What Does Matter?


The disabled carpark was cordoned off with a tall, thick metal wire fence. Two heavily bearded security men eyed me suspiciously when I pulled my car alongside them and asked where I could park. Gesturing with hand signals I was told to carry on driving as there was no way through.

Thankfully, Watford General Hospital is known to me and I ignored several ‘No Entry to the Hospital’ signs to circumnavigate the new road system and find the disabled parking. Being at the furthest point it could possibly be from the entrance of any of the hospital buildings I was not alone wondering how I would be able to get where I needed to.

Pulling my coat against the rain I started to walk. I limped passed a light brown Ford Focus, where an elderly man was sat slumped over his steering wheel, he raised his head and stared wearily at me. Resigned to the fact he too would have to just try to do the same as he saw me doing.

I’m not elderly, I’m just ill. I picked my way through the remaining cars and all the people (staff, patients and visitors) hanging around the ambulance bays to gain access into the back of the first hospital building.

I look for a sanitizing pump but cannot see one anywhere, but security staff are wearing masks.

Catching my breath I then weave through the beds parked in the corridors and the hordes of patients waiting to be triaged in Accident and Emergency making my way towards the lifts. Through large wooden swing doors I pass the parents clinging to sick children outside paediatrics and the broken boned queuing up for their casts.

Again I look for sanitizer but cannot see one.

My pathway emptied of people and chairs as I approached the lifts which would take me up to the next level to hospital reception. At this point my strength had waned. Pressing the ‘call’ button, I leaned heavily against the wall as I waited. I get to reception where I find a chair to slump into and rest.

Some minutes later I come around with the feeling of wetness on my chin where I’d dribbled and could see that the brown Ford Focus driver had managed to make it to the reception desk. Leaning heavily on his walking stick he spoke breathlessly to the woman who sat behind the glass.

I heard him explain that he was struggling. He wasn’t able to get to his appointment on time and was requesting a wheelchair to help him back to his car. The receptionist was polite, professional, and replied,

“We don’t allow wheelchairs in the carpark.”

Embarrassed for him, and feeling misplaced shame at the situation, I got myself together and continued on my own journey to the next building in the hospital.

It is still raining as I pull my scarf around my head to shield me from it’s freezing touch. I dodge staff and patients up the steep hill and along the narrow, uneven pathway. I’m feeling hard done by and wondering if I will make the next reception where I’m praying I’ll be able to sit and rest again.

Eventually rested and ready I make my way onto the ward where I’m due to visit a patient who has been under NHS care for one week. Her ward is exceptionally busy but not especially full. What I mean is that there are at least two empty beds in every bay that I walk by and in the one I visit. It is messy, disorganized and smelly. My friend tells me she is hungry.

I’m told that breakfast was miserable. No fresh fruit. They’d requested two pieces of toast as the cereal wasn’t suitable for them and been told it was only one piece per patient. They are also worried that their medication is hurting their stomach as it should be taken with food. The nursing staff were unmoved.

While on the ward, I witnessed a staff member come around and take observations from each patient without cleaning or wiping down the equipment between them. My thoughts concentrated on what each patient may or may not do with their finger and I asked my patient if she had been washed at all. No, she hadn’t.

I heard a patient request from a nurse not to put the syringe on the window sill because ‘the sills were dirty’ and heard the nursing staff defend their position, saying “oh, that doesn’t matter.”

The story’s about the consultants and the doctors were also alarming. Each patient had their own story of miscommunication and bewilderment but they were all grateful for whatever care they received but desperate for information regarding themselves.

I’m told a terrible tale of a ninety four year old woman who’d been in the night before with pneumonia who’d begged for a blanket because she was so cold and told there wasn’t one.

The other patients had rallied around and covered her.

I saw two nurses come in and change a bed. They had a little cardboard sick bowl with water in. I watched as they dipped dry hand towels into the water and wiped down the plastic on the bed. They didn’t touch the metal frame and did not use anti bacterial wash or spray before putting on new sheets.

My face must have painted a picture to my friend because, as a nurse came to change her canula, she said,

“You may want to go out of here for this.”

I started to say that I’m okay with blood, when the stench of the nurse hit me and I realised the reason for the advice.

Retching, I managed to get out to the corridor and turned to see another of the patients laughing into her sheets at my distress…

Thank god they can laugh.