I AM a practising patient. In a
lifetime of afflictions, including hysterical dandruff, grumbling
nosebleeds and psychosomatic pieces of grit in the eye, I have been as
familiar with the interior of my doctors’ surgeries as I have with my
In my world, measured out by plastic National Health
Service teaspoons, instructions to "shake the bottle before use", and "do
not take this preparation if pregnant or experiencing hot flushes", my
medical motto is, "I to the pills will lift mine eyes." I am not just a
common catarrhal and cough-cure character, but a mass of fascinating
Although I may not feel groggy, my body sometimes
tells me I should visit the doctor just to get reassurance that my itchy
ear is not symptomatic of a dodgy gall-bladder or dicky ticker. I know
that even if the doctor looks and sounds asleep, he is concentrating hard
and that, no matter how absurd my complaint may seem, he will not evoke
even the ghost of a smile but will sit up with a start, automatically
write a prescription and ask me to send in the next patient.
I get on
well with doctors, from ones who pale when I appear, others who shower me
with free samples from drugs companies and show me the door, to some who
have taken me on exciting adventures into the world of medical science in
search of reasons for my occasional feelings of vague malaise.
What I like
generally about my practitioners is their grave and reverend demeanour and
their surgeries, oases of silent, stoical endurance, ruffled occasionally
by children attempting to tear up furniture.
WHEN visiting general
practitioners, one can rely on sessions of essentially calm treatment,
something that, as, a one-time ward patient, I know rarely happens in
health service hospitals. According to a recently-published study by
researchers from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, high noise levels in
hospital wards could hinder patients’ recovery.
the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s intensive care and high dependency
units, and the Western General Hospital’s intensive care units, they
recorded, on occasions, levels of over 90 decibels, which, I am told, is
about the sound of heavy traffic.
Sounds included bin lids being
slammed, chairs scraping along floors, rattling trolleys and nurses
chattering - in my experience, incessantly, in the small hours. Patients,
undergoing hospital routines of having blood-pressure taken, heart and
pulse-beat monitored, needles jabbed into coy veins, being awakened to
take sleeping pills, having thermometers thrust into often inconvenient
apertures and worried about catching superbugs, desperately need quiet,
There is also the ordeal of visitors, some with
fixed smiles of saccharinal sympathy, anxious to leave the sick-bed as
soon as possible, others who eat your grapes and talk incessantly about
their lobelias, and a few projecting remorseless optimism: "I’ve never
seen you look so well."
THERE are also the group visitors, the members
talking continually among themselves and eyeing the patient with surprise
that he is still around and - the most appreciated - those who breathe
quiet reassurance and do not stay the full visiting hour.
visited hospitals where ward television sets blared, mainly, I suspect,
for the staff’s benefit, where patients, reluctant to complain lest they
upset authority, suffered under the remorseless sonic barrage.
such ward entertainment, a company called Patientline has supplied 17,500
pay-service, bedside televisions to numerous health service hospitals.
Unfortunately, they have no "off" switch, are centrally controlled by the
hospital and, from 6am until 10pm, subscribers face continuous programmes.
Non-subscribers endure 16 hours of Patientline advertisements. The company
has now produced sets with "off" switches, but vulnerable hospital
patients should have been spared such merciless television exposure.
Meanwhile ward noise - much of which could be avoided with care,
compassion and courtesy - continues, and not just in Britain. The levels
in one United States hospital in Minnesota exceeded that of a pneumatic
Florence Nightingale stated: "It may seem a strange
principle to enunciate that the very first requirement in a hospital is
that it should do the sick no harm." Will hospital administrators please
heed her words and turn down the din? Good health, everyone.