I arrived at my local hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department (or ER in American) just before 8pm and explained that I have had chest pains and that the National Health Help Line (111) advised me to go straight to A & E for investigation (i.e. an E.C.G. and blood tests). My details taken, I was issued with a card that identified me as an urgent case and was told to go to the ‘Urgent Care’ room. Oh, I thought, I might not be hanging about for hours; I might jump the inevitable queue. On the way I passed patients on seats, wheelchairs and trolleys and when I arrived in the Urgent Care room, I was confronted with a room full of 60+ people awaiting attention. I was somewhat deflated.
I checked in and was told to take a seat and that I would be triaged shortly. There were no vacant seats so I stood near the door for half an hour waiting to be triaged. The triage person (junior doctor I think) fired question after question at a great rate of knots and told me I wouldn’t have to wait long for tests. After another hour, during which time I managed to find an unoccupied seat, a nurse called me into a consulting room and wired many leads to my chest and legs and took what seemed like a pint of blood from my arm and dispensed it into 3 separate plastic bottles. “What did the ECG say”, I asked. “It’ll all have to be assessed” she replied, “but I wouldn’t worry”. Phew, that’s encouraging, but what is this weird pain? On the other side of the consulting room (intended for one patient) a 20 year old man with a cut face and head was having something pulled out of his head and being stitched back up. I wondered if he had been in a fight. He didn’t seem the aggressive type. He was profusely apologising for taking up the doctor’s time and gave me a thumbs up for my test. I asked the nurse when I would get my results and she said there was a five hour wait to see a doctor.
Five hours is quite a wait but normal in A & E’s these days. I sat down and tried to adjust to the prospect of spending 5 hours in very close proximity to many sick and vulnerable people. I looked for another seat within sight of the tv and where I could stretch my legs, and get away from the ‘nutters’ and the ‘coughers’. And believe me there were some nutters. That may be a cruel and politically incorrect term these days but I use it anyway to describe those patients who have chosen to get in a fight, show anti-social tendencies and lack of personal awareness in a hospital waiting room (e.g. by shouting or wandering around without a mask) and/or who are drug addicts. One tall guy in a hoody walked up and down the room all the time I was there, stopping occasionally to just stare unblinkingly at other patients. Another guy laughed uncontrollably in a loud high pitched voice like he was having a great time. The star of the show was a woman in her 40’s who was drugged up to the eyeballs and had to be escorted and detained by 3 policemen. Her swearing and shouting was annoying but a lot of sympathy was shown by other patients as her antics could only be described as a tragic comedy sketch. She was contained in the children’s waiting area (obviously there were no children in it) where her mood changed from upbeat (“shall I sing a song for you!”) to down (I’m going to die/kill that bastard that stole me money) in an instant. She moved from a crouched position behind a vending machine to sitting on a window sill whilst trying to hide behind the vertical blinds. After a while she was moved to a secure room, and relative quiet returned.
I got back to my book (I knew this was going to be a marathon, so I’d brought one) but I couldn’t concentrate. I’d been sat two hours on a seat designed by a sadist. I was conscious the tv kept showing depressing images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I kept thinking about my chest pain – If it wasn’t my heart, what was the problem? And I’m sat in an environment where I am almost certain to catch covid or something. There were no decent vending machines. The restaurant for visitors and staff was inexplicably shut and I had another three hours to go. I decided to get out and go for a walk outside.
I felt better immediately for a walk in the fresh air and despite my chest pain, did not feel like I was in any danger of a heart attack. But where should I go? Walking the hospital grounds and car parks at night in the rain is a pretty unappealing pastime and so I walked down the main road thinking I could buy a decent coffee in the petrol station shop. I got there and decided that drinking a coffee when I might be having a cardiovascular episode was not a good idea. I bought some water instead and walked slowly back to the hospital.
There was still two plus hours to go so I tried to get back into my book but ended up reading emails, looking at photos on Flickr and Whatsapping my wife to say ‘no news yet’. In that final hour the room thinned out a bit but was still busy. People appeared with pots, slings, drips, bandages, and nurses scurried up and down with discharge papers, medication and instructions. The lady next to me who fell of her horse now had her wrist in a splint and said the pain had improved. The drug addicts never returned. I couldn’t get over how much energy the staff had. They were rushing and were so focussed. They must be absolutely knackered after a full shift. The lady who did my ECG must have been in her early 60s and was still rushing in and out of the consulting room like a 20 year old.
Around 1.30 am, my name was called and a doctor took me into a room. I braced myself trying to dismiss the idea I might have to stay in for treatment or further tests. The doctor smiled and said my results were back and she could tell me they indicated no signs of heart disease, heart attack, an enlarged heart, or abnormal heart rhythms. My bloods were all normal. That was one heck of a relief but what was causing my chest pain? Her opinion was that it could be inflammation from a gym injury (I had pulled something doing stomach crunches some weeks ago) or it could be an acid reflux issue. The pain is similar and given its location, the NHS Helpline was right that I should have it investigated. I should double up my Omeprazole for a week and set an appointment with my GP to monitor or further investigate.
Result! I know I’m not likely to have a heart attack and I have a plan. I didn’t expect my taxi driver to be so interested in why I had been in A & E and as I got out he said, in a broad Oldham/Pakistani accent, “ You look after yourself my man!”
I have to say, the pain has receded quite a bit and the fact I am not worrying about it so much may have something to do with it. I went back to the gym today.
My wife and I are resigned to the likelihood that episodes like this will become more common as we get older. But we have to stay active and positive and get on with life whilst we can.
Finally, you may have noticed from my previous posts that I am far from impressed with the NHS as a whole. It is failing. It is inefficient and services are not integrated. My local GP surgery is a joke. I remain to be convinced that there any doctors in it. However, I would like to record that I am nevertheless grateful to the dedicated staff in The Royal Oldham Hospital A & E Department who were switched on, professional and pleasant despite being under enormous pressure!