantastic facility, really well put together and if you’ve got a sprain or something – it’s great. Unfortunately, I discovered the urgent care centre is just a glorified GP practice and they said I’d need to go to The Lister.
Clearly this kind of nonsense happens in our NHS every day. But why don’t GP surgeries even know which hospital to send you to? Surely it’s not that hard to get a grip of the services provided at each place?!
I popped into the COVID-19 test centre on the way there, just because I had an appointment really. It’s so easy, all drive through and hardly any contact. The guys hold up signs, someone scans a QR code and drops a bag through your window. You park up, do the test yourself and then drop the bag in a box on the way out. It was 10 minutes max.
Just give me some penicillin and send me home
I got to The Lister at 9, my paracetamol had kicked in and the temperature was down to 36 ish. I’m actually feeling fine. Not sick, or light headed or sore, but I have a bit of swelling back in my scrotum! That’s always a delight.
I walked into the triage portakabin, was quickly assessed, and given a red card. Within ten minutes, I was seen by a doctor, cannulated and put on a drip in the A&E waiting room. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me before. I was given fluids and antibiotics.
The junior urology doctors came by, marked up the infection areas and spent more time playing with my bollocks than anyone I’ve ever known.
Well, there was this one girl…
I should mention, that this hospital always does a great job for us. Whenever the kids are unwell in the middle of the night, we come here. When Edie was admitted in January, the doctors and nurses looked after her like one of their own. My son was born here too, it’s just a really decent hospital. I won’t be talking about the Princess Alexandra in Harlow…
The registrar decided that I was going to stay the night so here we are. She was very insistent, even if I do feel pretty good now. Certainly well enough to go home and just pop back for antibiotics through ambulatory care.
Another 4 hours go by, sat in the reception of the acute medical unit. An older lady with cellulitis in both legs, diabetes, one kidney and no gall bladder kept me company. She loved a chat.
I finally got a bed at 6. The cubicles here are positively palatial. In a ward where they would fit 20 at St Georges, here at The Lister there were just 6. Absolutely no danger of the guy in the next cubicle pebble dashing my curtains.
However, Big Steve in the cubicle next door (66, loves a chat, speedway fan, wife works for a law firm) did manage to step on a fresh turd in his socks. Turns out that it had been laid by the old boy opposite, who clearly thought he was close enough once he was through the door.
At 7, I was moved to a private room. This was a fantastic surprise, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with me leaving my British medical journalists page open on the laptop, or letting everyone know I knew one of the clinical directors.
My heart rate is still persistently high at 90bpm and I’m a bit short of breath, but my blood pressure is getting back to normal. I had another gram of paracetamol and a further dose of flucloxacillin and my temperature is falling all the time. I’m feeling confident about going home tomorrow!
But I’ve said that before..